Teens having sex with each other has been a “thing” since Adam and Eve. And even though we have “protection” and “prevention” to keep the “unthinkable” from happening, there are still teen pregnancies.
While this reality is in decline statistically, we still occasionally have a story pop up in the news — such as the case of Maddi Runkles, a senior at a Christian high school in Maryland who was barred from walking with her class at graduation and removed from her leadership role on the student council because of being pregnant.
This was a juicy narrative that The New York Times and other media were quick to pounce on because of the perceived Christian hypocrisy involved. And frankly, I am tempted to join in.
Do school leaders really think ostracizing the pregnant teen stops others from having sex?
Do they really think there aren’t other teens at their school having sex?
Chaunie Brusie, a writer I’ve worked with, became pregnant in college, before she was married. She recently shared this with me: “Trust me when I say that many times, the woman who is pregnant is already judging herself enough already — she doesn’t need you.”
Brusie related how one pro-life speaker made her stand up and then cautioned his daughters not to become like her. Another pro-lifer shared the book “Hell Is Real” with her to encourage her to repent.
“How,” Brusie asked, “could I accept being a mother?” She shared how it took her a long time — after her daughter’s birth — to accept that she could get past a feeling of not being “allowed” to be happy about her child.
When I was in high school many years ago, I had a strikingly different experience when one of my classmates was pregnant. One of our teachers was not afraid to mention it or ask her about it, even encouraging her to share ultrasounds and, after the baby was born, to bring pictures to class. That teacher, who was also very active in his Lutheran congregation, was a witness to all of us of what Christian love, charity and community can look like.
What if we started with that? It’s certainly not a headline that will generate a lot of press. We wouldn’t even know Maddi Runkles — or be sick of her story and the Christian-bashing going on around it — had her school approached things differently. But it’s good to remember that there are actually worse things than being pregnant. The entire pro-life movement is premised on that belief.
It’s encouraging to read that there’s a decline in teen abortion rates. According to a May 2016 report by the Guttmacher Institute, adolescent abortion patients declined by 32 percent from 2008-14. Shame is down, which is just as well given the injustices at hand.
After all, the indignities of pregnancy don’t end at the strange cravings and aches, the longing for sleep constantly, the roller coaster of emotions, the moping and wanting to extract the alien life form from my body so that I can go back to being the normal me who doesn’t throw up all the time. It’s also the injustice of having strangers judge you because there is physical evidence of your sin, an ordeal no man ever has to endure.
But as Brusie commented: “No woman should ever feel ashamed for embracing life.”
Pregnancy is, in fact, a gift. It’s a sign of new life and all kinds of flourishing. We are made for this! However disordered our society has become, we, as Christians, must not forget the living witness that a pregnancy is. I salute the teen — and her parents — who braves the waters of quiet (and not-so-quiet) judgment to give birth to a baby, whether it’s a baby she will raise or not.
Those of us who call ourselves pro-life should remember that our actions have the power to feed every caricature those who disagree may harbor about us. And chief among them is the notion that we are anti-woman. If we are truly people of forgiveness, it should not be such a herculean task for us to be mindful of the heavy burdens we tie up on the shoulders of those — and only on those — who already have made the beautiful choice to bear an ever-burgeoning load.
Sarah Reinhard writes from Ohio and is online at SnoringScholar.com.