Today is the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision on Roe v. Wade, so I'm giving you, one more time, a (lightly edited) re-post of my 'Abortion' post. It's one of my better items, if I may say so myself; perhaps even the best I've ever done. Whether or not it was my best, though (by whatever standard such a question might be decided), the topic resonates with me at a deeply personal level. . .
Sometime when I was in college, the realization dawned on me that, as an adoptee, I had been somebody’s ‘unwanted pregnancy’ once upon a time. And in the fullness of time, especially once Jenn and I married and began having children together, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who, though I had never met her, had carried me in her womb for nine months, and seen me through to the beginnings of my life in this world. (And just as an aside, for me as an adoptee, even such a basic concept as that I'd been carried in someone's womb once-upon-a-time could be disconcertingly abstract).
Along with that realization, I came to understand that, all things considered, I was probably fortunate to have been born before 1973 and Roe v. Wade. I had never particularly staked out a firmly-held position on abortion (My pre-voting-age self was probably mostly ‘pro-choice’, without having given it much thought), but once I understood that, had I been conceived in another time, I would have been a pretty likely candidate for abortion (white college women abort roughly 98% of their ‘unwanted pregnancies’), the question took on an entirely different, and personal, aspect.
I recall a conversation I had with my birth-mother some time after our reunion in 1989. She was talking about her life as a pregnant-and-unmarried woman in the 1950s, and how difficult it had been for her, and she said something like, “I just wish I’d had the choices that women have today.”
I nodded sympathetically. . . until the penny fell all the way to the bottom. Ummmmm. . . you understand, right, that we're talking about ME here? I mean, we’ve had a really, REALLY happy reunion, and both of us are glad for the opportunity to know each other, and our respective families. If you had exercised the ‘choice’ you’re alluding to, none of that would be even a remote possibility. You might still wonder who I’d been, but without any possibility of ever knowing. . .
She understood. Not that she was wishing that she’d aborted me; only that she’d felt so trapped when she was pregnant, and wished that she’d had anything at all she could have done about that. Now, I could understand how trapped she felt. Frederica Mathewes-Green has written and spoken insightfully about women who “want an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg” (and I would highly recommend her book which is the source of that quote; it's an utterly unique book, just for her refusal to take part in the standard shouting matches.).
And I get that. I have the utmost compassion for women who are pregnant when it is nigh unto catastrophic for them to be so. All three of my daughters have been there, and not so very long ago. And my heart ached for each of them, wishing there was something, anything, that I could do to make it easier for them. . .
But, back in 1955-56, that was ME in my birth-mother’s belly. No mere clump of cells, or a faceless ‘fetus’ (honestly, as we sit here, you and I and every other human being are living, breathing clumps of cells; but of course, we're much more than that, and so we were in our mothers' wombs, as well) – it was me, with my own genetic code, distinct from my birth-mother's (or my birth-father's). And if my birth-mother had had an abortion, it was me who would’ve died.
And the ripples go out from there. My adoptive parents might’ve adopted someone else; who can say? But they wouldn’t have adopted me. My classmates and friends and Little-League teammates could scarcely be said to have missed me – how do you miss someone who, as far as you know, never even existed? – but something of the life we shared together would never have happened. Jenn would most likely have married someone else (I mean, she’s an amazing woman; she'd have had guys standing in line for her); but she wouldn’t have married me (and who can say how that might have gone for her?). And our children would never have come to be – her children, if she had any, would be someone else entirely (I've occasionally gotten a chuckle from the thought that I'm the personification of the 'population-control' movement's worst nightmare - an 'unwanted pregnancy' that turned into eight more mouths to feed). . .
And so it goes. In fact, those of you who were born after 1973, have you ever wondered how many children who might have been your friends or classmates or Little-League teammates, or heck, husbands or wives, were never allowed to be born? Cold statistics tell us that, in the US alone, the number would be on the order of 60 million or so by now (roughly the population of California and New York combined) - a fifth again of the population of our country (worldwide, the number would be many times that). Do you ever wonder who those people might have been?
But just to cite a number misses the point. What music was never made, what literature was never written, what cures for which diseases never came about, for want of the men and women who might have done those things, but were never allowed to be born?
And even still - to talk in terms of 'who might have done what' misses the point, too. It's not so much that, eg, the late Steve Jobs (an adoptee like me) was so worthwhile for what he did, but that every human life is intrinsically valuable in-and-of-itself. And 'humanity-at-large' benefits from every one of its members, whether they 'accomplish anything' or not. Certainly, we've all benefitted from the fact that Steve Jobs, or Beethoven, or anyone else, were born and not aborted. But we'll never know, in terms other than bloodless, colorless statistics, what 'humanity-at-large' has lost for those tens of millions who were never born. . .
My point here is not to guilt-trip any woman who has ever had an abortion; my heart absolutely goes out to those women, for they, too, have had violence done to them; they've been sold a bill of goods, given a false promise. I only hope to put a more ‘human’ face on the question, and challenge anyone to think of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ not as a ‘problem’ with an easy technological solution, but as something real, and human, and flesh-and-blood. And life-and-death.
I don’t think my birth-mother is terrible for wishing she’d had more choices available to her. Honestly, on one level, it’s easy for her to say; she’ll never bear the cost of having chosen otherwise (but, to be utterly clear - the very last thing I mean is to trivialize what it cost her for me to be here).
No, I actually think she’s pretty cool; as birth-mothers go, she’s definitely one of the best, and I am as happy as I can be that we’ve known each other for all these years. I understand how trapped she felt 60 years ago, and I absolutely appreciate, and am utterly grateful for, the sacrifice it was for her, for me to be here today. It’s personal for her in an entirely different, but analogous, way to how it’s personal for me. And I understand that.
Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, the only fitting response to which is gratitude. I am as grateful as I can be for my life, my family, my wife and children, and all of my friends, including those of you who are reading this; for existence in this rich and fascinating Universe, and for the Hope of the World to Come. And none of that could ever have come to pass for me, if I'd been snuffed out before I could be born.
So you see, it's personal - it involves persons, created in God's image and likeness, with inherent worth and dignity not conferred on them by any other human being. Mothers and fathers and children - persons, one-and-all. And my birth-mother is one of them. And so am I. . .
And here's a link to a 1974 short story by Philip K. Dick (whose stories inspired films like Blade Runner and Total Recall). Probably not his best-known story, but eminently worth reading. . .
The Pre-Persons, by Philip K. Dick
I'd love to know what you think of it. . .