Monday, October 22, 2007

A Private Problem, a Public Debate.

A Summer Place
Starring Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue

Remember this movie? It came out in 1963, the story of a teenage couple in love, with a pregnancy complication. I thought of it when I read the journal of Jeanne, (a lovely woman who was at one time an acquaintance of mine,) written about that same time. It puts a personal face on a public debate.

I'll call her daughter Marci. The family was upstanding, honorable, close: Marci had two outstanding older brothers, her parents were teachers, her widowed grandmother lived with them, and looked after the kids during the day. Marci was 20 years old. It was 1963, in a conservative, middle-class suburb back east.

One night she tearfully told her mom she was pregnant. The mother was upset, but not terribly surprised, since Marci spent every available second with her fiance. She asked what their plans were. Unfortunately, the fiance had informed Marci that very afternoon that he wasn't going to marry her, and in fact had impregnated another girl, too. Overwhelmed and disappointed, she felt trapped. She told her mom that she'd decided she couldn't let someone else raise her child, but with the new details about her fiance, she wasn't raising his baby alone. She had talked to a doctor who would not break the law to perform an abortion, but he had given her some names.

The mother was horrified at the turn of the conversation. She quickly made other suggestions, and assured her daughter that they would provide financial and emotional support for her to have the baby, and raise it if she wanted to keep it. She could "go away for awhile," and let the baby be adopted out, or an invented relative could "die" suddenly, and leave the family a baby to raise. There was a nice boy that thought highly of Marci, and would probably marry her and raise the child as his own. There were other options. Marci was confused and upset, and exhausted from her condition and worry. "I'm sorry I told you," she said. Her mother comforted her, promised her they would help, and Marci agreed to think about it. Together they would tell her father that weekend.

Friday afternoon the mother got an anonymous phone call. Her daughter had gone through with her plan, and was now in critical condition. She had been transported to a hospital from an unidentified clinic where she was extremely sick. The mother and father came quickly, but were not allowed in the room, where Marci was being interrogated harshly and repeatedly by the police. Her personal effects had been taken away from her in an effort to discover who had performed the abortion. She would not give any information. The next day she died. She had been treated at the clinic with a toxic substance, coupled with severe infection. The hospital was unable to save her.

Marci's parents were devastated. They were unable to retrieve her belongings, which had been deemed evidence. They were ignored by medical personnel, unable to get answers to their questions. The family was treated by the hospital staff like they were criminals. They had nothing to do with the abortion, but they had a daughter who died surrounded by rude, uncaring officials with an agenda. The family trauma unfolding was in the way of facts the officials needed, whatever the cost to her loved ones. The police questioned them all and threatened them with arrest if they didn't divulge the name of the doctor who had performed the procedure. They didn't know.

Neighbors and friends were shocked about the abortion but abandoned the family (on principle) in their grief. A donation was made to a school to set up a scholarship in Marci's name. The money was seen as tainted and never used.

Because of harassment by the police, Jeanne's husband eventually hired a lawyer who reminded them they were victims, not criminals. Jeanne questioned herself throughout the journal entry, wondering if she could have saved her daughter Marci's life somehow, by responding differently that fateful night. It was a heartbreaking event that changed their family forever.

A newlywed couple who live in our hall had a terrible decision to make. Sarah was 21 when she became pregnant. They were delighted. The doctor was concerned by some of her tests, and they were soon informed that she had cancer. She was advised to abort the baby and start chemotherapy immediately. They could have another baby when her health and future were more secure. The couple decided against that, and she had a healthy son several months later. She began treatment, and right now her baby is a year old, and her cancer is in remission. If she had been my daughter, I wonder what I would have advised. What if she already had children when this situation arose?

My own mother in 1959 was pregnant with twins which died in utero at five months. Amidst her sadness, and her anxiousness and the hope of soon starting over again, she was told she'd have to wait until they passed through her body naturally. A D& C under her particular circumstance would be termed an abortion. So she walked around for two months with two dead babies in her womb, watching her pregnant friends get bigger and her own belly shrink. After a month of that, she did deliver them in a natural way and could finally move ahead with plans to try for another pregnancy.

I'm against abortion, and I would react as Jeanne did, with promises of help and support if my daughters approached me with this problem. We are extremely blessed to have two grandchildren who were adopted into our family. We love and respect their birth mothers for the courage they had to give their babies life in every sense of the word. If marriage is out of the question, then adoption is a way to create joy and love out of despair. Abortion is not a black and white issue. There's a Jeanne, a Marci, a Sarah, a mom, a dad and a daughter at the center of each of the stories, even when they are represented with statistics instead of names.

Just something to think about in the middle of the night. I think I'll get that movie. This is an emotional debate and a little wisdom from Hollywood might get my heart in a softened state. These issues take a soft heart, not a hard one, and while I'm not changing my mind, I want balanced perspective when I learn about political issues, and the real people who deal with them.


Granny Annie said...

It is a private concern and should be a private discussion between the expectant woman and God.

Bev said...

I know someone that had an abortion in a very difficult situation. I wish that she had felt able to talk to me about it before as I would have welcomed her and her child into my home which was far enough away from her situation to have been safe....God forgive us both

kenju said...

I agree with Grannie Annie.

care020 said...

I commend you on your desire for a balanced perspective. We often desire that matters such as this be straightforward, black and white issues, they rarely are. The most important things we can offer one another, in place of a reprimand, is the the understanding that being human is no cake walk ("ALL have sinned...")and a healthy portion of grace smothered in love.

If the question is "WWJD?", those two things should be included in the answer.

Polly said...

This was so well thought out and I think probably that more people than we think are in that gray area. I don't believe in abortion, but I do believe we have been given free agency and no one can judge us except God for some of the choices we have to make in this life. This is one of those heartbreaking things in life that I don't see a right or wrong to..I can't see voting for a person in public office purely on that one issue.