Elizabeth on Pro-Life, Pro-Choice
Recently I’ve had some feedback on the four position
papers I’ve written thus far, and most of it has been positive and
supportive, which I’ve much appreciated. But I did have one email
response that deeply puzzled me: After my third position paper, an
anonymous writer sent me a photo of an aborted fetus.
I went back carefully over the papers I’d written: the first on
veterans of the armed forces, the second on the American worker, and
the third on health care. All of these pieces featured my thoughts
on the topics and they additionally featured Senator John McCain’s
votes on issues related to them, but even in the piece on health
care, there was nothing in my position paper that I could find about
how Senator McCain had voted on the issue of abortion. Thus, I found
this individual’s response to my three papers both confusing and
I wasn’t going to address the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice issue quite so
soon in these position papers, but that photograph of the aborted
fetus has prompted me to bring it forward on my agenda, especially
since the Republican Party has adopted as one of the planks of its
platform for this election a strong stance against abortion, hoping
to strike down Roe vs. Wade and to make abortion illegal in all
cases whatsoever: including cases of incest, rape, and endangerment
to the mother’s life. Thus, I feel compelled to do something that I
have never done before, and that is to make clear my own personal
stand on the issue of Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice.
I am now and have always been completely Pro-Life. This declaration
is doubtless something that will come as an incredible shock to any
number of my relatives and all of my friends, not to mention my
former husband and my current husband, because I have never spoken
about it. Before I expand on my position, however, I’d like to
explain to you why I’ve never spoken about it before now, and in
order to do that I need to take you back to 1966, to a single day at
Holy Cross High School in Mountain View, California, to a Latin
class taught by a nun called Sister Noel Marie. On this particular
day, Sister Noel Marie was in a state of high dudgeon and she felt
compelled to share her outrage with us, the girls in her Latin III
class. The reason for her outrage was that one of our fellow juniors
at the high school—although not one of her students in Latin class,
as it turned out—had become pregnant and had had to drop out of the
school. Sister Noel Marie was not angry that the girl had lost her
virtue. Nor was she angry that the girl had dropped out of school.
Or, if she was, neither of those were part of the topic of the
lecture to which we girls were exposed. Rather, Sister Noel Marie
was outraged because none of the girls in the entire junior
class—not one of them—had come forward to tell her that our fellow
schoolmate was pregnant so that she could be summarily expelled.
I must admit that I was particularly at fault for this situation.
Indeed, while it was general gossip at the school that this young
lady was pregnant, for most of the girls it was gossip only, while I
was one of the girls who knew it for a fact. I’d happened upon the
pregnant girl in the lavatory one day and had seen her desperately
trying to make her uniform skirt fit over what was an obviously
pregnant stomach, that which today is coyly called a “baby bump.”
She looked at me. I looked at her. I said hi and went into the
stall, which was why I’d gone into the rest room in the first place.
It never occurred to me that I ought to run to one of the nuns and
turn in my schoolmate. First of all, I’d known her quite some time
as, unlike a lot of the other girls at Holy Cross High, I’d also
attended elementary school with her. We’d gone to the same birthday
parties as children, we’d gone trick-or-treating together, we’d hung
out together after school, and she’d been to my house for dinner.
But more important than any of that, I didn’t think it was my
business to be turning her in to anyone, and as I sat there and
listened to Sister Noel Marie’s lecture, I thought just the same of
her: What business is it of yours, Sister?
Someone braver than I would have interrupted her, stood up, said
just that, and taken the consequences. No one did. But I’ve always
wondered if anyone else in the room that day wanted to belt Sister
Noel Marie upside the head for what she was saying to us.
