The Right Wing

Bible-Thumping Pastor Believes Women Shouldn't Interfere with 'God's Will' In Pregnancy—Except His Own Wife

Women who aren't "busy about having children" get into sin.

Photo Credit: sanderson1611; Screenshot / YouTube.com

The Pill is destroying America, making women into idle lazy tattlers and gossips, according to Arizona Baptist pastor Steven Anderson. His bottom line: Feminism, coupled with birth control, gives a woman the power to decide when to have children, allowing her to pursue other interests: “You know, my main goal is to go to college, and to graduate from college, and I’m going to be a lawyer and I’m going to be a doctor and I’m going to be a marine biologist.” Now, you may think that doesn’t sound idle or lazy at all. You may think it sounds good. But it’s actually bad, bad, bad. A woman who isn’t “busy about having children” gets into “sin!”

Anderson opened a recent sermon-length rant against contraception by quoting the book of Genesis: “Unto the woman he said I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16) A father of seven, soon to be eight, Anderson thinks women should let God manage their family planning. He has preached for hours on the topic, because the Bible, in his words, makes God’s will perfectly clear. "It used to be a young woman, she gets married, she has children, and that's her job.”

Male Christian leaders have been making this point for centuries. Why aren’t women listening? Martin Luther, patron saint of the Protestant Reformation, minced no words: “If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her only die from bearing; she is there to do it.”

See Genesis 3.

And 1 Timothy 2:15, which says women will be saved through childbearing.

And 1 Timothy 5:13, the source of the comment about women who are idle tattlers and gossips.

And 13 other Bible verses that tell us exactly what the writers thought of women.

If she dies, she is there to do it. Luther had this on very good authority. But when his wife’s most recent pregnancy became high-risk, Anderson didn’t choose to adopt Luther’s approach. He didn’t follow the evangelical adage, “Let go and let God.” Instead, he turned to some of the best modern medical specialists available, ultimately choosing a procedure that maximized the likelihood that one of two threatened identical twins would live.

Anderson’s wife chronicles their family life through a blog called: “’Are they all yours?’ Real life stories from one big happy family!” In December, loyal readers learned, when she did, that a pregnancy that was to produce their eighth and ninth child was in danger:

One twin (and his sac) is taking up the vast majority of the uterine cavity. This baby is overly active, while the other twin is hardly active at all, and wedged into my lower left side. It is also obvious that a bladder is not visible on the smaller (donor) baby due to low fluid levels. ... One baby is in danger of dying from severe anemia and dehydration, leading to brain damage and cardiac arrest, while the other baby struggles with an excess of blood volume that is likely to also lead to cardiac arrest and death. Untreated, the chances of the babies surviving are about five percent for one twin, zero percent for both.

God or nature, whichever you believe created human life, designed reproduction as a funnel. Hundreds of eggs and millions of sperm produce a few fertilized eggs, which produce half as many implanted embryos, which produce fewer still live babies, so that a couple will survive and grow up to have offspring of their own.

Conservatively, our ancestors averaged around eight or nine births per woman and a couple of miscarriages, as they would if women followed Anderson’s advice. But until the advent of immunizations, antibiotics and modern obstetrical care, the horsemen of the apocalypse largely rode unopposed. Population growth was kept in check by a brutal blend of maternal and child death.

Historically, close to one in 10 women eventually died of childbearing as they still do in places like rural Afghanistan. Globally, even today pregnancy is the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19, and annually four million infants die in the first month of life. Even in the U.S. over 500 women per year die of complications from pregnancy or childbirth, and another 30,000 experience some kind of catastrophic or life-threatening complication.

The early stages of life are fragile, and a lot can go wrong.

In the case of the Andersons, the problem was twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a condition striking about 1 in 1000 pregnancies. When a fertilized egg splits into identical twins, the separation is often incomplete. Many identical twins share a placenta. In twin-to-twin transfusion, one is literally parasitic on the other, garnering the majority of the placenta and blood flow, so much so that the parasitic twin may die from excess while the other dwindles away. Untreated, most die, occasionally taking a mother with them.

