I'd like to answer a good question posed in comments recently by Charles M. de Nunzio. We were discussing how we who regret our abortions had at one time felt abortion was acceptable, for ourselves and/or in general. Charles asked several of us if we might respond: "Not just I, but many pro-lifers have a very hard time understanding how someone becomes that intensely pro-abortion. I think we could benefit from the hindsight of someone like yourself."
Finding out I was pregnant 25 years ago, abortion seemed to be my only way out, even though I was raised a strict Catholic and called myself a "good Catholic." I actually believed it was a baby, that it was wrong, but I could only feel terrified. As I’ve said in recent comments, I believed my strict-Catholic parents would toss me out of the house and I'd have to quit school, living in a state that was not my home. My boyfriend, 'though he said he loved me, really wasn't likely to stay with no job himself. He was Catholic too, but didn’t care about his faith at all. He offered me the $500 to have the abortion. If I didn’t, I thought I’d be homeless, no job, no degree, supporting a baby all alone.
I’m not putting the blame or responsibility on my parents. I still was old enough (20) to “make decisions” even if I made lousy ones. I knew what I was doing, even if I didn’t allow myself to think about or deal with it consciously. And I bought into the promise (spoken or otherwise) that abortion would return me to exactly who I was before. I found out it was a lie. It didn’t happen. I had become a Mom, and that truth was just too painful to bear.
You know how our bodies pass out when physical pain becomes too much to process? I know now that it happens to our memories, our brains, when the psychological pain grows too crushing. We simply cannot process any more.
I numbed myself completely. It was as if I went into shock. I shut down, physically, emotionally, mentally. Afterwards, I went back to my dorm and I curled up in a ball and didn’t talk to anyone or eat for 3 days. I couldn’t face what I was doing, so I blocked out every detail, as though it was happening to someone else and I was only having a nightmare. All I could think was, "This really isn’t happening to me." And so, I believed that. It was the only way I could get through it, to deny it fully, as though it wasn’t my baby. As though it wasn’t a baby. As though I wasn’t really pregnant. I was emotionally a 13-year-old in a woman’s body.
I thought my life would be over if I didn’t have an abortion. I refused to think, look at or listen to even those with the scary signs in that parking lot. What some of those protesters still don't realize is that I was terrified for myself only. Nothing the picketers said or tried to make me look at, in the final few minutes of my baby's life, stopped me. And nothing the abortion clinic people said or did, showed me the truth of what I was doing. They were giving me credit for being so decisive about my "reproductive rights." They made it all too easy to run away from what I was really doing.
If someone had shown me they cared about me or offered to pray with or help me, I don’t think I would have done what I did. But no one did, then.
Twenty-five years later, I still cry sometimes. It took 10 years for my grief to start surfacing, but even then, I’d stuff it back down. It took a full 22 years for it to break through my denial completely. Now, every day, I live with the sorrow of that "choice" that I can never undo.
I never was publicly pro-choice, but I sure did keep my mouth shut out of fear if the topic ever came up. I never cared if a politician I voted for supported abortion. I tacitly supported abortion because I thought, "How could I ever come out against it, having had one? I’ll be roasted alive.” And by both sides I might add, as we saw at the march on April 25.
And that, my friends, is how I think so many Catholics For Choice and other people who say, as I once did, that they’re religious manage it. A lot of us are PA, and cannot face it. There is no unified, serious, consistent outcry or effort against abortion and for women and children in the womb from the lay members of the Catholic Church, because it is cognitive dissonance to the max. We rationalized our choice so we wouldn’t get hammered in the short run. I can say there are "a lot" of us because I personally know so many Catholic women and men who have said this.
[For those who might argue they can be both, it really is right there in our Catholic Catechism, which I've referenced here before (pages 606-608, sections # 2270-2275, and # 2319, 2322-2323).]
We have the Kennedys (starting with JFK, Sr.), Daschles and Dodds of the nation to thank for some of this. Such pioneers.
Secondly, the Catholic Church clergy (perhaps others too) really haven’t made it 100% possible or easy for we who do regret to seek help at a Rachel’s Vineyard or similar resource. My state has about 384,000 self-identified Catholic families. If there’s one adult woman in every family, the abortion facts from Allan Guttmacher Institute mean that there could be as many as 153,000 post-abortive women in these families (40% of all women aged 20 and up have had abortions, AGI said last year).
