As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the future of abortion in the country, many pastors and leaders may be surprised to learn how many people sitting in church pews have terminated a pregnancy.
Currently, justices are hearing oral arguments on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case about a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. After the opening arguments, some legal experts and pro-life advocates are optimistic the court will uphold the law and severely weaken, if not outright overturn, Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that ruled the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to an abortion.
Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the legality of abortion, churches can have an impact on women considering terminating their pregnancy because many identify as Christian and attend a local church.
Religious demographics of abortion
Seven in 10 women who have had an abortion identify as a Christian, according to a 2015 Lifeway Research study sponsored by Care Net, a nonprofit organization supporting pregnancy centers across North America.
The 70% of women who’ve had abortions that self-identify as a Christian includes Catholics (27%), Protestants (26%), non-denominational (15%), and Orthodox (2%).
Among Protestants, more identify as Baptists (33%), Methodist (11%), Presbyterian (10%), or Lutheran (9%).
Far fewer women who’ve had abortion identify as agnostic (8%), atheist (4%), Jewish (3%), Muslim (2%), Hindu (1%), Buddhist (1%), Latter Day Saint or Mormon (1%), or Jehovah’s Witness (1%). Another 3% say “other,” and 7% say they have no religious preference.
Many of those religious demographic percentages closely mirror Pew Research’s Religious Landscape Study, in which Christians account for around 70% of the U.S. population.
When asked specifically if they identify as an evangelical Christian, 16% of all women who’ve had an abortion say yes.
Not only do most women who get an abortion identify as Christian, many attend church at least occasionally, and some are attending now.
At the time of their first abortion, 36% were attending church once a month or more, including 6% who were attending more than once a week, 20% attending once a week, and 11% attending once or twice a month. Another 8% say, at that time, they attended only on religious holidays, and 24% say they went rarely. For 30% of women who’ve had abortions, they were not attending at all at the time of their first pregnancy.
Among women who’ve had an abortion and identify as a Christian, more than half say they currently attend church at least monthly, including 8% who attend more than once a week, 27% who go about once a week, and 17% who attend once or twice a month.
For half of those regular churchgoers (52%), they still haven’t told anyone at their church about their abortion. Less than 2 in 5 (38%) say someone at their church knows they had an abortion.
Women likely haven’t told people at their church because most don’t see the church or the people there as safe and feel they will be judged, not loved. Fewer than half of women who have had abortion believe the churches are a safe place to talk about pregnancy options (38%), give accurate advice about pregnancy options (30%), are prepared to help women with their decisions about unwanted pregnancies (41%).
Half (51%) don’t believe churches have a ministry prepared to discuss options during an unplanned pregnancy.
Two in 3 women who’ve had an abortion say church members judge single women who are pregnant (65%) and are more likely to gossip about a woman considering abortion than help her understand her options (64%).
Their attitudes about pastors mirror much of their attitudes about church. Only 43% of women who’ve had abortions say it is safe to talk with a pastor about abortion. Half (49%) say that pastor’s teachings on forgiveness don’t seem to apply to terminated pregnancies. Even fewer (42%) say pastors teach God is willing to forgive past abortion decisions. Less than 2 in 5 (39%) agree that pastors are sensitive to the pressures a woman faces with an unplanned pregnancy.
Women are twice as likely to say they expect to receive or did receive a judgmental reaction from the church compared to a caring one (33% to 16%), or a condemning reaction over a loving one (26% to 13%).
Only 7% of women who had abortions said they directly spoke with someone in their church about their decision. For 3 in 4 women (76%), local churches had no influence on their decision.
While few women intentionally seek out information and guidance from churches when making decisions about unplanned pregnancies, many are sitting in the pews prior to and after their decision to have an abortion.
Perhaps without even realizing it, churches are speaking to women who will face an unexpected pregnancy, are currently deciding how to handle such a situation, or have had an abortion in their past. Because of this, pastors and church leaders must speak with care and clarity when they bring up the issue.