The moment occurs at the beginning of each of my pregnancies. Shortly after discovering that I am, in fact, pregnant I am overcome by this experience that I hesitate to qualify with any term other than grace. It is one of those moments that only lasts a second, if that. In that second though, is so much powerful significance that I still feel as if I can reach out and touch the memory of each of the times it has occurred. The chill of my body, the exact spot where I stood, the way it smelled, how it sounded; it is all permanently ingrained.
I consider it God’s way of communicating to me, revealing something I need, letting me catch a glimpse of what He has in store for me in His eternal heart. It is also a startling awakening that signals me to stop focusing on all the silly things that do not matter very much, on all those reasons why I think I can’t, again.
The moment hits me in an unexpected wave that is both gentle and strong. Its soft whispers convince me that not only is it going to be ok, it is going to be wonderful. Beyond the sickness, the exhaustion, the itchiness, the insomnia and all of the other things that are hard and feel, momentarily, all consuming, there is something very good happening. And for that second, the most brief of all instances, that is both there and gone before I take my next breath, I know who my baby is.
Before a sonogram, the pregnancy announcement, the gender reveal or a protruding belly, upon absolutely no power of my own, the sense of who they are goes all the way through to my bones. Call me crazy, but their eyes, their hair, their mischief tingle up through my spine and back down again. I sense the gender, their faults, the gifts that they are given, the talents they will develop, the ways they will drive me crazy and make me crazy in love in one singular instance that changes everything. It is as if they existed all along.
I have long considered this experience an intimate gift between God and me, a singular instant shared that reminds me no matter how difficult the next 9 months and subsequent years may me, at the heart of it all is not something, but someone. A person. There is a whole entire person entrusted to me. This is a very helpful thing on which to focus, especially when puking at 3am or trying to get five kids to school on time.
Since learning the news of New York’s legislation that permits and legally protects the abortion of human beings through all 40 weeks of pregnancy using the cruel and unusual means of lethal injection, I am compelled to share more of my experiences of life’s first moments. This effort is not so much rooted in an attempt to convince anyone’s opinion otherwise, although I happily welcome that. Simply, I want to exercise the privilege of sharing who I am, what I think, and what ideas make up the person, specifically the woman, that I am- an existence for which I am eternally grateful. There is nothing more important to me than our ability to recognize the dignity of the human person at all stages of life, especially the most sufferable in the most impossible of scenarios at the most inconvenient of times.
The topic of abortion in its polarization, politicalization, propaganda, and ability to really ruin a dinner party, has the ability to rattle and unravel rational thinking and productive conversation. As much as I hesitate to participate in a conversation that political structures have so successfully vilified (mostly for their own profit), I cannot ignore the encounters with the dignity of personhood that is so thoroughly and firmly part of who I am. The laws I support must reflect the philosophical underpinnings that I have made my own. In the circumstance when the law directly violates the very framework by which I live and the essence of my experiences as a woman, I cannot remain silent. The reality is, that no matter how emotional we get, abortion will always boil down to one incredibly important and absolutely essential question about our existential existence as human persons. When does life begin? Why are we as Americans, in all of our scientific and technological advances, unable to answer with any semblance of coherence?
For me, and many, this question is not only answerable, it is an essential building block upon which we frame and build our philosophy of life. Life begins at conception. There is much scientific evidence that supports this position, and a sonogram will prove it.
Political semantics have attempted to pigeon hole my position about when life begins and silence my point of view because a pro life feminist does not fit the narrative. The assertion that life begins at conception which is largely based on my own experience as a feminine person, attempts to disqualify me and call me anti-woman, anti-choice. The effort to make me yield my convictions to the velocity of women’s rights, and the magnitude of movements like #metoo, the wage gap, and so many other flagrant injustices is both frustrating and isolating. Nonetheless, I refuse to concede that participating in the human rights violation of others will make us equal to men or more productive in society. It will make us worse and less influential. Moreover, it makes us less of who we are as women and the inherent feminine genius that we possess. Women are made to do hard things, to deliver babies in seemingly impossible circumstances, to give and bare life with the very flesh of our bodies. As a feminist, I cannot grapple with the fact that we would ever deny ourselves the experience of seeing to fruition the full consequences of our sexual decisions. That we would ever believe we must rely on the government to grant us rights that we inherently possess, that we desire the false promises of believing sex ought to exist without consequences, or fail to recognize the humanity that finds its very beginning within the depth of our bodies.