And not all of us are like Kate Michelman, who I believe calls herself a Catholic still. Norma McCorvey --the former “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, now a devout Catholic-- said she was terrified of going into a church at one time, afraid that the people there and God Himself would be so angry at her that the people would condemn her openly and God would cause the church walls and roof to collapse on her in punishment, killing everyone with her.
Many women who have aborted say they have this same fear of going back to church... We may want to stand up against abortion secretly, but are terrified of being punished as "hypocrites" by both sides, but especially by those who are pro-life.
I just received an e-mail from a self-identified "practicing Catholic, pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage" reader of one of my columns who lambasted people like the post-abortive man in the column and me as being "still the most utterly selfish, immature and cowardly people I have ever encountered," "anti-marriage and anti-family," adding that our annulments were a farce dispensed by “liberal dioceses” and that we’ve "ruined enough people's lives already" so we should not ever have relationships again and that all we’ve done by going on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat is find ourselves "a cryfest and a sympathetic, liberal ear."
My own Catholic newspaper printed this in a February 2003 editorial: “…the silence from our hearts and the pulpits can be deafening. Many priests appear reluctant to preach on ‘hot button’ topics for fear of ‘offending’ the faithful. Lay people often follow suit.” People have remarked to me that abortion is not being openly fought from the pulpits or from the pews because many people don’t want to believe that abortion is as prevalent as it is, and don’t want their clergy to bring up such “distasteful subjects” at church. I have even personally heard some parishioners threaten to withhold collection basket contributions should this subject be thrown in their face while they’re “trying to pray!”
NIMBY, oh no.
In fact, when I spoke at the Conn. Right To Life Convention last October, a woman asked me how to respond to her Roman Catholic Pastor who, when she asked why he wasn’t actively defending everyone’s Right To Life, he replied, “Abortion will always be legal; there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Denial, denial, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
Bear with me a minute, for those who are not Catholic: this is not an attempt at evangelizing, just painting the inside picture in which these things are occurring. Those apathetic clergy and condemning laypeople are not exactly following what The Holy Father, John Paul II, said in his encyclical "Gospel Of Life (EVANGELIUM VITAE), in 1995:" "In the proclamation of this Gospel of Life, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world's way of thinking (cf. Rom 12:2)."
He also said this, specifically to PA women: "The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord.
"With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life."
Forget the so-called Catholic politicians for a moment. Nationwide, as a general rule, what PJPII said simply doesn’t come from the top of the U.S.'s Churches, period. I'd guess that most Catholic women have never heard or read those words. The Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals must direct their pastors and priests (and they can in fact do this when and if they wish, despite protestations to the contrary) to stop “neatly wrapping up and putting away the Respect-Life movement” after every January, only to bring it back in October during Respect Life Month.
Until the Catholic clergy leaders all do this, it just doesn’t get done as it should.
Before anyone protests, let me add that there are some dioceses and other denominations doing many exceedingly wonderful things financially and otherwise to support pregnant moms in crisis and to help post-abortive women and men in grief. I know this, but I don't believe they are a majority.
I think these two phenomena—being petrified of the "hypocrite" backlash from pro-lifers and prochoicers alike, and the Catholic Church’s (and perhaps other Churches’) refusal to welcome, embrace, forgive and help heal openly from the pulpits all of the possible hundreds of thousands of PA women and men in its own pews—have everything to do with why the Respect-Life movement has not succeeded in over 30 years.
And about 120 mostly Catholic prolifers gave me a thunderous standing O for saying that last October.
And yes, I respectfully have told my Bishop that. If all the Churches stopped “fearing hostility or unpopularity” from without or from within, I believe that thousands of Rachel’s Vineyard retreats and other PA ministries each year would be packed, instead of a few hundred. And there would be a safehome for pregnant moms, a free pregnancy/neonatal medical care center and a warehouse full of baby supplies for pregnant moms in every town, not just one in a diocese or county.
“Women Deserve Better than abortion” would be a nationwide answer and not just a belief.
There. I’ll get off the soapbox now. Charles, perhaps in this post, digression is the better part of valor! Or something like that...