“Life, the choice of a new generation.”
I remember feeling so proud. I was young, maybe 7 or so, and my big brother Eric had won a Pro Life bumper sticker design contest. He was in college at K-State, and very involved in the Catholic youth ministry there. Thousands of these designs were printed, mimicking the Pepsi campaign the phrase was modeled after.
At some point, my brother was even arrested at an Operation Rescue protest outside the Women’s Health Care Services clinic in Wichita (1991 “Summer of Mercy.”). Only, I never knew the name of the place then. It was just that “evil place” on East Kellogg where Tiller “The Killer” performed abortions. Again, I felt proud. What a sacrifice! What a demonstration of passionate protection of unborn children!
It was the early 90s. I attended Catholic grade school, and it was common to engage with Pro-life materials at a very young age. I don’t remember anyone ever explaining to me the history of abortion, why a woman might ever need one, and the battles that had been fought for them to be legalized. It was only, “abortion kills babies, it’s always wrong, and anyone who gets one or supports them is a grave sinner.” It sounded simple enough.
Only, life would soon become anything but simple, and my youthful naivete melted in my hands like a popsicle on a scorching hot summer afternoon.
After engaging with a Facebook friend who’d posted in support of the “Vote Yes” campaign, she messaged me with a reminder of an old conversation we’d had in 2017 about abortion. At that time, I still felt strongly that abortion was violence against women, though I was uncertain about the impact that legislative changes might have. She asked me, “What happened?” In other words, why has my mind changed?
It’s a straightforward question, but the answer is anything but. What DID happen to my previous Pro-Life fervor? The young girl that couldn’t comprehend how ANYONE would see it differently than “we” did. It was black and white, us vs. them, good vs. evil. Well, life happened.
The first blow to my rock-solid Pro-Life foundation came in 1999. I was 16 years old, and my older brother, the one who was so faithful, so committed to our ancestral Catholic faith, such a role model for me…took his own life at 29 years old. We later learned he’d been sexually abused by a Catholic priest at age 12, one that the diocese knew was a pedophile and sent to our church anyway. At least 5 suicides are attributed to the abuse of this one priest alone.
It was like a grenade had been thrown into the middle of our family, our faith, our very sense of safety and survival.
We spoke out. We did the right thing. We spoke truth to power. And the Catholic church? The place where my family had been at home for HUNDREDS of years? We were on our own. Sure, there were a handful of friends and family and even priests and nuns who were kind and supportive, but to this day, not one single Catholic person has ever invited me to rejoin the church. And I couldn’t help but wonder, where was the march for HIS life? This Catholic man who’d sacrificed so much for the Pro-Life movement, was so distraught by the abuse he’d suffered that he took his own life. There were no billboards or protests or pamphlets or bumper stickers about the injustice he suffered.
My Own Abortion
The next clarifying moment on my journey came when I myself became a mother for the very first time. Newly married, I felt pure joy and amazement when the pregnancy test presented two faint lines. We got a cake from the Dillon’s bakery. “We’re having a baby” written in frosting on top, we drove to my parent’s house to tell them the news. Only, our joy was short lived. That night, I started bleeding. Days and tests later, we got the terrifying news: it was ectopic.
Our baby had formed in my right tube, and had no chance of survival. The radiologist who made the diagnosis told me his daughter had two ectopic pregnancies in a row, had lost her fertility, but slapped me on the back and said, “Go get em” before I was supposed to head to the hospital. My OB was associated with a Catholic hospital, but told me I couldn’t go there. The medication I needed to dissolve the pregnancy and save my tube couldn’t be administered there because it was “against their beliefs.”
My life was in danger, I was in extreme emotional turmoil, and I couldn’t get medical care from the institution that had chewed my family up and spit them out because…it was immoral. I was livid. And scared. And sad. And confused. After a botched dosage of methotrexate from another hospital, my tube ended up rupturing anyway, and I had emergency surgery to remove it. “Abortion” was how it was listed in my medical records, and I had to wrestle with what that meant for me and what I thought of women who got abortions. Now, I was one.
Not All Lives are Valued
The purple “Vote Yes” signs seem so benign and benevolent. Isn’t it wonderful that we want to “value them both?” Only, I can assure you that in the conservative, Christian worldview, not all lives hold value. Gay lives, bisexual lives, transgender lives…are they valued as well? Are they cherished and beloved and treated equally in congregations and communities?
No, they’re not. Someone I love with every fiber of my entire being lives with one of these identities and hasn’t been treated kindly by the same people with “Value them Both” signs in their yard. They’ve been bullied and told they aren’t allowed to come over and banned from playing with friends they’ve known for years. Once again, conservative Christianity has deemed my family “unworthy.”
My Reasons for Being Pro-Choice
So here I am, an adult with a family of my own, reflecting back on how I went from being “staunchly” Pro-Life, to being an outspoken advocate of repoductive rights. It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen because of societal pressure or a desire to appear “woke” or even a need to align with a political party.
It happened because I saw that protecting the unborn feels like an easy “win” for morality, but protecting altar boys from predator priests was too complicated, messy, and was really just a power struggle. It wasn’t about valuing human life, after all.
It happened when I realized that an organization’s ideology didn’t value my life, one that after being saved, was able to go on and have three more babies. Abortion saved my life, and theirs. (And before you say ectopic pregnancies don’t apply here, just do some research on how anti-abortion legislation creates roadblocks to care and what some ignorant legislators think is a viable option, like moving the baby to the uterus.)
It happened because the same legislation that is being used to overturn abortion rights is also being used to potentially overturn gay marriage and access to transgender care for minors. Remind me again how this is only about “protecting” women and their babies? It seems more like a conservative Christian power grab for anything that they don’t deem “righteous.”
Some might think I’m pro choice now out of sheer spite for the religious structures that couldn’t hold me. But I disagree. I held my pro life views long after I left the Catholic church. It feels more like a gradual unveiling of truth as experienced by myself and those I love. And I still have opinions that run counter to many on the “left.” I still think a fetus is a human. I hate seeing the references to a “blob of cells.” I don’t think abortion should be considered casually, and I think we need to honor and hold space for everyone who’s suffered because they had one, or suffered because they couldn’t. I think like so many things in life, it’s complicated. It’s tender.
I think we all arrive at our view on abortion through a unique path, or at least we should. Nobody should tell us how to think. Kansas has the opportunity to maintain the current restrictions on abortions that are in place by voting “No” on August 2, or give the governement the control to ban them completely with no exceptions by voting “Yes.”
This is my story. I hope it opens your mind and heart a little. In the end, that’s the only truth we have to offer each other. I do believe that life is sacred, and I do believe that protecting the right to abortion is a loving way to offer safety and dignity to our neighbor.