Over 20 years ago I walked into an anonymous-looking building in Sydney. A few people jostled outside with placards. I held tight to the hand of the girlfriend I had come with and kept my head turned away from the right to life slogans.
The receptionist took names quietly, handed over sheets of instructions as to what to expect next. It was silent as a tomb, the air fecund with unspoken pathways. As I sat with the consequence of unprotected sex with a married man, it struck me that no one had offered anything other than this option.
In this clinic, patients were beckoned forward discreetly. By avoiding names, by depersonalising, we could ignore what would happen beyond those frosted doors. We could all pretend that life was fine, that life would go on.
Except it wouldn’t. One life would not go on, and the lives of those entwined would never forget. No matter how much future destructive behaviour blocked out the pain, no matter how much alcohol was consumed, how many daring raids on the married man’s marital bed took place while his wife was away, all in the vain hope that seductiveness, power, danger and sexual prowess would transplant vows and gold rings. Seeking reasons: if he left her, it would somehow be ‘better’. The scraping across a womb, across a soul, would be validated.
As the nurse beckoned, I looked at my friend. I hadn’t the wisdom, age or words. So I stood up, gave her a hug, took a deep breath – and let her step forward, alone, into cold sterility.
Today, in my journey with God and Jesus, I wonder could I have offered her something different? Yet if you don’t grow up in a faith-based household, the choice to keep an unplanned pregnancy rarely crops up. If you’re a female of a certain age, in a certain demographic, with a career path ahead of you, then the outcome of unprotected sex is most often a clinic appointment. I’m not saying it is the only choice, but it is certainly the choice our society pushes as ‘easiest’.
No judgement. I am from that demographic. There but for the grace of latex, pill, IUD and low count swimmers. Before any right to lifers start sending me hate mail, I’d like to explain now how my perspective has changed. Yet God and Jesus had nothing to do with it.
I am married with school-age children. I have grown two babies within me, spending the first 12 weeks of pregnancy silently hoping that fertilised eggs would bed successfully into my womb. Throwing up all day and every day from week three to week 33, seeing heartbeats on an ultrasound and feeling the first fluttering of butterfly wings from the inside. Tracing the outline of my son’s foot shoved out against the drum-tightness of my stomach, and experiencing the brutiful awfulness of long labours. I loved the simplicity of life when, floating on an oxytocin hormone haze, all I needed think about was the next breastfeed, the next nap and cuddling bone-less, milk-drunk newborn babies.
After all of that, a long time before I ever got to know G&J, I made the emotional connection that life began way sooner than all the clinical language of unplanned pregnancies tried to have me think in my teens.
If, thanks to the vagaries of a peri-menopausal cycle and Big T’s sperm of steel I found myself pregnant today, I would be horrified. Yet, even before I started slanging at G&J with a “what on earth are You thinking?” style-prayer, my own emotional connection with two babies born wouldn’t allow me to do much else than welcome a third.
But I write this in a secure relationship, economically-comfortable, with all my education qualifications achieved and framed. Take me back to 16 years old and my then 21-year old boyfriend – whom I saw as troubled and Heathcliff-esque, whilst my parents saw only police record and danger – and I know I would have been marched to the clinic. No dialogue entered into. Which now makes me ponder. Why do I ‘know’ that? Because of the media message we hear continually: that an unexpected pregnancy is ‘the end’. My chances of further study would have been ‘ruined’. Which is nonsense. An unexpected pregnancy is scary, frightening, overwhelming and confronting. But it does not mean ruin or the end. Yet the extreme language used explains why abortion is so often viewed as the ‘only’ solution.
Every situation is different. I have stories from faithful Christians who were told their unborn baby would die in the womb, whose Doctor said an abortion would be ‘kinder’, yet continued with the pregnancy. They wrapped their daughter – born without heartbeat or breath at 30 weeks – in a handmade quilt, gave her a funeral with dignity, and now hold onto their memories.
Today they talk about their daughter with others and visit her gravestone. She had the briefest of lives but they were able to love her, hold her and talk to her. Her mother says they would never have been able to talk about her if they had taken the doctor’s advice. Yet in the early days of diagnosis, it was tempting. Worse, the thought of uttering the word ‘abortion’ to her pastor filled her with dread.
Which makes me weep. At a time when the need for spiritual, pastoral care was at its highest, she felt shame for even considering the notion and unable to share the burden with someone of her faith. But isn’t that the point? We need to be able to hold up our darkest choices to God and Jesus – and their proxies – and ask for help and forgiveness. Not judgement and condemnation.
Yes, there are pastors, churches and organisations who can help. The problem is, their availability is forgotten in the use of extreme language: Unplanned pregnancy? Your life is over! Plus certain church messaging about abortion – such as the upcoming Roman Catholic Jubilee Year – drowns Jesus and compassion in religiosity.
For the coming Roman Catholic Jubilee year, starting in December, Pope Francis is ‘making it easier for doctors and women to seek forgiveness for abortion’. A jubilee year is one of the Catholic Church’s most important events and normally takes place every 25 years. But why is it just a jubilee year that makes it easier to seek forgiveness? Why not every second of every day of every year?
Imagine Jesus up on the cross, dying for us and saying:
“Yes, I’m covering for you all. I’m dying so you can have a relationship with God. It is finish-
“…No, actually. Hold off on that spear in my side for a moment…
“It’s sort of finished. For you people over there. But not for you women who had an abortion. No. The good news isn’t for you. Yes, the decision may press on your heart and weigh you down that you can barely breathe, but you missed the forgiveness train and it won’t be coming to the station again for 25 years.”
Every situation is different. In regards to abortion, Roman Catholicism teaches differently to the church I am part of. Yet Jesus does not differ.
Remember the woman caught in adultery in John 8?
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Based on this passage, it is perverse that the Roman Catholic religion ends up throwing the first stone at women, and doctors, who have procured or carried out abortion.
I can clearly see Jesus offering a woman who has had an abortion acceptance, love, forgiveness and hope as soon as she seeks it. Not once every 25 years.
If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy and wish to talk to someone about your choices with compassion and without judgement, contact http://www.diamondpregnancy.com/ or call them on (02) 8003 4990.