“Alicia” came to “Hope Pregnancy Center” as a client when she was just eight weeks pregnant. Her positive pregnancy test had been shocking and devastating, and she was unsure of what to do. The professional healthcare and loving concern she received at the center during her visit and in the months following led to Alicia deciding to carry her pregnancy to term. Smooth sailing from here on out, right?
Well, not so fast. As a single mom, Alicia is often exhausted, discouraged, and can barely make ends meet. Two years later, she finds herself walking through the doors of Hope yet again with another positive pregnancy test in hand. This time, Alicia’s only there for the free ultrasound to determine gestational age. She’s confident that for this pregnancy, abortion is her only choice.
Why did Alicia find herself walking through the doors of Hope again that day? Why wasn’t she able to simply pull herself out of the lifestyle that led to yet another unplanned and undesired pregnancy? The answer may surprise you: Alicia hasn’t experienced the love, community, and provision found in being part of a healthy local church congregation.
A Personal Reflection
After graduation, I began working as the volunteer coordinator at my city’s evangelical Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC). The breadth of resources and programming available to the center’s clients was staggering: ultrasounds, STI testing, decision counseling, post-abortion care, hot lunches, life skills classes with on-site childcare, baby supplies, and more. Daily, women walked in our doors and made real-time decisions about whether to terminate the life of the child within their wombs.
Sadly, many still chose to abort, but by God’s grace many chose life. If, however, you were to have a conversation with those who have worked or volunteered in these centers, many of us—in addition to sharing the joys of seeing lives physically preserved—would also share with you the heartache of watching many of our clients continue to lead harmful and destructive lifestyles after leaving our care. Choosing life for her baby is one thing—choosing a different way of life for herself is another.
Why is this the case? Is it a failure of the PRC? More likely, Alicia walked back through the door because her greatest need still hadn’t been met—and it’s not a need any Pregnancy Resource Center could ever meet.
Jesus is What Women Really Need
The greatest need for abortion-vulnerable women and men is the same need of all people: to recognize the lordship of Jesus, to receive forgiveness of sin, and to turn from it in grace-filled repentance. This decision of faith and repentance can certainly take place in a PRC, and sometimes it does! But, as most PRC’s would readily admit, they are not adequately equipped for what should come next: the totality of life-on-life ministry that goes into making disciples and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded (Matt. 28:18–20). The New Testament is clear that this responsibility and privilege belongs explicitly to the local church.
In a post-Roe landscape, the church plays a vital role for effective ministry to those vulnerable to abortion. I want to put forward four considerations for churches to have a renewed focus on the Great Commission task in this new pro-life era.
1. Remember the Local Church’s Primacy
As parachurch ministries, PRC’s are not designed by God to bear the weight of ministering to pregnant women by themselves. There are no commands in Scripture directed specifically toward PRC’s, nor is there even any insistence that they must exist or that Christians must be part of them. But there are instructions to care for the disadvantaged, the poor, the orphan, and the widow (Ex. 22:22; Deut. 14:29; 24:13–17; 26:12; Job 29:12–13, 16, 31:15–20; Ps. 68:5; 82:3; 146:9; Jas. 1:27).
Applied today, these instructions should be carried out by members of the new covenant in local churches. That said, there is a particular work to be done in PRC’s, a work that complements the regular ministry of the church.
To use one biblical metaphor, the church is the bride of Christ, and the parachurch ministries are like the bridesmaids. The role of a bridesmaid is to assist the bride on her path to the wedding and to highlight the bride’s beauty. In a very real way, parachurch ministries such as Pregnancy Resource Centers assist the church by extending its reach into corners where it can be hard for churches to go.
To be sure, the wedding depends on the presence of the bride, not the bridesmaids. But the wedding is more beautiful with the help of bridesmaids. Something similar is at work with PRC’s. These strategic ministry outposts, when led by the Word of God, do not take the place of the bride (the church), but they assist in the work of wedding adorning and planning (evangelism). PRCs play a crucial role in reaching abortion-minded women and men.
