Monday, April 23, 2012


A firestorm of debate has been swirling in Rwanda the last few weeks related to abortion legislation. A study, conducted by the National University of Rwanda’s School of Public Health and the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, concluded that an estimated 60,000 induced abortions occurred in 2009. This translates to a national rate of 25 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. These estimates of abortion incidence in Rwanda project that one in 40 women aged 15-44 had an abortion in 2009. The researchers gathered data from a nationally representative sample of health facilities and knowledgeable key informants to draw these conclusions. It appears that from the representative sample more than 40% of women who had an abortion – suffered complications that required medical treatment.
Many pregnancies, especially among youth, are unplanned. (file photo)
Many pregnancies, especially among youth, are unplanned. (file photo)
Let me make these estimates practical. At the church I pastor there are about 100 women between the ages of 15 to 44 each Sunday. By these estimates at least 2 had an abortion and 1 suffered health complications due to the abortion in the last year. I lecture at KIST. In 2010 with my 143 female students 4 would have had an abortion and it is likely 2 of them suffered health complications. At first glance this does not seem like a statistical “big deal” until you start multiplying by the years of female reproduction. With a 29 year window of reproduction the number becomes catastrophic with 29 out of 40 women having an abortion in their lifetime and 11 of them having health complications.

I am consistently pro-life. I’m troubled by both the loss of unborn life and the loss of health (and occasional life) by unsafe and illegal abortions. What do people with strong pro-life convictions do with such statistics?
First, courageously pursue truth. This research was done by gathering a representative sample and then multiplying. Was the sample truly representative? If they are accurate we need to do some deep soul searching. If not, the statistics are not accurate. I’ve asked to see the research details, but so far do not have a copy. I would like a copy, and I think many others also would like to read the details of the research.
Until I have a copy I will still trust my pastoral intuition. My experience concludes there are many unplanned pregnancies in Rwanda (after all young people have sex and sex produces children). Many young women wrestle with idea of abortion. Some abort and face horrible consequences. However, most do not abort.

The religious among us sometimes spend far too much time and energy handing out blame. The practical result is in the process those of us who are politically pro-life are practically abortion advocates. We don’t deal well with paradox. Sometimes, we substitute rule-keeping for beauty. For instance, in advocating for abstinence we forget to be gracious when reality knocks.

In 2005 I was at a Groupe Biblique Universitaire (GBU) function at KIST. The organizers intended to encourage abstinence. They used a drama that poked fun at a pregnant university student. The students roared in laughter. I was aghast. If there was 1 young woman in the audience facing an unplanned pregnancy our humor had just told her to have an abortion. We had communicated we were not gracious enough to deal with reality.

Since then at least once per year I speak publicly at church and on campus that if you are pregnant and unmarried you can talk to me. I won’t hand out blame. I won’t solve all your problems. However, together we’ll find a solution that protects life. I’ve had a few people leave CCR when I preach that message. I’ve also had a few parents hold their teenage children’s hand and cry. Later, they’ve told me they are thankful a religious authority told their children that though we preach the beauty of abstinence we live the beauty of forgiveness. We would choose to have an unexpected grandchild over an abortion. I also mention that if your father is a leader in a Balokole church the unspoken pressures to abort are immense. I’ve watched young women nod their heads and after the discussions double check with me that “you won’t blame.” Exactly, I preach and live the pro-life virtues of truth and forgiveness.

Honestly, I enjoy holding babies whether they have a legal father or not. I’ll do all I can to help each one of those youthful friend’s children. I’ve performed a multiple of weddings where the bride was pregnant and I knew it. I’ve also hurried up my schedule with a “desperately in love” couple who had a full-term baby 6 months after the wedding. I had a suspicion, but chose to be discreet. I’m aghast when I hear of pastors debating whether they should perform weddings for pregnant brides. When most seasoned pastors double check their marriage registry records against their birth registry they find a surprising number of current church leaders who had children 6 months after their marriage dates. Truth and forgiveness are pro-life virtues.

Lastly, is the pro-life virtue of compassion. Some conclude that children conceived in chaos are best off not to be born. Some conclude that a child with certain medical difficulties caused by a crisis pregnancy and a premature birth are better not to be born. I respectfully disagree. The best evidence I can offer for the virtue of compassion is found in families and churches in Rwanda. Our churches and families have nurtured children born in chaos with medical difficulties back to astounding health. Who are we to conclude that they were better off not born? To do so would take the place of God. All children deserve a life in a family. Thus I am clearly pro-life. My community is one that practices the pro-life virtues of truth, forgiveness, and compassion.

1 comment:

  1. This is by far one of the most compassion inducing posts I've read on this often divisive issue. Thank you for sharing it.