How is that someone like me–who helped care for several younger siblings, and devoted much of her life to the vulnerable: first as a teacher, then as a mother, and finally in service to a series of non-profits advocating for the earth, the elderly, the soul and global peace–believes that women must possess full sovereignty over their bodies in order to insure a more just world; while some of my beloved sisters hold the opposite to be true: that once pregnant, a woman must relinquish her autonomy to the State?
If that sounds dramatic, please know that my dear friend, a doctor, had the police show up at her door, in the United States of America, after she lost her last pregnancy at 5 months. (She named her son Eden.)
Yesterday, I dressed in pink, in support of Planned Parenthood, a place where I received counseling about fertility, conception and preventing unwanted pregnancy when I was a teenager and had no where else to turn.
Now given my current age and family income and security, I have plenty of options for health care, but still I joined the rally that took place across the country, and on Main Street in Brattleboro in front of the Post Office where about 50 of us, women and men, of all ages, gathered together to support women and children and families.
Among those in pink were a few friends and friends of friends–each of whom acts on behalf of the vulnerable every day–as a woman and as a mother–and also as a Public Defender, a documentary film maker, a director of hospice and an early educator.
Can it be that our Pro-Choice hearts are so different from the hearts of women on the other side?
Can there really be sides when it comes to being a woman?
Sister Joan Chittister expresses the depth of our connection as women in her recent letter to the Pope. She writes:
…The truth is that women are the poorest of the poor. Men have paid jobs; few women in the world do. Men have clear civil, legal and religious rights in marriage; few women in the world do. Men take education for granted; few women in the world can expect the same. Men are allowed positions of power and authority outside the home; few women in the world can hope for the same. Men have the right to ownership and property; most of the women of the world are denied these things by law, by custom, by religious tradition. Women are owned, beaten, raped and enslaved regularly simply because they are female. And worst of all, perhaps, they are ignored—rejected—as full human beings, as genuine disciples, by their churches, including our own.
(September 2015, http://joanchittister.org/word-from-joan/9-19-2015/letter-pope-francis)
The night before the Planned Parenthood rally, our family engaged in what has become a nightly ritual… My husband and I crawl into bed with weary minds, just as the minds of our sons, at 15 and 20, awaken, seeking connection.
On this particular night, the topic was abortion, and our 20 year old, who recently view the GOP debates, posed this question: At what point in a pregnancy should abortion be illegal?
I considered his question. The question. Deeply.
With advances in medical technology, earlier and earlier births have become viable. We spoke of the beloved son of a friend who was one of those early births–handicapped in a myriad of unfathomable ways–but no less alive, or connected, with a bright shining presence of his own.
The advances in technology also reveal much more about the astonishing development that takes place in utero, long before birth is possible. No doubt these advances will continue to inform and deepen our awareness, as will the corresponding advances in communication and social media which connects us all.
And yet, technological advances aren’t needed to assess the preciousness of conception.
I suffered two miscarriages before becoming a mother. One at the end of the first trimester, and another closer toward the beginning.
Even at 16, when I chose abortion for two unplanned pregnancies, I felt the gravity of my decision. There was shame and secrecy and deep separation, just as there had been with my monthly bleed and the initiation of my sexuality.
In fact it wasn’t until my early thirties that I learned that other women, smart and kind like me, also chose abortion. In fact, 1 in nearly 3 women in this country makes this choice. And that includes women from both sides.
There are progressive women who believe that abortion is always wrong, and there are conservative women who believe that abortion is necessary. There are Pagans who would never consider aborting, and there are devout Christians who have made that choice for themselves, and for their daughters.
Only recently I learned that my beloved grandmother chose abortion for two of her seven pregnancies long before it was legal–or safe–to do so although she had the money and the access to secure a safe procedure for herself.
Women throughout time make this choice and will continue to end pregnancies for a myriad of reasons–including ignorance, carelessness, fear, shame, poverty, violence, and safety.
I maintained (rather passionately) that a woman’s experience is different. Take a look at any issue and the others come along, like a string of beads, connecting us across time and place and creed.
I know that many of my sisters who rally against abortion do so out of this deep connection to life.
I urge them to lean even more deeply into our capacity as women: to know and to hold both/and, even while others fight to sharply shape our world into either/or.
We can protect women’s choice while fervently working to lessen the desirability of that choice. Each in her own way.
For me, it was birth control. After my abortions at 16, I made it my mission to help friends–young men and women–prevent unwanted pregnancy. I made appointments, provided rides and sat in waiting rooms. At Planned Parenthood.
To quote the New England Journal of Medicine:
The contraception services that Planned Parenthood delivers may be the single greatest effort to prevent the unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions.
Advocating for the unborn is a heartfelt cause for many, but to do so at the expense of women, children and families is to forget the pain and suffering that came before us and that which is perpetuated around the world today.
Each year I gather with women around the world at the United Nations for the annual Commission on the Status of Women. With them, I’ve come to understand that I have a moral obligation to protect and uphold and give voice to women’s rights–because these are inseparable from the rights of children and families.
The stakes are too high–for humanity–and the burden too great–for our daughter’s daughters.