Imagine being a teenage girl asking yourself this question. A teenager should be asking herself what color dress to wear to prom, what movie to see on a Friday night, or whether she should choose her friends or her boyfriend for a fun evening out. Unfortunately, some teens have made the wrong decisions. This may have been a choice to sleep around. It may have been a choice to frequent parties and drink with a boy who took advantage of her. With the best or worst intentions in mind, teen girls end up pregnant all the time.
In 2006, approximately 742,990 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 became pregnant. Of these girls, a little over 19% had an abortion. (guttmacher.org US teen pregnancy trends p.7 <http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/USTPtrends.pdf>) That is over 200,000 abortions, only in girls aged 15-19. For me, these numbers are terrifying. We ought to be asking ourselves why the facts show what they do. An overwhelming number of teen girls are becoming pregnant each year. That is a discussion for another day, though. Here I want to address why so many teenage girls have abortions.
There is no doubt that these girls are devastated by the thought of taking on the responsibility of a child. There are natural fears and pressures from families who do not want the responsibility as well. As much responsibility as is put on the child who became pregnant, though, I wonder how much we as Christians can affect a girl’s choice. I believe we have handled this particular situation, and so many others, completely wrong. We are not loving and forgiving as Christ has called us to.
Let’s use Maura as an example. She was a fifteen year old girl whose parents split when she was too young to remember. She never had a father figure and her mother was always working. Like most 15 year old girls, Maura just needed to feel loved. Her Christian mother did try to protect her daughter from making poor choices, but this led to her feeling isolated and different from her peers. All she wanted was to fit in. Eventually, she met a boy and fell hard for him. After a few months of dating, their hormones went wild. They both wanted to be loved, accepted, and close to each other, so one thing led to another. Long story short, Maura only had sex the one time. Her guilt got the most of her and she stopped talking to the boyfriend. He moved on quickly and she was alone again. After three months, she realized that she was not having periods. She took a test and her heart sank when she saw those two pink lines.
Now I am going to lay out some realistic expectations for Maura. Her mother, of course, will feel like a failure. She was not able to protect her daughter and feels guilt for the situation her daughter is now in because she left Maura without a father all of her life. Her mother is likely to take this guilt out on Maura and push her to find a boyfriend and get married, or to push to the opposite extreme and feel that Maura should not get into any relationship because she needs to focus on her child. Maura also goes to church. Whether anything is said or not, Maura will probably feel shunned and will not feel as welcome at youth activities. If she does go, many teens and adults will judge her without knowing any of her story.
As Maura goes into labor, her mom is likely to be hard at work to help care for the baby. The father has moved on already and Maura may never even tell him out of her own guilt. She will now feel the guilt of leaving her own child fatherless and keeping the news of the child away from the baby’s dad. She will feel little support from the church and may feel isolated and judged at best, condemnation for her and her child at worst. She will lose many friends and her religious family may shun her as she has now made worse mistakes than her mother.
Now let’s look at another option. Maura’s best friend, the only person she has yet to tell about the pregnancy, suggests they visit Planned Parenthood. No one will be the wiser and only she and Maura will ever know. With a 15 year old’s logic, the consequences will be as follows. She will have a huge secret to keep. What teenage girl doesn’t? She has already had sex, but with no resulting infant, that secret may be kept under wraps. She has no reason to tell the father of the baby or anyone else. She can move on with her life, having experienced sex, so she can talk about it to the cool girls at school like she almost knows what she’s talking about. She’s inexperienced and experienced enough with sex, depending how you look at it, that she can honestly tell her friends she will not do that until she’s married. The again can remain unspoken. No one at her church will criticize her and strangers will not look at her like a slut or “just another teenage mother”. She will get to experience that part of life she deserves.
Now how can we really ask how a girl could choose abortion? Out of fear, to put it simply. Out of shame, guilt, terror. As Christians, aren’t we called to love? Aren’t we called to heal the hurting and give to the needy? This is a prime example of where we are failing. Teenage mothers are still teenagers. The best things we can do to reduce teen abortion is to offer as much support as possible to these girls. We need to offer them forgiveness. They are still teenagers and they not only have a right, but a responsibility, to face that part of life.
During the teen years, a person discovers who they are and what they value. This will create consistency and stability for their child, once they have formed it. In early adulthood, young mothers need loving, consistent relationships. If they had these already, there is a high chance they would not have become teen mothers to begin with. These are some areas where we can help teen mothers, the children of teen mothers, and to lower abortion rates. Churches or individuals could offer a weekly or monthly “night out” of free babysitting. These girls may also strive from a mentor system, of more mature mothers who are willing to develop both a motherly, protective relationship, but also a deep, lasting friendship with these girls. These girls need to know that even though they have made poor decisions, we want to help them face the responsibilities of their consequences.
What would you do if you were Maura? What would you do if you knew Maura? Do you have any ideas of what we, as Christians, could offer to young girls who have become pregnant to encourage them to follow through with the pregnancy and delivery of their child?