Can we talk? Can we afford not to?

Family Planning changes lives

Family Planning changes lives (Photo credit: The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood)

A thoughtful reader named Lydia left a comment in response to my blog (just below) giving thanks for Mark Ruffalo and his support for reproductive rights. If you’re not into reading comments, here is Lydia’s in full:

So, are you saying that killing your unborn child was a better option than allowing the child to live-maybe to be welcomed into another family’s life, and your secrecy was better than taking action to hold the rapist accountable for what he did? I have had an unwanted pregnancy, too, and as horrified and hopeless as I felt, I allowed my child to live and I have no regrets. Abortion is never the right choice, but I know it sometimes feels like the only choice. That is why women need to pick up the phone and call a crisis pregnancy counselor. Abortion is like suicide. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

If we’re going to talk, we have to listen. In trying to listen to Lydia I hear a couple of points of similarity and/or agreement. She and I each struggled with how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy (hers I suspect much later than mine in 1956.) We both appreciate strong & welcoming families. We both believe women need access to a pregnancy center which might offer help. Maybe we can build on these points. And try to work through some disagreements.

We need to set aside the business of holding the rapist accountable, at least in my case. In 1956, workplace rape was without recourse. I would have been laughed out of town — after destroying the fabric of several families, probably not including his. Today, women often fail to prosecute acquaintances who don’t hear No. Should they be required to prosecute, to relive painful experiences in the name of public justice? I’m not sure. Perhaps they deserve the right to make that decision for themselves, with legal advice if they choose and with the support of loved ones. Should they be required to carry the fetus that results from a painful experience for nine months in hopes that it might — might — be welcomed into another family? I don’t think so. I think they should have the right to choose otherwise, with the support of physicians and loved ones. I think no two such experiences are identical, so blanket dictates seem unwise.

Neither Lydia nor I have regrets about the course of action we chose. We differ on definitions. Lydia equates fetus with child, presumably because she believes life begins at conception. I respect the religions that teach this doctrine. I strongly support their right to protect the life of any fetus they happen to have, wanted or not. I just do not share the same belief about life’s beginnings. My own deeply held Christian beliefs see the beginning of life somewhat later on. But I think neither my religion nor Lydia’s has the right to tell other women — Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or nonbelievers — what they may or may not do with their bodies.

Lydia sees abortion as never the right choice. I see it as complex and personal, but sometimes the right choice. Mother Nature often sees it as the right choice when miscarriage happens. No one but the woman herself can know about her fetus, her body, her circumstances, her life, so I think it’s improper for me to presume to tell her what she must do. Often, counseling can help.

Which brings us to the crisis pregnancy center. Despite the fact that women have reported hearing untruths and accusations at crisis pregnancy centers, I believe many of them offer compassionate counseling and useful information. My greatly beloved daughter-in-law works at a pregnancy crisis center, and I know my daughter-in-law to be honest, kind-hearted and truthful. I support the right of pregnancy crisis centers to thrive and prosper although I do not support their promotion of unscientific theories. If we can talk, can we consider the possibility that pregnancy crisis centers might coexist with regular reproductive health centers? The latter, after all, offer many, many services unavailable elsewhere: information and testing about STDs; contraception and family planning services; pregnancy testing and counseling — even, in some of them, abortion. In that latter case, abortion is nearly always a tiny percentage of total services. Where they are being driven out of business, all of those services disappear and the results are tragic for countless men, women, boys and girls.

I can absolutely guarantee that when abortion is unavailable women suffer and die. I don’t think those on either side want women to suffer and die. Those on both sides want healthy women, few-as-possible abortions, healthy families.

What do you think, Lydia, is there any hope for conversation?

Mark Ruffalo’s mother and me

Mark Ruffalo at the 2007 Toronto International...

Mark Ruffalo at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never met Mark Ruffalo‘s mother. But I am a new, big fan of her son.

Mark’s mom and I are of the same generation. We each experienced an unintended, unwanted pregnancy which we were forced to end illegally — because there was no safe, legal abortion in the U.S. before 1973. I don’t know the details of Mark’s mom’s abortion but I can tell you about mine. The result of a workplace rape, my 8 or 9-week pregnancy was ended by a back-alley abortionist in a dreary house on a dreary February day in Atlanta, GA. I told no one, not my closest friends or family members, no one. Until three years ago when the realization that those grim days are returning prompted me to speak out, and to begin work on a book. Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade was published in June. Three years ago I could not have imagined how perilous these times would have become.

And now, Mark Ruffalo is also concerned about a return to the days of illegal abortions that his mother and I survived — though countless other women did not. His statement was read at a rally outside of Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is threatened by new laws that would force it to close.

Here’s what Mark had to say:

“I am a man. I could say this has nothing to do with me. Except I have two daughters and I have a mother who was forced to illegally have an abortion in her state where abortion was illegal when she was a very young woman. It cost $600 cash. It was a traumatizing thing for her. It was shameful and sleazy and demeaning. When I heard the story I was aghast by the lowliness of a society that would make a woman do that. I could not understand its lack of humanity; today is no different.

“What happened to my mother was a relic of an America that was not free nor equal nor very kind. My mother’s illegal abortion marked a time in America that we have worked long and hard to leave behind. It was a time when women were seen as second rate citizens who were not smart enough, nor responsible enough, nor capable enough to make decisions about their lives. It was a time that deserved to be left behind, and leave it behind we did, or so it seemed. We made abortion and a woman’s ability to be her own master a right. That right was codified into law. That law was the law of the land for decades.

“My own mother fought to make herself more than a possession; she lived her life as a mother who chose when she would have children, and a wife who could earn a living if she so chose. I want my daughters to enjoy that same choice. I don’t want to turn back the hands of time to when women shuttled across state lines in the thick of night to resolve an unwanted pregnancy, in a cheap hotel room just south of the state line. Where a transaction of $600 cash becomes the worth of a young woman’s life.

“So that is why I am lending my voice to you and your movement today. Because I actually trust the women I know. I trust them with their choices, I trust them with their bodies and I trust them with their children. I trust that they are decent enough and wise enough and worthy enough to carry the right of Abortion and not be forced to criminally exercise that Right at the risk of death or jail time.

“There was no mistake in us making abortion legal and available on demand. That was what we call progress. Just like it was no mistake that we abolished institutional racism in this country around the same time. The easy thing to do is lay low, but then are we who we say we are? Do we actually stand for anything, if what we do stand for is under attack and we say nothing? There is nothing to be ashamed of here except to allow a radical and recessive group of people to bully and intimidate our mothers and sisters and daughters for exercising their right of choice. Or use terrorism and fanaticism to block their legal rights or take the lives of their caregivers. Or design legislation that would chip away at those rights disguised as reinforcing a woman’s health.

“I invite you to find your voice and let it be known that you stand for abortion rights and the dignity of a woman to be the master of her own life and body. I invite you to search your soul and ask yourself if you actually stand for what you say you stand for. Thank you for being here today and thank you for standing up for the women in my life.”

I imagine Mark Ruffalo’s mom is extremely proud of her son. I am proud to be his newest fan.