Sometimes it’s possible to whip off a story or interview without much reflection. Other times we have to pause, determine what our personal beliefs are or reframe them. January was the month of the Women’s March and the turnout and volume, quantitative and audible, was impossible to ignore. Social Media was swept up in goodwill for womankind and all mankind in general. While not every woman could communicate the causes they marched for, many stated they felt a beautiful sense of community and empowerment. If you visit the official Women’s March website, it outlines the causes for marching in detail. The Women’s March organization states for example:
We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential. Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one’s own friends and community as well as to the opponent. Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
It also declares as part of their manifesto:
We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.
It would take a book to discuss each and every element of The Women’s March but what is obvious is the Women’s March has popular support from very vocal and visible members of society. Celebrities such as Lena Dunham, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep were quick to back up the movement through social media and content creation such as videos and t-shirts with particular emphasis on reproductive rights like abortion. In weighing sides of an argument we believe it is necessary, no matter how controversial, to hear both sides of the argument. At this moment, the quieter voice during the time of the Women’s March and in ongoing women’s rights conversations was and is the pro-life movement.
Maybe you shudder or cheer at the thought of hearing the pro-life perspective but we hope you will approach the following interview with pro-life activist, Stephanie Gray, with an open-mind. Ultimately you have to decide where you stand on a given issue and ideally weigh each side of the argument without confirmation bias (is that even possible?). Choosing a stance on abortion is one of the most difficult decisions today because it comes down to the question, “When do you believe life begins?” Phrased in an even more difficult way but a question that may arise is, “If you’ve had an abortion, you probably did not believe that life begins at conception. However when you are trying to conceive and finally do so, does your perspective on where life begins change?” This is one of many heart-wrenching questions that arise in the debate between taking a pro-choice or pro-life stance. Furthermore, if you take a pro-life perspective, you’re acknowledging that millions of babies have been killed.
In reading this interview keep a couple things in mind: 1. Stephanie Gray is coming from a Christian perspective and you can’t read what she has to say without understanding where her core beliefs fall. She states them boldly. Most pro-life activists are Christian and so it would be difficult to separate the one belief from the other. Keep in mind both sides use science for their argument.
2. Depending on where you end up landing on this subject, it might be necessary to reanalyze the Women’s March definition of the non-violent concept as well as what reproductive rights entails. If you fall on the side of pro-life you will find you need to reframe your definition of non-violence and human rights. A daunting task for certain.
3. For the sake of transparency we have included links to information and studies that support the pro-choice and pro-life perspective. As we already stated, it’s important to hear both sides of an argument before you decide where you stand on an issue. The third option of course is to decide not to care. We are not trying to conceal any relevant information although this is not an exhaustive piece on the topic.
With no further adieu (and that was a long adieu) below is our conversation with Stephanie Gray, pro-life activist.
I noticed at the top of your Wikipedia page it focuses on your past work with the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform whose mission it was “to make abortion unthinkable via graphically disturbing images.” I feel like if you were googled by a random person they might be horrified by this method. Where do you stand on using graphic images in communicating about abortion now?
I spent my whole career working for the previous ministry that I founded which as Wikipedia emphasizes is very image based. I still see the place for images. The images are like any tool that we have access to. It does matter how we use the tool. Even when I use images in a talk, not just abortion images, any video, I think, “what is the best place in my talk or for this story?” I always want to make sure I maximize something’s effectiveness so I think the images absolutely need to be out there and I say, “the pictures are the victims voice.” If you have a survivor of the Rwandan genocide badly attacked with a machete they’re going to have a very scarred face and we would never say please don’t come share your story visually in person because it’s too graphic, tell it on the radio. We would never say that. The trauma to you is your story and we need to know that. So the abortion pictures are the only way in a sense the victims can tell their stories. I think there’s a place for them but every time they’re used you want to think about how. At this point because I’m not actually involved in the other ministry and formulating how they should best package them I use them now in the context of the talks and sometimes do, sometimes don’t.
Do you find that most pro-lifers are Christians?
For sure the majority. That said, I have worked with people who have said they are atheist and pro-life, anarchists for life, there’s a minority of those groups but the majority are Christian and of various denominations.
Is there a pro-life movement within Islam or any other religions?
My understanding is that any of the major religions if you go to someone who practices orthodoxy, very devote in their religion, my understanding is they would be pro-life. And I do know there are for example, Jewish pro-life organizations. I’m not aware of any Muslim ones but my understanding is their general philosophy is one that would reject abortion because they would reject sex outside of marriage and they believe in having lots of children. The general perspective would be pro-life but in terms of who makes up the movement, actively trying to engage the culture, it is for sure Christians.
