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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 curious.

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 self-determination.

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 killers?

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 them.

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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