As the country prepares for a decision from the Supreme Court’s hearing of the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that could possibly overturn Roe v. Wade (the case that legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason), it is imperative that the pro-life movement continue to learn how best to support abortion vulnerable women.
We know that even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, women in crisis pregnancies will need loving assistance in order to embrace motherhood and live prosperously with their babies.
Distress is real during an unplanned pregnancy
I work with women in crisis pregnancies and I have learned a lot about what a woman experiencing a crisis pregnancy is thinking and how her brain is impacted by her situation and by being in a state of distress.
What do I mean by “a state of distress”? According to licensed therapist Brandy Frizzell of Breaking Free Therapy, who works with both former abortion workers and women in crisis, distress is “the psychological response to a critical incident”.
What happens to our brains during a traumatic event that causes distress? During the event, an acute stress response occurs, which manifests as either fight, flight, or freeze. This is our body’s emergency response system to the perceived threat. During this reaction, our prefrontal cortex- the part of our brain responsible for helping us make good decisions- stops working like normal and we experience impaired thinking, processing, and language skills.
When that part of our brain is impaired by distress, our amygdala takes over and we respond emotionally without the support of our prefrontal cortex helping us with rational thought. During distress, blood flow goes to the amygdala to promote survival. Our amygdala is needed for survival, but we need our prefrontal cortex to start working again so we can make better decisions and think clearly.
You cannot think clearly while in distress
Consider a woman in distress responding to trauma. Her thinking is impaired because her amygdala is highly activated. Her ability to process her environment is impaired, making it difficult for her to receive and respond to information appropriately. Her language skills are impaired, causing difficulty articulating her situation. A woman in distress is not thinking so much in terms of right and wrong as she is thinking in terms of danger and safety.
The abortion industry capitalizes on a woman’s distress
It is not that thoughts of right and wrong do not occur to her; it is that she is making decisions from an emotional state that is not supported by her prefrontal cortex. It is unfair to her to expect her to make decisions between right and wrong when her body is responding to threat. Her threats can be financial insecurity, partner abandonment, abuse, homelessness, and a myriad of other issues.
The abortion industry takes this incredibly vulnerable moment to coerce her into thinking that her baby is the threat. Her baby may feel like a threat to her safety, because her pregnancy is time sensitive (notice the emotional language there).
When a woman has an abortion, her trauma is compounded. She now not only has her crisis to deal with, but her abortion, too. She walked out of the clinic having received no help for the threats to her safety and security and now she has lost her child as well.
Our bodies enter into our distress response system in less than a second. When the traumatic event ends, our brains need about 48 hours to recover from the event. I find this number to be significant, because I made undercover calls to several abortion clinics in 2020 asking about abortion services. During every call I was given an abortion appointment within 48 hours. I told the clinics I just had a baby and was pregnant again, and that I did not think I could care for another child. I was given an appointment with no offering of alternatives. This is how the abortion industry compounds trauma and pain. It does not heal. This is not healthcare.
Responding to a woman in distress
How do we respond to a woman in distress? This explanation is found in Genesis 11:
“Now all the earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. Then they said to one another, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and fire them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.” -Genesis 11:3, NASB.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who regularly blesses both Jews and non-Jews with the mitzvah of teaching Ancient Jewish Wisdom, has spoken about the significance of this portion of scripture. Rabbi Lapin teaches that Nimrod began his construction of the tower of Babel by first convincing the people to build bricks instead of using stones. This is incredibly significant when you notice that stones are naturally created by God, but bricks are created by man. Much like people, no stone is exactly like any other stone. Bricks, however, are a different creation. Bricks can be man made to be identical to one another.
Women are unique beings, created by God. A one size fits all abortion procedure does not honor a woman as a stone, but rather defines her as a brick. Her “care” in the abortion clinic ignores her personhood and offers her a procedure that is not holistic. The pro-life movement can differ from the pro-choice movement on our care for women in distress. So, how do we care for her?
Caring for the whole, unique woman and her situation
The pro-life organization LoveLine: Love First, Life Follows sees stones; women who have unique situations, are given unique gifts by God, and have strengths and weaknesses that deserve to be tended to on an individual level. LoveLine does not offer one size fits all treatment. Women deserve better than that.
A woman is not meant to be scheduled for a procedure, put on a table or handed a pill, then be shooed out the door. She is meant to be listened to, cherished, and loved. Oh, how we could change the world by loving the hurting woman in front of us!
Our distress responses may help us survive, but do they help us thrive? A holistic approach focused on assisting a woman through distress promotes thriving. Women in distress are not facing the threat of a baby. A baby is capable of healing his or her mother on a physical level from inside the womb. Fetal cells provide active assistance in healing wounds in the mother. Scientists have also discovered that fetal cells assist the mother in healing after birth. Cesarean scars are healed with the assistance of fetal cells.
Breastfeeding also assists in postpartum recovery for mothers through releasing oxytocin to help the uterus contract to its original size. Babies are truly amazing at helping mothers heal.
Loving the woman is key
While we know that a woman’s baby is not the threat, we also know that a woman struggling with outside factors that inhibit her ability to provide for herself and her baby can overwhelm her. Our response to her must be an outstretched hand. The abortion industry will coerce her into thinking life with her baby looks like many shut doors. We can expose that coercion as a lie by assisting her with accessing the resources she needs in order to thrive and create a prosperous life.
And yes, a woman in crisis needs to be lovingly convinced that her baby is not the threat. Standing outside an abortion clinic shouting, “Don’t murder your baby!” does not lovingly convince a woman of anything. She knows what she’s doing. She doesn’t know the scope of her other options. We need to start with a conversation that impacts her. She needs to be told of her worth and exposed to the creative process of building a prosperous life with her baby.
Meeting her needs
What do we say? Well, at first we don’t say much. We let her talk. She will direct you towards her pain, her fear, and her barriers to parenting. It is our job to listen and to build trust with her. In a good conversation where the Holy Spirit is directing our listening, speaking, and thought, we will see opportunities to interject creativity into her destructive thoughts. She has been coerced into thinking destroying the life of her child is her only solution. We are present to stand in stark contrast to this lie providing assistance. No one prospers alone.
Whatever she is lacking, we must ask ourselves “how can we meet this need?”. Jesus met needs and revolutionized thought through His teachings. He applied Torah in unexpected ways and in all encounters, He directed others towards God through showing them His love. A woman in distress needs unexpected creativity injected into her life if her perspective is going to shift. Her needs must be met to promote changed perspective, and in all encounters, she must be met with God’s love. This will look like helping her find life affirming solutions to her problems.
The need to understand women in distress
Abortion has long been promoted as the solution for a woman’s crisis pregnancy, but I believe the time is coming when this lie is revealed in the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
As we wait anxiously for the legal decision, we must continue to do the daily work of loving on women in distress by first understanding why they are at the doors of the abortion clinic. When we approach a woman in distress with love and understanding, we give her an opportunity to access options other than abortion. As we pray without ceasing for the end of abortion, we must be prepared to offer her the help she needs to resolve her crisis and thrive.