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As a historian of the antiabortion movement, I feel a little obligated to say something in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade. I confess I’ve been avoiding the news on this one. It’s a lot to see hot takes about your area of expertise all over the news and social media, especially when the stakes are so high.

My research in grad school focused on the lead up to Roe and the antiabortion movement’s response to it. I spent six years studying the antiabortion movement (and decades growing up in a community where everyone I knew opposed reproductive rights). Six years reading thousands of sources — books, newspaper and magazine articles, letters, flyers, meeting minutes, legislative records — all tracing the ins and outs of a movement increasingly set on banning abortion.

Despite my six years of deep research on the movement, I find myself at a loss as to what to say. I’m tired and demoralized, overwhelmed by the amount of work we need to do, and scared of what happens next for women in this country. And my patience for explaining that this wasn’t a surprise but just one part of a decades-long crusade and that we should have always taken Republicans at their word is wearing thin.

But I’m trying to stay at least a little hopeful because I know it’s possible to change your mind on reproductive rights. I know it’s possible because I changed my mind. I grew up pro-life. For years, I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t. I can remember writing antiabortion letters to legislators in a seventh-grade class and a high school teacher telling his students, all close to turning 18 and registering to vote, that the only issue we needed to consider when deciding who to vote for was abortion. I felt so strongly about abortion that I volunteered for a year after college with an organization that supported pregnant women and their babies.

Changing my mind was a slow process. First, I was all-in, ban-all-abortions pro-life. Then, I was pro-life but also convinced that we needed to actually help women and their children if we wanted people to not have abortions, that we should support comprehensive sex education and make it easier to access contraception, and that we should be consistent on all life issues.

Next, I was personally pro-life but not really interested at all in criminalizing abortion or supporting any sort of ban on abortions. And finally, I’ve reached a point where I strongly support reproductive rights and believe the decision to have an abortion should be left to women and women alone.

What helped change my mind? It was a variety of things. Reading deeply on the history of feminism, doing research for my dissertation, and learning how views on abortion and its morality have changed over time and how rich and diverse these views are across religious traditions. Listening to my friends who are pro-choice and hearing the stories of women who’ve chosen abortion. Learning about the ramifications for banning abortions and what things were like before Roe. Reflecting on my own experience and thinking about how I would respond in various situations. I’m now unapologetically pro-choice. Women deserve a choice, and women deserve to have autonomy over their bodies.

If I can change my mind, maybe others can too.

Allison Vander Broek

Allison Vander Broek is a historian of American religion and politics. She recently graduated from Boston College with her doctorate in history. Her dissertation, Rallying the Right-to-Lifers: Grassroots Religion and Politics in the Building of a Broad-Based Right-to-Life Movement, 1960-1984, explored the origins of the right-to-life movement in the 1960s and its rise to national prominence.

20 Comments

  • Paul Janssen says:

    Reading. Listening. Learning. Reflecting. Four behaviors that lead to wisdom and compassion. May more follow you along that pathway, regardless of where they ultimately arrive.

  • Nancy VandenBerg says:

    Thank you, Allison, for defining the changes that have occurred for you over the years with this issue. My stance on it has also evolved.
    Since the overturn of Roe I find myself struggling with how to explain my sorrow over this to my many pro-life family and friends. Any help is appreciated, so thank you.
    And any recommendations are welcomed.

  • Sharon says:

    As a nurse, I experienced miscarriages and never was able to see that baby in the ‘products of conception. I saw a fetus born at 15 weeks and knew that fetus could not survive outside the mother.

    As I thought about God breathing into Adam the breath of life and he became a human, I wondered if that was the time to help me determine when abortions should stop. When a baby is able to breathe on its own (or with some help from medical interventions) maybe that is how one determines when abortions should become illegal. That happens at about the time of viability or 21 weeks gestation.

    There are many other parts to this very complex issue. So we need to be wise and caring for those involved in these complex situations.

    Thanks for you sharing the evolving thoughts about abortion.

  • Jim Payton says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey on this controverted issue. Many of us have followed a similar trajectory … and your scholarly expertise only adds to the weight your witness carries.

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Thank you so very much. I hope your courage withstands those who don’t understand.

    This week’s New Yorker articulates the consequences and ramifications many of which were terribly unsettling and unrealized.

  • Johannes Witte says:

    I certainly can relate to your journey from pro life to choice. One of the fundamental issues is the question of when human life begins. The Supreme Court based part of their decision on the assumption that human life begins at conception. That assumption is relatively recent, if I understand correctly, in the long historical debate about the beginning of human life. The court has stepped into a philosophical and religious domain where it has overstepped the boundary of the separation of state and church (religion).

  • Harry Weidenaar says:

    Thank you for sharing your pilgrimage from one position to another. But what exactly are the reasons or experiences that caused you to change?

  • Roger Boyd says:

    Thank you for your thoughts, but I ended up where Harry has also. I would like to hear more about your reasons for the change. I would be greatly helped in my own thought process to learn more from you and others who have travelled from one viewpoint to another.

