Teens Who Choose Life in Unplanned Pregnancies Need Support and Respect, Not Shame
Today's guest post is from Kathy Norquist and Stephanie Anderson, who are both on staff with Eternal Perspective Ministries.
Last month, The New York Times ran a feature story about Maddi Runkles, a high school senior and straight A-student at a private Christian school in Boonsboro, Maryland, who became pregnant. After she came forward to share about her pregnancy, school officials disciplined Maddi for breaking the school’s code of conduct, first by suspending her for two days and removing her as student council president, but also by not allowing her to walk at graduation.
Both Maddi and her parents agreed with the first two disciplinary actions. However, they strongly disagreed with the school’s decision to bar her from participating in the graduation ceremony. Her father said, “Typically, when somebody breaks a rule, you punish them at the time they break the rule. That way, the punishment is behind them and they’re moving forward with a clean slate. With Maddi, her punishment was set four months out. It’s ruined her senior year.”
Maddi’s story has served to become part of a bigger conversation about how Christians can both encourage and uphold standards of chastity and purity, while still showing respect and care for unborn children and their moms, in a way that’s truly consistent with a prolife ethic.
In her interview with The New York Times, Maddi made this statement:
“Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby. Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”
That Maddi came forward and also spoke to her classmates shows real integrity, and a willingness to take responsibility and accept the consequences of her decisions. Unfortunately, the school’s actions only serve to demonstrate to other teens who find themselves pregnant that there’s so much shame associated with pregnancy that abortion is the easy way out and “the only answer.” Sadly, the message it gives to others is: “Don’t tell, or look what will happen to you! If you get an abortion, no one will ever have to know.”
But isn’t there a way for us to show both grace and truth (like Jesus, see John 1:14), to be clear that promiscuity is against God’s revealed will and therefore our own happiness, but also to honor a girl’s courageous choice to give her child life? Isn’t there a way to uphold rules, but still value relationship?
To be sure, the school officials are in a difficult position. But how different would the outcome have been if the school would have sought to support both Maddi and her child, perhaps by saying: “Because the school code of conduct was broken (actually, God’s commandments), there needs to be consequences. We respect Maddi for coming forward as she has and accepting these consequences. Yet we also don’t want to overlook the fact that God has taken something done against His beautiful and perfect will, and created this unique and precious human being which we do want to celebrate.”
In an article for The Chicago Tribune, Maddi wrote:
When girls like me who go to pro-life schools make a brave pro-life decision, we shouldn't be hidden away in shame. The sin that got us into this situation is not worth celebrating, but after confession and forgiveness take place, we should be supported and treated like any other student. What we are going through is tough enough. Having to deal with the added shame of being treated like an outcast is nothing any girl should have to go through.
…My school could have made an example of how to treat a student who made a mistake, owned up to it, accepted the consequences, and is now being supported in her decision to choose life. But it didn't. It is my hope that the next Christian school will make the right decision when the time comes.
Randy Alcorn writes in his book ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments:
No matter what one’s view of sex outside of marriage, clearly pregnancy per se is not wrong. It is not a moral, but a biological reality. Society should not treat the mother as a “bad girl” or pressure her to “solve her problem” by aborting her child. Rather, society should love her and help her through the pregnancy and the post-birth options available to her.
Society should affirm a woman for not taking the “easy out” of abortion to preserve her image and avoid some inconvenience, but at the cost of someone’s life. Whenever I see an unmarried woman carrying a child, my first response is one of respect. I know she could have taken the quick fix without anyone knowing, but she chose instead to let an innocent child live.
Though Maddi says the father of her child does not attend the same school she does, part of what makes these kinds of situations so difficult is that typically it’s the girl who carries the consequences and shame (which shouldn’t be there in the first place, because the baby isn’t the shameful part!) and often the father has no repercussions.
It’s unfortunate this situation has made such national news, since it could have been kept in house among believers to wrestle through together (1 Corinthians 6:1-6). Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The world is watching how we treat one another in the body of Christ.
Still, the sharing of Maddi’s story could serve to help Christian organizations evaluate their responses to unwed mothers, and make sure they align with their prolife convictions in a way that communicates both grace and truth.
May God’s people reach out in love and compassion to both unborn children and their moms. And may we demonstrate to teens that abortion really is never the answer:
Abortion may cover up a problem, but it never solves it. The poor choice of premarital sex can be learned from, reconsidered, and not repeated. The poor choice of killing an innocent human being by abortion is more serious, more permanent, and more unfair. It causes one person to pay for another’s mistake. Furthermore, it forces the young woman to live with the guilt of her decision and gives her an even worse mistake to cover up. Not only the young woman, but all society suffers from the attitudes fostered by the abortion alternative. —Randy Alcorn, ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments
Kathy Norquist works in Ministry Development for Eternal Perspective Ministries, and is also on the EPM's Board of Directors. She was Randy’s executive assistant from 1997-2015, and was also previously one of his secretaries when he was a pastor.
Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.