As some of you may or may not know, I am a survivor. I do not often consider myself to be, and there are times when this is a difficult concept to grasp. But, the reality is: I survived the threat of abortion. My mother had experienced complications with my pregnancy, and a few months in, she experienced some heavy bleeding. She had a miscarriage. She was unknowingly pregnant with twins, and the doctor advised her to come in and have a follow-up procedure to make sure nothing was left behind in her uterus. This procedure, known as vacuum aspiration, is the same procedure that is used in first-trimester abortions. Thankfully, my mother made a choice that would change the course of both of our lives. She chose to have an ultrasound done. After finding out that she was still pregnant with me, she decided to carry me to term, despite the threat to her health and the slim chance that I would be born in good health. She spent six painful months in bed, and delivered me healthy and whole, on the thirtieth day of June, 1989.
Twenty-three and a half years later, I found myself last week on the March for Life in Washington D.C., this time on the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It was my fourth March, and it was a cold one. Temperatures were in the twenties and it was snowing. Perhaps it was the cold (one of my former professors swears that the best kind of thinking happens when it’s cold. In fact, he would crank the A/C down in his room to generate a freezing-good-thinking atmosphere), or maybe it’s the way that I now view reality, but I could not stop all of the questions going through my head. In fact, this turned out to be (for me) one strange March for Life.
I chose this title because on the one hand, the opposite of being pro-life is not being pro-choice. And, on the other hand, I am all of these things. Yes, let it shock you. I am pro-life, pro-choice, and pro-conversion. Perhaps I may not be all of these things in the same way that our modern society has painted these labels, but the reality is: I am all of these things.
What does it mean to be pro-life? Many people in our society feel that if you are pro-life, you are some crazed bible pushing freak that needs to “get with the times.” Others feel that being pro-life means that you are against abortion, or the death penalty, or any other “life issue” that currently plagues our legal system. Still others believe that pro-lifers don’t respect women and their rights. Being pro-life is much more than this. It is about respecting life at every stage, whether it be in your mother’s womb, on your death bed, or any other moment in between. At the end of the day, life takes precedence over everything else. Life is a gift! And as such, we should happily receive it every single day. Being pro-life means respecting and upholding the dignity of every human life, especially the lives of women, who are faced with innumerable threats to their dignity every single day.
What does it mean to be pro-choice? Many people feel that being pro-choice means that you are pro-abortion. Others claim that being pro-choice means you respect the woman’s right to “choose.” I believe that being pro-choice means that you are a human being. As human beings we all have free will, and the ability to make decisions at every moment of every day. But do we know what we are choosing? And do we have the freedom to make a choice? If we do not have freedom to make a choice, we are, in fact, not choosing, but reacting. Perhaps it is out of fear, we feel trapped, there is no way out. But that is not a choice! That is a reaction. Choices are always made in freedom. Making a choice presupposes that you know what you are choosing and you have the ability to chose it in complete freedom—there are no extraneous things that limit your decision. If a woman is pregnant and cannot afford to raise her child, or does not want her child to grow up in poverty, or a broken home, or whatever it may be, she is not making a decision. She is reacting to fear. Abortion is not a choice because no one would choose to kill their child and have a vacuum shoved up their uterus. That is just absurd. I have met many women in this position, and none of them want to have an abortion. Many of them go through with it because they feel trapped. And almost all of them regret their decision at some point in the future.
As I was marching this past Friday, I was struck with the stark contrast of the events that were taking place around me. Many people were praying in groups, peacefully marching, as we passed by protesters who shouted profanities and cursed us for being there. Others were singing joyful songs, carrying signs, statues, and other devotionals, while we passed horrific images of aborted children set to sad music. All while the snow was beautifully falling all around us, and my nose continually leaked like a broken faucet. I was particularly struck though by some of the chants that people were shouting at the top of their lungs, and I began to realize why there are some people who are maliciously opposed to the pro-life cause. One such chant went something like this: “We love babies, yes we do. We love babies, how ‘bout you?” Yes, I do love babies, I thought to myself. But people who are pro-choice also love babies. If a woman has an abortion, it does not mean that she doesn’t love babies. This type of villanization is sad at best. That’s the heart of the mystery: human beings have the ability to act in a way that is monstrous, and yet it does not make them a monster, because they are still human. Excuse my harsh example, admittedly it is not a fair one, but it strikes a chord of truth. In the twentieth century we saw many monstrous acts, particularly in Nazi Germany. But Adolf Hitler was not a monster, he was a human being, with the same potential to do good and bad as you and me. Sure it’s easier to say he was insane and evil. But the truth is, he was human. We all possess these same tendencies, we just choose not to act in accordance with them, and rightly so. It’s easier to paint the other side as evil and point the finger. But it is far more difficult to look on them with human eyes and try to understand their brokenness in a human way.
Pro-choicers are not monsters. They are not evil. They are people like you and me. In fact, if Roe v. Wade was overturned tomorrow, abortion would not disappear from this country. In fact, Planned Parenthood v. Casey is the latest case that has allowed legal abortions to continue in our country and constitutionally. This is the case that would have to be overturned in order for abortions to become illegal. But, even if both of these cases were to be overturned tomorrow and abortions became illegal in this country, abortions would still exist. This is because people don’t choose to have an abortion because it is legal, they have one because they are confused. We need education in these matters; we need to know all of the choices; we need to know we're not alone in this decision; we need compassion; we need conversion. Marching around and demonizing pro-choicers is not the way to bring about change. Even telling someone that “Jesus loves them and he has died for their sins in order for them to have eternal happiness” is utterly ineffective. Perhaps people have abortions because they lack conversion, or they are ill informed, but whatever it is, it certainly isn’t because it is legal.
This brings to mind the same questions I brought up in my last post: what are ethics? Has progress killed ethical decisions? If we possess the ability to do something, does that mean we should do it? At the end of the day, we all need conversion, especially me. We must have the courage to wrestle with these questions and make some sense of them. St. Paul claims that he is the chief of all sinners. Knowing myself, and respectfully not wanting to take the title from St. Paul, I find myself second in line for the title chief of all sinners. This is not some pious claim made in the mask of humility, it is the truth. And if we are honest with ourselves we all could claim this title. But this is the position that we need to encounter our situation: I need conversion. If I recognize this need, I can then recognize how to lead others to this need. If a great sinner such as myself can come to know Truth and Love, then there is hope for every lost soul out there. Having compassion and patiently listening, and proposing the Truth is the way to bring about this conversion in others. St. Thomas Aquinas said: “Truth has nothing to fear from error.” We must not be afraid to enter into these discussions; the Truth will present itself, and it will always prevail. So let us be open to change, in an authentic way. Let us enter into these discussions with abortion supporters in a human way. Let us look past the demonization and encounter human beings; let us take off our masks and encounter each other face to face.