My mother did not, to my knowledge, abort any of her children. I do, however, distinctly recall a miscarriage she suffered when I was twelve years old, which caused her great emotional and physical pain. I understood, from my adolescent perspective, that what was lost was somehow precious to her. As another of her children, I felt deeply valued by her grief: Loss of an unborn child, I observed, was a sad and mournful event imbued with a full and unconditioned love.
Not so today, we must realize. As I prayed with 40 Days for Life in front of a San Francisco abortion clinic, a young woman positioned herself aggressively in front of me and said, “Don’t you want to talk to me?” I looked up from my rosary, met her belligerent gaze, and said, “Frankly, no. I don’t.”
But she refused to leave, and I was trapped listening to a monologue about her mother: her mother’s abortion, and her mother’s opinions about abortion, and her mother’s right to choose whether to birth or abort any pregnancy. Her angry, righteous defense of her mother’s behavior and opinion was true torture for me; mercy and compassion were not quick to come in the absence of reason and dialogue. But I did learn something I had little appreciated: I learned that loss of an unborn child is no longer communicated as a sad or mournful event, and that the chosen children — those that a mother chooses to bear — struggle to reconcile their existence with the elimination of unwanted siblings.
A choice to abort a child is never the quick-fix, isolated, personal decision radical feminists and the lucrative abortion industry assert. It affects the pregnant woman, the father, and often the parents of the pregnant woman. It kills the nascent life. But a decision to abort an unwanted child drops the proverbial pebble into a still pond that ripples with effect to the shores of death. One brief, allegedly personal decision by a mother to unburden herself by killing an inconvenient child in utero will resonate throughout life. (We Catholics, of course, believe it resonates beyond just mortal life, a subject for another day.) Sadly, prevailing manners of political correctness stifle discussion and meaningful assessment of this perfectly predictable consequence of violence in the womb.
The regret many women suffer for the rest of their lives after an abortion has become so commonplace that it’s nothing short of delusion that allows radical feminists to continue denying the phenomenon. That defenders of abortion attribute what regret exists to the induction of guilt by religious opposition is a purposefully unfounded, manipulative refusal to respect experiences that challenge the abortion mythology.
Consider the curious case of Ellen Burstyn — neither a religious woman nor a pro-life advocate. The well-known 77-year-old actress (The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) shocked the secular world when she labeled her 18-year-old decision to abort “wrong, young, and dumb.” That choice, she said, was “the lowest moment in her life.” Understandably curious how a decision made more than 55 years ago could still deeply trouble Burstyn, an antsy male interviewer then asked, “Do you ever get over that?”
“No,” Burstyn flatly replied, elegantly explaining that the choice to abort has “ramifications for the rest of our lives”: It becomes a “dark thread” in our tapestry. Burstyn’s clear, precise statement is the sort of breach of PC etiquette that renews pro-abortion feminists’ commitment to radical denial of reality.
The “choice” rhetoric so effectively manipulated by the abortion industry has created a hauntingly painful breach between mothers and children, hinted at by my agitated sidewalk companion and similarly ignored by abortion advocates. Another example gives voice to the fear that surely squeezed the heart of that young woman on the sidewalk.
I went with a friend to what should have been a lovely lunch out to “catch up.” Partway through our meal, after much talk about our female friends working professional jobs, my companion blurted out, “If I had only aborted my eldest, I could have stayed in school and had a profession, too.”
Shocked into sudden silence, I finally managed, “Do you really think that? Do you regret not having an abortion?”
My question provoked a lengthy, emotional rationale for why her life would have been better had she only had the presence of mind to abort her eldest — a son, now happily married and father to my friend’s dear little grandchildren. I listened in grotesque wonder, imagining how her son — the only of her five children she apparently regretted — absorbed her remorse for not having aborted him. More, I wondered: How does this young man deal with his mother’s characterization of his life as an excuse and disappointment in place of the accomplishments she’d rather have attained?
Reasonably, this grown child might fear that his own shortcomings, needs, and development provoked, at least in some measure, my friend’s regret. Voicing regret for not having aborted, is, after all, simply an expression of having made the wrong choice, as assessed with the benefit of subsequent consequences. For the mother who regrets a choice for life, those subsequent consequences are none other than the child himself.
In this way, being a “chosen child” has taken on a new meaning in the post-Roe v. Wade paradigm, a cultural construct based on the delusion that intentional termination of an unborn child is a private, personal matter and fueled by a commercial industry anxious to cash in on a wide range of abortion services and products. “Chosen” — a term once richly imbued by Judeo-Christian history as that brand of unconditional love by God for each of His children (1 Jn 4:7, 16) — has flattened and darkened to signify those children a mother opts to bear rather than abort.
Gone is the notion of a child being loved just because he or she has been conceived, without expectation or condition. In its stead, the “chosen” child lives aware of his own mother’s reasons for having him, aware that only the mother’s sentiments differentiate the living child from the terminated child, aware that his own being might cause such burden or disappointment that his mother — like my friend — regrets his very existence.
The impact of this redefinition of “chosen” — from a deeply religious term that conveyed unconditioned love to one replete with expectations, demands, and potential regret — must concern New Feminists. The realities lived by my angry sidewalk interlocutor, the mother who regrets not aborting one of her grown children, and the children haunted by terminated unborn siblings they will never know will be denied, ridiculed, shamed, and lied about by the pro-abortion interests. The pro-choice interests have deeply invested in a delusion that abortion has, at worst, temporal, limited consequences — and they will undoubtedly refuse to consider even sound science that could challenge that investment.
The work of understanding and publicizing the impact of abortion belongs uniquely to New Feminists, because it is precisely this sort of insipid, ignored cultural shift that has led and will continue leading to “a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human,” as Pope John Paul II so clearly foresaw (Mulieris Dignitatem, 30). As even many non-religious women have recognized, women must “refuse to choose” (Feminists for Life), not only in deference to their own feminine design, but, as importantly, in concern for the whole of humanity to “ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! — and because ‘the greatest of these is love’ [cf. 1 Cor 13:13].” Women must not be robbed of their authentic femininity — which, after all, concerns even the chosen children.