Christian patriarchs like Anderson pound the pulpit about women thwarting God’s perfect plan, but when push comes to shove in the pregnancy and delivery process, normal human emotions often win out: fear, love and the yearning for children who are healthy and happy. Anderson and his wife did their homework and she underwent a series of procedures aimed at maximizing the likelihood of a healthy outcome. The procedure that ultimately saved one twin — a laser ablation that severed their connection — also killed the weaker one, which was left with insufficient blood flow.

Mrs. Anderson’s blog chronicles the heartfelt anguish of a mother trying to make the best decisions possible for her children within the constraints of her spiritual worldview. Ironically, it also documents her multiple tirades against families with other worldviews struggling to make similarly anguishing decisions. When a procedure in Australia turned tragic — doctors inadvertently terminated the healthy twin instead of the one that was unviable — she railed not about the mistake but about the “monsters” who would dare to halt an unhealthy pregnancy. When a woman in South Africa spontaneously miscarried her twins after extensive fertility treatment, Mrs. Anderson derided her grief as a small matter compared to the moral horror of fertility treatment itself.  

Let it be said that the weaker Anderson twin almost certainly would have died anyway. But this, ironically, is a justification that abortion opponents have dismissed out of hand in cases like that of former Seattle Council member, Judy Nicastro. Nicastro wrote in the New York Times about her anguishing second-trimester decision to end the life of a defective twin who would have suffocated at birth. Commenters at Life Site News called Nicastro “sick” and accused her of killing her child “for her convenience.” And they used Anderson’s wife's word, “monster.”

Steven Anderson’s multi-hour diatribe against contraceptives, the tools that allow thoughtful, intentional healthier childbearing, sounds like the ranting of a madman. Here is a man who has gone so far down the rabbit hole of bibliolatry that he now lives psychologically in the Iron Age universe of the Bible writers. And yet, faced with the complicated options offered by modern medicine — choices far beyond the grasp of our Iron Age ancestors — Anderson and his wife transcended the authors of the Bible and even Martin Luther, author of the Reformation. They chose life in spite of their “pro-life” rhetoric; they chose it even when it meant choosing death. Confronted with a crisis decision that would traumatize any of us, they faced it with dignity and data, and they did the best they knew how for their family.

In that small story lies ground for both caution and hope. The cautionary warning for us all is this: The human capacity to see ourselves as entitled to something we would deny others is virtually without limit. Abortion providers tell stories of picketers who show up in their clinics as patients, all the while denigrating the other women in the waiting room. But self-serving biases know no political boundaries. Our best means of defense lies in surrounding ourselves with people who will call us on our bullshit.

The hopeful, inspiring part of the Anderson story is the reminder that often when dogma and love clash, love wins out. When it does, the very same reasoning capacity that has been put to work defending dogma can be repurposed in the service of compassion and connection. That is why, when queer Americans persisted in telling their stories despite the risk, the needle started moving on marriage equality.

To date, the most powerful tool of the anti-abortion, anti-contraception patriarchs has been shaming, often in the name of the biblical God. Many women make difficult decisions about pregnancies — courageous, complicated decisions that are worthy of honor. Like Mrs. Anderson, we struggle to live wisely and well, to give our children the best possible chance in life within the framework of our moral and spiritual values whether those values are religious or secular. But instead of being honored, these difficult decisions and the women who make them often become the targets of judgment and denigration. Alone and ashamed, women lose their voices to the point that they don’t share some of the most crucial moments in their lives with even their sisters and daughters.

With support from groups like the 1 in 3 Campaign and Exhale Pro Voice, we can help each other reclaim our experiences. In fact, I think we must, because the most powerful tool we have to end the shaming and denigration of women may well be our deeply personal, complicated and heartfelt stories. We need to share our stories face to face and then stand hand in hand and refuse to be silenced, so that someday words like “monster” and “idle” and “gossip” will fall to the ground like old leaves and decay beside the solid wall of our dignity and resolve.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington, and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of "Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light" and "Deas and Other Imaginings." Her articles can be found at valerietarico.com.

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