Difficult to watch, difficult to face

I recognize that this abortion a difficult, difficult subject…a polarizing one…and a deeply personal one. But I can’t turn the other way and — no matter what your beliefs on the subject — I hope you can’t either.

That’s why I hope, if you haven’t watched this particular video already, that you watch the video I am embedding below.

Yes, I know that the Center for Medical Progress has come under fire from those who disagree with how they have edited the videos they are releasing about Planned Parenthood. But this latest one…is there really a context in which what is depicted and described could be seen as a good thing? Is there a context in which this is something that we as Americans should not even feel the slightest twinge of guilt or unease about? Is this really something we should all support?

If you are pro-choice and you were in the place of the Procurement Technician on the video, would your compassion for women seeking abortions and your desire not to thwart medical research make you react differently? Would you be less willing to walk away from her job? Would you be more comfortable with cutting open the face of a fetus whose heart you had just seen beating — all in the name of medical science, of course? Would you think it all right to be pulling the brains out of babies that might possibly still be alive?

I will be honest. I cannot imagine any context whatsoever that would make what I saw and heard in this video any less hideous or disturbing.

Holly O’Donnell admitted that she started crying when holding the fetus she describes on the video. She said, no matter what benefits there might come from the role she played in procuring the brain from this unborn baby, “I don’t want to be that person”.

Can we honestly say she is wrong, misguided, too sensitive, too sentimental, too squeamish? Is she not advanced enough in her thinking? Are we to conclude that she is anti-woman and anti-science?

Or could the practices these videos are exposing possibly be wrong and barbaric? Are we willing to admit that Planned Parenthood might not be the paragon of virtue, compassion, and morality so many believe this organization to be? Could our culture have gone too far in embracing any and all abortions? Could our medical ethics be flawed? Could it be time for us to face the truth of what we are allowing ourselves to become as a people — no matter how uncomfortable and disturbing that truth might be?

Over the years, I have read and heard many eloquent defenses of the pro-choice position. It is not my intention to turn the his blog post into argument or debate about whether to not abortion should be legal. However, I cannot help but wonder — does being pro-choice require one to embrace everything that is in the above video, and to defend even the most barbaric practices surrounding abortion? Are there no limits to the pro-choice position? Are there no abortions that are morally wrong?

I might as well admit it: I am pro-life. There was a time when, as a rape trauma survivor, I was unsure about whether or not abortion in the case of rape or incest was morally defensible. My position has become more firm as I’ve listened to the stories of those who have been conceived by rape and incest, as well as those who have conceived children under the same conditions. We extinguish the wrong life, in my opinion, when we abort the innocent child resulting from sexual trauma. While I know that nothing can undo the unspeakably damaging and painful trauma of rape or incest, I cannot dismiss the compelling stories of girls and women who view their children as redemptive…even life-saving…after the worst trauma of their lives.

Mine is not a popular position, to say the least. I have been reluctant to state it publicly, not wanting to offend people I care for and respect, some of whom who view the pro-life position as hateful, ignorant, backwards, intolerant, and anti-woman. To be honest, I fear being painted with that same brush by speaking up.

A dear friend of mine, who travels the world over on missions of mercy and compassion –because she has one of the biggest, most loving hearts of anyone I’ve ever met — insists that it is her love for women that has caused her to be even more strongly anti-abortion. Women from vastly different cultures and religious backgrounds have opened up to her when she requests, without a hint of coercion or condemnation, “Tell me about your abortion.” She has heard the stories most of us never hear, because — even if we ask — our agendas and opinions tend to get in the way of our compassion. (I’ve told her my deepest darkest secrets, so I know how gently she receives women’s experiences and truths, receiving them as a sacred trust.) She used to be pro-life because of the babies. Now it is the women, the mothers, who have convinced her even more. She wants to spare women from having to live out the abortion experiences, and their aftermaths, that she keeps hearing about, over and over and over again…

Christian testimonies and life stories

My husband has one of the coolest testimonies in the world. He can’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t love Jesus. He never wavered, never backslid, never rebelled, never let up or drifted to the point that he ever felt the need to “re-dedicate” his life to Christ. He has remained steadfast from early childhood until now.

My mother’s testimony is much the same. Well, the details are different — she had a dramatic conversion at the age of 5 and lived through the war in Nazi Germany — but the steadfast, unwavering part is the same.

I simply cannot relate to people like that. Of course, it goes both ways. They look at me, baffled and dismayed by my history of flaky sinfulness, and say things like, “I just prayed that God would make me hate sin”, or “No, I never wanted to rebel,” or “I love Jesus too much to be even tempted by such things.” For example, when I was in my teens, my mother often told me that just the thought of kissing any other man but my father was so unappealing that it made her feel sick to her stomach. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her only daughter was, in contrast to her, a lust-filled perv: icky guys were nauseating but I found the thought of kissing cute guys quite appealing. (Thank God I was weird, awkward, shy, and uninteresting to most teenage boys.)

People like my mother and my husband seem to have an easy strength, a serene confidence, that is beyond my experience and comprehension. They are like Daniel in the Bible — if he did anything wrong, it was so trivial that it isn’t even part of his story. Compared to them, my story is sin-laden and ugly. I’m a walking disaster — a chaotic bundle of ups and downs, highs and lows, starts and stops. Sometimes I think they might need even more prayer than I do. After all, how on earth can they keep from getting disillusioned and disappointed as they watch me run, fall, stumble, wander, and lurch my way through life? Oh, wait…they are made of sterner stuff. I’m the one who gets disillusioned and discouraged. They do what they always do — stand firm and steadfast in the Lord.

