I’ve wanted Roe v. Wade overturned my whole life. So why do I feel so bad?

All my life, I’ve been waiting for Roe v Wade to be overturned. Now it looks like it’s going to happen, and it does not feel great.

It does not feel great to be a pro-lifer in general. That, at least, is nothing new. I remember an evening many years ago when the phone on the kitchen wall rang during dinner. My mother answered, and a girl’s voice said, loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear, “Is this the abortion clinic?” Then there was an explosion of giggles on the other end and the phone slammed down. It was almost 40 years ago, but I can still feel the crawlingly painful sensations of receiving that stupid prank call, which some teenager made to our house because we were known as those fanatics, those weird pro-lifers. I was angry and disgusted and most of all embarrassed. Because we were weird.

My parents, as enthusiastic converts, took us kids to a lot of pro-life rallies and prayer vigils. I remember one in particular, led by a group of evangelical prayer warriors who, after an emotional ad-libbed imprecation outside an abortion facility, unexpectedly brought out a large clay pot, held it dramatically overhead and then smashed it on the sidewalk. I am sure they explained what this was supposed to signify—something about Israel and broken covenants, I would guess. But I was in middle school, and all I knew was that, to my sorrow, the ground was not going to swallow me up. All my friends spent their weekends skiing and going to Bath & Body Works at the mall, and I was standing out on a sidewalk watching some weirdo sweep up pieces of a terra cotta flower pot because of dead babies.

Fortunately, my parents also gave me plenty of examples of what it means to actually live in a pro-life way. My mother was a magnet for vulnerable people, and she always cared for them and fought for their dignity, no matter who threatened it. My family cared not only for babies and their moms but for homeless people, the disabled and yes, the weirdos. When I sheepishly turned up pregnant myself, there was no question of being turned out of the house. My parents took care of me and my baby until I could more or less take care of myself. They were straight up pro-life for every life, no questions asked.

So I was well aware that the pro-life movement had its share of oddballs, but it always felt like something for me to get over. It was always very clear that the core principles were sound, and some people simply executed them in a cringey way. I remember thinking that I wasn’t likely to get tossed into an arena with a lion like one of the early Christian martyrs I adored, so instead I would prod myself to be more brave about being made fun of by my classmates.

And I wasn’t wrong. Sometimes that is what is called for, and embarrassment is a worthy suffering to offer up to the Lord, if that is what you have to give.

But the cause of my embarrassment has changed. You know what I mean. It is one thing to know that people think pro-lifers are dorky and uncool and to decide that you can live with that. It is quite another to know that people think pro-lifers are anti-woman and anti-immigrant and anti-poor people—and the reason they think so is because the most public faces of the pro-life party cannot seem to stop saying so.

Like many of my friends, I have backed away from identifying myself as pro-life in the last few years. I just don’t want to be associated with any of that. I stopped writing about it, stopped talking about it.

But the recent leak of the Supreme Court draft has made certain conversations unavoidable….Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

***

Image: March for Life, 2016, Aleteia, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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27 thoughts on “I’ve wanted Roe v. Wade overturned my whole life. So why do I feel so bad?”

  1. I’m a Catholic and try to be a faithful one. I had a medically necessary safe and legal abortion (cervical ectopic – very rare) that saved my life and allowed me, after many years of infertility, at the age of 39, to have my first and only child. I took methotrexate, which is frowned upon by many in the Church as an “ethical” treatment for fallopian ectopics, instead preferring Catholic women to undergo the “ethical” treatment of having their Fallopian tube removed. Getting my cervix removed wasn’t an option. I don’t know where this is going other than to say I appreciate your article. I’m definitely in the group of feeling awful, conflicted, and unsettled about the future. Especially because some states have proposed outlawing procedures like the one I had. I sought two opinions from Catholic OBGYNs on my situation and still had Catholic women tell me I shouldn’t have used methotrexate and to seek confession. It feels raw all over again with the SCOTUS leak. I know many women are hurting not just me. Holding them in prayer.