Since that time, I’ve tried to hold to the belief that certain
matters are nobody else’s business. Thus, when I’ve had dear
girlfriends face abortions, other girlfriends have babies they give
up for adoption, other girlfriends marry because of pregnancy, and
other girlfriends find or be found by children they’ve given up
years in the past, I’ve listened to them and talked to them about
what’s going on and I hope I’ve been a friend to them, but I’ve kept
my own personal belief system to myself. I’ve done this for a simple
reason: These situations that my friends have faced have been part
of their life stories, part of their journeys, and
part of their decision-making processes. None of these
situations have been part of mine. Plus, since I have never walked
in their shoes, I could not imagine questioning their decisions let
alone imposing upon them a moral judgment rising from what my own
decisions might have been. By the grace of God, I never had to
make those decisions because I decided quite young in my life
not to have children. So who on earth am I to say what I
would have decided had I had to face their situations?
I would rather not speak to anyone about what I believe being
Pro-Life actually means, but I feel that if people are going to
assert that they are Pro-Life—as I’ve just done—then they need to be
clear about what they mean: clear with themselves, clear with their
God, and clear with the people to whom they speak.
So in the cause of absolute clarity, here are my beliefs:
I believe in the preservation of human life. This means, for
example, that I am in all cases against the Death Penalty as,
obviously, it does not preserve human life. While I believe that
it’s necessary to remove certain individuals from the gene pool—Ted
Bundy comes to mind at once, as do other killers like him—I do not
believe that capital punishment is the way to do it. I believe that
people of this ilk—the Ted Bundy ilk—have, because of the heinous
nature of their crimes, forfeited their right to communion with
their fellow men and should be locked away with no opportunity to
commune with mankind again: no mixing with fellow prisoners, no
conversations with guards, no interviews with journalists, no
appearances in television documentaries, no letters from women
looking for love in all the wrong places, none of that. Give them
books to read and pens and paper to write the story of their lives
upon. Give them food and drink and an hour of exercise every day.
Give them a television, give them the opportunity to educate
themselves through careful study, give them a Bible or other
suitable holy book. But let them know that as far as their fellow
human beings go, they have no further right to interact with them.
Additionally, being Pro-Life means that I am now and have always
been against war. One cannot stand for human life and be
simultaneously a proponent of war. While many will argue that there
are times when war is justified, I would suggest that war generally
has at its very root the beliefs, the desires, the plans, or the
activities of a single individual who manages to talk other
individuals into following him and into doing battle for him.
Since he often has another single individual as his target—this
person being represented by an entire nation—I suggest that those
two gentlemen (since it has invariably been men behind the wars,
I’ve found) step into a boxing ring, slug it out, and the winner can
emerge as just that: the winner. No muss, no fuss, and no
expenditure of innocent lives. Indeed, even those two men remain
alive at the end. And we can all go home and eat dinner in peace.
This also means that I am committed to the lives of those who are
currently living, and I will do what I can to better those lives.
There are, I have found, countless opportunities for me as a
Pro-Life person to give hope, sustenance, and encouragement to my
fellows on earth. Consider, for example, Habitat for Humanity
building houses for the poor; the Central Asia Institute building
schools for little girls in remote villages in Pakistan; Operation
Smile repairing children’s cleft palates in Asia and Central
America; Plan International supporting children born in poverty
around the globe; UNICEF doing the same; the Salvation Army bringing
disaster relief to tsunami victims, hurricane victims, victims of
terrorist attacks; Doctors Without Borders serving the needs of the
desperate in Africa and elsewhere…Consider the Peace Corps,
Americorps, Big Brothers and Big Sisters. One could go on and on and
on with the opportunities available to support human life on our
planet, and for me that is what being Pro-Life is: going the extra
mile to care for a fellow in need, to give support, succor, aid, and
compassion to someone with whom I occupy the world.
Because I’m Pro-Life, I don’t like armaments in any form. Armaments
take away life rather than preserve it, so I object to them, whether
they are represented by pistols or by nuclear missiles. Besides,
it’s come to my attention that weapons manufacturers don’t
discriminate among those individuals to whom they offer their wares.
Their motive for making them in the first place is profit, and I
find that making a profit and supporting human life are frequently
at odds with each other.