What would be the Canadian equivalent of Planned Parenthood be?
They recently went through a name change in Canada to Options for Sexual Health. They go provincially: Options for Sexual Health BC, Options for Sexual Health Alberta, etc. That would be the closes thing but in the United States Planned Parenthood does abortions while in Canada, Options for Sexual Health doesn’t do abortions in clinic. An Options for Sexual Health Clinic would refer you to BC Women’s Hospital or any number of abortion clinics.
If a woman finds out she has an unplanned pregnancy what would she hear at Options for Sexual Health (Or Planned Parenthood) vs. a crises pregnancy centre such as the Pregnancy Options Society? Options for Sexual Health states on their website:
Some groups opposed to abortion offer pregnancy counselling using misleading language to make you think you will get accurate information on all your choices and rights. Their purpose is to talk you out of the option of abortion, and to do so they may use false information about the effects of abortion, ignore your rights, and apply religious pressure. Such groups include Birthright, Pregnancy Options Society (formerly known as the Crisis Pregnancy Centre) and Pro Life BC, which is using an “OptionsBC” web site to disguise its agenda.
I have a friend who runs an undercover pro-life organization in the states and they kind of go under cover at Planned Parenthood to hear what they really say directly. I’ve never gone in and heard what they say but my understanding is what makes them stand out is they would present abortion as a reasonable option: That it’s something as acceptable as parenting would be acceptable or as adoption would be acceptable. Versus, hopefully, a pro-life pregnancy centre would present the facts of all three options. How the facts are presented are going to clearly show that one of these options isn’t very good because, “wow, this is what fetal development looks like and wow, the heart is beating at three weeks” and so they communicate information that is still factual and scientific, but they communicate it in a way and language that makes it more clear. Versus, if you talk about embryo and pregnancy termination and these terms aren’t defined, it can seem more equal to the other options as opposed to being inferior.
I noticed on the Planned Parenthood Site that when you click through to the pregnancy options the first option they present is abortion, and then adoption, and then parenting.
Even what order you present things in makes a difference. To present abortion first, especially when someone is in crises, they feel their world is falling a part, of all the options abortion is the one that seems like instantaneous relief. Maybe not long term relief. While with the other two options there’s going to be more complicated encounters with loved ones, work and so forth.
From your knowledge, where do pro-choice advocates believe life begins vs. pro-life?
People who support abortion will generally say it begins sometime before birth but not in the first trimester. There is a minority who will say life begins at birth but the vast majority in Canada and the U.S. oppose abortion in the third trimester. They support it in the first trimester. You’ll also hear them say an abortion should be before the fetus feels pain.
How do they know when the fetus feels pain?
Well exactly. There are competing studies. So you have some studies that say by 20 weeks the fetus feels pain and you have other studies that say, actually, it’s looking like at the end of the first trimester the fetus can feel pain: at 9 ½ certainly by 13 weeks. So that’s way lower than the 20-week mark. There are other people who say abortion should be before consciousness, but again, how do you prove that? And there’s more and more studies coming out about how early in pregnancy the pre-born child is developing and we’re learning things we didn’t know before. Pro-choice will often rely on those developmental landmarks versus the pro-life perspective that science has established, that life begins at fertilization. That’s most clearly understood, getting controversy out of the way, by looking at other species that reproduce sexually. If we were to talk about dogs, or cats or horses, everyone would agree that sperm-egg fusion and fertilization, that’s where life begins. But then with our species we tend to say, “Oh we don’t know where life begins,” or it’s a debate.
A common question is, if abortion will happen, whether it’s legal or not, shouldn’t there be safe places for women to go?
So whenever that comes up, I like to take the terms that are used and define them so when we say, “Shouldn’t there be safe places,” we have to ask, what do we mean by safe and safe for who? For example, if the pre-born child is human, then whether or abortion is legal or illegal, it’s never safe for the human that gets dismembered. So that statement, “we need safe places” is making the assumption that the child is not in the picture and it’s also making the assumption that a legal abortion is safer when we know that while some women don’t have complications, other women do. With any surgical procedure there actually are risks of hemorrhage and uterine perforation. There’s documented increased risk of breast cancer. So even with legal abortions, there are potential risks that come with it.
