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Before you read the following blog here are three important facts about my perspective:
1) I love children and that is not lip service. I volunteer with children on a regular basis, I grew up babysitting a family of five, I enjoy changing diapers and baby talk and bedtime stories and snuggling. I truly love children.
2) I find the political language used to map out opposing sides of abortion insipid: pro-choice, anti-abortion, pro-life, etc. I think abortion is complicated and deeply personal, much more so than the political rhetoric allows discussion for. That said, I stake my flag on the pro-choice side, but hear me out, please. I deeply yearn for a world in which birth control is accessible to all women and abortions are safe, legal, and rare—everywhere. This does not mean I am anti-life or pro-abortion. This means that I want every woman everywhere to have control over her own body and her own future.
3) I did not make up the stories below. I will use the word “friend” to protect the privacy of these fabulous women.
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I have a friend who is pregnant with her 8th child. Her eighth! I have the impression #8 was a surprise, but I know the following about my friend: 1) She doesn’t use modern birth control 2) She and her husband both wanted a large family 3) She freely speaks about her financial security; her husband has an excellent paying job. Her candor and recognition that she can afford eight children is refreshing. 4) She is a superb mother who delights in her children, but still desires a break every now and then. Although rearing eight children is something I would NEVER want to do, for my friend it is a calling for which she has the resources, gifts, and passion. Secretly, we are hoping she names #8 Octavia.
I have another friend who never wanted children. She had good reasons. She couldn’t imagine sharing her life with someone whom she could trust enough to rear a child. She also had deep wounds from her childhood; she didn’t want those wounds re-opened by parenthood. Children weren’t for her. Nieces, nephews, my children, she adored and showered them all with love—but her own? No. Even though she was careful about using birth control she still got pregnant. She’s the 1% on the condom box. She went to her nearest Planned Parenthood clinic to make an appointment for an abortion. In the end, she canceled the appointment. Somewhere deep inside of her she found the courage to raise her child. She has surprised even herself—she is a gifted mother, exhausted but grateful.
I have another friend who was wayward for a few years after high school. She fell in love and found herself pregnant. Her partner was all sweet talk. They would be parents together. But he left a few months later, just after he punched his father-in-law. She had an abortion. She cried for weeks after. Now it seems a distant memory. She is grateful she had the chance at a new beginning, which included school. She thinks that if she had kept the baby, who she grieved deeply at the time, she would be stuck in a life that would be limited by her lack of education and the baby’s violent father.
Another friend was prosperous, married with two children, and pregnant with a third. Five months along they discovered that the fetus’s kidneys were outside its body and the brain was not developing properly. If carried to term, the child would be stillborn. Her compassionate doctors performed a dilation and extraction, which was legal in her state, thankfully. They were kind enough to never call it an abortion. It was just a tragic, medically necessary procedure.
I always wanted four children, not three. That two of my dear friends didn’t want any children was beyond my understanding. It was also beyond my understanding that anyone would have unprotected sex before they were in a life-long-for-sure relationship (that 1% warning was not happening to me). No matter what I was going to finish school and I was going to get married before I got pregnant. And I followed my plan perfectly. I married a man who loved children as much as I did and wanted four as well. We were embarrassingly earnest and beyond cheesy cute. Even though I thought I was in control of my reproduction, I wasn’t. My first, third, and fifth pregnancies ended in miscarriage. My final and sixth pregnancy ended with a healthy baby girl and postpartum depression. The idea of facing another pregnancy just so we could meet our newlywed dream of four children was not emotionally possible. I was fragile and it was evident. My husband had a vasectomy when our youngest was three months old. We have never regretted the decision, although we still pine for babies.
Five stories: five different women with five different dreams in five different situations with five different outcomes. How could these stories possibly fit into a black and white debate divided by either-or language? Especially when this debate includes more male voices then female voices?
I have another story I would like to place beside the above stories. I do not know this woman, but I know her story well. She was a young girl who found herself pregnant—a stone-able offense in her ancient Judean village. Her name was Mary. She had free will; she could have said no to the angel Gabriel’s message. I often wonder how many women before Mary said no to Gabriel. Is that why he ended up in the forgotten village of Nazareth speaking to an impoverished teenage girl? Did he ask, or did he beg? Mary was a powerful agent in her own story. She had choice; she chose to say yes to God’s daring plan.
In November, three people were killed and nine people injured by a gunman at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood Clinic. The gunman claimed he was acting out of his Christian convictions. I wonder what part of the Bible he read and I didn’t? I’ve read the whole thing and I’ve learned from Jesus that every person’s story matters. That’s why I told the five very different stories above—stories of courage, of choice, of agency, of love.
Important life choices demand courage. But should they include danger? Should each choice the six women above, including myself, made about our reproductive health and desires require not only emotional stamina and courage, but also danger and inspection? The choices that women make, day in and day out, about pregnancy, childrearing, and sex should not be for the general public’s scrutiny and they should not elicit violence. Mary knew that even though women’s reproductive rights were not their own in the ancient world, the choice was still hers and she bravely claimed her future.
Learn more about what happened in Colorado:
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.