Updated: Jun 25, 2022
Can men understand a decision they'll never have to make?
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on October 28, 2021)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Veronica Pucci & Sara Bishop
I recently found myself watching an interview of Libby Rich, a woman from Birmingham, AL, who had an abortion pre-1973. As I listened to her story, I observed how the tone of her voice changed as she described the pain and shame that she experienced. I noticed the hurt and despair in her eyes as she explained how she was treated. Here is a small excerpt from Libby’s interview:
I entered the home of a stranger and as she instructed, I removed my jeans, underwear, and shoes. I then got on her kitchen table and spread my legs. She then took a plastic tube that had been boiling in a pot of water on the stove and inserted it into my uterus. I was instructed to get dressed, take a long walk, and when I started to bleed go to the toilet. I did just that and aborted into the toilet. I did not know enough to ask about antibodies or after-care. The next day, I had a very high fever, and my co-worker took me to the hospital. I did not tell the hospital doctors what happened to me. The doctors told me that ‘we know what you have done, and we are going to call the police’, ‘why don’t you just admit that you had an illegal abortion.’ The doctors showed no mercy. For weeks, I was terrified that the police would come and arrest me and that everyone would know.
This is a summary of the account that Libby Rich gave to the Alabama Senate in 1991, as the state was moving to restrict abortion rights in direct opposition to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling.
As a Christian man who considers himself an independent thinker, I often struggle with the nuanced views on abortion. I wonder how other men can speak so confidently about a choice that they will never have to make. Whether you agree or disagree that a woman should have the right to choose, shouldn’t we all stop and ask ourselves if we are willing to go back to the days when women felt like they had no choice but to subjugate themselves to this type of procedure?
Until the mid-1800s, abortion was legal and accepted by the Christian church. During this time, abortion was considered illegal only after quickening (when a pregnant woman starts to feel her baby’s movement in the uterus). According to Leslie Raegan, professor of history and law at the University of Illinois, “Not until 1869, at about the same time that abortion became politicized in this country, did the church condemn abortion; in 1895, it condemned abortion procedures to save a woman’s life.” The late 1800s was not just an oppressive time for people of color, there was an intentional effort to regulate what women could or could not do. Women were subjected to discrimination in the job market, they were denied the right to vote, and their bodily autonomy became politicized, resulting in a reduced ability for women to make personal decisions for their bodies.
Over the last few decades, a handful of laws have been enacted that challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. In May 2019, the governor of Alabama signed an abortion bill that banned nearly all abortions. Under this law, doctors would face felony jail time up to 99 years if convicted. In October 2019, a federal judge blocked the Alabama abortion law by stating that, “Enforcement of the ban would yield serious and irreparable harm...to women”. In May of 2021, the Texas governor signed an abortion bill into law that bans abortion as early as 6 weeks regardless of rape or incest. This law does not have criminal implications, rather, it gives citizens the power to sue those who provide abortions or assist in abortions. After a federal judge banned the law, a panel of judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas state courts could continue to accept lawsuits.
As a Christian man, I stand with Reverend Michelle Higgins, Pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ, and her perspective that, “God is complex, God knows that a fetus is a beautiful part of a continuing creative legacy and yet so too is the opportunity that that fetus has to even survive if it's inside of a Black birthing body, let’s talk about medical apartheid and Black birthing rates, if Serena Williams can’t have a good birthing story, please don’t talk to me about Peaches outside of my church struggling to find medical care.”
As a Christian man, I agree with Rabbi Lori Koffman, National Council of Jewish Women Board Vice President, who gives the moral argument that “people should have full control of their own bodies, and that doesn’t change with reproductive health...reproductive health care, including abortion, is health care.”
As a Christian man, I agree with Reverend Jes Kast, Pastor of Faith United Church of Christ, who said that “each person deserves the freedom, the space – the holy space – to be able to make that decision for themselves. I believe God stands with each one of us in our own dignity to be able to make those decisions.”
As a Christian man, I respect women’s right to bodily autonomy. A 2021 NBC poll showed that more than two-thirds of women in the U.S. believe that the decision to have an abortion should be a woman’s right in all or most cases.
As a Christian man, I believe that we must Trust Women. Regardless of how nuanced and complicated the act of abortion surely is, we must Trust Women with this decision. When we do not trust women with this decision, what are we really saying?
Black Christians and Abortion
Abbott, K. (2012, November 27). Madame Restell: The abortionist of fifth avenue. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/madame-restell-the-abortionist-of-fifth-avenue-145109198/
ABC News. (2021, March 17). Black Christians unified in their faith but divided by their stances on abortion. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m3I5nEgXEg
Elliott, D. & Wamsley, L. (2019, May 14). Alabama governor signs abortion ban into law. NPR.
Garfinkel, S. (2020, June 30). New national council of Jewish women campaign urges Rabbis to fight for reproductive freedom. National Council of Jewish Women.
Reagan, L.J. (1996). When abortion was a crime. Oakland, University of California Press.
Todd, C., Murray, M., and Kamisar, B. (2021, September 1). NBC News poll shows nation's demographic divides on abortion. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/nbc-news-poll-shows-nation-s-demographic-divides-abortion-n1278210