Finally, being Pro-Life means that I believe that people have
certain rights that go along with their lives. Some of these rights
are basic and some are more complex. At the most basic level, I
believe people have the right to water, food, shelter, clothing, and
medical care, and they have this right whether they live in Darfur
or in Beverly Hills. At the most complex they have the right of
To me self-determination means that people have the right to
determine the course of their individual lives. I do not believe
that it means that people have the right to determine the course of
anyone else’s life. At the extreme, this obviously means that
one person does not have the right to end another person’s life. And
that, of course, brings us ineluctably to the question of life
itself because people seem to like to argue about when life begins.
Frankly, I don’t know when life begins, and I haven’t met anyone who
does know. I’ve tried to figure it out on my own, but I can’t come
up with anything that actually works. I think we can all agree that
mammalian life cannot be sustained if it is frozen for a couple of
years, can’t we? Mammalian life can’t even be sustained if frozen
for a couple of months, a couple of weeks, or even a couple of days.
Yet embryos can be frozen. And then defrosted—or whatever it
is that they do to them—and used inside a woman’s uterus. Does that
mean the embryo was once alive, then frozen to death, and then
brought back to life? Does it mean it wasn’t alive yet but
was merely a group of cells waiting to become alive? If it
was alive, does it mean that the sperm and egg that went into
creating it were also alive? If they aren’t alive, then how
do they produce life? If they are alive, are all the
sperm then murdered if someone is using a form of birth control that
prevents one of them from reaching the egg? And if that’s the case,
is every woman who has a monthly period because she hasn’t gotten
pregnant in advance of that period actually murdering an egg?
Can an egg be murdered? Can a sperm be murdered? If they
can’t be murdered and yet they combine to produce an embryo,
does freezing that embryo by consequence murder it, even if it can
be defrosted and then used inside a woman’s uterus to produce a
fetus? If there are fifteen embryos frozen from the same man and
woman but that man and woman don’t want to have fifteen children
because they can’t possibly support fifteen children so they don’t
ever defrost the embryos, does that mean the man and woman are baby
These are weighty questions, and for them I have no answers. But I
do know this: Adhering to a fix-your-little-red-wagon approach to
any one of the problems faced by humanity on this planet has not so
far put an end to any of them, and I very much doubt a revival of
the fix-your-little-red-wagon approach will be any different now,
especially as applied to the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate.
For anyone who doesn’t know what the fix-your-little-red-wagon
approach is, I’d like to explain, as it was one of my mother’s
favorite expressions. “That’ll fix your little red
wagon,” she used to say. Or her little red wagon, or his
little red wagon. It didn’t matter. What she meant was “You got what
was coming to you” with regard to a particular matter.
Now, there are many people who believe that when a woman becomes
pregnant, or an adolescent, or—I suppose—an eleven-year-old girl at
the hands of her father, she definitely got what was coming to her
no matter how she “got” it, and she’ll just have to live with the
consequences. Her little red wagon needs fixing and living with
those consequences is the only way to fix it, you see.
But this presupposes that the woman, the adolescent, or the mom of
the eleven-year-old girl is willing to accept having her
little red wagon fixed. Often these individuals are not willing and
when that happens, they seek a means to restore self-determination
to their lives. For women of means, this is not a problem. It never
was and it never will be. Not only does money talk but it also
provides transportation to countries without draconian laws used to
fix the little red wagons of females. For women in poverty, this is
not the case. At risk to their lives, they find someone else to help
Now, because I am Pro-Life, I believe that the lives of the living
are sacred. I believe this about the lives of rich women who can fly
anywhere they want in the cause of avoiding having their little red
wagons fixed. I believe this about the lives of poor women and
adolescent girls and eleven-year-olds who’ve been impregnated by
their fathers, their uncles, their brothers, the next door neighbor,
or a gang of thugs and are expected—in an unenlightened society—to
“take what’s coming” to them.
I can only assume that all people who declare themselves to be
Pro-Life feel exactly the same as I do. If they do not, then they
are not Pro-Life. They may be Pro-Embryo. They may be Pro-Fetus.
Indeed, they may be Pro-the-Unborn. But the one thing they are not
and never will be is Pro-Life.
- Elizabeth George
Whidbey Island, Washington
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