When I was a seminary student, training to become a pastor, I accompanied a loved one to a Planned Parenthood facility as she considered terminating her pregnancy. She chose not to get an abortion that day, but I was there for her either way. Carrying each other through difficult moments, while respecting each other’s moral autonomy, is at the heart of both friendship and faith.
Under Texas’ new S.B. 8 law, the options that the Planned Parenthood staffer compassionately laid out for my friend no longer exist. S.B. 8’s ban on abortion after six weeks functionally outlaws the vast majority of pregnancy terminations, even if the pregnancy results from rape or incest. Texas Republicans have wielded the bluntest of legal instruments on some of our most nuanced personal and ethical decisions.
Millions of Texas women and the people who support them, including health care providers and faith leaders, are living in fear and danger after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed Texas’ S.B. 8 to go into effect this week. S.B. 8 turns neighbor against neighbor by allowing any individual to sue anyone else whom they believe provided or assisted a patient with an abortion, and collect $10,000 for each successful claim. Under this law, my friend’s enraged partner, who tried to physically block us from leaving her home, could have bankrupted me.
When we reward anger and punish accompaniment, we ignore God’s condemnation of those who sow discord (Proverbs 6:19) and disregard the Gospel’s call to love our neighbor. While anti-abortion lawmakers often cloak their positions in Christian faith, S.B. 8 is theologically unsound.
The dangerous new reality created by S.B. 8 does not reflect the beliefs of everyday people who are conflicted about or even oppose abortion. I’ve held dialogues, publicly and privately, with Christians who hold a range of views on the morality and legality of abortion care. In a sometimes difficult search for ways to bridge divides, I’ve learned some important truths that illustrate why S.B. 8 fails to reflect the nuanced thinking that people across the spectrum bring to the issue.
We must approach abortion with nuance, rather than stark binaries. While Americans identify as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” in almost equal numbers, polls consistently show that fewer than 30% of Americans support overturning Roe v. Wade (a legal precedent that S.B. 8 flouts). Given the very personal impact of the issue and the wide range of theologies on it, it’s only natural that people hold complex beliefs and see shades of gray.
But human beings have much clearer feelings about hypocrisy. The contrast between S.B. 8 and Texas’ deadly COVID-19 policies shows a deep disconnect between “pro-life” rhetoric and “pro-life” policies. When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed S.B. 8, he said that “our Creator endowed us with a right to life.” But Abbott has unleashed unnecessary death by banning school districts statewide from protecting children’s lives with classroom mask mandates, and by forbidding businesses from requiring that patrons and employees be vaccinated to enter. The dissonance will only become sharper as hospital beds and mortuaries fill with COVID victims while court dockets proliferate with lawsuits against people sued for acts of friendship and compassion toward women seeking abortion care.
The friend I accompanied to Planned Parenthood ultimately put her child up for adoption. I was with her in the hospital, holding her hand as she labored; then again days later, as she wept, having handed over her beloved to new parents. Policies that rob us of the agency to make such weighty moral decisions about the direction of our lives demean the fullness of our humanity. And suing people into bankruptcy for acts of compassion is the height of cruelty. As a pastor, the words of Scripture and the stories of my neighbors compel me to rebuke this unjust law.
The Rev. Jennifer Butler is CEO of Faith in Public Life, a nationwide network of more than 50,000 faith leaders, and was chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under the Obama administration. She is the author of “Who Stole My Bible?: Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny.”