Many women with unplanned pregnancies go silently from the church pew to the abortion clinic, convinced the church would gossip rather than help, a 2015 study shows. More than four in 10 women who have had an abortion were churchgoers when they ended a pregnancy, researchers found in a survey sponsored by Care Net, a nonprofit organization supporting more than 1,100 pregnancy centers across North America.
“That’s a huge opportunity for the church to have an impact on those decisions,” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.
But only 7 percent of women discussed their abortion decision with anyone at church. Three-fourths (76 percent) say the church had no influence on their decision to terminate a pregnancy.
The results point to a church culture that often lacks grace, McConnell said. Among women who have had an abortion:
- Two-thirds (65 percent) say church members judge single women who are pregnant.
- A majority (54 percent) think churches oversimplify decisions about pregnancy options.
- Fewer than half (41 percent) believe churches are prepared to help with decisions about unwanted pregnancies.
- Only three in 10 think churches give accurate advice about pregnancy options.
“If [women] don’t start experiencing something different than what they’ve seen in the past,” McConnell said, “these numbers aren’t going to change.”
The church has connections with many women who choose abortion, Care Net research found. In the survey of 1,038 women who have had abortions, 70 percent claim a Christian religious preference, and 43 percent report attending church monthly or more at the time of an abortion.
But distrust of the church’s response is widespread, the survey shows. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe church members are more likely to gossip about a woman considering abortion than to help her understand her options.
When weighing an abortion decision, women say they expected or experienced judgment (33 percent) or condemnation (26 percent) from a church far more than caring (16 percent) or helpfulness (14 percent).
Only 38 percent of women who have had an abortion consider church a safe place to discuss pregnancy options including parenting, abortion and adoption. And while 25 percent say they would recommend a friend or family member discuss an unplanned pregnancy with someone at church, more than twice as many (54 percent) say they would not recommend it.
“While much work needs to be done to equip the church to help women and men with their pregnancy decisions, there are positive signs that many churches will be receptive to efforts to implement programming that addresses this need,” said Roland C. Warren, president and CEO of Care Net.
“The survey shows that frequent churchgoers – people who know the church best – were significantly more likely to believe the church is prepared to provide loving, compassionate support for those considering abortion, especially those attending evangelical churches.”
How churches respond is key, McConnell said.
“For most women with an unwanted pregnancy,” McConnell said, “if nobody is willing to say, ‘We’re going to help you through this,’ it’s hard for them to rationally say they should keep the child.”