Yesterday, I attended daily mass which happened to also be a Mass for the National Day of Prayer and Penance. I regret not having been better informed about this day in advance in order to have properly invited my family into observing this day with me. On Tuesdays, I attend Mass with my 5 year old and it is our special time together.
Now for the confession: While I have for many years been opposed to legalized abortion, I have not been outspoken in my opposition to it. I've done little to affect change or even to open dialogue about it. If you know me, I'm more of a "doer" than a "debater." And I happen to know that at least half my friends around the world are pro-choice, and many are pro-euthanasia as well.
I hesitate because I know that it is a very complex issue; I know every case is different; I know that I have not "walked a mile in her shoes;" I know the issue is complicated by rape, incest, drugs, genetic disease and other things. I also hesitate because, frankly, I have known I was infertile since I was 19 years old. A poorly timed pregnancy has never been a concern for me.
Nonetheless, Father Dean in his quiet way convicted me at that Mass. I felt moved to post something on my Facebook feed about it. Here is what I said, verbatim:
As of today, I have 709 friends on Facebook. If you chose to unfriend me for what I say next, I understand, but I hope you will hear me out first.
Today I am thinking about life. Today, at mass, I stood by Gabriel (age 5) who has been my greatest teacher (EVER). He was born at 27 weeks and though his odds weren't good, he not only survived, he thrived. He's a fighter. I looked at his sweet face and wondered, what if he had not survived to be born? What if his birthmother had chosen to end his life? Was she the perfect mother to him? No, but neither am I. Yet he is worthy of love and I cannot imagine my life without him or any of my precious children whose birthmothers were brave enough to carry them and bring them to birth.
I am constantly astounded that in the age of ultra sounds where parents can see their in utero baby just days after conception, we are still legally condoning killing hundreds on thousands of babies each year in the US alone. It breaks my heart.
I believe in the sanctity of ALL human life; I believe that the elderly, the frail, the immigrant, the disabled, people of all races and ethnicities, the poor, people who commit crimes and the unborn all deserve our respect and protection. They all deserve life and dignity.
If you don't agree with me, let's converse in person about it (my number is on my info) -- please do not send "poison darts" here on Facebook as that only results in further polarization. I do not have all the answers but I am interested in reconciliation. Let's talk.
I was astounded by the response, frankly. Only two people responded in a way that could be considered "fighting words." What resulted was an open-minded, open-hearted discussion about why people believe as they do.
In a later comment, I had the chance to state emphatically that I am not in any way pointing a finger at the women who have made this choice for themselves. I am not here to judge or to condemn another person's past. I cannot imagine facing that tough decision and I have nothing but empathy for women who have found themselves in that position.
It's my goal to open the dialogue -- to brainstorm, to open minds, to question -- in order that our country can put an end to this horrible legacy. Yet, the discussion leaves me with more questions than answers.
I do believe that outlawing abortion would lead to people seeking it in back rooms and unsafe conditions, and that has its own consequences. I think there are complicated instances in which a woman could see abortion as the only viable option. If only there were a middle ground that right now seems impossible given the state of health care and the economic variables in our country. What if pro-life forces started with small steps and began with the most controversial abortions -- late term terminations -- and we worked at it piece by piece?
As well, we are far from having social support that can uphold women in crisis pregnancy; these supports are mostly only available through financially strapped non-profits. We would need a stronger, faster, (possibly non-religious) and more efficient delivery system of support for mothers who chose to parent (against tough odds) and for those who made adoption plans. Roe v Wade was upheld at the time when most adoptions were closed and the results were not so good for some of those kids. Adoption education would be an absolute necessity and in order to affect that education, many more large scale studies on adoption must be done. I can tell you first hand that adoption is hard on kids. Is it better than being raised by an ill-equipped parent? In many cases, but probably not in all cases. We have a lot of learning yet to do.
We are a fractured and itinerant society; it truly does "take a village" and we would need many kinds of healing to make such a support system viable. We're not even close.
Nonetheless, for many, the question seems to come down to one of life. When does life begin? At conception? At 16 days after conception, when a heartbeat is visible on an ultra-sound? Certainly by the second or third trimester, life is hard to deny. This is an important question and one that will not be answered by shouting, picketing, name calling or bumper stickers. My experience through Gabriel Project was that once mothers saw an ultra sound of their child in utero, they saw a human life. Perhaps there is a way in here; perhaps federally funded clinics could be required to offer ultrasounds before a termination plan is made. Pie in the sky, I know. But it would be a step in the right direction.
For me, it's clear. If we were in a war in which over 1000 (some say 1600) American lives were being lost every single day, the country would be up in arms. Even the quiet, non-political people (like me) would be involved. We would not stand for it. If I have learned one thing as a parent, it's this: I make mistakes, big ones. And when I do, it's "on me" to apologize, take back, rethink, reconsider and course-correct. I seriously doubt that those arguing in Roe v Wade ever dreamed their battle would lead us to where we are today. It is time -- high time -- that we said, "enough."
(Post script -- after a lively discussion by dozens of my friends on Facebook and after about 20 hours, I still have 708 friends. I am inspired by our ability to engage in civil and respectful discourse in a such a diverse group. It gives me great hope!)