Off the Fence and Taking My Stand on Abortion
by Mary Liston Liepold, OSF, Ph.D.
I’d been saying for decades that I straddled the fence on the abortion issue. I’m a middle-ground Catholic―definitely not “recovering,” but also not Rome’s most docile daughter. You’d never catch me at a rally for or against. Though I’m a true-blue liberal and I make plenty of donations, I’ve steered clear of Emily’s List and other organizations that take “pro-choice” stands because that single issue just didn’t sit right. It was all fairly abstract for me, though, until one March a few years ago.
All at once abortion became personal, as an option affecting two people I’m very close to. I told them both I’d support them no matter what decision they made, and blessedly, both issues were soon peacefully resolved. But the itch at the back of my brain was still there. I signed up for emails from Consistent Life, a forum for some rare individuals who are passionately pro-life across the life course, opposing both war and abortion. Once in a while I even read one. I know a handful of smart people who occupy that ground. I was still lurking, though―still on the fence.
Then I happened to see the lovely 2011 Canadian film Monsieur Lazhar. M. Lazhar is an Algerian refugee hired by an elementary school principal to replace a teacher who committed suicide―in her classroom during recess. We focus on two of the children, a boy whose childish fib may have fuelled the teacher’s despair and a girl, formerly his friend, who blames the boy. Both children saw the teacher hanging. The principal provides counseling sessions for the whole class, but these children, at least, are still haunted. Lazhar knows that what they need to hear is what none of the adults are willing to tell them: that their former teacher did something wrong.
The children had loved their gentle, troubled teacher. Out of love for her, the counselor and the others refuse to label her despairing act. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that they can call it wrong without dishonoring her. So the boy is left to bear the burden until the little girl, and then Lazhar, insists on clarity. He loses his job but she regains her friend.
And watching the movie, my mind was suddenly clear. A dictum flashed back from my catechism days: “Hate the sin and love the sinner.”
Thank you, Lord! I can hate the war and love the warriors, with Paul Chappell and my friend Debbie and many other peace-loving friends and parents and partners and children of soldiers. I can embrace the individual who chooses (or considers) suicide or abortion and leave judgment to a merciful God, while still being clear that a precious and unique life is involved.
Now, having reached this conclusion, I would no more harass women who seek abortions than I would bomb Boeing or spit at a returned soldier. With war and abortion both, my interest is all in education and prevention. Spare me the angels-on-pins arguments about weeks of gestation. I still agree with blessed, angry Florynce Kennedy, may she rest in peace, that if men could get pregnant abortion would be a sacrament. That’s consistent with the history of patriarchy in the church and the world.
I’m going to be a strange, crabby pro-lifer. I will not promise not to scream the next time someone calls fetuses “innocent life,” as though passing through the birth canal destroys innocence and children murdered by our drone attacks are guilty. Come to think of it, I may do a lot of screaming when I meet my new fold, but I’ll make them at least as crazy as they make me. It’s high time we start talking to each other.
Will I be joining the March for Life next year, alongside all those Catholic school kids giddy with the excitement of a day out of class? It seems unlikely, but I won’t rule it out. If I march, I’ll be with Consistent Life, behind a banner that says Life Belongs to God or Life & Dignity for All―No Exceptions. I’ll expect to see the same people on another day vigiling for peace or the environment and against fracking, mourning the victims of the last drone attack, reaching out to the parents of children with severe disabilities and the parents of the next well-armed, mentally ill person who carries out a domestic terror attack. No blame, and no exceptions. I’ll bring my very best listening skills, and we’ll all learn something new.
I’m a pro-lifer for peace and a peacenik for life, and I’m in good company. Get used to it! I don’t have all the answers. And I don’t know where this road will lead. But the ground finally feels firm under my feet.
Bio sketch: Mary Liepold is a Secular Franciscan, a wife, mother, & grandmother, a writer and editor, an avid reader, and an activist. She lives in Silver Spring, MD.
