Tonight, I was able to go to a banquet for our local pregnancy resource center, and the keynote speaker was Vera Lord. Oh, my goodness. Her story is heart-stopping, not-a-dry-eye-in-the-place, “if you have a functioning cell anywhere in your heart, you will do something to stop this!” inspiring.
So I wanted to write. This post is based on a Catholic Exchange column that I wrote a few years ago, but tonight’s speech gave me some good things to update it with…
Our society’s ability to tolerate or reject abortion is the product of how we see abortion. And the way we see abortion is rooted most deeply in one factor–our level of honesty about it. Here, language is everything.
We can start with the earliest stages of life: a fetus or an embryo is not “a blob of tissue” or just “the products of conception”. I don’t even think the words “fetus” and “embryo” are honest enough. Really, at the very moment of conception, we’re already talking about babies.
At conception, this person inside a mother’s womb is already set to be either a tiny boy or a tiny girl. By five weeks, its heart is beating beneath its mother’s. It’s a baby.
By nine weeks, he has fingers that he can curl around something placed in his palm. Later, that “something” will be a mother’s or father’s finger. He’s a baby.
By ten weeks, she will begin to develop Mother’s deep brown eyes—or Daddy’s hazel ones—or her great-great grandma’s gray-blues. By fourteen weeks, she can move her hands and might even suck her thumb. A “blob of tissue” doesn’t need an eye color and doesn’t suck its thumb. This is a baby.
By fifteen weeks, the mother might feel flutters and wiggles inside her womb. The mother doesn’t choose when the baby will move. It’s not her choice. The little human being inside her has a mind of his own. He’s a baby.
By sixteen weeks, this tiny person can get a case of the hiccups. By nineteen weeks, she sleeps in her favorite position, wakes, and sleeps again. Blobs of tissue don’t sleep and wake.
By twenty-four weeks, the baby is considered viable. But even before that, when she is still within the protection of her mother’s womb, she begins to learn the sound of her mother’s voice. She sucks her thumb. Her heart beats steadily. She wakes and sleeps. She moves on her own. She needs nutrition.
She’s a baby. And just calling her a blob of tissue or the products of conception doesn’t change that. Changing what you call a person can’t change the truth.
This truth—that her baby was a real, live human person—becomes evident, in one way or another, to each mother who has had an abortion. Pro-life activist and speaker Vera Lord, who chose and suffered an abortion herself, says that every cell in the mother’s body knows this truth and cries out to the mother after the abortion happens—no matter what the woman believes or what led her to justify the act. Sometimes it’s immediate; other times it might take years or even decades. But, at some point, the mother’s body forces her to face the fact that this was, indeed, her real child, her responsibility, and a baby who needed her protection, and she also has to face the painful fact that she contributed to the death of this child. Everyone else in the mother’s life–the boyfriend, parents, or other loved ones who might have convinced her that it was for the best, or the society that surrounded her with the lie that it would be OK–they all get to move on and leave it behind when it’s over. The mother never can.
When the realization hits, Ms. Lord says that it brings the mother a terrible torment unlike any other feeling known to man. It’s a grief that doesn’t go away, and it often causes Post Abortive Syndrome, which can manifest through such things as migraine headaches, eating disorders, depression, drug abuse, detachment from a spouse and future children, and other symptoms.
These things happen because what was aborted was, in actuality, a baby. The mother’s body makes her face it, despite the fact that people in her life might have worked so hard to hide it from her. The manipulation and rewording it takes to convince a woman that she’s not carrying a baby when she really is–this is the verbal engineering that enables a mother to accept an abortion. By refusing to use the word “baby”, the people who claim to help women are actually victimizing them.
The best we can do for women is to be honest with each one about the terribleness of abortion–before she makes her choice. The most merciful thing is to put the truth about abortion out there in the culture, and also speak it clearly but kindly in our personal lives every chance we get, so that each mother will be confronted with the reality of it before she chooses. Yes, even though it’s hard to hear. Even though she’s afraid. Even though she may be hurting already. Even if she’s addicted. Even if she has nowhere to go. These things are hard…but she can move past any of these things and put them behind her. Abortion is forever.
If you are a woman considering abortion, please remember that there are many compassionate options that will be better for you and your baby than abortion. There are crisis pregnancy centers and hotlines and churches and ready-to-act networks of people who want to help. They do it because mothers matter to them; they care, and they will not shame you or look down. And there are families who would love nothing more than to give your baby a loving home if you decide not to raise him or her. Don’t be afraid of embarrassment. Nine months of open embarrassment in front of peers while you let your baby grow during pregnancy—or even misplaced anger from beloved family members for a time—is nothing compared to a lifetime of guilt forcing you to hide and hurt. You’re not responsible for other people’s responses to your pregnancy; you’re only responsible for how you handle it.
To any woman who is already hurting from an abortion—you are a victim of abortion, too. You are not to be judged, looked down upon, or condemned, and you don’t deserve any of those things. You, an abortion victim yourself, are a special child of a heavenly Father who is Mercy itself and wants to help you. You are His treasure–the apple of His eye! You can turn to Project Rachel, a Catholic ministry that helps women to heal from the anguish, at www.hopeafterabortion.com . There is also the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing; they can be contacted for help at www.noparh.org . The Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Massachusetts are also a wonderful help; they remind us that God’s mercy really is more powerful than our biggest failings. You can find them at www.marian.org. God loves you deeply. Forgiveness and healing are there for the asking. He can help you carry this and mend every part of your heart that is broken.
And if you are someone who is thinking of voting for a pro-choice politician, please reconsider. Remember that your vote could be partially responsible for some women’s abortions. We hold the lives of those babies—and the well-being of their mothers—in our hands every time we go to the polls.