With Track Record of Compassionate Responses Women Have Enormous Credibility With Clergy

By Dr. Jean Garton

Editor’s note. We are running some of the best stories and opinion pieces that have appeared in National Right to Life News going back to 1973, as part of our year-long “Roe at 40” series. My opinion of Jean Garton is no mystery to anyone who reads National Right to Life News or National Right to Life News Today: I believe she is incredibly gifted, the very definition of a powerfully effective communicator. This piece ran in the January 22, 1999, edition of NRL News.

jean-staker-garton5I confess to a lifelong addiction to mystery stories. It began when I was a child with the Nancy Drew series and has spanned everything from G.K. Chesterton’s “Father Brown” adventures and Agatha Christie’s tales to the current bestsellers by Mary Higgins Clark and John Grisham.

And I remember (in more simple and less militant times) when behind every criminal mastermind there was a femme fatale. In the movies we would catch a glimpse of her in a flowing black cape and a floppy-brimmed hat, often leaving the scene of the crime only moments before police would arrive to find the body. She would disappear into a crowd as she cast a smoldering glance over her shoulder at the police inspector who would dramatically shout, “Cherchez la femme!” (Look for the woman!) Yes, the woman in the thriller was always the one to watch.

Unfortunately, society today provides us with a not-so-thrilling and not-at-all-fictional mystery. While the corpse this time is an abstraction — the fundamental right to life — its demise has had terrible flesh and blood consequences: the deaths of over 38 million unborn babies.

We don’t lack for suspects. We wouldn’t even need to dust for evidence to identify one of the primary villains — the Supreme Court — whose fingerprints are everywhere. Were we to flip through mug shots we would be able to pick out the faces of other scoundrels — a worship of materialism, a militant strain of feminism which reveres abortion as a secular sacrament, and a timid response from all too many church denominations.

All of these have contributed to “doing in” the Judeo-Christian ethic that once formed the foundation for America’s law and accorded value and protection to human life at every stage and every age.

However, to find the clue to restoring protection to the victims, young and old, small and large, we would do well to follow the instructions of the fictional police inspector: “cherchez la femme” — look for the woman. Only this time she is not the villainess but the heroine.

While many women are employed outside the home today, theirs is still the principal responsibility for raising children, tending the sick, and caring for aging parents. Women overwhelmingly make the abortion decision and often negotiate family disputes over treatment decisions made about parents at the end of their lives. As we “look for the woman” we find them on the front lines of all the issues related to the value and sanctity of human life.

The Old Testament tells of midwives who were ordered by the king of Egypt to kill all the boy babies they delivered. But the midwives “feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (Exodus 1:15-17).

Women can again play a major role in the history of God’s people by becoming spiritual midwives. Midwives are not in on the conception process. They don’t “own” the baby and are not responsible for bringing up the child. What midwives do is help to bring babies into the world. The church today is in need of women who “fear God” and who challenge their religious leaders to speak up so that children will live.

In light of both women’s historic engagement in life and death decisions and the primary role they have played in the caring ministries of all branches of the Christian church, it is both natural and imperative that women assume a vigorous, leading role in nudging hesitant church leaders to speak out on behalf of the right to life. Ministers, we should never forget, are typically open to their input and advice because women have a track record of compassionate responses to the most intractable human dilemmas.


It is no mystery that abortion hurts women. Women can challenge their pastor, priest, or rabbi to discover for themselves the agony of post-abortion stress. Arrange a meeting between your church leaders and an aborted woman. How quickly church leaders would rush to help if they could see into the souls of aborted women tormented by the memory of their children who might have been.

It is no mystery that most services offered as an alternative to abortion are staffed by women who are volunteers. Women in congregations ought to urge their church leaders to be encouragers of those who counsel women struggling with an unwanted pregnancy or who comfort those suffering post-abortion pain. Their ministry ought to be acknowledged along with those who serve in mission societies, altar guilds, and other church groups.

It is no mystery that for years underfinanced pro-lifers have had to “nickel and dime” their outreach. Women serving in life-related ministries as volunteers ought to be able to count on help from their pastors and congregations so that the words adopted in convention resolutions or congregational meetings can be translated into deeds and action.

It is no mystery that aborted women often claim that no one ever told them abortion was wrong. Women have a right to be given the full message of Scripture as it relates to abortion and other life issues. Churchgoing could get uncomfortable for some people if the matter of the God-given right to life were to be raised, which is why so many clergy say they remain silent. Women ought remind those who are reticent or apathetic that it is not the role of church leaders to perform in such a way that nobody is offended.

It is no mystery that when church leaders are silent about abortion as a sin, they are also silent about forgiveness for that sin. Many women have been led to believe that in having an abortion they did the right thing. As a result, guilt comes to them as an unexpected and destructive assault. While the world tells them they have no reason to feel guilty — after all, it’s their choice, their right, their body — the real issue is guilt: guilt that is pervasive and destructive.


The Old Testament holds a lesson for us today as we look to the future. The wall around Jerusalem lay in ruins and its gates had been destroyed, but it was the spiritual leaders who first got down on their hands and knees to restore the wall. According to Nehemiah (Chapter 3), they set the example for others to follow and, amazingly, the massive wall was rebuilt in just 52 days.

If the wall of protection is to be restored around the most vulnerable in the human family — unborn children, those with disabilities, and people of all ages in the last days of their lives — then today’s spiritual leaders must lead. They must show a personal and pastoral moral courage that calls their entire flock to the task.

Many church leaders know in their hearts that by their silence they are accomplices to something ghastly. They know deep down that they have chosen comfort over controversy and opted for what is popular over what is prophetic. But settling for peace within a congregation that is built on a truce instead of on the truth, in time, serves neither God nor man.

This country is in trouble, but this country is going nowhere unless the church goes there first. To get through the chaos that characterizes our time, congregational and parish leaders must either move ahead or continue in old, stifling patterns. What the church needs is strong, passionate, courageous leadership and women who will serve as midwives to bring new life into the work and witness of the church. It’s no mystery that if that happened the struggle for the sanctity of human life would have a happy ending for women, children, and the country.

Dr. Jean Garton is the cofounder of Lutherans for Life and served as its national president for 17 years.