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Pro-Life series: Women on the Margins

This is the 9th post in our "What Being Pro-Life Means to Me" series! What does being pro-life mean to you? Over this fall, we'll hear various writers respond to that question. Learn more and subscribe for weekly email updates. 

She sat across from me, her belly already starting to swell. The scent of beer still on her from the night before, she poured out her heart.

“I know it’s not good for my baby. But I just can’t stop. Sometimes I can go for a few days but that’s when I start to remember and that’s when I start to feel things. I can’t take it when I feel things.”

I have no words of wisdom for her. Her memories would drive me to drink, as well.

Memories of a father who started raping her in her earliest years, memories of multiple foster homes, group homes, and life on the streets. Memories of johns, bad dates, and broken relationships. Memories of five other children, lost to the child welfare system.

She introduced me to one of her foster fathers once. “Don’t tell anyone,” she said afterwards, “but he’s the father of my second son.”

I have a well-practiced poker face, but I suppose I showed my shock that day.

“It wasn’t like THAT,” she added.  “I was 18 by that time and he wasn’t my dad anymore.”

As she continued to speak, my hopelessness and sense of dread for her sweet baby started to grow. My silent prayers felt feeble against the generations of hurt and sorrow and loss she carries. When she said that she was considering an abortion, I didn’t encourage her to keep the baby. I simply continued to listen.

You see, I’ve met her other children. A collection of little lost ones, shuffled around the system, born with parts of their brains eaten up by alcohol, never a home to call their own.

I’ve been shocked at my own response to similar situations. My husband and I were married for about three months when we offered to take in another pregnant teenager and adopt her baby or support her while she kept it, rather than see the child aborted. We have acted on our convictions in this area and have allowed it to change our lives. Upend our lives, actually. Almost 25 years after that young teen was forced into an abortion by her mother, we began to foster a child born into insecurity. We are much too old for an infant, by the way.

Still, I can’t bring myself to counsel Shelley not to seek an abortion if that’s what she felt she should do. 

I hugged her, cried with her, and asked if I could pray with her. Shelley is a believer, with a strong sense of the Creator and a child-like faith in the God she learned about in her sporadic attendance at Sunday school. We prayed for her, and we prayed for her baby, and we prayed for wisdom and we prayed for strength.

Later, I prayed for myself.

After a few weeks, I saw Shelley again. I always worry about her when I don’t see her for a while. She is someone who could be missing for months before anyone would think to report it, me included.

“I lost the baby,” she sobbed. “I knew it wasn’t right to get an abortion so I had decided to keep him but then I miscarried.”

Once again I had nothing to offer but prayers, hugs, and tears.

“I told my social worker and she said, ‘Oh well, at least I won’t have to apprehend this one.’ It really hurt me when she said that, like he was going to be inconvenient for her anyway and my miscarriage helped,” said Shelley.

Vulnerable children are ‘inconvenient.’ They don’t do well in school. They have behavioral problems. They challenge authority. They often have health issues. Adults don’t always know how to handle them. I know of one little girl, five years old, who has been in 23 homes. No one knows what to do with her.

In our region, the hospital that performs high risk deliveries also performs abortions. So when I visit women like Shelley after they give birth, I always cross the picket line of sign-waving pro-lifers.

I want to beg them to put down their signs and instead invest that time in helping vulnerable women and their children. 

What if every vulnerable mother (and father) had a family who helped her and cared for her and supported her as if she were their own? What if we spent more time with pregnant teens? Or with girls who are at risk of becoming pregnant long before they graduate from high school?

What if each one of us helped a young child who was lost in the system? What if we spent more our time with those who are at risk of sexual exploitation, children with no homes and no families, and those born with preventable disabilities like FASD?

For me, being pro-life means that I will continue to cross the picket line of pro-life messages to get to the people inside, some of whom are so broken and struggling and alone that they believe their only option is an abortion.

Just as I was finishing up this blog post, a young woman approached me. Sobbing, she said that she was waiting for a ride to come and pick her up and bring her for a scheduled abortion. She asked if she could talk.

She was being stalked by a violent ex-boyfriend, was regularly using crystal meth, and showed me the fresh needle tracks on her arm where she had shot up the night before. She told me how she had lost her three older children to the child welfare system, and said she didn’t believe in abortion but didn’t know what else to do.

I asked if she could use that ride and drive to a de-tox program instead of the clinic and she said what I suspected she would. There is a waiting list for de-tox. She would need photo ID, which she didn’t have. She had no outside supports who would encourage her and help her once she got out and she didn’t see how she could stay sober. It’s easy to get an abortion. It is very, very difficult to get straight.

Her ride arrived, and she broke off our conversation and left. I don’t know if she was going to go through with her abortion or not, but I do know that if no one reaches out to women like her, and if no one is willing to bring those babies into their homes and care for them, if no one is willing to support the social programs that assist parents and children when they are struggling, then we are all equally culpable to the abortions that take place in our towns and in our cities.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

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[Image: Flickr user Amber McNamara]

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