With the abortion/breast cancer thing there are a lot of studies that show a connection and there are other studies that show there is not so it often becomes a study battle, “while my study found this.” What I often do is I explain the biology that explains the thinking behind the claim that there is a connection. I once did this to a group of medical students and no one could argue with me. I simply said we know what decreases women’s risk of breast cancer and what decreases her risk is having babies, having lots of them, and breast-feeding. Why? Well because those three factors means she’s having less menstrual cycles. Less menstrual cycles means less estrogen and it’s exposure to estrogen that is a factor for getting breast cancer. Then I say look at a woman’s body when she is pregnant. First trimester her estrogen levels sky rocket with a form of estrogen called estradiol and that causes the cells in her breast to multiple and if she has (you could say) bad cells in her breasts that could eventually develop into cancer in the future, those are going to multiple. If she completes her pregnancy, by the 32nd week of pregnancy, those breast cells which are undifferentiated and in a vulnerable state become differentiated and take on the express purpose of producing milk. So the vast majority of abortions happen in the first trimester before the cells have differentiated. When you cut that pregnancy off unnaturally, you leave them in a vulnerable state where you’ve multiplied the bad ones.
In my experience when you’re preparing to breastfeed or are breastfeeding you’re told all the time that it reduces the risk of breast cancer.
So we just have to say we all agree with this, even abortion supporters. When you end a pregnancy early it doesn’t mean you will get breast cancer, just like I can smoke and not get lung cancer. It also doesn’t mean that if I have lung cancer, I’ve smoked. I’m not saying if a woman has breast cancer she’s had an abortion I’m just saying if she’s had an abortion, there’s increased odds she could develop breast cancer even if she never does, especially if you add in a woman having a family history of breast cancer. The increased risk to that woman thinking about an abortion should be considered.
How would you say abortion became normalized?
You know I think we’re starting to see how because of what is happening with Euthanasia. I was talking to a friend and we were saying, “What was it like in 69, 70, 71 when abortion became legal? While, it’s probably like 2016, 2017, 2018 when euthanasia became legal. You know, one person makes the choice and they tell some of their friends and family. They can see the individual might be torn up and confused but they want to accept that person and the choices they make and so when they then are in a different situation and they start talking to someone, they think of that scenario and say, “Maybe it isn’t so bad because I know someone who did it.” So it gradually becomes like a snowball. You start rolling it and rolling it and it becomes bigger and bigger. I think it wasn’t in an instant but when one person makes one decision, they’re also individually going to feel better if other people did what they did because their conscience will be numbed more and so that’s what I think happened. More and more people started making that choice, rationalizing their involvement, even if they didn’t have one maybe they drove a friend or they sat with their sister. There is a degree of guilt there and if you’re not willing to own up to your guilt, that you made a mistake, the alternative approach is to embrace your guilt and say it was right. It becomes a movement for you which I think is why a lot of the activists in the abortion rights movement are post-abortive themselves. But they’re in denial versus the post-abortive women activists in our movement who acknowledge what they did, regret it and then try to transform and redeem the situation. A group you’ll definitely want to hyper link to is called Silent No More Awareness. They’re a group of men and women who have been involved in abortion, obviously the men losing their children, and sharing their testimonies of regret. They often travel around to college campuses and give testimonies, do media campaigns and so forth.
I get the impression from the pro-choice movement that they consider themselves to be pro-women while they view pro-life activists as anti-women. Why do you think this is? Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the abortion debate.
I think it depends on whom you’re speaking to. The pro-life group would say we are pro-woman! In fact, my friend runs a blog called Pro-Woman, Pro-Life. But I think again, it’s kind of like, for lack of a better term; if you’re in a battle and you have an enemy, if you’re against a cause or an individual you have to justify your position by labeling them as being bad in some way or against something that is good. So if we are pro-women why would you want to be against the pro-life movement. It’s a label that the abortion rights movement has put on pro-lifers to justify and rationalize opposition to our movement, to try to rationalize to themselves that they are doing something good because they can’t really say they’re pro-child, when you look at the facts of abortion. However, if they’re in that state of denial and they don’t want to admit what they’re promoting and what they’ve done, then the only way to stay in a state of denial is to tell yourself, “you must be doing something good.” That’s why they’re convinced they’re helping women. I know abortionists, and we’ll sit over coffee and you can see they have convinced themselves they are doing a service to women. I think it’s a rationalization.
What should be the Christian response (as most pro-lifers are Christian) to a woman who decides to keep an unplanned pregnancy? Practically speaking it’s almost easier to offer grace to a women who has had an abortion, to welcome in a woman, then to say to that woman who decides to keep the baby, “We will be there for you, we will be your community, we will help you with this child and potential adoption.”
