I was going to write a light, happy post last night, but I went to Adoration and came home with something a little heavier on my heart.
As a high schooler, I was not pro-life. Neither was I pro-abortion. I just didn’t care. It didn’t seem like an important issue to me. Which is a very negative reflection on the Catholic religious education system in this country; yes, I’d been told not to sleep around before marriage (wait, that sounds wrong… let’s clarify: no sleeping around after marriage either; spouse only!), no contraception, and definitely no abortions. But the “why” was very fuzzy. (There’s so much that the Church has written on “why”, but too often CCD programs completely ignore it. Very sad.)
As a college student, I started coming in contact with some more orthodox Catholics, including one person who was getting more liberal as he read through papal encyclicals. People who actually cared what the pope said (and tried to follow the Church’s teachings) instead of saying, “Well, the pope’s a nice guy and all, but I just don’t agree with him on contraception/ abortion/ women’s ordination/ whatever…”
I occasionally talked to people about why contraception is bad for you (and your marriage). I donated money to Birthright and other organizations who came to our parish to help women who otherwise might be pressured into an abortion. I fought with the fertility clinic at the Navy hospital, whose idea of “fixing” infertility involved three very basic tests and then sending you to an IVF clinic on your own dime. But I wasn’t really actively working for pro-life causes.
Then we adopted our oldest child.
The following January, I got sick. Oddly enough for me, I was sick enough to insist that my husband stay home and watch the baby while I pulled the covers over my head and tried to sleep all day. God loves coincidences; it was the day of the annual March for Life in DC, which EWTN always covers. So, my husband sat downstairs with EWTN running in the background, playing with the baby, working on his computer, and listening to people talk about the pro-life movement. He came upstairs to tell me about what he was watching and said, “Maybe we should think about going next year?” I was too sick to care at that point, but I did make it downstairs later in the day to see some of the post-march commentary. And we agreed that, yes, we were going to be there next year.
How could we not? Our beautiful daughter was with us because her birthmother had chosen, in a very difficult situation, to carry her to term instead of aborting her. We had directly benefited from someone else’s pro-life work; how could we say we didn’t need to get involved?
So, my daughter was the first reason we had to get actively involved in the pro-life movement.
Then, after going to the March for Life, we signed up for an event in DC called Operation Witness, that was going to be the counterprotest to the “March for Women’s Lives” put on by NOW, Planned Parenthood, and other pro-abortion organizations. There I met two women who will forever remind me that anything I do is nothing compared to the pain abortion inflicts on women.
The first woman I met was one of the other participants in Operation Witness. She had been pressured into an abortion by her mother, more than twenty years previously. Cecelia (not her real name) still suffered mentally and physically because of her abortion. She did not speak to her mother anymore, even though her mom was the only family she had. Cecelia was convinced that she was going to Hell because of what she’d done; she was almost looking forward to it, saying, “At least I’ll be getting what I deserve finally, because, here, I’m alive and my baby is dead.” She was dead serious; this was not hyperbole to her. She seemed to just be going through the motions; she was emotionally flat most of the time, except for flashes of anger at herself and those involved in her abortion. While waiting to die, however, she had decided to get involved in the pro-life movement to try to tell other women not to go down the path she had fallen into.
I’d read about, heard about, the pain and guilt women go through when they come to grips with what the abortion really did. I’d watched in sympathy as women and men cried in TV interviews, talking about the abortions in their pasts, and how they’d found healing in Jesus. But this was the first time I’d stood next to someone still going through the pain. Her words knocked the wind out of me. Where do you start? How do you explain the forgiveness of Christ to someone who had been driven so far down? I struggled to find something to say to her over the next two days of the event.
Fortunately, I had a more eloquent child.
Cecelia told me that her baby’s father was black, so she guessed that her child would’ve looked a lot like mine. For the rest of the conference, Cecelia would come over whenever I had to walk my daughter to keep her from fussing (she was just under two years old and an exceptionally cute baby). Cecelia would tickle her legs and kiss her toes, calling her sweet names in her native language and asking her for forgiveness, in place of the dead baby she could no longer hold.
During the conference, I saw Cecelia leaving the main room, telling someone over her shoulder, “Can’t talk now; Father said he’d hear my confession. I haven’t gone in decades…” I hope that was the start of healing for her. We saw her the next year at the March for Life with the Silent No More campaign in front of the Supreme Court, but she left before she got her turn at the podium to tell her story. I pray she found deep healing and found the courage to tell her story.
The second woman I met that weekend who will always remain on my heart walked into the clinic we were protesting at the day before the pro-abortion march. (Contrary to CNN, we were not blocking the sidewalks, because that would’ve been illegal. We’d been specifically instructed not to block the sidewalks. But CNN blithely reported that the anti-choice nut jobs were in town again, blocking entrances to innocent medical facilities… and that’s about the time we stopped watching CNN.) This woman was well-dressed, maybe upper twenties or so, neat hair, black… and her head was down, her hands were over her face, and she was stumbling into the clinic supported by an “escort”. She kept saying, over and over, “Don’t let me see them. I can’t see them. Don’t let me see them…” in a voice on the edge of tears. The escort assured her that she didn’t need to look at us… the children, the praying people, the signs with cute baby pictures and phone numbers for crisis pregnancy centers.
And especially not me, holding my obviously adopted (and very happy and cute) daughter.
Again, the raw pain in her voice was like a punch to the gut. I wanted to say, “Look up. Look at my daughter. She could’ve been in the same situation as your child…” But I couldn’t get a word out. I wanted to hug her and assure her, “You don’t have to do this. There’s help. Please, let us help.” But I choked on my tears and didn’t manage to say or do anything.
I don’t know her name. I didn’t even see her face. But I remember her every time I feel like getting lazy and not writing the paper to counteract the latest editorial letter from a “concerned” Planned Parenthood staffer. I remember her every time I pray for my children’s birthmothers. The memory of her still makes me cry. I hope she walked out of the clinic that day and didn’t go through with the abortion. I pray that, if she went through with it, she has found healing. I pray that, if I’m ever in that situation again, I will open my mouth.
Her’s didn’t look like much of a “free choice” to me.
And so I can’t not be actively pro-life.
For my daughter, and Cecelia, and the woman at the abortion clinic, and all the millions like them.