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"Marta*, I'm pregnant."
Those words echoed through the telephone line, bounced from wire to wire and reverberated in my ear where I stood at the service desk of the retail department store where I was employed in 1981. Those words were uttered in despair and desperation by my best friend, Cassie*, as she wrestled with emotions previously fed as mere fodder for tragic romance novels -- emotions now engulfing her thoughts, her life.
That moment brought to life a tongue-in-cheek notion chuckled about (nudge nudge, wink wink) in beer-soaked nights of parties and teenage abandon -- a notion others experienced, but not us. We were immune to the repercussions of careless, reckless actions simply by virtue of our age and naiveté. Shielding our eyes, hearts, and consciences from possibilities and consequences of compromising behavior, we opted to view our behavior as a consequence of our time. The unthinkable would never happen to us.
Oh, but it would. Oh, but it did.
I advised Cassie to obtain an abortion. I advised something she had already decided upon in her reluctant heart, yet to which she had not fully reconciled her conscience. She was eighteen, living in her parent's home, attending college, and working full-time. She was no slacker. Raised in a strict Catholic home, she lived the routine: church on Sunday, confession, communion, school, work, etc. Catholic kids raised in Catholic homes; rebelling from those confining and self-sacrificing Catholic rules of conduct, morality, and virtue; doing our own thing.
Was our free thought, will, and "progressive" conscience really compromised by those unwavering traditions and teachings of the Church, as we were so convinced? Or did we compromise our very souls for the "right" to make our own choices (in this case, choosing to end a life -- in its initial stages, but a life, still), to rebel against the values and teachings of our parents and church as we saw fit?
Who makes the rules in this temporal society: God? government? parents? our secular selves? Some will say it is all relative to what you believe and what caresses your "self-esteem". Whatever validates your excesses is worthy of worship. Others will tell you if the law, as the distinguishing authority, allows it, it's OK with them. And then there are those who testify and sacrifice daily to the power and truth of Divine Rule, absolute and uncompromising, brought forth by Moses from the finger of God. "Thou Shalt Not Kill."
After agonized soul-searching and many tears, Cassie made her decision. She would abort the baby. I agreed it was the best choice she could make at the time. Her situation was too precarious, the risks too great, and the rewards of carrying the child to term too obscured by self-absorption to see.
Carry the baby to term? Too much to explain to family and friends; disgraceful in the eyes of church and family. She had an education and a career to consider. She was too young and had no money to support a child. Adoption would have been too emotionally difficult: Adoption would have meant she would have to carry the baby to term, and after giving birth to her own flesh and blood she knew she could not find it within herself to sign the baby away. Abort the baby? No one would know except Cassie, the doctor, the nurses ... and me. God, of course, would also witness the snuffing out of one of His innocents, but compared to the other choices, it somehow seemed easier to bear. No long-term consequences; no lingering doubts and wishful thinking.
Then as now, for certain people, pregnancy was viewed as something from which an "out" was necessary. She was pregnant, in a bind, she needed a way out ... an answer. Abortion -- legal and accepted within the social "norms" -- could diffuse the "problem" of an unwanted pregnancy easily ... too easily.
Did I, as Cassie's best friend at the time, give her the best advice? I think we all know the answer to that question. Cassie's decision was not my responsibility, but as an important person in her life, it was my responsibility to weigh all options with their subsequent repercussions -- physical, emotional, and spiritual -- before offering advice about something as grave as this --destruction of human life. In this way, as a friend, I failed her. In this way, as a fellow human being, I failed her unborn child.
And I failed God.
Throughout the arrangements for the abortion, and for quite some time afterward, she was weepy, emotional. I attributed it to fluctuating hormones. I did not then understand her tears, her despair, her second thoughts.
I do now.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding her predicament, circumstance does not an outcome make. I realize now the trivial nature of inconvenience when brought in similar stead with life.
Excuses abound in this civilization for the selfish decisions of its inhabitants, and little do we want to accept the consequences of our actions; indeed, we refuse. There are many, far too many, who cannot, or will not, bring themselves to view a human fetus as a living being. Does our stubbornly misguided refusal to see these souls as human from the moment of conception make their existence any less so? This is a nagging question that some of us dare not answer in truth -- for fear the truth will reveal itself in our guilty hearts. We simply block it from our conscience, and convince ourselves that if we say they are neither human nor alive, that until birth or shortly before it they are simply and insignificantly a "mass of cells", then that must be true. However, we all know otherwise, as our own mothers did. What we, as an increasingly permissive society, and all of the "abortion rights" activists do not want to face, is the fact that life is not relative to what we want to believe ... it simply is.
"French-fries will make you feel better." A product of my mother's upbringing, I thought food could cure all ills, or at least all perceived ills. I was in the driver's seat, meandering toward my friend's, and her baby's, appointment with destiny. Little did I know it would be mine as well. Cassie was feeling nervous, heavy-hearted, and tired. I advised french-fries from McDonald's -- another testament to the bad advice of well-meaning friends. We bought the fries and hoped for the best.
In the waiting room at the Port Windham* Family Planning Clinic, Cassie fought to calm her nerves. Cassie fought to reconcile what she was about to do with what she wanted to do -- indeed, what she knew in her heart to be right. I wished her well as she made her way down the hall, through the door, and into twilight's black hole.
I looked around the room. There were teenagers -- girls whose eyes fluttered guiltily away as I glanced in their direction. There was a couple, young and seemingly blasé -- another day at the doctor's office -- it would be over soon. They were all waiting for the same thing -- waiting with guilty smiles and skyward, vacant, searching eyes.
All were waiting for the death of their offspring.
Disassemble, piece by piece, the walls of religious doctrine, morality, and virtue under the guises of tolerance, social and environmental justice, and individual freedom and "rights", and what have you got? Anarchy.
A country without a soul.
A highway's white lines nullify everything before it. It always seems a new tread, a new path, a new life as I listen to the "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" whining of tires skimming beyond my now and forever. I drove my friend home that sun-drenched day in this detached scene. I babbled incessantly. I tried to make her forget what we both knew. I joked, I laughed, I sounded upbeat, happy. Yes, she made the right decision. Yes, life would get better from this point forward. No, God would not judge her harshly. She listened, she chuckled, she writhed in pain, she vomited. I looked. French-fries.
As we drove into Cassie's driveway, I tried to reassure her that she had done "the right thing", but something just didn't feel right. As she forlornly climbed out of the car and made her way through the back porch door, I felt part of her soul perish with her child that warm, sunny -- yet chillingly cold -- afternoon in 1981.
I now understand the limits of our physical selves and why we must rely on Faith and Truth for our foundation. We don't make our own reality, as so many wish, indeed need, to believe -- and the reality from which we endlessly and fruitlessly try to hide is that which forces us to see.
I have sinned; I am a sinner. Nothing rips, tears, shreds more my soul, however, than the memory of my own part in Cassie's tragic play. Eighteen years and a lifetime later, I cannot forget.
Somehow, I think, I am not alone.
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Posted 12 Sep 2000.
Copyright 1999 by Ohio Right to Life.
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