Abortion is an experience both known and unknown -- a matter for silence even in its ubiquity. It's everywhere in our politics and society, yet it is a subject often elided, reduced to euphemism or outright avoided.
"One in three women has an abortion by the age of 45," reads a subhead in a recent, much-talked-about article in New York magazine. One of the many women profiled in the piece had to get money for the procedure from a gas station ATM; the credit-card scanner at a Kentucky clinic wasn't working. The woman didn't consider abortion "killing," but she didn't want to do it. Months later, both she and her boyfriend regret it.
The piece tells 26 stories, involving compassionate and callous medical staff, involving home abortions and shame and secrecy. "The same woman can wake up one morning with regret, the next with relief -- most have feelings too knotty for a picket sign," the piece reports.
"There's no room," one woman reflects, "to talk about being unsure."
It's an incomplete picture, as Theresa Bonapartis, director of Lumina, a post-abortion ministry in New York, observes. Among the missing stories: mothers who get an adverse diagnosis about their child, who wish they had let nature take its course, rather than ending the life of their child. "So much is missing," she says, from the glossy piece.
And yet even in its incompleteness it makes clear -- as anyone who has ever had anything to do with or otherwise been touched by abortion knows: "There are so many what-ifs in there ... in no case is it really without consequence," as Vicki Thorne, founder of Project Rachel, a post-abortion support group, says.
In this way, the piece, much talked about, does something significant: Inadvertently, perhaps, it is a cry for a culture to embrace life, acknowledge death and move forward to something better. In confronting the effects of "choice," an opportunity for healing and education arises.
Over the last few years, particularly in the run-up to President Obama's re-election campaign, there has been a lot of rhetoric about a "war on women." For working to defend religious freedom against coercive regulatory and increasingly legal threats, the bishops of the Catholic Church have been accused of being its chief exponents. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This past week, a new president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was elected: Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky. Kurtz is co-author of a chapbook, "Gift of Joy," published by Our Sunday Visitor. It's an invitation to enjoy every blessed moment of a child's life. The book reminds us to bask in gratitude for every second of such a wonderful, vulnerable life.
Sacrifice can seem foreign in a self-obsessed society, but a life lived for another expresses the true meaning of love. Instead of pretending that abortion is a solution to difficulties, we have a responsibility to support life, so that unexpected parenthood can be a source of "joy and expectancy," as "Gift of Joy" puts it.
"The presence of new life in the womb of the mother brings unique joy and hope to the center of our families, our Church, and our world," Archbishop Kurtz and his co-author write. "It is never too early to give thanks for the gift of new life and to ask the Lord for His blessing."
This assertion is a contrast to the rhetoric of choice, the veil of women's freedom and empowerment that our politics and cultural expectations often place over the issue. Even in adversity, a child may bring with it a hope that the world would be impoverished without.
The book is a reflection on gifts, which is quite timely during this holiday season: "A true gift is something -- or even someone -- we would never have expected ... A true gift is beyond our power and cannot be confined ... The happiness from a gift reaches our heart and shapes our spirit."
We can be too distracted, too overwhelmed, too busy, too pressured to properly give thanks. Perhaps more than anyone, we need parents to take time out for gratitude. More than stigma, more than misleading campaigns, more than denial, we need people who embrace and support the gift of life, from its earliest moments to its final days. Making it possible for a mom or a dad to raise a child with love and happiness is something we can all help with -- not a mere political campaign or slogan.