Finding Common Ground

Finding Common Ground

I’ve never been inside a Planned Parenthood clinic. Picketed them when I was in high school. Driven by. Known people who worked there. But never actually been inside. Neither have I ever been inside a religious-based pregnancy counseling center. I can imagine what both might look like – each “side” vilified by the other in their collective imaginations.

Anyone know if there’s a movie or book out there similar to Dead Man Walking, but about the abortion issue? That movie captured, as well as I’ve ever seen it done, the two opposing sides of a very controversial issue. I went into it adamantly opposed to capital punishment. But even as he strove to present the humanity and repentance of Sean Penn’s killer character, never did director Tim Robbins let you forget who he killed and how merciless he was when taking those lives. Abortion needs one of those books/movies – because there are always two sides, and if you listen to the “facts” as presented by either side, you’ll never get the full picture. And you’ll definitely never get the unbiased picture.

I met a woman recently who told me about her experience getting pregnant out of wedlock in a small Texas town. Kelly wasn’t a teenager, but she was still young and scared and needed some advice about how to make such a challenging, potentially life-altering decision. She told me the most disconcerting part – back then, and as best I can tell, to this day – was the lack of impartial information available to pregnant women. In her opinion and experience, the pro-life/anti-abortion camp is never going to give you any information other than about adoption or keeping the baby, while the pro-choice/abortion-rights advocates are usually going to steer you clear of any counseling that smacks of faith or adoption as an option. I cannot comment empirically on this, as I knew from the earliest days that I would choose adoption. But I can imagine the anguish and confusion of a young girl, just wanting a kind, maternal person to help her navigate all the options and examine the potential consequences of each.

Those pro-life folks would have you believe that adoption is a panacea – but we all know that’s not true. Yes, the baby lives, but what becomes of him or her? What becomes of the birthmother? How many under-counseled prospective adoptive parents promise the sun, the moon, and the stars to the birthmother, in terms of openness, and then disappear as soon as the papers are signed, never to be seen again out of fear of the woman who carried and birthed their baby? As for keeping the baby – it’s hard to believe, but young women are still hurtled from their homes when tyrannical, abusive, and/or “religious” parents learn that their little girls are not no longer chaste, but are unwed and with child. What kind of parent does that? Probably a very damaged one. And suppose a young woman does choose to parent. So many sacrifice their educations and career potentials to care for their infant children. Is it impossible to rise above such circumstances? No, of course not. But you’ve got to admit, they are going into adulthood with the deck stacked against them.

And don’t get me started on how so many of these same, allegedly well-meaning folks, who want nothing more than to see that baby born, also think it’s a really good idea to cut money for childcare, healthcare, education, and nutrition because public funding of those things is “too costly.” You can’t tell a woman she has to carry a baby to term and then squawk at the idea of offering her aid to care for that infant once it comes into the world and needs, say, diapers and formula and well-baby checkups and childcare and, one day in the not too distant future, an education. Or are those just fringe items – luxuries that should be available only to women who can “afford” them?

That’s just one side, though. Then there’s the other side – the idea that all legal abortions are safe and that no harm is done when making that choice. We can probably agree that most women would rather not find themselves in the position to need an abortion. Who gets up one morning and thinks, Today I think I’m going to have sex that will lead to an unplanned pregnancy? No one – ’cause that’s the whole meaning of unplanned, right? We didn’t mean for it to happen. Now I’m not saying there aren’t careless, selfish, lazy women who have a pretty cavalier attitude about sex and have had more than one abortion, perhaps several. But I believe they are the exception. Neither is this to say that every woman feels angst or guilt or shame about the abortion, either. And who am I to tell them that they should? I wouldn’t do it – didn’t do it – because I would have had a miserable time living with that decision. Abortion, like adoption, can and does leave lasting scars for some women. When it comes right down to it, our choices are between us and our god/creator/consciences. No one else should really be involved in that part of our decision-making – the living with it part.

I have heard first-hand accounts from women who’ve had heartbreaking reasons for ending pregnancies. Who am I – or you – to tell them that their decisions are immoral? Who is anyone to try to impose their own personal beliefs on another? This is the conundrum of lawmaking – balancing the needs of the class that needs protecting against the freedom of the rest of us.

I saw a billboard today that said, “Take my hand, not my life.” Poignant and heart-rending. And still, as a middle-aged woman who has left Catholicism and organized politics behind, I stand firm in my position that each woman needs to make this potentially life-altering decision for herself. Do I believe that life begins at conception? Something like that. Do infants in utero feel pain? They very well might. Do I think there’s such a thing as a safe abortion? No, not really. Safer, perhaps – but not safe. Of course, that is also my position on many things medical.

Yet the Religious Right – which does not realize the role of patsy it has been playing for lo, these last 50 to 60 years – has given us an ultimatum. They don’t just want to make abortion illegal – their efforts now extend to sacrificing all of women’s healthcare to make their point. And that is where I draw the line. The more male politicians work to diminish our access and RIGHT to basic healthcare, the harder I will push back against them.

