‘We went to get $1,000 from a gas-station ATM.”
There are known knowns, and there are known unknowns, it was once famously said. Abortion is an experience both known and unknown. It is everywhere in our politics, but it is a matter for silence even as it is nearly ubiquitous. And it’s a current reality of our cultural life (and death). “One in three women has an abortion by the age of 45,” New York magazine headlines, and so in an atmosphere of what the magazine describes as “New laws, old stigmas,” Nicole, age 19, tells the reporter about the gas-station ATM; the credit-card scanner at the Kentucky clinic wasn’t working. But she doesn’t want to go through with the abortion, and she starts crying. “We drove all this way,” her boyfriend says. “Stop crying, act like a woman.” She didn’t consider abortion “killing,” but she didn’t want to do it. Months later, they both regret it.
It was the worst of times. Talking with these women and girls, New York does a service. What is going on between men and women? What help is there? Knowing the stories of women who have had abortions helps people to help. There are churches and pregnancy centers and families wanting to help. How do we let pregnant women and girls know, how do we let parents know, that they have support?
The piece tells 26 stories, involving both compassionate and callous medical staff, involving home abortions and shame and secrecy; “others feel stronger for having gotten through the experience. The same woman can wake up one morning with regret, the next with relief — most have feelings too knotty for a picket sign,” the author reports.
“There’s no room,” one woman reflects in the piece, “to talk about being unsure.”
It’s an incomplete picture, as Theresa Bonapartis — director of Lumina, a post-abortion ministry in New York — observes. Among the missing stories: mothers who had got an adverse diagnosis about their child, and who wish they had let nature take its course rather than ending the child’s life. “So much is missing” from the glossy article, Bonapartis tells me.
And yet even in its insufficiency it is clear — as it is to anyone who has ever had anything to do with or otherwise been touched by abortion. “There are so many what-ifs in there . . . in no case is it really without consequence,” Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, points out.
In this way, the New York piece, much talked about, is something significant: Inadvertently, perhaps, it is a cry for a culture that embraces life, acknowledges death, and moves forward to something better. In confronting the effects of “choice,” an opportunity for healing and for nurturing the vocation of parenthood arises.
Over the last few years, particularly during President Obama’s reelection campaign, there has been a lot of rhetoric about a “war on women.” For working to defend religious freedom against coercive regulatory and, increasingly, legal threats — real, actual threats to freedom, rather than rhetorical manipulations — the bishops of the Catholic Church have been accused of being the chief wagers of this war. They are, in truth, brothers, fathers, shepherds, leaders to an ailing culture of gaping wounds, trying to deal with the most intimate and therefore neuralgic of issues. This past week, a new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was elected, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville. Kurtz is co-author of a mini-book, Gift of Joy, published by Our Sunday Visitor. It’s an invitation to enjoy every blessed moment of a child’s life. We know neither the day nor the hour for ourselves or our most precious beloved. The book invites its readers to bask in gratitude and pray for that most vulnerable child from her earliest days.
With unexpected pregnancy there can be unexpected joy. Sacrifice can be foreign to our lives — if we take our signals from the culture, it is to be avoided at all costs — but a life lived for another is love. Instead of pretending abortion is a solution to challenges, we have a responsibility to buttress life with support, so that unexpected parenthood can be a source of “joy and expectancy,” as Gift of Joy puts it.
“The presence of new life in the womb of the mother brings unique joy and hope to the center of our families, our Church, and our world,” Archbishop Kurtz and his co-author write. “It is never too early to give thanks for the gift of new life and to ask the Lord for His blessing.” This posture is in sharp contrast to the rhetoric of choice, the veil of women’s freedom and empowerment that our politics and cultural expectations often place between a mother and her child. Even in adversity, the child may bring with it a hope that the world would be impoverished without. That child needs her parents to embrace her — whether to offer her to a family better prepared, or to raise her together or alone. But for that to happen, she needs to see the light of day.
The book is a reflection on the concept of “gift,” which is quite seasonal around this time of year. “A true gift is something — or even someone — we would never have expected. A true gift is sheer and absolute generosity. It is without charge; it cannot be controlled. A true gift is beyond our power and cannot be confined. No conditions can be set on a true gift. Gifts bring joy and happiness. The happiness from a gift reaches our heart and shapes our spirit. As we grow up, we might lessen the intensity with which we tear through the paper, but we never outgrow the love for the gift.”
We can be too distracted, too overwhelmed, too busy, too pressured to be people of thanksgiving. Perhaps more than anyone, parents need to be such people. Because they have in their hands, and mothers have in their wombs, the most blessed gift. There may be no app for that, but there’s hope. Better than stigma, better than misleading campaigns, better than denial, are people who embrace and support, the gift of life, from its earliest moments to its final days. Making it possible for a mom or a dad to embrace a new life is something we can all help with, never a mere political campaign or slogan.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.