Six months before I became pregnant, I marched the streets of Washington, D.C. Every January 22nd, the anniversary of Roe V. Wade, thousands of ‘pro-lifers’ from all over the country pour into the streets to protest. The year I turned eighteen, I was one of them. How could I have known that in less than a year I would become one of “those women” against whom we were marching?
I will never forget the night before the march. The vigil. The one that ends with Catholic Mass in the Basilica. I was in awe, very aware of the “privilege” to share in the occasion with bishops and cardinals from all over the world. The splendor of this church alone. And there were so many men—indeed, most of them were.
During a moment of silence, from several rows behind came the blood-curdling screams, those of a woman. She screamed with her whole being, in protest of the church, the gathering of all these men, and against our efforts to end legalized abortion. Right then it seemed to me that all of the bodies present should have been able to absorb or buffer the screams of one lone woman. But her voice, her message, resounded throughout the Basilica, and went right to my very core.
I never actually saw her. As this woman was wrestled down and led out, the Mass continued as if nothing had happened. Nothing. Wait a minute. I can’t even begin to describe the way her screams tore through me. I did not see one person turn around. I had been standing next to a priest who grabbed hold of me, physically keeping me from turning and acknowledging her. But it was too late. I recognized something in this woman’s voice. And while I had no idea what it was, I’d never felt so afraid as I did that moment. My tears came and wouldn’t stop. Another young woman nearby was as affected, and she and I clung together, sobbing and rocking into one another, waiting for the Mass to end.
The next day’s march was filled with people toting all kinds of pictures of mutilated fetuses. We were excited to take pictures of the most grotesque, most “convincing” signs we found. Many people brought their young children and babies to the march. My friends and I decided to pose with one for a picture because we thought it made a statement. I’m sure I still have it somewhere, the picture of me and Jessica and Laura with some smiling baby among swarms of huge, blown up photos of bloody fetuses. For me, it was all about the babies. Saving them. Sending them into good, Christian families who weren’t able to have their own. It seemed so obvious to me, especially with the baby shortage they talked so much about in religion class. Individual couples were waiting years to adopt while so many women aborted their babies.
So imagine my excitement, following the initial shock and shame of an unintended pregnancy, to be able to do the “right thing.” My plan was to tell my parents once arrangements had been made. With ease, I found a program out east, Circle of Love or something like that. The woman with whom I spoke was great. She was delighted to tell me about their program, and even more delighted to receive answers to the questions about my background: White, upper-middle class, excellent health and education, and college-bound. She commended me for my bravery, and empathized with my situation. I had just graduated from high school the month before, and in the fall I was to go away to the University of Tennessee, where I had accepted a cheerleading scholarship. Really, we surmised, if this had to happen, there wasn’t a better time in my life. Rather than go away to school, I would go out east for a year. The agency was ready to pay for my housing, any counseling I might need, even college courses while I waited to have the baby. I would even be allowed to aide in choosing the adoptive family, and was assured the child would be placed in an affluent one, where they would have endless opportunities. She helped me envision my return to Tennessee the following fall, where I could just pick up the poms again and nobody would ever have to be the wiser. It all seemed very romantic.
But then came the questions about the “father,” my then-boyfriend Dennis. She should have been delighted to know that he, too, came from a “good” background, one nearly identical to mine. As I told her about him and his plans for college in the fall, something was happening on the other end of the line. Something was terribly wrong, the fading connection seemed almost tangible. Her breathing, her tone, everything had changed. With these words, it was all over: “Oh. Well, I’m really very sorry, but we just don’t have a demand for bi-racial children. Our program won’t be able to help you.”
Dennis was black.
So. It wasn’t about babies after all, but about white babies. They didn’t tell us that in religion class, nor did they mention it at the march. But wait!any newspaper and you can find couples advertising, selling themselves as loving parents who wish to complete their lives with your baby. Yes. Your white baby.
When I began dating Dennis, my mother warned me. She said that while it was okay with her, I should remember the social context in which we lived, especially in Memphis. Some white boys might not want to date me once they knew that I had dated a black one. This, for me, was a non-issue because I would never date someone who held those opinions anyway. I never dreamed that racism extended beyond that. Surely not amongst the more liberal and educated. Surely not into the northern or eastern borders. And certainly not into the pro-life movement.
It appears that little has been written about the pro-life movement and it’s rhetoric as ideas based on notions of white supremacy. This needs to be discussed. I wonder how many other women have found themselves in similar situations. How can people justify talking about baby shortages when there are over 500,000 children in the United States waiting for homes? And how about worldwide? How many of these children are non-white? And for that matter, how can they talk about babies in economic terms anyway?
Demand. Supply. Market.
I recently looked up the agency that I had dealt with on the Internet. I wanted to find and read their mission statement, curious to see if anything has changed since 1992. I found the agency in Massachusetts. According to their web page, they do not discriminate based on age, religion, class or race. Against whom, though, is not clear. The adoptive parents? The girl “in trouble”? Their offspring? Maybe, I hoped, they had just added this anti-discrimination clause in the past seven years.
I wish I could say I believe it. Let’s just leave it at this: I’ll believe it when I see it. When the couples in the paper start seeking not white babies, or even babies, but any child. When there are not five-hundred thousand, one thousand, or even one child left awaiting adoption. When there are programs like the one out east available to all women, not just middle or upper class white women carrying white babies.
In other words, I won’t be crossing back over anytime soon.
Epilogue: For the first seven years that followed my abortion, I did not talk about it. The impact of the shame I felt around it was tremendous. And It thrived NOT because I had made the wrong decision, but because of the fertile soil such silence provides. I needed to talk about what happened to me, but I was certain that if others knew this one piece of information, it would change everything. So I came to feel like a fraud, doubting my goodness and dedication to anti-racism work. Because when it came down to it, hadn't my decision been based on race?
Then I took a course in Women's Studies, then another, and I was hooked. Soon after I particpated in my community's production of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues, I wrote my story. I shared it, and nobody disappeared. In fact, I found that I knew several other women who have had an abortion, it was just something we never talked about.
Robin Ringleka is a long-time believer in the power of small scale, and asserts that we should never underestimate the power of One. She earned a degree in Women Studies and Education from Michigan State University, and has lent much energy to ensuring reproductive rights for all women. She has enjoyed working on both the personal and political ends of the spectrum, and appreciates how each has informed the other. Her latest project, a collaborative on-line storytelling project, was designed to debunk dangerous myths around abortion and the women who seek them, while providing support for those who have or will face unintended or problematic pregnancies. Robin currently resides in Chicago, where she works for an international women's leadership organization.