July 6, 2008

My Pro-life Conversion

In part 3 of my conversion story, I mentioned that I also experienced a profound conversion from pro-choice to pro-life. I don't really recall abortion being mentioned much when I was growing up, though I knew what it was and that it was a bad thing, and that basically every one in my family was against it. I don't ever recall hearing "pro-choice" "pro-life" or things like that, and certainly no one in my family picketed abortion clinics or things of that nature. I never really thought about it much as a teenager, even though I was sexually active. Although I didn't consider myself anti-abortion, I didn't really think of abortion as "good" either, and just assumed if I got pregnant unexpectedly I'd keep it. After I had my first daughter at 18, I joined a liberal pro-choice message board for teen moms. I remember being horrified when one young lady posted that she was 20 weeks pregnant and had changed her mind and no longer wanted to have her baby, asking for resources on procuring an abortion at such a late date. I posted that I thought that was wrong and implored her to keep her baby and place it for adoption, and was promptly torn to shreds. I learned after that to keep quiet anytime anything surrounding abortion made me uncomfortable. I became an "ultra-liberal uber feminist" and was pretty staunchly pro-choice, though I could only weakly proclaim to believe in "abortion on demand and without apology." In April of 2004 I even drove 12 hours on a stinky bus out to Washington, D.C. for the very first "March For Women's Lives" (it was originally to be called the March For Choice, I believe, but the disingenuous name change came right before the march was to take place).

Although I could parrot out "it's just a clump of cells" fairly convincingly in the case of 1st trimester abortion, I couldn't do so for later abortions. After all, I had been pregnant, I had felt my baby moving in my womb as early as 14 weeks. "Clumps of cells" don't do that. For later term abortions, I just didn't read descriptions of what they were and how they were done and maintained that any restriction on abortion would lead to a collapse of not only the "right" to abortion, but of all the other rights that women had fought for. This is a common fear dangled before women on the fence or who begin to question the validity of the common arguments in favor of abortion. NOW states on their website that "reproductive rights are issues of life and death for women, not mere matters of choice." At the march we chanted "Pro-life, that's a lie, you don't care when women die!" I didn't like everything about abortion, but of course I didn't want women to die. I was very convinced that any restriction on abortion would lead to women dying by the tens of thousands due to botched "back alley" abortions.

So in a sense, I think I always heard my inner voice and in some ways saw through the lies propagated to justify abortion. As for when I started to actually listen to that voice, I can't pinpoint the exact moment, but there are some moments along the way that stick out to me. My first pregnancy, of course, started to unravel it some, though initially I fought back against it and insisted that having a child made me more pro-choice than I had been before. But I don't think that anyone can honestly go through a pregnancy and not feel, deep down, somewhere inside that that baby is actually a baby, that all unborn babies are babies, that they are alive. My second daughter, of course, forced me to confront the less savory parts of the pro-choice movement, namely the aborting of unborn babies with special needs and defects. It had always bothered me but I chose to ignore it. Once I had her, I couldn't anymore. Perhaps I could pinpoint her birth as the start of the unraveling of all I had tried so hard to believe.

One view I had to confront was: Abortion is okay because they aren't people yet! They aren't aware and they're dependent on their mother to survive! My daughter was in a drug induced coma the first week of her life. She wasn't aware. She didn't open her eyes. They told me she might always be like that. She was dependent on tubes and ventilators to keep her alive. She was still my daughter. She was still human. What was the difference between her lying there and her inside of me? A few layers of skin and muscle and a birth canal? Why was it okay to kill one and not the other? Even more disturbing are those like Peter Singer, who insist that babies like my precious daughter should be killed after birth. He agrees that there's little difference between an unborn baby and a born baby. He simply differs in maintaining that neither have any rights. What about adults who become severely disabled? If whether or not we deserve to live is dependent on our ability to be self-aware, how can we condone the killing of unborn children while protecting adults? Where does it stop? I used to think the term "Culture of death" was trite and inflammatory. Now there's nothing I can say but that it is apt.