Mary says about this blog entry: “It has an interesting history. A few years ago I paid several hundred dollars for a one-day workshop with an organization dedicated to increasing the roughly 15% share of the public conversation that women’s voices occupy. Their promise was to assign each participant a mentor who would help place a piece on Huffington Post or something of the sort. So I got one, worked up a version of this, and sent it to her. Dead silence, no matter how many times I followed up. I had violated feminist orthodoxy, and she wouldn’t touch it.”
For more blog posts on personal journeys, see:
Supporting the Dignity of Every Life (Bill Samuel)
Nukes and the Pro-Life Christian: A Conservative Takes a Second Look at the Morality of Nuclear Weapons (Karen Swallow Prior)
Coming to Peace and Living a Consistent Life After Military Service
Sharon Long: My Personal Pro-life Journey
On Being a Consistent Chimera (Rob Arner)
Thank you for your bold honesty. For your revealing your thoughts, struggle, discovery and for sharing what you’re willing to do and not do, say and not say. I’m moved by your clear commitment to life and peace that become clear to me in your willingness to have conversations in which we make each other crazy and in which we may not have or find all the answers. I LOVE your challenge to the Pro-Lifers to join your adventure in the Consistent Life Ethic and your public actions for lives after birth. I hope you get to meet some women from Feminists for Nonviolent Choices, Pro-Life Feminists, Feminists for Life, New Wave Feminists, Whole Life: Pro-life Democrats, Progressives, and others who I think you’d love–maybe they’ll even help you get your $100 back!
I’m so glad at met you at the August 2016 Pax Christi USA gathering!
Thank you, Thad! I’m glad I got to meet you too, and I appreciate your appreciation. You’re right that I need to get better acquainted with the CL folks. This is a start, right?
Great story Mary!
For the past two years Lisa Stiller, Joan Baranow, John Albach (SF high school teacher) and I have run a CLE booth at the annual walk for life in SF. Talk about some people who need lessons in nonviolence!
I observed to Lisa after listening to a husband and wife rant team scream into the microphone at the rally before the march that they must have an interesting marriage!
But I digress. I sumise if some of the pro-lifers would actually sit and L-I-S-T-E-N to women who’ve had abortions that they might think about the multiple factors which contribute to their decisions. Some undoubtedly are less commendable than others – but listening might help better address the needs women have that go unaddressed and contribute to the abortion decision.
And wouldn’t it be something if they came to realize in fact trillion dollar defense budgets take away resources that may help these women?
Mary, as Thad said, you should get to know women in the various pro-life feminist groups, and you would be a good fit with Democrats for Life. I’d be happy to talk with you and get you acquainted. We “alternative” pro-life groups meet at the March for Life, so maybe give another thought to coming. I recommend coming to the awesome Vigil Mass packed with teenagers and a jolting sense of unity and love.
We have always respectfully agreed to disagree on this topic, thus I value even more reading the clarity of your thinking. I will continue to love you and lovingly disagree. Do I think you are a “sinner”? No, simply a dearly beloved friend with a different view. A point of view well expressed is a gift, not a sin.
I did not realize this was a public forum where others might not know what I was referring to, thus I expand my original reply. I have been honored to know you about 35 years. During that time we have both changed in many ways. I know the depth of your struggle around this issue and can only applaud your coming to a conviction that suits you.
As you know, I grew up quite differently. During pre-women’s lib days, sadly I lost friends to backwoods and backwards abortionist’s tables. It was a time when there was little contraception, or at least it wasn’t easy for a young woman to obtain. Aside from a different religious persuasion, the imprint of those losses will remain with me forever. I believe no one has right to dictate to any woman how she uses her body. That decision is hers alone or hers with her partner. It also needs to be commensurate with her spiritual belief.
“The first amendment to the US Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” The two parts, known as the “establishment clause” and the “free exercise clause” respectively, form the textual basis for the Supreme Court’s interpretations…” Wiki
Thus, I don’t believe the government belongs in the bedroom. A woman has the right to choose her own life without fear of reprisal or death. So dear friend, I respectfully disagree with where you have landed on this one.
Also, I believe you have made an assumption about why your article wasn’t published. You may be right, of course. Then again, you may not be. However, I can’t see how your conclusion can be a fact. The truth is something neither of us can know for sure. Meanwhile, I will continue to love you and to enjoy the respectful opportunity to agree to disagree.