Women and Conscience

I’ve been trying to write something else. Something to play around with to start my next book. Something different than this. But.

I’ve spent years involved, one way and another, with the pro-life movement. I was a freshman in high school when the cases were coming to the courts, the court my father was involved with, the New York State Supreme Court. I had not heard of abortion before my freshman year in high school. I was horrified when I learned that some women, some mothers, would choose to end the life of the child growing in their bodies.

I am the fourth of six children. The image of the Madonna and Child was a family portrait. The holiness of life, the holiness of each individual life, and soul, underlined and contained the essence of the gospel reinforced by the images of saints and the stained glass windows that were an essential part of my living space. The consecration of the Eucharist and the culture of sacrifice that before I was born, for generations beyond counting before I was born, was imbedded in my DNA.

From the moment I heard that word abortion, I identified with the child. Not the mother. Not the father. The child. An Innocent. Each child breathed into being by the whisper of God. It wasn’t biology, it was divinity. It was elegant. Romantic. Simple.

At that young age I knew the mechanics of conception. Man and woman; egg and sperm. And I knew that it was wrong to engage in activity that might lead to a child if you weren’t married. That had certainly been scared into me in my Irish Catholic home and community.

I also breathed in the lessons that if anything ‘happened’ to a girl, it was her fault. Her fault for being attractive, for leading boys and men on by being herself.  I learned that women were ‘the occasion of sin’ just for being female. I heard my mother say that a woman should not accuse a man of rape because it would ruin the man’s life. The man’s life. I heard my father comment on girls ‘walking by in their summer clothes’ as Mick Jagger sang, who knew what they were doing by dressing in shorts and sleeveless blouses. They knew they were driving the boys crazy and they enjoyed doing it. And the boys couldn’t help themselves for the thoughts and feelings, and thus, actions, which such vixens would inspire.

Years ago I was asked to ghost write a newspaper article for a dear friend of mine who had an abortion when she was nineteen. By then she had four children and I was pregnant with my fourth child.

I struggled, gut wrenchingly struggled, with this task. How was I to write from the perspective of someone who got up on a table in a clinic, opened her body to a stranger for the purpose of removing this ‘product of conception’?

Then, slowly, painfully, I realized just how scared she was. She was engaged but not married. Her parents would turn on her, turn away from her. She broke the rules. She disgraced the family. At the moment she got on the table fear of her parent’s disgrace and anger was bigger than any bunch of cells threatening to turn into a baby. And years later, she mourned for that child. Mourned for that child and for herself for being shamed into doing something that betrayed who she was.

And now. With men in black suits and vestments, men who will never become pregnant, or in the case of Catholic priests, never become fathers, speaking out on Capitol Hill and in state senates and radio broadcasts, speaking of ‘conscience’ when it comes to contraceptives and their availability to women. Men who have no understanding, no empathy, no compassion, for women and all the responsibilities and burdens and depths of understanding of life and its mysteries, yes, mysteries, where women dwell, still, they are making policy and belittling women, echoing, if not quoting the old teaching that women are 'the occasion of sin' and they have asked for whatever happens to them.

I’m looking for an ending phrase, sentence, or paragraph to tie this post up, but I don't have one. There is nothing neat and simple about this.  So I will have to continue next time.