When I was about six years old, I decided I wanted to attend the little Baptist Church that was next door to my family’s house – and not just because I loved riding my bike with the banana seat around its parking lot. From that day until a handful of years ago, I attended evangelical churches of one kind or another. So, it’s no surprise that I spent much of my life in the Pro-Life camp, worrying about sanctity of life issues.
And yet, here I am today: a member of the Democratic Party, supporting a Pro-Choice candidate. In fact, these days I consider myself simultaneously Pro-Life (meaning that I would encourage a woman to continue her pregnancy if possible, and I would do whatever I could to help her) and Pro-Choice (because I believe that individual women, and not James Dobson or George Bush, should get to make wise, informed, thoughtful decisions about their lives) – a fact that boggles the mind of friends on both sides of the issue. How did I get here? With days to go before the election, I’d like to explain.
Dear Pro-Life Friend,
As a former Pro-Life Crisis Pregnancy Center volunteer, I’m as surprised (in some ways) to find myself supporting a Pro-Choice candidate as you are to see me here. There was a time when I couldn’t have envisioned it – back when I felt secure in my (comfortable and, I admit, self-satisfied) belief that I knew better than pregnant women whether or not they should have their babies. In church, I was taught that women who sought abortions were selfish, that they wanted a “convenient” way out of their perplexing predicaments. That they didn’t care about the life inside them, and that those of us who did care were responsible for intervening: with our votes in the voting booth, with our bodies at Pro-Life protests, and, yes, with our big, big mouths.
Then, when I was eighteen, one of my closest (and at the time, single) friends became pregnant; she was too frightened to tell her family, and she had nowhere to go. I helped my friend find a family to live with during her pregnancy, and another family to adopt the child. After that, I started volunteering at the Crisis Pregnancy Center. In my training, I learned to tell women that the one-minute pregnancy test took 10 minutes: enough time for them to have to watch the evangelistic VHS tape I was supposed to turn on for them while they awaited their test results. I was supposed to tell them about Jesus, and about abortion tearing their babies to pieces. But when I looked into the tired, anxious, heartbroken faces of the women – none of whom took their decision lightly – what I wanted to do was offer compassion. I never met one who was single and flighty and careless. The women were often married, all of them older than I was, some of them at the end of their ropes. They looked at me like I had no idea what life was capable of doling out – and they were right. My words would do nothing to ease the difficulties of their situations; my judgment would only make the women feel worse about what they genuinely believed they needed to do.
Many were poor, most were struggling, some were in abusive relationships, a number were barely surviving. And there I was: young, privileged, without a care – throwing judgment and Jesus at them, but offering no real help or hope. The pregnancy center claimed to offer support, but there were no real resources available. No halfway houses or homes for pregnant girls ever had room for them. I could help clients sign up for the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program, which gave them access to free cheese. But what good was cheese to the co-ed who had to drop out of college, to the wife in an abusive common-law marriage, to the woman with no place to go? One night, a pregnant girl begged me to help her find a place to live – and no agency I called could help. As she went out into the night, and into an uncertain future, I laid my head on the desk and decided I’d had enough of judgment and finger pointing. I decided the best way to help would be . . . to actually help. Contrary to what I’d learned in church, none of the center’s clients had been looking to abortion as a “convenient” way out; most were figuring out how they would survive, even without a baby. Talk about your inconvenient truths.
These women knew that resources and government support were scarce to nonexistent; they also knew that families were more than willing to adopt healthy white babies, but no one wanted the minority babies, the sick babies, the babies born to mothers who struggled with alcohol or drug addiction. They knew that if they had their babies, most of them would be on their own. It wasn’t a question of convenience for most. It was a question of survival.
It was at that point that I began to make a shift. I still wanted to help prevent abortions, help save lives, bring abortion numbers down. But I no longer believed that picketing an abortion clinic or fighting for a law change was the way to do it. I came to believe, and still do believe, that the way to bring down abortion numbers is by helping the women in practical ways: working to get equal pay for women, better access to health care and day care, guaranteed paid maternity leave, etc. A number of studies show that abortion statistics actually go down under more progressive administrations and laws. (I’m sure people on both sides can cite a range of statistics, but it just makes sense to me that when women have more support, they’re more likely to have their babies.) So, it’s not that I don’t care about the abortion issue. It’s simply that I come at it from another direction now. I’m supporting the party whose policies I believe help women and families more, and believe their taking office will result in fewer women believing that abortion is their best option.
Finally, to those friends who have painted Barack Obama as “abortion-loving,” let me say that I know a lot of pro-choice folks, and I consider myself both pro-choice and pro-life, and none of us is an “abortion lover.” People on both sides of the issue — including me, including you, including Obama — are compassionate. We simply disagree about what political actions are most helpful to women and families.
To sum up: I don’t support Obama in spite of being pro-life, but because I’m pro-life. Women who are desperate will always find a way to get abortions, whether or not they’re legal. I think it’s a waste of time to exert our energy on judging women considering abortions and speculating about what their motives may or may not be, picketing clinics, and focusing on laws that won’t prevent abortions in the end, anyway. I believe the real goal should be to create a society in which women and mothers and families receive the practical and emotional support they need in order to survive and thrive (again: healthcare, excellent child care, equal pay for equal work, education, access to social services, etc.) if they have their child. I believe that that is the answer to the abortion issue, and that’s why I am a Democrat. I realize that many people have other opinions, but this is mine. And that’s why I’m voting for Obama.