In Texas, where legal abortion has all but evaporated due to decisions by the Supreme Court and a state government dominated by conservative Christians, some white evangelicals are naturally trying to capitalize on the opportunity.
The Washington Post‘s Stephanie McCrummen has a lengthy story about one such “maternity ranch” — an appropriate word since the Christians are treating women like cattle — designed to house new mothers who might have chosen abortion if they had the option.
“A maternity ranch,” [Aubrey Schlackman] thought, and she could practically see it through her windshield.
It would be a place for struggling pregnant women who decide to have their babies instead of having abortions, a Christian haven where women could live stress-free during their newborn’s first year of life. It would have individual cottages for mothers. “Host homes” for couples who would model healthy marriages. A communal barn for meals. Bible study. The whole plan was clear, and when she told her husband later that night, he said, “Yes, this is what we’re supposed to do.”
“If I can offer these moms and babies a safe, structured first year of life, of calm and stability — that can change whole generations,” Aubrey said, and as she headed back toward her car, she started describing another vision, one that was even larger than a maternity ranch.
“What if Texas ends up becoming a model for the future?” she said. “What if Texas meets this shift in culture? And instead of having high abortion rates, what if we help single moms to become stronger moms, to become successful?”
In theory, this all sounds decent. Women sometimes consider abortions because they’re not in a good position, for whatever reason, to care for a baby. If they could get that help, fantastic.
But if Schlackman actually wanted to help single moms, she would vote for politicians who support a stronger social safety net, not someone like Donald Trump, whom she voted for in 2020. She’s not talking about the need for universal childcare, or paid family leave, or free and accessible contraception, or comprehensive sex education in public schools, or affordable health care for all. She doesn’t care about helping these moms so much as she thinks her conservative Christian vision of motherhood and society is the only acceptable one. And now she’s raised enough money to push her views on women who lack a social network and familial support.
She may think she’s creating a feel good story, but everything she says just screams disaster down the line. It sounds like nothing more than conversion camp for women who have nowhere else to turn. It’s not an act of generosity. It’s a way to use newborns to guilt-trip low-income mothers into becoming conservative Christians. Conceptually, it’s not much of a stretch from the Magdalene Laundries that caused so much trauma for so many people for so many years: If these women are out of options, they’ll have no choice but to accept our goodwill and abide by our faith-based decisions.
The website for Blue Haven Ranch is sparse, partly because this is a loose start-up more than an established non-profit… but also, I suspect, because they don’t want to reveal all of their intentions. They lack some important information that Schlackman almost certainly know the answers to already: What rules do clients have to follow? What are the long-term obligations of people who accept their help? Are they going to kick women out who support LGBTQ rights or don’t want to attend Bible study? After the first year, are the women just kicked out and left to fend for themselves having resolved none of the issues that may have caused them to consider an abortion?
What does the contract look like?
While no one’s forced to accept her “generosity,” Schlackman and her church have backed politicians who took medical choice away from women, only to turn around and act like they’re saviors for the women affected by the new laws.
They’re the cure for a problem they created.
Dahlia Lithwick of Slate offers criticism about this story from a different perspective:
This framing trap — that those on the abortion side are godless and those seeking to end abortion are people of faith — is one of the most hackneyed political clichés of the last decades. Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, an entity that offers holistic abortion care services, told me as much in an email: “As a progressive Christian abortion provider I am appalled by what these organizations are doing and how they frame Christianity, and I am stunned that the Washington Post would cover these organizations as if this is normal, sensible activity.”
It’s a problem when Christian cruelty is presented as a story of Christian generosity.
Here’s another question that went unaddressed in the Washington Post article and all the response posts I’ve seen so far: Why should anyone trust Schlackman, whose home church — The Village Church — is run by Pastor Matt Chandler?
Chandler even appears in a video on the ranch’s website promoting Schlackman’s vision. But there’s no mention of how Chandler and his church have been at the center of a sexual assault controversy. After a staffer was accused of abusing an 11-year-old girl in 2012, Chandler didn’t tell the congregation the full details of the situation and later said the man was leaving the church due to an “alcohol abuse problem.” The victim of that abuse later sued the church.
The same church also hired a lead pastor who was eventually fired in 2017 after secretly taping a male youth pastor in the shower at his home… multiple times. Chandler told the congregation that pastor was fired over a “sin issue,” which really glosses over a lot of important details.
If that guy is Schlackman’s pastor, there’s no reason to think she’s prepared to deal with the very real problems that may be present in these women’s lives. She’ll just blame everything on sin and Satan and act like the Bible is the only solution. It’s a simplistic solution for people incapable of handling nuance. That might work in Schlackman’s own evangelical bubble, but it’s useless in the real world.
The ranch hasn’t been built yet, but it’s already surrounded by red flags.