My friend, Jubila, and I were having our daily debate about how smart we are as compared to the people with whom we disagree. Generally speaking my friend and I are thought of as liberals so it should not surprise anyone that we think highly of ourselves. Oh if life were so easy. It is one thing to talk about the plight of the impoverished in Ethiopia and another thing to talk about the abortion clinic just down the road. I fear that we are sometimes caught in the web of liberal talking points – which is to say that we are not always as thoughtful as we like to believe. The same pattern of thinking follows the conservative mindset. It is the nature of individual humans to occasionally be dumber than a rat’s ass. What is really dumb is being in agreement on the finer points of rat’s asses.
Another friend, Jubilum, is a truly gifted intellect living in New Mexico. He and I had a recent discussion about abortion. His was the most honest and personal opinion ever expressed on this somber topic. Jubilum has said he believes the fetus is a living person. He also believes we should not interfere with decisions made by a woman and her doctor. Geez – the grandfather of ethical dilemmas.
I mentioned to Jubila that Jubilum believes the fetus is a life. “Well,” said the scornful Jubila, “Is an acorn a life?”
My off-the-top-of-my-head-response, “The acorn has not yet sprouted roots.”
The acorn metaphor is an old talking point among the liberal class. I fear the debate about abortion has been lost to years of worn talking points by both liberals and conservatives. I speak from the sadness of reality – desperate and afraid, humiliated and ill prepared, young women face a horrific judgmental culture of blame placing, of sin, of degrading finger pointing, and of all the hate Christians can muster. These women do not fit the whimsical profile of the dumb blonde jokes. These are serious people with serious problems that require serious debate by mature adults.
In early 1972 I was working as a police and fire dispatcher in St. Joseph, Missouri. We had a report of a woman screaming in an alley around 28th and Faraon Street. At the time this was a solid middle class neighborhood. The police found a 25 year old woman in an alley, cowering between a trash can and a garage. Her clothes were bloody. An ambulance was summoned and the woman was declared dead on arrival at the local emergency room. We were to learn later that she suffered the horrendous torture of a botched illegal abortion.
In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled on Roe vs. Wade – and abortion became a legal option. I distinctly remember the relief felt by many of us in the local police headquarters. That woman found in the alley, under the new ruling, would be alive today. We imagined a world where those 5 to 10 women each year might have a safe procedure done by their family physician in the regulated care of a hospital. Sadly, that would not be the case.
My wife and I married young – in 1970. She was pregnant when the woman was found in that alley. We were in a heightened state of awareness about the seriousness of a pregnancy. Our first child, a beautiful daughter, was born in September of 1972. I clearly remember the sweet and profound innocence of my young wife holding the child. Our families and friends rejoiced. Had we not been married there would have been hell-to-pay, as the saying goes. Our friends were of the same young childbearing age – my wife and I would find ourselves in the intimate inner circle of the abortion debate.
Most of us in the early 1970’s misjudged the desperate state of mind of the single pregnant woman in a culture of bible-thumping, finger pointing, fanatical, hateful, lunatics masquerading as the Christian mainstream. This is but another of the ironies of life, the ugly nasty underbelly of conservative Christian folly. But we must not be distracted – this story is about the trauma of the single pregnant woman.
In 1976 one of our young female friends showed up at our door at 7:30 in the morning. Connie was desperate. “I am pregnant. Today is the last day of my first trimester. I have an appointment with the abortion clinic in Kansas City, Kansas. My car will not start. If I do not get the abortion today I will not be able to stop the pregnancy.”
We knew her boyfriend. He was a charming, intelligent, fun loving, partying, irresponsible, goofball. I could imagine that Connie would not want to be permanently connected to this man. Something about Connie’s sadness went beyond the fear of an irresponsible man – there was a deep sort of shame engulfing her. The critics will say, “She should have thought about that.” Perhaps she should have. But she was standing in our kitchen in a desperate state of mind. I had seen the results of this desperation in the past. I volunteered to drive her to the clinic.
She was quiet in the car. She had not made eye contact with me since she walked in our door. I knew not what to say – so I just drove. I was mildly surprised at the clinic. It was a small place, more like a physician’s office than an emergency room. The was a small lobby and a receptionist desk. We were greeted and invited to sit and wait. There were others. The lobby was quiet. Her name was called and we went through the looking glass in to a foreign world. That was how it felt – but in reality there was a consulting room with small models of a fetus. A nurse and a physician came in and talked to us about what was about to transpire. They were serious people and presented a serious picture of the situation. Connie was given some time to rethink her choice. She decided to continue. I returned to the lobby to wait.
As we drove north on I-29 late that afternoon Connie tried to find a comfortable seating position. Comfort was not to be found. She did not speak – lost in her thoughts. There was no relief in her face. She was not rejoicing at dodging a bullet. I took her home and helped her up the stairs to her apartment. She managed a slight hug and whispered a soft thank you. I went home and sat as quietly with my young wife as Connie had sat with me. There were no words to describe the sadness of the day.
Abortion is not an opportunity to score political points. Pro or Con – the depth of the sadness is not included in the casual hypocrisy of political bloating. There are no clever witticisms adequate to the trauma of degrading treatment of young women in the depths of their greatest life crisis. The brutality of the Christian culture on America is shameful. It feels like the people of the Christian faith want to score points with their God more than they want to help actually alleviate a life trauma of unparalleled proportions.
Abortion is not a game. Abortion is as somber as any human occasion.