  2. https://religiondispatches.org/the-end-of-roe-comes-courtesy-of-the-catholic-church-but-heres-what-catholics-can-do/

    “Why Do I Feel So Bad?”

    It’s a great question!

    Here is another exploration of that same question, also written by a Catholic, but one who could not say that she ALWAYS wished that Roe would be overturned.
    https://religiondispatches.org/the-end-of-roe-comes-courtesy-of-the-catholic-church-but-heres-what-catholics-can-do/

    Simcha’s question is similar to Mary Hunts questions which are, arguably, “What can Catholics now do?” and “What SHOULD Catholics do?” Neither the questions nor any possible “answer” are bound to make us feel “good”.

    Flawed and as “unsatisfactory” as it is, Roe v Wade should also be remembered as a noble (in the Quixotic sense) attempt to settle something that’s upset-ably unsettle-able. Some might say the same about Dobbs, but it, also, will settle very little. Nor can it.

    Mary Hunt is a founder and director of the “Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual.” She is trying to look ahead. And I admire her creative imagination.

    A “Dorothy Day Abortion Fund”?

    A “Saint Vincent De Paul Vasectomy Clinic”?

    Are such things possible, desirable, or morally inescapable? Mary Hunt argues that they are all three.

    Consider The “Sister Donna Quinn Clinic Escort Service”? https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2009-nov-15-adna-prochoice-nun15-story.html

    Unsettling (like the firehose of news it takes so much effort to contend with)
    Unsettable (like the onward rush of creation. “We ARE the Big Bang.”)

    https://religiondispatches.org/the-end-of-roe-comes-courtesy-of-the-catholic-church-but-heres-what-catholics-can-do/

  3. Laws don’t drive demand, but laws also convey what we value in a society. It’s so sad that as a society we think so highly of some children to the point of IVF and surrogacy and so little of lives born into hard circumstances, that we think that abortion is the alternative.

    The dominant culture has little truck with modest approaches and legal support of children, finding that those children are less worthy than others. That’s the mountain a pro life philosophy is up against. We’re fine with treating humans like objects.

  4. The embarrassing part is that Trump and only Trump is responsible for the over-turning of Roe v Wade assuming it happens, which everybody and their dog predicted he would never do.

  5. Thank you Simcha. I just can’t get away from the feeling that abortion is wrong and the taking of an innocent life, especially past about 10 weeks when the fetus is a fully formed human being and just has to grow to be like you, me, other people (as far as I understand it). I’m really glad the Church speaks up for the humanity of the unborn, and the principle that every human life is valuable, no matter the dependency/strength/other qualities of that life. I feel like this was very helpful to me at a point in my life where I was having a lot of suicidal thoughts after a period of harassment and assault. I credit my Catholic education to getting me through that period. I didn’t think I was a valuable person but I remembered we don’t take another person’s life just because they’re not obviously valuable (I’m not saying pro-life teachings would work this way for everyone but they did for me). At the same time, I kind of feel like I must be missing something when so many people are in favour of abortion. As you say there are so many difficult situations where it’s obvious women have been set up to fail and suffer and our society is truly terrible at caring for suffering women. I think the Church actually has a really liberating message for women when she says that if a man wants to have sex with a woman, he needs to accept her in her wholeness including her fertility, and that a woman shouldn’t have to medicate her healthy body for a man’s sexual convenience and so on. I feel like when I learned about the Church’s teaching against contraception (which was from you and Jen Fulwiler and not from the Catholic schools I attended aged 4-18 or ever in Mass), it led to a hugely positive transformation in my relationship to my own body and so to myself. I started to see my body as having its own language that was worthy of my respectful attention and understanding. I stopped seeing my body as an object to shape for the eyes of men who saw me as a thing to be used and abused. I think this acceptance of the inherent goodness of women’s healthy bodies is key to a truly pro-life culture. If we set out to build our societies around acceptance of women’s bodies and health so many things would get better. But this message is so counter-cultural and of course requires sacrifices from women as well as men, and the Church is in such a terrible position to teach this having treated women and children so badly in eg. mother and baby homes in Ireland where I’m from. Weirdly the Church also seems to lack faith in its own message against contraception and be embarrassed to teach it. But we know that contraception fails and if most couples are relying on it not to fail, that’s a lot of people who are going to want abortions, especially with our unjust economic and social structures and so on. Anyway those are just some rambling thoughts to say I share your discomfort with the current debate and to thank you for your pro-life work which has had a hugely positive effect on my own life and marriage. You have never disappointed me! <3

