The Real Pro-Choice Test: Kindness With Another’s Choice
All right, my first post isn’t exactly light, but it’s possibly the most important point about kindness I can make: Kindness really is so easy. And sometimes, anything but.
Human life is sacred. I’ve written elsewhere of the luck of DNA and birthplace—once we get that far. By that, I mean that I know a woman who has had four abortions, that I know of, starting at the age of 15—as birth control. Another who had two abortions; two more who each had one. All but one were the product of unprotected recklessness. The exception was a date rape.
Last week, the birth of a royal prince shared headlines with babies given away as game-show prizes in Pakistan. In both cases, ecstatic crowds clapped and cheered. For what, exactly? Life—or luck?
In 1990, a close girlfriend called, pleading for me to come over to the tidy small house where she now lived alone. In a train wreck of monthly cycle, auld lang syne and impetuosity with her estranged husband, she was pregnant—barely able to mother the sweet two-year-old little girl she was already co-parenting. In the broad daylight of the weeks post-auld lang syne, there was no hope of reconciliation; she was overwhelmed, without resources, and had decided to have an abortion. She called me after the decision was made, in the depths of desperation and self-loathing. In some righteous tactic of recrimination, soon-to-be-ex Mr. Wrong, who did not want another baby—or at least, not the burden of financing one, had been verbally beating her up as a child killer, in every possible way justifying his own unfaithfulness in an attempt to equalize the moral high ground for the impending divorce. As the live-in mommy at the disintegrating nest and herself an orphan without any family resources, my friend was hitting the walls of her own practical anxieties as a newly single mom, facing the bleak and exhausting prospect of restarting a career for a future of something beyond whatever minimal child support the courts might award. She called me as a last resort, in desperation, because she knew me as someone who had long ago welcomed the tag “best friend,” because she and her soon-to-be ex had been one of just six people at my own wedding—because she believed the power of those words and experiences and because she had nowhere else to turn.
The question for me wasn’t to pass judgment on abortion, but whether I would I drive her to and from the clinic. If I call myself a Christian, a follower of Christ—apart from my empirical faith as a citizen of the universe, a kind person and a grateful acolyte of all great teachers from Buddha to Mr. Martens in the Room 12 art room—what does that really mean? Am I an accessory to murder, or do I turn a cold shoulder to an anguished friend? It’s easy to call yourself Best Friend, Nice Person, Accepting, Nonjudgmental, Christian or Caring until you’re put to the test.I lost sleep over this. Passive avoidance, willing non-involvement, the finer points of negotiating right, wrong and morality. Slavery, states’ rights, Civil War. Bystanders, Jews and Nazis. Believers. Nonbelievers. No one is pro-death. Everyone is pro-life.
I chose. Not “for” abortion, not for a woman’s right for sovereignty over her own body, or to be an accessory to murder of the unborn or any of the other totems, depending on your point of view. For it was not my decision to have an abortion. It was her decision. My decision to personally put myself out there, to live what I had always said was my faith, my beliefs, my personal code. Reduced to real life, this meant to simply be compassionate and to try to help where I could. That meant driving my friend to the clinic. Going back to her home, making a hot meal for her and her little girl—enough for that night and the rest of the week. Returning to pick her up at the clinic when it was all over. Driving her home in silence, as she lay in mounting pain, supine in the back seat. Giving her the nourishing dinner, watching her little girl that evening. Looking in on them in the days that followed. Particularly in this last low election cycle when men and women lusting for high office have used precious lives as a cheap and easy media hook, I know that I would myself be crucified as being “pro-choice” in this manner. Mocked, berated, pierced, centurions gambling unconcernedly at my feet, passive throngs holding back in voyeuristic fascination.
I was not an accessory to murder of the unborn. I am for the sacred birthright of agency. I was not the pregnant one, faced with what for her were insurmountable impossibilities, the very portrait of hopelessness. Once entrusted with her despair, I bore responsibility. Would I rather end up responsible for perhaps even more deaths when the suffering mother gave up altogether, for want of anyone caring? What it came down to was that I could not imagine the great and noble ones walking right past this woman and tossing out with a shrug, “Hey, you got yourself into this. Get yourself out.”
In too many cases, that means flushing newborns down the toilet in China, for rescue from inside the pipe. Offering them up for sale on Craigslist. Walking past the decrepit house in Cleveland with the boarded-up windows for ten years. Giving your kid an unparented smartphone, heedless of the tragic new teen sport known as cyberbullying. The etymology of morality, when each of us is put to the test, may distill to one simple question: What can you live with? How we face the face in the mirror lies too often now in an upbringing, society or social media in which precious life is measured against facing the family, friends, fame or Facebook. In short, the unkind judgment. The terror of condemnation.
That is the real morality of choice, and we are all responsible.
Photo by Leanne Surfleet