There was a women’s clinic on 9th Avenue in Pensacola, Florida. I had driven by this place every day on my way to work and school, but I had never gone inside. Once a week, this clinic performed abortions. On those days, people from area churches camped just outside the entrance with giant signs plastered with pictures of dead babies.
I sat with my friend in the lobby of that clinic on abortion day.
I had tried weeks before to talk her out of it. “What about moving to a shelter?”
“I’m not moving to no shelter.”
“Okay, well what about adoption? There are lots of people who want to adopt babies.”
“Toni, I cannot just give my baby to some stranger who might molest her or hit her. You never know about those people.”
“Uh, hello? I was adopted.”
“Well then would your parents like to adopt my baby?”
I shut up after that. This girl saw no way out of her situation. She would not bring a child into her world: a vicious cycle of poverty and abuse. She would not even risk carrying the baby for nine months in that environment. She was struggling to take care of herself, much less deal with an unplanned pregnancy. On many levels I agreed with her and wondered if abortion was the only solution to her problem.
She played it pretty cool on the outside. She tried not to care about her baby but I noticed the way she would order plain orange juice or Sprite at the clubs. I noticed how she occasionally would put her hand to her tummy the way mothers do.
When we arrived at the clinic, there were two police officers standing at the entrance. One escorted us in, while the other took my friend’s car and parked it in another location. (Apparently Pensacolians have an affinity for bombing all things abortion-related.) The cops were friendly. One of them I recognized from Dillards; he always waved at me at my cash register while he made his rounds through the department store. I kind of hoped he didn’t recognize me. His eyes were kind as he murmured “Don’t worry about those people out there; they come every week and they won’t hurt anybody.”
The people outside the gate were actually quite sweet on the way in: “God loves you and he loves your baby! There is another way! You don’t have to do this! We love you and we will help you!” Almost as if they were cheering. They did wave their signs in front of our windshield but it did nothing to sway my friend’s decision; she had already seen the pictures and she knew all the facts. Her mind was made up.
She was crying as she sat down in the waiting room.
I wasn’t allowed to go back with her and I didn’t want to. Not even a little bit. I was there because she needed a ride after being heavily medicated and that was all. I flipped through magazines as I waited. All around me were young girls; the mood was solemn.
And then the machines. I didn’t know what the noise was at first and it wasn’t very loud from where I was. But the walls were thin and I could hear that buzzing and someone in the room whispered “Is that what that is?”
I was called back to the recovery room after what seemed like forever. My friend was still crying, silently; the hard kind of crying that comes from the chest and chokes in the throat. Her face was pale but her cheeks were hot. I held her hand and stroked her hair. There may have been about 8 other girls in the room at that point. Some of the were straight sobbing. Others stared into space, making no noise at all, as tears trickled down their cheeks. Most were alone. Only one or two others had friends with them. There were no happy, relieved faces. These girls seemed to be in mourning. I cried too.
When it was time to leave, a pretty lady approached us. “Call me any time, even if it is just to talk.” She must have been a counselor or something. She looked sympathetic and teary as she handed us her card. I tried to tell my friend that it would all be okay. She didn’t respond. In fact, she didn’t talk much that day at all except to ask if I could pick her up a coke on the way home, which I of course did.
There was only one way out of that place and that was through the main gate. The caring Christians that had stood watch a few hours earlier had been replaced with an angry mob. “God has your baby now but you’ll rot in hell!” “Yeah, rot in hell, baby killers!” “You’ll burn for this!”
I shook my head. My friend covered her face and sunk down in the passenger seat. A century passed before traffic cleared and I could pull away from the mob.
We were two seconds down the road and my friend let loose with the most heartbreaking, gut-wrenching sobs I’ve ever heard. I had no Kleenex or anything and traffic was crazy and I was driving an unfamiliar car and I had to just let her wail. I had expected her to be pretty out of it, after the anesthesia they had given her–but even those powerful drugs could not subdue her real pain.
It haunts her to this day, and it haunts me too. I write about this with her permission, and because life is precious—from conception to the grave. These girls that I saw, my friend; they all left that place with no hope of forgiveness. No light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of Christ’s love, they felt judgment and damnation. And they didn’t need that from the mob—they were wrecked with enough guilt and shame to last them a lifetime.
It’s easy to say you’re against abortion when you’re 6 months pregnant with your first child and your toughest decisions involve paint swatches, or choosing between Rocking Chairs vs. Gliders: which is more comfortable? It’s easy to be against abortion when your problems are fairly easily solved by a large support system of like-minded people with a vast array of readily-available resources. It’s easy to shout “Pro-Life!” at a political rally when you’ve never felt the desperation and depression of a mother who is actually in the unfortunate position to have to consider abortion in the first place.
I don’t agree with their choices. They will have to answer for them one day. As I sit in my house, still spotting, still cramping, I not only celebrate the days that go by, but I count each hour that I have not miscarried as a victory. My baby is making it. It’s true that I am saddened by the number of babies that don’t even get a chance; and I wonder how many loving couples would have given everything they own to become parents to one of them?
But I have to ask, where were those Christians when these girls were being abused by their own fathers? When they were abandoned by their own mothers? Left to fend for themselves (and their brothers and sisters) at 15? When they took comfort from drug-addicted deadbeats because they were the first and only people in their lives to offer a shred of love and loyalty?
Where were the Christians at my high school when I roamed the halls my sophomore year, swollen and pregnant? Ironically, it was the potheads and the outcasts who were the most friendly and supportive to me during that time, while Youth for Christ members pointed and laughed and talked about me behind my back.
Where are all the Christians when young mothers struggle to hold a job and support their children? Where are we when they haven’t got $20 to their name? When they need a ride to work, or to the doctor? Who encourages them during their darkest hours? Where are we when dads walk out on their kids? Who teaches these men how to provide for and protect their families?
We can pray for people all day long, but many times, physical action is what is needed most. Not rehearsed words and empty gestures. Not judgment and an insistence on conformity—“I’ll help you only if you put on this cardigan and start coming to my church.”
We can’t vote against abortion and NOT support programs that educate and empower women. We have to mentor young girls who don’t necessarily have the best role models when it comes to things like self-confidence, life goals, and family planning. We can’t tell them that abortion is bad because it says so in the Bible, and then turn around to embrace a lifestyle of perpetual indulgence, ruled by our laziness, gluttony, greed, and indifference. We can’t turn a blind eye to poverty and abuse and loneliness. We have to be advocates and witnesses for these women to prevent the situations that lead to abortion.
I want to say that when it comes to this subject I’ve been on all sides of the spectrum: I was the unwanted baby adopted into a loving family. I’ve been the girl considering all the options, scared shitless to reveal a pregnancy—twice. And I’ve been the mother grieving after a miscarriage, cursing the people that have had abortions because they just don’t know how lucky they have it.
But I’m not so naïve to think that my circumstances remotely compare to those who feel they truly have no choice. Even when things were scary for me, I was far from total despair. Those who really have a hard life would probably wonder if I live in a golden bubble, because no matter what has happened to me, I’ve come out on top.
And that’s God’s fault right there, because I have done nothing to earn the favor that I’ve been given. God loves me and forgives me, even though I don’t deserve it. Isn’t that what we’re meant to do? Love God, love people—though people don’t always deserve it. If only we all shared the same kind of sorrow over our sins as the victims of abortion do. I am pro-life: I want us to protect the sanctity of life and the rights of the unborn. But we should also remember that those who choose abortion should still have the opportunity to experience God’s grace and forgiveness. God has mercy on us; who are we to judge these women?