What does the church have to say about abortion? It wasn't any easier to answer this question when the person asking was the same age as her daughter is now and I was her age. If anything, it's harder to say where the church stands.
Oh, gosh. The details. She asked the specific priest because I'd written about him and she did the math. Then she asked about me, which led to me asking the prerequisite questions. Did she ask about me by my legal name or my pen name? What did she say about how she knew me? Does all of this matter? Yes, it does. I told him to go ahead and give her my email address. Her note arrived roughly twenty minutes after J. told her how to reach me.
She's doing well. She loves being a mom. She loves her work. She loves her life.
Yesterday, her daughter asked her, seemingly out of the blue, what she thought about abortion. She was asking for a friend. My gut clenches whenever a kid adds that qualifier. I know sometimes they really are asking for a friend. I've spent nights on the only nonsectarian youth crisis line in Nashville answering the kinds of questions young people are afraid to ask their peers, parents, and other trusted adults. After a while you take a chance that someone is taking the piss and just answer the question. The worst that can happen if you get a kick in the seat and the best is when you can put someone's mind at ease because now they know.
If she couldn't tell her what she thought, what did the church think? A text and an email to their minister netted her no answer, so she decided to contact the next parish over, to ask a priest I'd occasionally written about. He told me he'd given her the stock answer, that she'd have to search her own conscience. It didn't feel adequate.
Probably because it's not.
He knows that and I know that and he knows I know and the person who reached out to both of us more than likely knows we know. We also both know I thought I had all the answers back in 1989. I was almost finished with my undergraduate degree and getting ready for a gap year and then graduate school. That was also when one thing led to another that culminated into a rather reckless weekend and a broken condom led to me being pregnant.
One of my favorite expressions is, "Man proposes and God says, 'That's cute!'" That's pretty much what happened that Fall. I always thought I'd do what any proud feminist pro-choice person in my situation would do and just take care of it and go on my merry way. It wasn't that easy. This was a brand new life. My rubric for acceptable graduate schools changed from places with a good theatre/creative writing program with interesting anthropology classes to good for writers/good for babies. I looked for schools with excellent early education programs so Rowan or Willow (aka Sproglet) would have a running start at being well-cared for and educated.
Even as I argued for every woman's right to make choices for her own body, I felt like I was choosing for two. This was so big, this finding out I wasn't the only one listening to lectures about Victor Turner's ritual systems and the elegant mechanics of Italian set design. Those who knew felt differently. Some of it came from shared politics while others worried about my future. I could not end Sproglet's life. It made as little sense to me as capital punishment or needless lab tests on animals. Life, it turned out, was life.
Twenty years ago, I discerned that the now-Mom who contacted me really was asking for a friend. At the time, I told her I was was Pro-Life for me, but I wasn't sure I could make the same call on behalf of someone else. While that sort of response might give me the impression I was off the hook, it really doesn't help the person asking for guidance.
I brought this up to J. To be fair, J. had no idea until after the fact. I failed Sproglet. As much as I wanted Sproglet to be a part of my life, I couldn't carry him/her to term. Everyone who knew seemed relieved except me. This is probably the most I have ever written or talked about it. J. was there to offer advice when I grieved, but at the time, I found no guidance from the church.
So I talked to this sweet Mom who told me she was sure her daughter really was asking for a friend and she knew who. AND, she needed to hear what I and what J. had to say. We told her we really didn't have answers. The question is not without nuances. One thing J. and I agree on is we do need to make it easier for people to ask the hard questions.
I feel more than a little frustrated that we as a denomination, a communion, and a congregation shrink away from real life questions that could off the comfort of biblical answers. We can sing of the loss of the children Herod killed and we can't discuss the lives affected by an unexpected pregnancy. I was in my twenties, educated and moving forward with my life. What if I'd been younger, poorer, a person of color, and not yet finished with my secondary education? Would I have made the same choices? Would I have felt comfortable contemplating a change like this?
As a part of the Anglican Communion, I am glad we have a feast day for the innocents. What I wish we did less of is saying, "Amen" and "Thank you" and more talking, listening, and contemplation of how we can help the innocents who walk among us right now, some of whom may be carrying innocents of their own.