  • LENA says:

    I have an observation and request to make. The authors of the Reformed Journal are articulate people, who are rigorous researchers able to express their ideas/opinions in a challeging way. Allison too. However, I just do not see how most of these authors express a Reormed viewpoint. Yes, they come from a strong Reformed background, but their unique Refomed accent has evolved into something else that I and many others do not even recognize. Could the Reformed Journal change its name to something else that would actually reflect the nature of the blogs it is publishing?

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      Lena,
      I might suggest that the framing of Reformed ideas is rather larger than one person or even a majority of people’s opinion on a particular issue. It may be that a large Reformed tent helps us all to read, listen, learn, and reflect, as Paul Janssen suggests earlier.

      • Lena says:

        Rodney,
        United Methodists and other mainline denominations pride themselves on being a “big tent”, but the Christian Reformed Church was confessional and conservative, with statements and confessions about what we believed based on the Bible. The CRC sounds just like these other denominations now. Core Christian doctrines are being challenged. Actually, many of the pew sitters are still traditional, wanting to hold on to these basic Christian beliefs while many of the leaders in denominational positions are progressive. Here in lies the problem. I don’t think Allison’s perspective is shared by the majority of the CRC or even Reformed people. That is why I question why this sight is called the “Reformed Journal”. as if it speaks for people of Reformed churches. Change the name or let traditional Christian bloggers have a say.

        • Rodney Haveman says:

          The Reformed Tradition is much larger than the CRC (and the RCA)-thank God by the way. I think there are traditional Christian bloggers on this site, a number of them are friends, and I know they would identify themselves as such. I suppose, sadly, this may be another area where we might cast stones of who is Christian (or Reformed) and who is not. It breaks my heart.

          • Lena says:

            I’m not casting stones, just pointing out what I see. Nor am identifing who is not a Christian. But why isn’t their any blogs agreeing with the CRC Sexuality report since this has always been the CRC position? Why aren’t their any blogs that express gratefulness for the recent Supreme Court ruling on abortion? If your friends who blog on this site are traditionalists/conservatives, I’m not recognizing it here. I think we might have different ideas on what a Reformed perspective is. Maybe one of the traditional bloggers can write a blog about this. Also, perhaps, google “Reformed Christianity” and see what you find.

  • LENA says:

    I would like to mention that even with the end of Roe vs. Wade, women do have choice. If pregnancy is not desired, women now need to be extra careful with birth control use. Most of these unwanted pregnancies can be avoided by diligently tending to this aspect. I’m not trying to be glib, just highlighting a practical solution to that should be quite effective.

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      I hear this idea frequently, and to an extent, I can respect it. Of course, we do not supply insurance to all women, so access to the most effective birth control is unavailable if you are poor and choosing between food, rent, etc. and birth control.
      One could go to the local clinic without insurance to get free condoms, but of course free distribution of birth control is also prohibited in many places, and actions by certain legislatures have closed most clinics where you can get condoms, so again, you choose how to spend your money on essentials.
      Finally, it feels a bit rich to point to birth control when Justice Thomas wrote in his added thoughts to Justice Scalia’s decision that the end of roe and the dismantling of the right to privacy based on the 14th and 9th amendments should now lead to the end of birth control and other cases based on this fundamental right. I wonder when that will happen. Until then, I suppose birth control may be an option. It may not be in the not too distant future however.

      • Lena says:

        Rodney,
        Well, the people who will march and protest against to new Supreme Court decision now need to put their energies in helping make sure all women have access to birth control. People used to be against having to were seat belts in vehicles, but it does save lives and now people just buckle up out of habit. We have to get this same type of mindset out there. Since Plan B is now not a given, women have to make sure Plan A is effective. Progress can be made in this area.

        • Rodney Haveman says:

          What makes you think that those who march in lament of this decision are not also working on the very things I mentioned? The ones in my congregation who would march against this new vision for our country, are the ones who are fighting for a full vision of life after birth.

  • Tom says:

    Kevin Williamson on abortion:
    “If man is man in the likeness of God, then every mother is a tabernacle. That is one way of seeing the world.
    The other one is man-as-meat. I don’t think there is a third choice.”

    Once you can convince me that an unborn child is not a human being, a child of God (I trust the science on this one), then we can start talking about what choices should be allowed.

  • Henny Flinterman Vroege says:

    Very rarely is there any mention that 100% of pregnancies are caused by males. Gabrielle Blair, a Mormon, is writing some excellent stuff on changing the focus to men’s responsibilities. A moment of pleasure…

    • Phyllis Roelofs says:

      Thank you, Henny, I am sitting in a local coffee shop where it is quiet and cool. As I read the entry and the replies, tears can’t stay in my eyes. It has been too long that men have been “let off the hook” with this. As an adoptive mother, I am grateful for our wonderful son, but my heart still hurts for his birth mother who made a VERY difficult choice when she relinquished him for adoption. He met her five years ago, at age 47, and we are all grateful for the connection. Abortion or adoption, both are challenging decisions. I will not be one to cast a stone in any direction or order of throwing.

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