2. Focus on the Word
I offered the caveat “led by the Word of God” above because in the work of saving lives, it is possible to let the pregnant women take center stage over and above God’s Word. The Word teaches us that abortion is ultimately a heart issue that deals in moral and existential questions like “Who am I as a human being?” “Why do I exist?” “What’s the purpose of sex?”
There are countless reasons that women walk into abortion clinics and sacrifice their unborn children, but fundamentally these boil down to two categories: errors in understanding God and errors in understanding self. Failure to understand God’s love and holiness displayed in the gospel of Jesus Christ inevitably results in idolatry and slavery to sins—including fear, lust, and selfishness. Failure to understand one’s own self as created by a holy and loving God will result in seeking identity elsewhere: financial ease, success at work or school, the admiring or approving glance of peers and family, or romantic relationships.
Biblical Christians understand that questions about who God is and who we are must be answered through learning God’s story of redemption laid out for us in his revealed Word. Yes, this revelation takes a lifetime, and then an eternity, to understand, but PRC’s committed to the gospel must not forget the importance of beginning with the Word and then directing those they reach to a local church that is centered on God’s Word.
3. Get Connected
There’s no getting around it—abortion is an emotional and difficult topic. Because decisions regarding abortion have immediate and deadly consequences, it can be easy for church-going Christians to assume that the work of pro-life ministry is best left to “the professionals.” While trained professionals (particularly in medicine, law, and counseling) do play an essential role in the movement, members of local churches with no expertise are just as necessary! Below are some ways local church members may connect more with front-line pro-life ministries.
- Ask if your local PRC would be willing to give you a tour of their facilities and explain their services. Consider any opportunities to volunteer.
- Participate in the center’s fundraisers, such as a baby bottle campaign or their annual fundraising dinner.
- When you pray as a church, pray for topics connected to abortion (e.g., for the post-abortive who may be suffering in silence, for single parents, and for the sexual purity of your flock).
- Take a PRC staff member out to lunch and pick his/her brain about what it would look like to be more accessible to their center.
These are but a sample of ways to support local PRC’s, and church members who want to lead their churches to protect the unborn and reach abortion-vulnerable women would do well to connect with a local PRC.
4. Press Forward with Truth and Love
A 2016 CareNet study found that more than one in three women were attending a Christian church once-a-month or more at the time of their first abortion. This is a shocking and sobering statistic. But how many women would identify as a committed member in a healthy local church at the time of their abortions?
1. 2016 CareNet Research Study, “Study of Women Who Have Had an Abortion and Their Views on Church.”
I have a hunch the numbers would be far lower. Why? First, a healthy local church has worked hard—in preaching, in teaching, in song selection, in modeling prayer—to help that pregnant woman know the answers to some of life’s major questions: Who is God? Who is she? What is her purpose? This woman has been equipped to understand the gospel and its holistic implications for her life and the life in her womb.
Second, she’s a known and loved member of a strong gospel-centered community, both loving and serving others and being loved and served on a regular basis. Put more simply, she’s been discipled to value the image of God, repentance, faith, and the Jesus who took away her shame at the cross (Col. 2:13–15).
In these two ways, we see how important a local church is for the life and health of Christian discipleship and for the protection of the unborn. Abortion has many causes, but one of them is the weakness of churches to actually preach biblical doctrine and disciple men and women in the Bible. Knowing this, local churches must continue to press forward with truth and love.
Let the Church Be the Church
So, what does this mean for churches in the post-Roe era? Offensively, it means obeying the Great Commission to develop mature disciples. Defensively, it means churches serving single moms, church members volunteering at local PRC’s, teenagers offering their spare time to babysit, and so on. In all, it will require more than what we expect—sacrificial love always does. Yet, if Jesus gave his life, it is our joy to give ours too.
Truly, it is beautiful to convince an abortion-minded woman to choose life for her baby. But it’s even more glorious when a local church helps that same woman choose life for her baby and eternal life for herself. As Christ’s bride, this is what the church does best. She nurtures the children born in her midst. And in the case of PRCs, the local church ought send out laborers who will rescue the unborn and offer gospel hope to the born.
In Post-Roe America, may the Lord raise up countless partnerships between faithful local churches and evangelical PRC’s.