  6. This. It has to be whole life.

    I think there’s a time and place to stand outside abortion clinics. I still support 40 Days for Life, because I think the action of standing outside and trying one last time to offer help and change minds is important (and that particular organization actually trains people to not be hyper aggressive weirdos on the sidewalk, but actually have some idea of what they’re doing). It is a life, after all.

    The thing is, it does need to be the LAST time, not the first. Way too often, it’s the first. There’s a whole lot of help that needs to be offered before that point, and there’s still a lot of work to be done in that arena.

  7. I am an adult convert– I grew up very liberal and pro-choice, marching for Planned Parenthood and holding some of its most extreme, truly pro-abortion views. I am now an orthodox Catholic, a more conservative one than many. This piece has really captured how I’m feeling at the moment. In addition to a fatigued embarrassment and reluctance to really talk about it, I’m angry at the loud voices from both sides for utterly missing the point and missing the compassion. I need to focus more on all the good people quietly doing the important work in the pro-life movement. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Re: flower pot smashing. Wasn’t it Ezekiel or some other prophet who was always doing performance art to illustrate the unfaithfulness of the people? Breaking things and digging holes through walls and whatnot? Maybe those people were doing something along those lines.

  9. It’s just so sad that there are not more voices like this.

    So sad.

    I just hope people who read this (and think about it) are inspired with a little bit of hope for humanity and also for themselves as individuals capable of building and spreading (grounded) hope.

    We should all be able to understand the legitimacy of recognizing the personhood of the unborn. Just as we should confront the fact that the personhood (as recognized by temporal law) of so many others has always been either precarious or aspirational. (The full personhood of women is a relatively recent and even “radical” idea that is still, unfortunately, an insecure and contentious precept.)

    If I believed that striking down Roe would lead people of different ideologies and religions to work together to support full personhood rights for all humans, it would be easier to feel hope for us all. But Simcha’s writing reminds us that hope is never an easy gift. Still, thinking and communication of this quality is part of what we need to build the hope so lacking here on earth. Of course, too many (mis) interpret Christianity to say that there is no hope in this life.

  10. Am I the only one who thinks this leak was put out there as a shiny object to take our attention away crippling inflation numbers? And away from elites bent on getting us mired into an undeclared WW3? For years, the Republican Party strung along pro-lifers and then under George Bush, they held the presidency and both houses of Congress and they couldn’t even get a parental *notification* bill passed. Screw them. And now, because the Dems are bleeding support in the Black community due to inflation, they need to rile up their moneyed (mostly white) base with images of back alley coat hanger abortions and claims of how “this supreme court decision will be devastating to the Black and Hispanic communities.” Screw the Dems (and their barely disguised racism) too.

    This leak is being presented as a big deal, but in the parts of the country where the most abortions are committed, nothing will change. For instance, my own urbanized tristate area including Philadelphia and south Jersey and northern Delaware will not be outlawing abortion anytime soon. That means we all still need to do our part of course. Donate food and diapers and wipes to pantries when you can and check out what your local crisis pregnancy centers need (probably cash as struggling families need rent money now more than ever). Stop looking to the government to fix our problems. The people in charge are not there to help us.
    /rant off

    https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/black-and-hispanic-people-have-the-most-to-lose-if-roe-is-overturned
    https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/abortion-jeopardy-minority-women-lose-84486728
    https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2022/05/04/black-hispanic-women-to-bear-brunt-of-health-issues-deaths-due-to-abortion-restrictions-studies-show/

      1. The thing is both sides suck. The Republicans never wanted abortion to end. Unlike the Dems, they just lied about it. I really think the best thing we as Christians can do is live by the Golden Rule and forget about politics. Politicians are great at injecting hopium into our veins, and the side effects are discord and high blood pressure. Screw ’em all and stop participating in their trained seal acts.