I think something that needs to be encouraged more is adoption. It’s funny, in my work I’ve found people who I’ll debate with in conversation and they often consider adoption the worse of the three options. My analysis as to why is because abortion is, “I’m going to get rid of you before I can bond, before I connect, before I want you in my life.” Parenting says, “I am going to bond with you, but then I’ll keep you and I’m bonded so that’s great.” Where as adoption says, “I’m going to bond with you, I’m going to fall in love with you, I’m going to go through painful labour for you and then at the end of it all, I’m going to place you in the arms of someone else.” So that is hard. And because our culture typically resists doing hard things, when you look at that, it’s the worst option. But if we endeavor to be a truly pro-life culture which is a pro-loving culture and love meaning to will the other good, then we have to say, “What is in the best interest of my child?” That might be placing the child in the loving arms of a couple that can raise that child in a loving, two parent home. It doesn’t always mean that. I know a young girl who was raising a child on her own but she was given a family atmosphere, by an older married couple who have welcomed her and her child into their life, so even though she is parenting, she is doing it with the support of another family. There is a new campaign; I think it’s called Adoption in Canada. The challenge of promoting adoption is it has to be done a long with the education on why abortion isn’t good and so forth because if not, it doesn’t matter how great adoption looks, as long as abortion seems more enticing than the vast majority of woman are going to choose it.
The other interesting tidbit is when it comes to newborn children, there are waiting lists for people to adopt those children but when it comes to 3, 5, and 10-year-old children, they’re waiting for homes. I know so many friends in my own circle who have adopted children, some of them have adopted children who have been in the foster care system who are older but more often than not in Christian circles the types of children that will be adopted will be adopted from infancy and adopted from overseas. But there are so many children right here in Vancouver that are in the ministry just waiting for good homes.
From your viewpoint then, how important is talking about abstinence?
You have married couples who have abortions for example, poor immigrant couples who come to Canada and money is tight and they get involved with social workers who encourage them to have an abortion but the majority of cases we’re dealing with are people who are not in the committed state of marriage and so let’s be real, it isn’t ideal to have a child. Of course even though it’s not ideal, the child already exists so you have to work with that. We know God creates laws for our good and boundaries he’s set up are for our benefit so his laws on sex being a sacred thing for marriage, is because it’s beneficial to us.
The Women’s March that recently happened addressed more issues than just abortion. Would you march for those other issues?
I wouldn’t because I think even how they respond to those other issues are not necessarily aligned with the Christian world-view. They’ve kind of made a lot of choices to create problems that they are then trying to fix. Obviously when we create problems we do want to fix them but if they lived the way God has laid out for us, yes we’re still going to face problems, you could not smoke and still get cancer, you could not be promiscuous, not have abortions and still struggle with infertility but the reality is, if you’re getting STI’s and developing scar tissue inside, you’re on the birth control pill for years and then you’ve had an abortion, all the things they’re promoting are then contributing to the things their now fighting like infertility and so forth. To me the organizers of a march like that hold a world view that is so misguided overall even if elements of it have merit. I wouldn’t march.
What do you think about the part of the pro-life movement that has been violent?
Certainly I would say I condemn it. What I have found in connecting with pro-lifers all around the world is the people who really align with the pro-life movement and actively communicating messages and doing things to try to change the culture are not at all involved in violence Instead you have random lone rangers who are anti-abortion and will go and commit an act of violence but they’re not at all involved in the mainstream movement and don’t really align themselves with any of the organizations that make up what the pro-life movement is.
Stephanie has a new book out called, Love Unleashes Life. Could you explain to us what the book is about?
My training in pro-life apologetics started when I was 18-years-old. My brain for whatever reason is wired to be almost like a lawyer, very logical, structural, orderly, so it just made so much sense to me to use this approach when dialoguing about abortion. As the years went on and the more I learned the socratic approach of asking questions the more I started to understand where the person I was dialoguing with was coming from. They would tell me their stories: They had had abortions or brought their friend to a clinic, or were abused as a child and I started to see how an individual’s own past, woundedness, trauma and sin can very much impact their ability to see, let alone receive the pro-life message. So it’s not that I abandoned the apologetic pro-life approach but I began to add to it and broaden it and just love the person I was encountering as much as I loved pre-born children, who I was there to defend, and being open enough and flexible enough to do this. Love Unleashes Life is about the life-changing power of this approach.
Thank-you for talking with us, Stephanie. To readers, we hope you will leave your comments below in a respectful and loving manner. We look forward to hearing from you.