In 2015 Kira Schlesinger wrote piece for Ministry Matters about how her own pro-choice stance on abortion had become more complicated the more she explored the issue of abortion. The article was widely read and shared, as well as hotly debated by many. You can read this article and the many comments here. Out of the response to this article grew Schlesinger’s Pro-Choice and Christian: Reconciling Faith, Politics, and Justice.
The book does a great job of walking the fine line of being both academically engaging and an easy enough read to engage a book or Bible study group as well. Schlesinger uses the first couple of chapters to dig into the history of abortion, listing recorded examples of the process as early as 1300 BCE. From there she briefly walks the reader through the roughly 100 years (Comstock Act in 1873 until Roe v. Wade in 1973) during which abortion was illegal in the United States. Finally, she wraps up this beginning historical section with details about the generations after Roe v. Wade up to our current reality.
In the third chapter, “Faith and Fertility in a Changing Culture,” Schlesinger takes on many of the side arguments that often seem to come up when having conversations about abortion. For example, she considers the argument that feminism has been the downfall of the American nuclear family and therefore the general chaos in our society.(44) Schlesinger combats this argument from a number of different angles, but what I appreciated the most about her points is the fact that they were rooted in intersectionality and therefore take into account the many facets of what identifying as a woman in United States society really looks for different individuals. Ultimately, in this chapter and throughout most of the book, Schlesinger appeals to the reader to trust women, to trust that women themselves know what they need and what is best for them and their families.
Chapters four and five address the Bible and Pro-Choice churches. By this point in the book Schlesinger has begun to lay out her belief that we all need to move toward a more life centered, pro-human flourishing, pro-woman abortion stance. She calls this stance a pro-life ethic but she is reclaiming the use of “pro-life” and unsettling it from the way that it is currently used. She advocates instead for a biblically informed ethical Christian response that is focused around love of neighbor. Her argument then, becomes centered around the concept of if a woman chooses to have a child how are both the woman and the child then supported, or if a woman chooses not to have a child how is she supported and cared for in that decision. Her use of biblical passages and well respected theological work makes these chapters particularly persuasive and helpful for conversation with those who desire to take biblical texts literally.
Another important aspect of this section of the book lies in Schlesinger’s calling out of many mainline Protestant denominations. She argues that the majority of the abortion battles have taken place with Evangelical and Catholic circles over and against more liberal secular society. Though the majority of mainline Protestant denominations do have official stances/documents describing the denominations’ views on abortion, very few mainline churches have created adequate responses to uphold the pro-life ethic that Schlesinger is attempting to move us toward. Schlesinger lays down specific expectations for mainline denominations to engage in the abortion conversation and help to move more United States Christians toward this pro-life ethic that she describes.
To conclude the book, Schlesinger reminds the reader that extremes just simply aren’t helpful, we live in a world of gray. Schlesinger argues that we need to trust women and that “as Christians who share Jesus’ commitment to the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, we can support a woman’s right to exercise her own freedom of conscience in making moral decisions about her body and family and also acknowledge the tragic element present in any abortion. Along with our antiabortion brothers and sisters, we affirm the sanctity of life and want to do everything in our power to support that life from its conception to its end. Even if I might never make that choice for myself, I support my sister’s right to choose based on her own circumstances.”(89)
Dr. Katie M. Deaver, holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology with an emphasis in Feminist Theology from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Deaver holds a B.A. in Religion and Music from Luther College in Decorah, IA, as well as MATS and Th.M. degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She is currently an Adjunct Professor at Elmhurst College and lives in Michigan’s beautiful upper peninsula.