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Friday, February 21, 2014

An Open Letter to an Angry Feminist

Dear Angry Feminist,

Greetings.  After reading your letter to the pro-life movement (of which I am a proud member), and seeing that you had not as yet received a reply, I thought I'd take on the challenge to respond to the accusation central to your diatribe: that pro-lifers don't care about women.  

The pro-life movement is diverse and vast.  As you know, there are 45.5 million abortions committed world-wide annually, and the pro-life movement can be roughly divided into three main areas of influence: pro-lifers work towards legislative changes, educate the public on the nature of the pre-born, and work directly with women in crisis pregnancy situations.  There is no shame in some pro-lifers working more intensely in one area more than another: there are two victims of abortion - the mother and the child, and it is the child whose life is in danger.  However, when it comes to caring for women, the pro-life movement has an astounding record, demonstrated most definitively in the work of crisis pregnancy centres.

Last year I was privileged to work at such a centre.  While there are crisis pregnancy centres all over the Western world, there are thousands throughout the USA doing just the same dependable and kindly work.  Almost every staff member of the centre I worked at was an unpaid volunteer, usually working overtime each day and countless hours each year to keep the centre running.  The few staff we were able to pay would have certainly been earning more money by working for a better - funded organisation.  We had all the costs of keeping a busy centre running and always had as many qualified counsellors as we could find, but we made it a rule to never charge for our services.  Those volunteers who weren't directly helping our clients were keeping the gardens free of weeds, doing the cleaning and tidying, sorting through endless piles of baby clothing donations.  All of us were women, and many of us had similar backgrounds to some of our clients.

Women would ring our hotline.  I, and many other receptionists and phone counsellors, received desperate calls from women in tears.  If they weren't actually breaking down, it wasn't hard to tell from their shaky, just-holding-it-together voices that they were in the worst place they'd ever been. Strangely enough, it wasn't the fact that they were pregnant that was the biggest problem for them: it was the lack of support for being pregnant.  All of them were distraught: their mothers were pressuring them to abort, or had already turned them out of their homes for being pregnant (these had nowhere to live, and often rang us for accommodation); their boyfriends had made an ultimatum: "get rid of the baby or I'll leave you"; they couldn't think of anything else to do except, somehow, find a way to pay for an abortion - how else could they continue with their school education, or their career?  Many of them hadn't dared to tell either their parents or boyfriends, knowing that, as a matter of course, they would literally be disowned and discarded.  Some of the women were married and pregnant to another man; some were backpacking and fell pregnant; some couldn't remember who they were pregnant to.  

In your letter, you said that we made abortion seeking women feel like "the scum of the earth", that we don't care about women, only "the unborn, not the living, breathing woman who has a life - a future, dreams, and goals…".  That hasn't been my experience.  If you'd heard the way we answered each call from those women and girls, you'd have had to agree.  We'd hear the tears on the other end of the phone and say: "Just a minute honey, I can tell this is really difficult for you.  Give me a couple of seconds to find a quiet place to listen to what's going on."  We'd be the first they'd call, as they weren't expecting anything but anger from everyone else they knew.  After we'd listened, we offered them to come to the centre and have a cup of tea with one of our friendly ladies, and have a chance to talk about what was going on.  We had a big selection of tea and an espresso coffee maker, deep, cosy armchairs and soft lighting.  We all knew it wasn't our place to try to coerce or force a decision that was what we wanted; we knew that our place was to lay out our clients' options, then give them the freedom to choose their own pathway.  Before they came to the centre, they had no idea that there was any other choice to be made than to have an abortion.  Theoretically, if it had only been about 'saving babies' for us, we could have delivered the message and done the job without the frills, without the love.  But, in fact, it was about loving the mothers first.

In your letter, you said: "You say you care about women, yet you have a tendency to wag your fingers and look down upon girls who end up pregnant in their teens".  Your hatred of hypocrisy is to be commended, but to claim that pro-lifers are hypocrites in this way is nothing short of dishonest.  Girls pregnant in their teens were given counselling, a gift pack, and education on how to look after themselves and their babies before and after birth.  Both women and teens were given everything they needed: maternity clothes, and baby clothes and equipment. As a matter of course, women and teens were given all the help, information and resources they needed until their baby was two - during which time we'd often direct them to local support groups in their area, so that they could be independent of us by the time they left our service.  Additionally, through the direct initiation of this centre during the time I was working there, a special program was started at a local school specifically to accommodate teen mothers to continue their school education.  During the year I worked at the centre, the clinic put together an entire wedding, all expenses paid by the clinic, for a teen couple with a child who wanted to get married but didn't feel they had the money.  All of this was done with the utmost respect and care for the women and girls we saw, and I can safely say that this clinic is merely representative of the same work being done throughout the West for teen mums. 

Lastly, you said"You may give the moms a few packs of diapers, maybe some bottles, and baby clothes - but then what? Are you going to pay for childcare?  Are you going to help pay for their food, clothes, school supplies?"  Given that we in the pro-life movement have more children than those outside it, we are certainly very aware that parenthood is a huge mission, often fraught with financial pressures.  Yet, this is a sham of an argument for abortion.  Our business of helping women and children quite obviously can not cover the entire cost of raising the children saved as a result of our work.  But you've widely missed the mark: none of our clients would regret having their children because they were faced with financial pressure: they realised of course that the value of their new baby far outweighed any financial difficulties they might face.  The opposite was usually true for our clients: after deciding to keep their child, they had a new sense of responsibility: they would often stop their addictions, find ways to educate themselves further, and work out ways to support themselves and get ahead, despite everything.

Ultimately, it is your ironically-named 'pro-choice' movement that is truly eliminating women's choices. The reason that so many women and teens rang our hotline and asked for an abortion, or asked how to get one, was not that they had made a decision to abort based on a comprehensive understanding of their options: it was simply because they believed there to be only one option - to abort, or else face the shame of having a baby.  It is the pro-life movement that gives distressed, pregnant women a place to make a fully-informed decision, and to be there for them whatever they decide.


Lydia Mead


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