It can get awfully confusing when presented with the most extreme of circumstances, those scenarios flooding our social media feeds, that say this law is really designed to protect good women from the pain of delivering babies that are no longer viable, but so desperately wanted, and to save the life of the mother whose survival hangs in the balance of a dangerous pregnancy. To that, since I am not a doctor, I offer the Dublin Declaration, in which thousands of OBGYNs assert that there is never a medical reason to encourage the direct and intentional killing of the unborn, which is the exact medical scenario that this law seeks to legally protect. Many medical scenarios may arise in which the demise of the baby occurs precisely because the intent of OBs is to always do what is best for the woman. In those very hard cases, the ones where the sonograms show predicted inviability, why as women are we so encouraged to not still see it through? Why are we told and encouraged to deny ourselves the experience of doing hard things and sharing these experiences? There is no way to sterilize suffering, no matter how painless the injection. How terrifying it is to accept the parts of life that are beyond our control, those things that limit and confine, crush, and and make us crumble. Those things that make us do what is hard when it is against our will and in spite of our desires. In those moments though, is the opportunity to cling to the core truths that we really do know, deep down underneath it all. The moment that life begins and ends is not up to us to decide.
My niece Mary Margaret has six older brothers. Her mother, at the time of her conception was of “advanced maternal age.” Her 20 week ultrasound indicated severe fetal abnormalities, the sort of which incur the suggestion of abortion in an effort to reduce the high probability of suffering for both mother and child. Yet, Mary Margaret is a thriving three year old who spends much of her day bossing around a bunch of bigger boys. How lucky a young lady to one day learn how wanted she is even if, and no matter what. To me, this is the heart of what feminism needs: A well lived conviction that women are always loved, even if, and no matter what.
I am reluctant to judge all of the supporters of this legislation. The temptation to categorize them and permanently sever my own way of thinking from theirs is certainly present. As difficult as it is for me to understand, though, the intention to protect women may very well be in their hearts, a viewpoint that is a convoluted product of a broken culture or particular experience. Nonetheless, I am terrified by this laws ability to impact harm both on individuals and the already torn fabric of American culture at large. The ambiguity and deliberate vague definitions of “women’s health” allow for the abuse of this law by very bad people, in very bad ways, and it will allow it all to happen with the full approval and protection of American Law. As the events and current condition of my beloved Catholic Church continue to remind me, we live in a world where Theodore McCarrick was decidedly protected and purposefully promoted. There are very bad people who say things that sound quite good. Our laws cannot enable their behavior, and we must wake up to the power that we possess to make it better. For example, I encourage you to recall the case of Kermit Gosnell. Under this law Kermit Gosnell has protection. He was convicted as a serial killer.
Life begins at conception. Therefore, abortion is always a violation of human rights. 100% of the time. Even if, and no matter what. That does not mean I do not feel sympathy for the parents, or fail to recognize the vastly complicated realities of life, and poverty, and race, and abuse, and rape, and youth, and fetal abnormalities, and just how difficult all of this is and will always be. It means I believe that there is another voiceless human being that we, as a culture, fail to recognize or acknowledge as mattering at all. The definition of personhood, that point in time at which a human being begins to matter continues to become more and more ambiguous, less and less legally protected. Across state lines personhood laws lack any coherence or consistency. In the attempt to normalize abortion, we have failed to answer the most basic questions of all: what makes a person a person?
Is it when we will it? When I say so? When I decide that I want who is already there? As powerful and beautiful and strong and capable as women are, we do not get to decide when life begins or when it ends, even if, especially if, it is happening within us.
New York’s legislation has awoken the unsettled questions and reignited the hate filled attacks that keep us all in our corners ready to knock out the other before the first punch. That to me, is another element of how well crafted the evil; the way the reporting and politicking twists it and sells it so as to permanently separate, continually enrage, completely dismantle our ability to have a conversation. The desire to win at making the policy disables us from finding the person- not only in the womb, but in each other.
Conversely though, it has reinvigorated so many of us to celebrate life with honesty, bravery and courage. May we continue to tell our stories, to share our beliefs, our children’s beginnings, our unwanted pregnancies, and those we tried so hard to conceive. May we dig deeper in our pursuit to allow life, at its tiniest beginnings, to impact the totality of our existence with tremendous enormity. Let us celebrate life and protect it with all that we are and all that we do.