Talking About Abortion
Susan Prudhomme on Facing the Pain & Joy of the Right Choice
It was my monthly visit to Philip’s hair salon, and as I sat in the chair while his scissors snipped away, we moved from discussing his daughter’s pregnancy to the well-worn subject of abortion. Philip prides himself on independent thinking, but living in the penumbra of San Francisco progressivism as we do, most of his clients and friends are decidedly liberal, and their supreme confidence in the rightness of “choice” makes disagreement appear positively medieval. I am probably one of very few conservative thinkers with whom he comes in contact, and he enjoys pushing my buttons a bit to see how I will respond. To his credit, he listens, and considers what I say with courtesy and respect.
For Philip, the controversy has a personal component. Long before Roe v. Wade, his mother became pregnant with a fifth child. She was divorced and trying desperately to support, alone, the four children she already had. Another pregnancy spelled disaster to her. Unable to secure a legal abortion, she managed the job herself, at great risk and pain, with the proverbial wire coat hanger.
Philip’s view of the matter, as one might expect of a loyal son, is that his mother was victimized by a heartless, judgmental society. As he sees it, she took the only course open to her to protect herself and her other children from ruin, and he both admires her for her courage and defends her decision and her right to have made it.
Not Judging & Pre-Judging
To almost everyone, her story demonstrates the need for a compassionate response to women in crisis pregnancies. But to Philip, it also means a dilemma. If he acknowledges what he knows in his heart, that abortion is objectively wrong, then he must revise his view of his own mother, for whom he enjoys feeling both admiration and a manly protectiveness.
He tries to resolve the dilemma by the conflicting assertions that although abortion is an evil, it is a private matter, to be decided by those involved. As he sees it, his mother had to accept the fact that her fifth child would have little chance for a fulfilling life, and would by his needs have overburdened the rest of the family’s resources and ruined their lives as well. Her choice was the lesser of two evils.
I always hear Philip’s story with sadness, for his mother and for all women who find themselves in such a dire predicament. But I, also, come to this controversy with a personal perspective. As I grew into adulthood, I learned that, while carrying me, my mother had not been thrilled at the prospect of another child. She felt that her family was complete with the two children she already had; but more critically, her doctor had advised her not to become pregnant again because of the risk caused by serious medical issues. I suspect that had abortion been legal at the time, she might have been strongly urged, and tempted, to take that option.
Nevertheless, I was born. And, in the way of things, I was cared for along with my siblings. I have lived and learned and loved, and hope I have made a positive contribution to the world.
Reflecting on my own story, I find my hackles rising whenever I hear the slogan “Every child a wanted child” and similar sentiments, as though one is doing a child a favor by denying it life. Do the people who chant these slogans really imagine that those whose lives are less than ideal feel cheated that they were allowed to live? And how is it that those who are so famously adamant about refusing to judge others take it upon themselves to pre-judge the “quality” of a nascent life and find it not worth living, or to assume that the mother’s life (even if a very young girl) will be ruined by her child’s presence in the world?
And so we see, in this microcosm of two people in a hair salon, the conflict that rages through our country. All of us see that there can be extenuating circumstances. Yet some of us are able to acknowledge them as conditions that might lead to an abortion without losing sight of abortion’s essential wrongness, while others see them as excuses that negate the wrong and even make abortion appear noble and loving.
more on abortion from the online archives
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