They have been spared so much, so very much. I wish people like my mother and my husband could somehow bottle whatever it is that they have, could somehow impart their secrets to the rest of us, so that less lives would be littered with the debris and wreckage of mistakes and regrets. I want my children to follow in their footsteps and not mine.

Sometimes I wonder if my problem is not so much that I possess some terrible character flaw — a greater propensity to sin, rebellion, and weakness — but that I really do not love Jesus enough. After all, what greater motivation is there for faithful obedience than love?

Then I remember something Jesus Himself said: “Who is forgiven much, loves much.” My therapist has mentioned that I tend to extremes, and I have to admit that there is a passion in my life that seems missing in those who do not struggle. There is something that has been borne of desperation, of pain and deep grief — an intensity and zeal — that I don’t see in the lives of those who are calm and steady. They have been spared the lows, but also the highs.

In the end, I have to admit that I wouldn’t change my prodigal story for theirs. Yes, I have regrets. But I have seen and experienced beautiful, powerful, amazing redemption miracles  — and that’s something those who are constant as the northern star can only guess at.

The unwanted daughter…and others

Her mother wanted a son…desperately. She already had two daughters close together in age, and was feeling overwhelmed enough without the prospect of another child.

Both girls were still in diapers, the oldest only at night. But in those days it meant cloth diapers that had to be lugged down multiple flights of stairs, boiled over an open flame, and then washed in nothing remotely as labor-saving a fashion as we now enjoy in America. 

It was a difficult time. The economy was in trouble. Her husband worked hard — and she often worked alongside him — but the best they could afford was sharing an apartment.

Pregnancy and childbirth were not easy for her, and especially not under those conditions.

If the baby was a son, it might be worth it.

After a long, tiring labor, her daughter was born. Exhausted, she turned her head and refused to even look at the baby, telling the midwife she had wanted a son, not another daughter.

Years later, I would hear the story, about how the midwife insisted, practically forced her to look at her newborn — and how the very sight of my mother’s little face captured my grandmother’s heart. My mother went from unwanted daughter to dearly beloved, cherished daughter. My grandmother told me years later, “Your mother was our sunshine and, when she married and left home, it was as if the sun had stopped shining.”

Although my grandmother, on moral grounds, would have never done such a thing, today women have sex-selective abortions. It is girl babies who are most often aborted.

A teenage girl I had the privilege of meeting was raped at 14, and became pregnant. I was raped at the age of 23, and went through a time that I can only describe as excruciating agony when I feared I might be pregnant by one of my rapists. I cannot imagine going through that at such a young age. I held her beautiful son when he was still a baby — an adorable, much loved little guy. She says he saved her life.

A woman I knew was in a marriage that was disintegrating to the point of ugliness. She already had two young children and then discovered she was pregnant. The timing was, needless to say, terrible. Her husband left her to raise her three little ones in less than ideal circumstances. When the baby was tiny, he was diagnosed as failure to thrive. No medical reason could be found. One of her best friends finally sat her down and told her gently, “Your baby knows he is not wanted. You have to start wanting him or he will die.” I was there. I will never forget seeing her look her baby in the eyes, weeping, asking his forgiveness, kissing his little face, promising to change her mind, to want him.

He thrived.

Another mother told me, “I’m so glad we didn’t undergo genetic testing,” as she showed me pictures of her adorable, happy toddler with Down syndrome. “I didn’t want a handicapped child. Can you imagine? I would have aborted her and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Yet another woman told me of her crisis pregnancy, how it seemed as if her world had been shattered, turned upside down, torn apart, all her hopes and dreams demolished. “I felt like my life was ruined…forever.” Her pro-life friends somehow helped her through the difficult ordeal. “Now I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world. My child was so worth it.”

I used to give talks about breastfeeding at a high school extension program for pregnant teens and young moms. Some of them weren’t even in high school yet. It made my heart lurch to see little 13 year olds, their child bellies swollen with their own child. “Everyone wanted me to kill the kid,” one girl told me fiercely. “They even dragged me into an abortion clinic and would have forced me to have an abortion if I hadn’t threatened to start screaming. They made me leave. It’s a baby, you know? Just because no one asked for it doesn’t mean we should get rid of it.”

Years ago, I asked some older women about unwanted pregnancies. They seemed baffled. Most of them had pregnancies that they didn’t want — at first. They viewed that as part of womanhood. “We grow into love,” one told me. Another laughed, “We’re women. We change our minds!” After a pause, she said more seriously, “Our babies changed our minds.”

When pregnant with my daughter, I was screamed at by a complete stranger who found out I’d foregone prenatal testing. He informed me that it was my duty not to bring an abnormal child into the world — my duty to him, to society, and to the baby. I wrote him off as a deranged crackpot until I started hearing people say, “How could anyone bring a child like that into the world?” — referring to a child with deformed hands as if he was some sort of monster needing eradicating.

There is a fantasy that we would love to have. In that perfect dream world, all babies are planned and timed perfectly, and wanted even before conception. They are all perfect, and they grow up to be perfectly delightful little beings who bring us unmitigated joy and cause us great pride. There are neither too many nor too few of them, and they fit perfectly into our perfect lives — and provide us with beautiful pictures and lovely anecdotes to post on Facebook.

If we must have a handicapped child, at least he or she should be inspiring, the sort of child featured in heartwarming videos that go viral.

Real life is way more complicated and messy.

There is a sad story that I’ve heard over and over again all my adult life. The women and their circumstances change, but the basics remain the same. “I would have kept the baby if just one person would have advocated for it instead of for me,” is the way one woman told me. The saddest version I heard was from a woman who told me that, while waiting for her abortion, a TV in the clinic was showing live footage of a protest going on outside of another clinic. She told me that she thought, “Why couldn’t they have come here instead? They could have stopped me. They could have changed my mind.”