Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sins of Omission: My Abortion Guilt

When you consider that abortion has been unregulated in America for over thirty-three years now, and that approximately 4,000 babies are robbed of their lives every day, it is probable that most everyone between the ages of, say, sixteen and sixty has an abortion story. When I think of the impact of rampant abortion on society, an image from the movie The Ten Commandments comes to mind. Remember the final curse that the Lord placed on Egypt when Pharaoh's heart was hardened toward the Israelites? It was the taking of the lives of the firstborn in all the land, but the Passover covering protected the children of Israel from the wrath of the Lord. Anyway, Cecile B. DeMille chose to portray the fulfillment of this plague in a particularly striking way. The fingers of a putrid green mist spread out into the households of Egypt that are not marked by the blood of the lamb, seeping in through cracks and under doorways, unstoppable, ubiquitous, deadly. The Bible does not shy away from detailing the devastating consequences of this tenth and final plague: And it came to pass at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead. (Exodus 12:29-30)

A big crisis for the pro-abortion crowd is the turning of the younger generations increasingly pro-life. I think that, to a large extent, this is because there is hardly a person in post-Roe America who does not have a corner of his or her heart touched and scarred in some way by the tragedy of abortion. My only encounter with abortion has weighed more and more heavily on my heart every year. No, I have not had an abortion (by the grace of God), but I do have abortion guilt.

One of the few books that should be read by every aspiring or established creative artist regardless, I would say, even of faith is Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. You will never see the act of putting words to paper, brush to canvas, lyrics to melody in the same way again. In Chapter 2, "Icons of Truth," L'Engle writes of changes that have been made to update the Book of Common Prayer. She notes that, in the new version, a confession of the sins of commission is made before the confession of the sins of omission. Psychologically, L'Engle writes, it is more appropriate to confess the "things left undone which ought to have been done" first, since, "when someone dies, those who are left are apt to cry out, 'Oh, if I had only taken her on that picnic!' or, 'If only I had gone to see him last Wednesday.' It is the things I have left undone which haunt me far more than the things which I have done" (p. 41). How true that is! For my only personal exposure to the reality of a baby who was there one day, growing, developing, living, and then the next brutally dismembered by the will of his mother has left me for years with the burden of the sin of omission. If only my eyes had not been blind and my heart had not been hard, there might just be a boy or girl of twelve years old alive today.

In 1994, I was living in South Dakota when I received a telephone call from a childhood friend in California. We were having that sort of guarded, casual conversation that you have with people who are forever tied to your youth, but whose company you now hold of little value. In the course of our chit-chat, she revealed that she was scheduled to have an abortion the following week. While I was a little startled by this intimation, I was not too surprised, since this friend had long been involved in reckless sexuality, and certainly would have been, had I had such a mental list, the top candidate among my acquaintances for "Most Likely to Get Knocked-Up." Also, knowing the level of self-absorption that this friend routinely demonstrated, I would have also, had I had such a grisly category, nominated her for "Most Likely to Have an Abortion." But, you see, I was pro-choice at this time, and so, while the news of her abortion was a little disturbing (though I knew not why it should be), I did nothing to talk to her about it, and I changed the subject as quickly as possible. We hung up, and I didn't talk with her at length for the next ten years.

In the meantime, I came to know the Lord of Life, and, though my change of heart for the unborn was not immediate upon my conversion, I grew to become stridently pro-life.

Fast forward to 2004. I decided to look up this friend and catch up with her. I think that a part of me wanted to make sure that she was okay. Through the miracle of the Internet, I was able to locate her and e-mail her. Eventually, we ended up exchanging phone numbers and having several very long conversations. At least, she spoke at length to me. True to her trademark self-involvement, I scarcely got a word in edgewise. But, I think that she needed a listening ear. And no wonder, for I have never come across a more shattered person in any of my years. Not only has she myriad physical health problems, but she is such a wreck emotionally that her inner self is more fragile than even her outer shell. She had never been the most even-keeled soul, but she seemed more broken than I remember her having been. During one of these phone calls, she mentioned in passing about meeting with her psychologist when she discovered she was pregnant at the age of twenty. She said that the psychologist seemed to dismiss the grave doubts that she was having over her scheduled abortion. My friend did not think that this therapist offered her any concrete help during that heart-wrenching time. Conviction fell on my heart with a thud, as my mind raced back to my own conversation with this friend in 1994. Could she have called me out of the blue at that time as a cry for help?

