I used to feel a little guilty for being pro-choice and supporting Planned Parenthood. I think that is because any time a woman, especially a Christian woman takes an unpopular and/or progressive stance on something, we're automatically labeled "bitch," "misinformed," "sinful" or any other slew of nasty names. And I used to actually care about the names other people called me. I used to be pretty self-conscious. That's how I wound up in abusive marriage for several years in my early 20's. But that's getting ahead of the story.
When I was 17, an ovarian cyst nearly killed me. This thing was the size of a grapefruit. There were a ton of tiny ones too. This cyst was such a badass it had minions. I had to have emergency life-saving surgery to remove it and it took months to recover. I lost one of my fallopian tubes to that stupid cyst. When I was only 17, I was told that my odds of having children were halved. Just like that.
Later that same spring - it was the year I graduated high school - I met a guy. Thanks to lousy sex education (real sex-ed, people, not this abstinence only nonsense that teenagers of all generations blatantly ignore) and lack of access to birth control, I was pregnant by the time I graduated high school. So much for only having one working ovary. . .
I was 18, headed to college, with a guy I knew was bad news, and scared that the cysts would come back. On July 9, 1997, I walked into a Planned Parenthood Clinic and had that pregnancy terminated. I was only a few weeks pregnant at the time.
The people outside the clinic had no idea why I was there. I could have been there for birth control, an ob/gyn appointment, anything. They had no idea how terrified and heartbroken I already was. They shouted obscenities at me. They said I was a murderer. They told me I was going to burn in hell. My mom tried to shield me from their obscene posters and hateful speech, but she couldn't.
It was horrific.
And they said these things in the name of Christianity. There were church names on their effing signs. Bible verses sprinkled into their hateful talk.
So I quit going to church, or at least I quit caring about it. It was more of a tapering off of going than a definitive moment. These were supposed to be loving people, Godly people. And they acted like monsters.
I was overwhelmed by guilt. My boyfriend made me feel guilty about the abortion, even though he was all for it at the time because (little known to me then) he already had another baby on the way with another girl.
In spite of his controlling ways and nasty spirit, I married that guy. I just felt so guilty, used up, and dirty that it seemed like the only reasonable option. I might as well marry the guy I became a murderer for.
I was barely 20 when I got married. I had my daughter when I was 21. He got worse and would say things like, "I'll bet you killed our boy! Now all I have is daughters!" (The other girl he'd gotten pregnant in high school had a girl he refused to have anything to do with for the first 4 years or so of her life.) No responsibility for his own actions. No concerns about the health issues I had been dealing with at the time. None of that. Just blame and hate.
Two years later, after he'd started getting physically violent as well, I got up the nerve to leave. You can get the more extended version of that story here. I just couldn't bear to watch my little baby grow up thinking that was OK behavior.
I started somewhere in there going back to church again. And it was mostly fine. The people there were nice. Until the time came around for the March for Life, where they all piled into a bus to go picket in Washington DC and call people like me murderers and sinners. I know that their intentions were good, but it hurt and I could never really trust them because of that. I would always answer I was pro-life if anyone asked, but deep down, I knew that could never be such a cut and dry answer.
Of course, I didn't and still don't want abortions to happen. They are awful. But because of Roe v Wade and the establishment of Planned Parenthood, abortion rates in this country have declined and continue to do so. (Don't believe me? Ask the CDC. Don't believe the CDC? I can't help you. You're too deep in the conspiracy woods. This blog post is not for you.) Not to mention the fact that Planned Parenthood does WAY THE EFF MORE than just abortions. (Again, if you're willing to not jump on the conspiracy bandwagon of BS, here are the services they provide.)
So. 23 years old. Divorced. 2 year old daughter. 5 years post-abortion. Wracked with guilt over being a terrible person and an awful, closet-liberal Christian. It was a dark time.
Then, I connected back up with my childhood best friend/sweetheart. And I realized that even though we hadn't seen each other in 8 or 10 years, he was still my best friend and biggest crush ever. Not to mention a really good guy who really loved my daughter. So I married him. That was a good idea.
Two years later. . . baby. Awesome baby. Still awesome to this day, as a matter of fact.
A year after that, we adopted a teenaged boy. Love that kid. Glad we did it.
A year after that. . . pregnant again. It was great. Until it wasn't. At our first ultrasound, our baby son was diagnosed with Amniotic Band Syndrome. You can read more about it here, but the nutshell is that he was in serious, really bad danger. And he had serious birth defects with possibility of more to come because of the syndrome.
We were offered an abortion. We were still under 22 weeks, the time that our state would allow abortion because of serious birth defect. Or we could just wait and see. But he would probably die anyway or have a seriously decreased quality of life.
But here's the thing. . . we're white people with means and health insurance. Which means, we had access to a second opinion. We had access to a battery of specialists after that second opinion. If you want the whole story filled in here, just ask me later when we have more time. This post is already getting really long. Anyway, we had the means to go to a special clinic at Cincinnati Children's Hospital where they were able to do an experimental fetal surgery to save his life and his hands. We had that surgery on July 9, 2008. . . the 11th anniversary of that abortion when I was a teenager.
It was like a message from God that I was allowed to release the guilt. That I was allowed to live in the gray and lean toward the grace. I wasn't a sinful murderer going straight to hell. Nobody who has chosen an abortion is a sinful murderer going straight to hell. Pregnancy is complicated. From the moment it starts to happen (it's a process, not a moment, folks), it's weird and dangerous and scary and personal. And nobody has any business telling anyone where the lines of too weird or dangerous or scary or personal are.
So here's the point of my wandering story today:
If you want to take my story, my life, my experiences of life and loss and joy and sorrow and pin a nasty label on my like, "Murderer" or "bitch" or "liberal idiot", go for it. Bring it on. Because I really don't care anymore.
You want to assume I'm not actually a Christian because I'm pro-choice? We're called in scripture not to judge the salvation of others and to have civil discourse with one another about things like this, but whatever.
But know that for every woman like me who has, after 20 years finally gotten the courage to tell her story and tell you to back on up a hot minute, there are many more who still feel like a pile of crap because of that sort of hateful nonsense. And there are many more who won't find their way back to the church again. And I don't blame them. I can't believe I haven't managed to give up on the church after all these years. (Ask me about my dads sometime and how much the church hurt me and my family there.)
So no. I will not apologize for being pro-choice. And no. I will not listen to nonsense about 8-9 month abortions or Planned Parenthood selling baby parts on the black market. Your conspiracy theories and lack of compassion and grace are only winding up me and all the other women who feel like this. And yes, I will be in the protesting crowds if our president-elect tries to repeal RvW. Unapologetically. Wearing my clerical collar.
Charissa Clark Howe
Pastor, author, musician, audiobook narrator