Monday, August 24, 2015

Unplanned Parenthood: On the Hopeful Choice for Life

The recent stream of increasingly disturbing videos about the practices of Planned Parenthood and their trade in fetal tissue and body parts leads me to write my own story in response, and perhaps a call to action. This is a story about choice, about life, about the unplanned nature of it all.

The false dichotomy created by the labels of “pro-life’ and “pro-choice” seems unhelpful in the abortion debate. The pro-life folks are not anti-choice in every respect, nor do I imagine the pro-choice advocates being anti-life. In fact, I would consider myself “pro-choice” in the sense that I believe in human freedom and flourishing, and I have genuine hope regarding the human heart and its potential for making good choices in our world. While I recognize the brokenness and depravity human beings are capable of inflicting, I also have an optimism about people.

I think part of that optimism about human choice stems from my origins. I am here, in this world, because of a choice a young woman made at age 21 to carry her child for nine months in her womb, the choice to move in with a host family to care for her needs while she was pregnant, the choice to push and breathe and cry and give birth to a baby boy, the choice to hold that child for only 10 minutes and pray for his future care, the choice to give up her baby boy for adoption in the hopes that providence would sustain him and his life—the life she chose to birth—would bloom and flourish. Her choice was motivated by her sacrificial nature—my birth mother is a remarkably humble person who puts others’ needs ahead of her own—and by her deep faith in the Savior, Jesus, who was also born to a young unwed woman under indecorous circumstances.

Christ parallels to my own person aside, I am grateful for the choice my mother made. Imagine the other option: an abortion. It’s an entirely legal decision and a path many would encourage her to take, given the circumstances (unmarried 21-year-old with absentee boyfriend and lack of finances). Instead, she took the harder-but-better path of choosing life for her unborn child. She opened the door to numerous possibilities and potentials, a choice marked by hope.

I am adopted. Imagine the alternative:

I am a son. Had my mother aborted me, my adoptive parents would have one less member in their family, and certainly a totally different family altogether.

I am a sibling. Had my mother aborted me, my adoptive sister would grow up alone, without her annoying-yet-protective big brother.

I am married. Had my mother aborted me, my wife and I would have never met. Of course, she’d have married someone else, but the marriage we share would never have been.

I have three children of my own. Had my mother aborted me, they wouldn’t exist. The unique combination of our DNA as father and mother—these unique and beautiful human beings would never have been created.

I have been a pastor at three churches. Had my mother aborted me, well…. The mentoring, the conversations, the prayers, the sermons, the counseling sessions, the life transformation…maybe it would have happened anyway by God’s grace, but I would never have been there to see it.

I am a writer. Had my mother aborted me, the very words and ideas and story you’re reading would never come into being.

I am a living, breathing, made-in-the-image-of-God human being. The countless other lives I have encountered and impacted, the people I’ve befriended and conversed with, the moments in time that I have long forgotten but have had a sense of meaning and significance and eternality—all due to the choice for life through the act of adoption. I am not a remarkable or noteworthy person, but I am a person. That is enough.

This is not just advocacy for the potential of life, though that is important too. The act of abortion decimates both a potential and an actual life, a real human being who is worthy of dignity and respect, and not the atrocity of having their facecut open in order to harvest their brain.

The Kazuo Ishiguro novel Never Let Me Go contains some weighty moral issues that have strong parallels with the current Planned Parenthood scandal. Young men and women are clones raised in order to extract their healthy organs and give them to human recipients. The clones are treated somewhat humanely, even seeming to value their impending death-by-donation with honor and dignity. Two clones expressing their love for one another try to break free from the cycle, try to plead with the system, try to experience a sense of freedom before they are dismantled and distributed for the benefit of others. They are robbed of choice; their future is stolen from them, body part by body part. It’s tragic and horrifying when our dystopian science-fiction novels start to look more and more like present-day reality.

Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon suggest in their book Resident Aliens that all ethical questions are ecclesial questions, that Christian ethics “are made credible by the church.” When we primarily address moral dilemmas through demanding new legislation, pressuring Congress for tax money or revised laws, it misses an opportunity for the church to be the colony of heaven. The response to abortion could look instead like this:

“So our response to an issue like abortion is something communal, social, and political, but utterly ecclesial—something like baptism. Whenever a person is baptized…the church adopts that person. …Therefore, we cannot say to the pregnant fifteen-year-old, ‘Abortion is a sin. It is your problem.’ Rather, it is our problem. We ask ourselves what sort of church we would need to be to enable an ordinary person like her to be the sort of disciple Jesus calls her to be. More important, her presence in our community offers the church the wonderful opportunity to be the church, honestly to examine our own convictions and see whether or not we are living true to those convictions.”

To be honest, I am less interested in fighting against abortion through the political avenues of the powers and principalities of this world, and more interested in entering into the world of human poverty and brokenness, of loving the unwed teenage moms and dads, of increasing funding for foster and adoption programs, and of adopting children into my own family some day. I’m unsure that only writing a blog post or an article, or clicking “like” or “retweet” on various social media sites will truly make a significant difference (though it certainly may help raise an awareness and inspire a personal imperative to act). Sacrificial, compassionate action from the local body of Jesus-followers is the primary way God has chosen to express His salvific action and kingdom values in this world, values that declare children to be vital and necessary members of the kingdom where the King declares, “Let the little children come unto me.”

The very moniker of Planned Parenthood reveals the faulty ethic behind the choice of abortion over adoption. Brett McCracken writes:

Ending a life because its timing doesn’t line up with our plans and preferences assumes a God-like right to power that the name “Planned Parenthood” implies. It casually asserts that the greatest, most mysterious reality of existence – the creation of a new life – is something that can be planned, manipulated, defined and controlled according to our convenience. It celebrates our sovereign autonomy and refuses sacrifice, symptomatic of man’s worst tendencies going all the way back to Eden. 

The choice of adoption is decidedly unplanned and sacrificial, but it is a hopeful choice. Hauerwas and Willimon offer good reasons for having children beyond the American consumer “planned” notions about children giving parents personal fulfillment: “We have children as a witness that the future is not left up to us and that life, even in a threatening world, is worth living—and not because ‘Children are the hope of the future,’ but because God is the hope of the future.”

After thirty years, I recently had the beautiful and cathartic opportunity to meet my birth mother in person, to hug her and thank her for her unplanned parenthood. To see, face-to-face, the person that gave birth to you after a lifetime apart, well...let's just say it was a deeply affecting experience. I wanted to thank her for her choice, and she wanted to extend thanks to my adoptive parents for raising me, caring for the little baby she entrusted them with. I am not a conglomeration of cells and body parts, only worthy of life because I was allowed to grow a bit bigger than my fetal brothers and sisters. I am not a mistake or an object or a burden to be cast aside. I am alive because my birth mother made the choice to give me up for adoption, and my adoptive parents made the choice to take a little boy into their home. I'm not sure there were many *plans* involved, but there certainly was plenty of grace.

Christians: We are called into a life of sacrificial compassionate action, which means going beyond reading/sharing online articles and having private conversations about the latest disturbing Planned Parenthood or abortion news. Let us take up not the posture of lobbyists and the outrageous Facebook ranter, but as people of justice and grace, inviting hurting women and children into our homes and lives, adopting them into the family of God, the church, the hope of the world. Let us serve others for the long haul with quiet confidence and commitment, not just in knee-jerk reaction to recent media attention or a viral video. When we are truly living into our identity as citizens of the kingdom of God, living as a colony of heaven here in our broken world, the seeds of compassion will bloom into new life as we choose the unplanned, messy, but better life of faithfulness to the God who acts justly and loves mercy.


  1. Thanks for sharing - as always it was poignant and thoughtful. I appreciate your writing!