What if, instead of brushing off my discomfort with her announcement of her planned abortion, I had instead lent her a shoulder to lean on? What if I had said, "Dear friend, do not kill your child. Come, stay here with me. Get away from the man whose rejection is hurting you and the parents who think that ending this pregnancy will restore your life's promise. I have some money saved up, and I will support you. You can rest and have your baby and, if you need to, keep it or let it be adopted into a loving family. But, do not kill this tiny child. There is a better way, and I am here for you all that way."? Now, this may not have changed her mind. This may not have saved her baby. But, this would have been the kind of response that my Lord would have wanted me to give. I did not know Him at the time, or things might have been very different. Because my heart was still hardened to His call, and because my eyes were so blind to the humanity of the tiny babe, a child lost his chance to live in the most vulnerable moment of his mother's fateful decision. This is abortion guilt indeed, just as surely if I had commissioned the scalpel to rip his limbs from him and activated the vacuum to suck his broken body from the womb where he should have rested in complete safety.

So, I think about that child, probably not as often as my friend does, but as often as I think about abortion and the voids in this world where the lives should be. That is quite often indeed. I ask for God to forgive me, because I truly knew not what I omitted to do. God forgive us all.

Recently, Dave Andrusko wrote a two-part entry for "Today's News & Views," a daily e-mail newletter of the National Right to Life Committee, about Anne Lamott. What he wrote illustrates my point. Lamott recently wrote an absolutely abhorrent editorial that was published in the Los Angeles Times defending abortion. Here is a link to her essay, if you have the stomach for it. Dave Andrusko, in his gentle, thoughtful, and spiritually-strong way, looked at the views she expressed in her editorial and compared them with her history that she has written about in her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. In the very first part of the book, "Overture: Lily Pads," Lamott writes about an abortion that she had when she was thirty years old: I did not have the money or wherewithal to have a baby. The father was someone I had just met, who was married, and no one I wanted a real life or a baby with. So Pammy one evening took me in for the abortion, and I was sadder than I had been since my father died, and when she brought me home that night, I went upstairs to my loft with a pint of Bushmills and some of the codeine a nurse had given me for pain. I drank until nearly dawn. (p. 48). The next time Lamott got pregnant outside of a marriage, a few years later, the outcome was quite different (see if you can guess the reason why): Two years later, I'm pregnant by a man I was dating, who really didn't want to be a father at the time. I was still poor, but friends and the people at my church convinced me that if I decided to have a child, we would be provided for every step of the way. Pammy really wanted a kid. She had been both trying to conceive and waiting to adopt for years. She said, "Let me put it this way, Annie. We're going to have this baby." [I]n August of 1989, my son is born. I named him Sam. (p. 52) Amazing, isn't it, how when the friend who drove her to the abortion clinic turned into the friend who gave her unconditional support, the child was allowed to live? That was the over-arching theme of the two-part TN&V that Dave Andrusko wrote about Lamott's disgusting editorial. You can read the first part here and the second part here.

Should that call ever come again from another friend (or the same friend), how different now will my reaction be! There is no emotional boundary, no protective wall that my friend will be able to erect that will keep me from scaling it. I will push through and do whatever I can to save that precious little life by offering love, support, and strength to his mother.

Lord, please keep me as much as possible from leaving undone those things which I ought to have done. And, forgive me too, for doing those things which I ought to have not done. And cover with Your mercy and grace those millions of us who today walk under the burden of abortion guilt -- show us our sin, and free us from its bondage. In the name of Your holy Son, Amen.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

I don't know what to say. Justine, I'm sorry you've been living with those thoughts. You're right about abortion having touched nearly everyone in one way or another. I've never been in the position of trying to talk a friend out of it, and I hope I never have to.
I did read that Anne Lamott article...I'm sorry, but this woman is revolting. What god does she serve? You have to really wonder about some people.