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Navigating the Complexities and Compassion of Abortion
in Hannah Matthews’
You or Someone You Love

To say my views on abortion have evolved over the years would be an understatement.

I was raised going to a Christian school where it went unquestioned that you should oppose abortion. I worked for a pro-life nonprofit for a year after graduating college. I studied the antiabortion movement in grad school. Over the course of all of this, I found my views on abortion shifting as I learned and read and experienced more to a point where I now fully support reproductive rights.

So if you told me ten years ago I’d spend my weekend reading a compassionate book about the necessity of abortion and other reproductive healthcare written by an abortion doula and that I’d be deeply moved by her account, I wouldn’t have believed you.

What is an abortion doula? An abortion doula, like a regular birth doula, accompanies people through the process of having an abortion. They help advocate for their client, answer questions, coordinate logistics and resources, and provide comfort and support. Hannah Matthews uses her firsthand experience as an abortion doula to explore people’s experiences with abortion in her first book, You or Someone You Love.

I loved Matthews’ book because it didn’t shy away from the complexities of abortion — the variety of ways abortion can look and feel and the varied reasons people might want or need an abortion. Matthews allows room for these complexities and makes it clear that people are allowed to feel all sorts of ways about their abortions — relief, grief, joy, sadness, apathy, regret, freedom — abortion as a big deal or not a big deal at all.

And Matthews explores the ways people’s experience with abortion is shaped by their identity. She takes us on a journey in her book. What abortion is like as an indigenous person, a person of color, a disabled or chronically ill person, as someone who is already a parent, as someone who desperately wants to be a parent. Again, her book presents a mosaic of experiences with abortion, all unique and beautiful and complex in their own way.

But what isn’t complex about her book is how compellingly it makes the case that abortion should be a legal and safe option for people. Again, it should be legal and safe for all sorts of reasons — the reasons people want or need abortions are as complex and unique as people themselves. Her chapter titles reflect these many motivations and varied journeys — “Abortion is Survival,” “Abortion is Care,” “Abortion is Parenthood,” “Abortion is Pain,” “Abortion is a Holy Blessing,” and more.

Matthews wrote the book in 2022, in the lead up to and aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade. Shaped by the many threats against reproductive rights, her book sheds light on the human toll of banning abortion, the ways banning abortion diminishes the dignity and humanity of people, violates their rights, identity, and religious freedom.

It’s a book that I’m happy to have an open heart and mind to read now in a way I couldn’t have ten years ago. Given the ongoing trends toward greater restrictions on abortion, it’s one that I hope others might be curious to approach as well with an open heart and mind.

Allison Vander Broek

Allison Vander Broek is a historian of American religion and politics. She earned her doctorate in history from Boston College, Her research explored the origins of the right-to-life movement in the 1960s and its rise to national prominence in subsequent years. Though she swore she'd move back to the Midwest after grad school, Allison still resides in the Boston metro area and now works in academic advising at Tufts University.


  • Pamela Spiertz Adams says:

    Alison, You don’t mention adoption. I have two biological sons and one adopted son. We did not adopt him because we could not have more biological children, We adopted him because he needed a home and a family. It was love. I am sure there are many more people who are looking to adopt for a variety of reasons. Adoption is a Christain answer to the abortion problem.

  • Tom says:

    I know this blog leans pro-choice – I have never read a strong or even luke-warm pro-life argument here. That puzzles me. I might read this book, don’t know. I’m sure the stories are moving and provide insight into why women feel a need for abortion. But, like every pro-choice argument I read or hear, this one breezes right past the fundamental question. That is this: is abortion terminating a “pregnancy” or terminating a human life. Because if it’s a human life, then abortion is fundamentally wrong – even evil, if I may use that term.

    All of the science demonstrates that an unborn child is clearly a unique, individual human being. So does everything I read in the Bible. So go ahead, make the argument – I’m open to having my mind changed.

  • Ben Dykstra says:

    Allison, thank you for this informative blog. After Row v Wade my pregnant wife and I marched against abortion rights. Today at 70 I am more likely to march in favor if abortion rights. My life journey has taught me not to judge other’s actions as I have watched acquaintances struggle with decisions that are not black and white.

  • Sharon says:

    Thanks for writing this Allison. From my experience abortion is a very complex issue. As said before, is this issue about a pregnancy or a life. The fetus or embryo is totally dependent on the mother to live until about 20+ weeks. Are we ever discussing and thinking about the mother?

  • RGAP says:

    If all the Christians participating in pro- life marches and anti-abortion protests would adopt the difficult to place children eligble for adoption their voices would be more credible. I am thankful for abortion doulas.

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    Thank you, Allison, for this review and for sharing your own journey with this matter.

    My Mother was Against Abortion

    My mother was profoundly
    though we never talked much
    about the matter.

    I do remember once
    when she enrolled, later in life,
    in a course to become
    a crisis phone counselor

    But then learned
    she would need
    to be okay
    with a woman
    needing an abortion.

    And she could not

    When a baby was
    on the way,
    regardless of circumstances
    my mother believed
    you made a way.

    But I also remember
    my mom telling me
    why she had her babies
    all seven of us
    at the Protestant hospital in town,
    never the Roman Catholic one.

    Because “they believed”
    if there was trouble when
    a baby was being born,
    the baby’s life should be saved
    before the mother’s.
    And she profoundly disagreed
    with that Catholic doctrine.

    She was clear about that choice.
    Her life came first.

    Oh, how I wish
    my mother could have
    come to understand
    another woman’s need for an abortion
    as a way for her too
    to put herself first

    © Emily Jane VandenBos Style, 2019

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Thank you, Allison, for your courage to write this. The book sounds like it honors the complexity of the issues women and families face during pregnancies. Sadly, all too often the debate about abortion among Christians, especially, simplifies it to a pro-life/pro-choice alternative, not recognizing all the complicating, painful medical realities pregnant women and their doctors face.

  • Joe Roots says:

    Treating others with dignity is a reflection of our own humanity. It’s the cornerstone of every meaningful interaction.

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