I was invited to a cross-cultural women’s dialogue on abortion and women’s reproductive rights in China. You didn’t have to be fluent in Mandarin, you just had to have proper ZOOM etiquette.

The attendees were scattered all over China, the UK, and the USA. They included medical students, doctors, therapists, translators, and college students. Some had a vested interest in the issue; others were just curious about birth control options. Then me. A former advocate for teen moms in Chicago now teaching about irregular verbs in China.

The dialogue began with a gynecologist discussing HPV and condoms and pregnancy tests. She explained medical abortions (一种是药流), and surgical abortions (一种是手术流产). She advised avoiding spicy foods for two weeks after having the procedure.

Someone shared about asking for two weeks of sick leave. Someone else added, “But if you’re single and ask for leave, coworkers will talk about you.”

Then a question is pitched to my Zoom square. A softball, I thought, from a timid college student in the last row.

How does the church in America treat women who had abortions?

I pause for a moment, thinking about the oil and water concoction of abortion and religion. My first taste was at a small-town church in Southwestern Michigan. She was a cheerleader, he played baseball, the youth director the megaphone who leaked it to every blue hair in the pews. My mind fast forwards to my church in Chicago and think of a teen who got pregnant just to fit in with friends, another to avenge her ex-boyfriend, and another to secure a roof over her head. I think of the girls curious if they could get pregnant from a public toilet seat, something you don’t have to worry about in this part of the world.

I think of the girl molested by her youth pastor, then the one who slept with the married choir director, and the one in Bulgaria sexually abused by her violin instructor. Then another who thought she got pregnant by eating Chinese food, then one who wondered if the baby growing inside her would choke on a sesame seed if she succumbed to a Big Mac. I think of the California megachurch wanting my help to raise ten million for a wedding chapel, but couldn’t spare ten bucks for a Bible study to encourage teen moms.

I think of the bouquets strewn near the dumpster behind the old Chelsea Hotel in Uptown, Chicago, where I lived in 2015. The flowers marked the spot where a baby was thrown from a high-rise window by a terrified teen. Her religious parents did not accept the baby’s father. 

I wonder if flowers are there now.

I think of two of my Chinese students whose mothers wanted to abort them. I think of my dentist telling me his wife is considering abortion while my novocaine kicks in. I think of womanizers in the bible who made God’s Hall of Fame. Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, David, and Solomon. I think of the priest’s abortion potion for unfaithful women (Numbers 5:11-31).

I think of the woman at the well with seven husbands and wonder why she never became a mother.

I think of smeared mascara, the gloppy black tears, and shredded tissues of friends, coworkers, and former teenagers. I think of the tweets and the headlines and the hatred and picketing of today’s Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter.

Then I look into the eyes of the petite college student, still waiting for an answer, wanting forgiveness from a God she doesn’t believe in.

And I tell her the truth.

Many churches do not accept women who have had abortions.

I knew at that moment, I was the only one feeling shame.

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