Part One of a Two-Part Series on Abortion – in honor of the upcoming election and in reaction to the raging War on Women – this one originally appeared on RoleReboot.org
When I hear folks saying they are pro-life, I wonder for whom, and under what circumstances. You see being pro-life is far from the black and white moral distinction pro-life folks typically suggest. On the contrary, there are many ways in which being truly pro-life can lead you into incredible gray areas. For example, when a choice must be made between a mother’s life and a child’s, choosing abortion is still being pro-life, isn’t it? It is being for a mother’s life. Who decides that a child’s life is more important than a mother’s or vice versa? And what aspect of a woman’s life are we willing to give up for a child’s? Her physical body? Her soul? Her hopes and dreams? Her chances to better herself and her family? The well-being and potential of existing children, of future, wanted children? We need to ask whose life and what kind of life are we fighting for?
Today I met with a client who is about to age out of the foster care system. We’ll call her Alma. Alma is 18. She is 11 weeks pregnant. I first speak to her case worker who explains that she was trying to convince Alma to accept a placement where she could live with her baby. However, today Alma revealed she decided to have an abortion. As a mother, when I heard those words it was like being punched in the gut. I had already seen Alma in the waiting room. I had already seen her baby bump, unusually large for the first trimester. In an instant, the image of that bump, the feeling of being pregnant, the knowledge of having a life inside me, the sweet faces of my twins, and the terror of ever losing them all flashed through my mind.
I sit down with Alma. She is guarded and quiet at first, but after a while she begins to open up. She has a sweet, almost surprised smile. She seems caught off guard that I’m listening to her with respect. Alma experienced physical abuse by her alcoholic mother and was placed with an aunt. She recently decided she wanted more freedom and is now living in a shelter. Alma’s story is nowhere near one of the worst I’ve heard. For kids in the system, it’s actually one of the best. Alma suffers no mental health issues, has an average IQ, a high school diploma, and while she is currently out of work, she has a marketable skill. As I’m sitting with Alma, I have this wonderful feeling come over me that I’ve only had a few times in seven years of working with low-income and under-served kids. She can turn this ship around! Alma has a rare combination of the mental health status, intelligence, and drive to change the trajectory of her family’s life.
By the time we get around to Alma telling me why she made the excruciating decision to have an abortion, I get it. Alma is choosing life. She is choosing her life. It’s going to be a hard road for her, but becoming an eighteen year-old mother with no job and nowhere to live would transform that road into a dead end. Is Alma’s decision selfish? Sure, on the one hand. But it is also smart. Alma has seen her own mother succumb to the stresses of being a young mother, having five children on her own, being poor and dependent on the government, and drowning her pain in alcohol.
You see Alma has a dream. The dream is that she can do better. It includes going to college, getting her own apartment, and supporting herself. Alma is going to have to live with losing her baby, but the alternative is losing that dream, not only for her, but for her children. Perhaps the only pain greater than killing that baby – the one she can already see bumping out of her belly – would be watching that child live the same life she did or an even worse one. Alma will grieve her baby, but she will not suffer making the same mistakes her own mother did, while lacking the support and resources to stop it. In all likelihood, Alma will have children. She will probably have less children than if she starts now. She will probably be living on her own, supporting herself, and ideally have a partner to share in their emotional and spiritual care as well as provide for them.
Alma’s choice is pro-life. It is creating a life for herself, her future children, her grandchildren and ultimately life-enhancing to all of us. The politicians who so vehemently call themselves pro-life are the same politicians who would resent Alma’s living off the government. However, they would deny her the abortion that could mean the difference between Alma and her children being dependent for the rest of their lives, and Alma’s family being self-sufficient for generations to come. Should Alma have used birth control? Of course. But Alma is 18. While Alma’s mother should have been talking to her about contraception and monitoring her social life, she was passed out with a bottle of wine.
Pro-life doesn’t only mean saving Alma’s baby. It means saving Alma. Pro-life isn’t always cut and dry. Pro-life means funding the state program that gave Alma’s Aunt the tiny weekly stipend that convinced her to take her niece in. Pro-life means funding the shelter that is keeping Alma off the street until she can find a job, the program that allowed Alma to finish high school in an alternative school with job placement, and the state-funded caseworker and therapist who help Alma plan and manage her life instead of leaving her to fend for herself at 18. Pro-life is funding the Planned Parenthood agency where Alma receives birth control so she doesn’t go through another abortion.
Pro-life IDEALLY means providing a safety net which would allow for Alma to keep her baby and her dream. But for that, Alma would need the means to have childcare and support herself while she finishes her education. But this ultimate vision of pro-life policy is not a reality in America. Many of those who would fight, and in some cases kill, to save Alma’s baby, will not lift a finger to save her, and would do little to nothing for her child after her birth.
Alma explains that she has waited so long to have the abortion because of how difficult the decision has been. Alma is pro-life. She isn’t taking this lightly. At 18 she is wrestling with gut-wrenching, life and death, adult decisions. But they are Alma’s decisions. That’s freedom.
Freedom is weighing all the information. Freedom is being in the best position as the mother to know which of two very difficult choices is the most life-affirming. Freedom is not the freedom to control other’s bodies and decide for them what is pro-life. Alma in ten years, in her own apartment, with a college degree, with a stable job, with two adjusted, stable children and perhaps a partner, none of whom are receiving welfare – that is a life-affirming decision! That is pro-life. That is a decision Republicans should be able to get behind. But who is going to decide? Todd Akin? Paul Ryan? Case workers, teachers, cops, therapists? Who knows whether losing Alma’s baby will be better for her, for society, for her future children, for her great-grandchildren, for her mother and sisters, for her soul, for her education, for America? Mitt Romney? Should he decide? Alma, and only Alma. That’s who should decide! Alma with a choice. To me that’s freedom. That’s pro-life.
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