Let’s meet in the middle and agree that EVERY woman – regardless of age, race, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, education level, or any other label or divider you can think of – deserves access to healthcare and deserves dignity when seeking it. Let’s reduce the need for abortion by providing common-sense sex education to every boy and girl. And let’s make access to birth control free and easy. This does not mean that we stop teaching the value of a committed relationship and the benefits of waiting to have sex. Easy access to birth control and common sense are not mutually exclusive.

I believe that by putting women first, we can find common ground regarding an emotionally charged subject we have been taught will only divide us.

Walking Your Good Christian Talk

Walking Your Good Christian Talk

Good Catholic girl that I was, I was raised to be pro-life. I would still describe that as my general philosophy – but I’ve changed my political position a bit, in that I don’t think being pro-life and being pro-choice are antithetical. I believe to my core that abortion is a heinous act that should be a last resort; I’m not convinced that it always is, at least in America. However, the barn door is open and the carriage long gone – so making abortion illegal again is not the answer. Whom do you charge, and with what crime? Pro-lifers are trying to give personhood status to fetuses – something I don’t necessarily disagree with, except that it would mean charging a woman, who likely has already undergone some serious trauma, with murder. Whom does that benefit? You could charge the doctors – but what about the nurses, anesthesiologists, and other assistants? Are they to be charged as well? Where does it all end?

Having experienced a first-hand understanding of why women choose abortion, if anyone were to ask my personal opinion, I’d tell them I think abortion is a seriously flawed idea. But, then again, I’m not in anybody else’s shoes. I’ve heard and read heart-rending stories of women who experienced miscarriage after miscarriage – only to end up deciding to abort the one pregnancy they would carry to term because the baby would be so sick it would not survive. There’s always a bigger picture. So yes – let’s reduce the need for abortions. Let’s educate women – young and not so young – about where babies come from and how to avoid getting pregnant.

I remember reading a question from a woman in an adoption chat room – do you remember chat rooms at the dawn of the Internet age? She was pregnant with her fourth child, and her question went something like this: I had my first baby at 17, had an abortion at 18, placed my next baby for adoption. Now I’m 20 and pregnant again and I don’t know what to do. Really? Stop having sex! Or use some goddamned protection, for crying out loud! The problem is that so many of the people who oppose abortion also oppose birth control. Listen folks, you can’t have it both ways. We could make abortion a lot less necessary, but I don’t think either side really wants that. It’s like the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s efforts to “end” breast cancer. What would they do with themselves – and where would the money come from – if they ever actually succeeded?

So it was back in my high school days that I used to picket abortion clinics. You know the signs with the mangled fetuses? That was us. I honestly thought I was saving babies and doing a good thing. Then three things happened in short succession to bring an end to my picketing days.

First, I began to notice that I was often the only woman on the picket line. While I’m glad men feel compelled to get involved, unless a man is the father of an unborn child whose mother is contemplating abortion, he doesn’t really have a voice in this argument. And even then, it is the woman who carries the baby, gives birth, and – usually – takes on the bulk of the responsibility for raising that kid, should she choose to parent. So at its core, it’s a woman’s issue – and there really weren’t many women involved in the picketing, at least at the time and in the place I was doing it.

Second, we would begin each picketing session with a prayer. Imagine my dismay when my fellow “Christians” started to pray for the destruction of abortion clinics and the people who worked inside of them. Um – no! My God did not respond to prayers for the destruction of anything.

Third – and the issue that made me permanently hang up my picket sign – was the fact that the teenage daughter of one of the local right-to-life bigwigs suddenly found herself pregnant. Did that family walk their talk? Give that life a chance? Encourage the girl to carry her pregnancy to term? No, they did not. They marched her right down to the local Planned Parenthood and paid for an abortion so no shame could come to their good Christian family name. This wasn’t for public knowledge, of course – I overheard a conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear.

I remember pestering my dad, right about the same time, about what we would do to help the babies who needed our assistance. He didn’t really understand my question. “Well, if we’re pro-life and we want these girls to have their babies, why aren’t we inviting them to come and live with us until the babies are born?” In short, why aren’t we doing the very thing Jesus would have us do? That didn’t go over so well. I kept at him for a while, but soon I knew that enough was enough. I’d probably made my point – but we were a Christian family who was going to leave the heavy lifting to someone else.

Sister Joan Chittister has made headlines with her “scandalous” position on the meaning of pro-life. This quote is from her famous 2004 interview with Bill Moyers on PBS’s Now With Bill Moyers:

It’s so easy to be a one-issue voter. It’s also so superficial to be a one-issue anything. It’s a narrow, delimiting approach to the very essence of life. As in, “I go to church every Sunday but I don’t believe in welfare. I’m not going to support slackers. If people worked as hard as I do, they could take care of themselves, too.” Or even worse, “There’s no such thing as equal.”


As we prepare to cut one-third of the social services of this country, as we intend to balance the US budget on the backs of women and children for the sake of the affluent and the privileged and ignore the effect budget cuts will make on the lives around us, we have no right to call ourselves pro-life.*

Sister Joan hit the nail on the head. I don’t care what your position is on abortion, or any issue – when the time comes to put up or stand up, we recognize those who stand by their words because they not only mean what they say, but they also do what they say.