Why is it okay to abort unborn babies with defects and special needs? I remember holding my sweet baby girl and thinking in disgust that if her severe brain damage had been detected prior to birth, I could have aborted her, even so close to delivery. My Buddhist brother recently made a similar observation. While my heart breaks for parents faced with serious and/or fatal diagnosis for their babies, and while I feel much compassion for them, regardless of whether they choose to carry their children to term or not, I can not accept that aborting those babies.

Inevitably, what I realized was that I simply could not advocate for my daughter while maintaing that children like her, children with special needs, could be aborted, no questions asked. My daughter deserved to live as much as any other baby. My daughter is a chid of God as much as any other baby. Every baby may not be perfect, every baby may not be convenient, but every baby deserves to live; every baby is a child of God. I can not rectify being the mother of a child with special needs with complying, whether implicily or explicitly, with the aborting of unborn babies with special needs. Babies like her. How could I?

18 months or so after Riley's birth, I took a part-time job in supported living, helping adults with mental and physical disablities in their daily tasks. This only affirmed my belief that babies with special needs have just as much right to live as "normal" babies. Disablity is natural. It's a normal part of the human condition. I worked with people with varying degrees of mental impairments. Trust me when I say that they don't need anyone to feel sorry for them. They're perfectly happy. They experience a normal range of emotions. They have friends, and they have people they don't like. They all have unique and distinct personalities. They're just as "human" as "normal" adults. They enjoy life as much as anyone else does. Even severely impaired, non-verbal persons, "matter". My daughter may have been in a drug-induced coma for the first 5 or 6 days of her life, but at no point did I ever question her worth, her dignity, her humaness. Why shouldn't the same apply to a non-verbal, non-responsive adult? We have worth, we have dignity, because God wrote that onto our hearts. Every one of us, no matter how good, how bad, how extraordinnary, how disabled- every one of us has instrinsic value and worth because of Him. He loves us wholly and completely regardless of how perfect or how flawed we are. Every one single one of us.

From this point on, the pro-choice rhetoric just crumbled. It was like seeing it all with new eyes and I couldn't believe the things I had justified, the things I had believed and fought for. I'll likely explore that later on, but for now I think this post will suffice.


Anne Marie said...

Isn't it amazing how God works through people, how he touches our lives when we touch each other's lives. How Cool.

Like the host motif btw.

erin said...

this made me cry. thanks for taking the time to write it. how lovely.

Angie said...

You've written a very moving piece! As the mom of a son with Autism, this especially moved me.

Oh, and I, like you, was formerly pro-choice. Again, like you, I always thought it was not a choice that I would ever make (when we had a pregnancy scare when I was just 17 -- with my then boyfriend, now husband -- we just immediately talked about marriage). Now, I can't believe that I ever was pro-choice.

Katie said...

Anne Marie- Yes! Isn't it amazing? And thanks :) I can't take credit for the photo, just the cropping :P

Erin- Aw shucks, thanks!

Angie- Isn't odd how strange it seems once you're on "the other side" so to speak. Some of the arguments I used to use to justify abortion just really shock me now, like "wow, how did I buy into that??"

TRS said...

beautiful post.

I've never understood the pro-choice side. It IS a child. Do they think it's a pumpkin or a kitten?

I've also always thought it interesting that they stand behind the term 'Pro Choice'... such a tidy, convenient term.

Not as ugly as pro abortion or anti-life.

I do finally understand that most on the pro choice side don't actually think abortion is a good thing. Everyone's goal is to reduce abortion. At least it should be.

Amy said...

Reading your conversion sounded very much like my own, I came into the church last year. Isn't it beautiful how God whispers to you, even when you don't believe! And the gentle whisper just nudges you closer and closer. And then to realize God loved you along. And how great is to now be able to turn to him when in need, and know he is there, always has and always will be.