        1. I totally agree. I’m disgusted with both sides. I always end up voting for the lesser of two evil. It would be nice to be able to vote for a candidate I believe in.

          1. Remember when Rick Santorum sat on a stage and endorsed Arlen Specter? The issue that I believed was so near and dear to his heart apparently wasn’t. When it comes to our politicians, I am no longer certain there is a lesser evil. And the media is so far slanted in favor of big government solutions (e.g. the Orwellian “Disinformation Governance Board”) that we no longer hear the full truth about anything. Meanwhile, the country is on the brink of civil war.

            Right now, I think any politician who would actually do something about out of control food and gasoline prices would do more to reduce abortions than any other guy in the room. Instead they’re all screaming about Putin and abortion and insurrections hoping we don’t notice that our world and way of life is going to hell in a handbasket. Remember when instead of talking about the badly broken supply chain, they pretended the conversation was about paternity leave? And everyone obliged them by switching to the conversation on their terms, which was no conversation at all as dads have been taking paternity leaves for more than a decade.

            It’s infuriating to me. And I can see I’m ranting again, so now, I will step away from the keyboard for awhile, take some deep breaths and get my head right. Maybe some of these politicians will do the same (Elizabeth Warren – I’m looking to you, sister).

    1. No kidding.

      They’re hemorrhaging Hispanic support too. There are areas in my neck of the woods, communities on the border who are entirely Latino (who have traditionally voted blue for generations) that are flipping red. The situation at the border is being handled HORRIBLY inhumanely still (even under this new administration…if anything, it’s worse) and the aggressive progressive social policies are really offensive to them (They tend to be socially conservative, fiscally liberal).

  11. Thank you for this Simcha. It really makes a difference with how much courage I have in facing the coming days.

    I’d like to suggest another feeling along with embarrassment that we could all be collectively feeling, one that I’m certainly feeling: unsafe. I’m not talking about being harassed or slandered by pro-choicers. I’m talking about knowing the leadership that this change is coming under. The same people advocating for these increased protections for unborn children are often found thwarting and intimidating the people and committees trying to investigate and gain justice from last year’s Insurrection. It of course isn’t an excuse to support abortion—there is no such good reason—but to ignore the very concerning and dangerous behaviors and words behind so many of our leaders does us no favors in building a culture of life.

    I follow Sheila Gregoire’s To Love Honor and Vacuum Blog, and shortly after Josh Duggar was sentenced for downloading and viewing CSM, a commenter on Sheila’s response post reminded everybody that Josh’s father Jim Bob—who along with the rest of Josh’s family spent the procedures pampering and putting him first over the safety of his wife and children and the family (with children) he was arranged to stay with—was running for Senate. She called for every Christian and pro-lifer to stop voting for men like this, no matter what their stance on abortion is: “You can’t make the world safer for babies by making it more unsafe for women.”

    You can’t make the world more safe for unborn babies, let alone pro-life Christians, by making it less safe for everybody else. I hope we learn this lesson sooner than I expect we will. Either way, I’m not looking forward to this incoming horrible storm and I’d encourage serious self-reflection to the people who do.

    1. I totally agree GCB. The examples you offer illustrate hypocrisy that is damaging the movement.

  12. I’m glad for this potential ruling. I agree that legal avenues aren’t the only way to reduce abortions. But there is something to be said for the state holding sanctions against them, just as I would want the state to have sanctions against any gravely immoral act (murder, rape, etc) even if there were other ways of reducing the frequency of these actions.

    I am not embarrassed to be pro-life. I am certainly embarrassed by the hypocrisy that is present among some pro-lifers, which gives the overall movement a bad name. During the pandemic, I’ve been dismayed at pro-lifers who mock people who wear masks and take other precautions, accusing them of living in fear, when they’re actually taking precautions to protect others (you know, “love they neighbor”?). It disgusts me that a prominent pro-life leader takes every chance she gets to attack masks and vaccines and to stir the pot about these topics, but then remains silent when someone in her state, who is most likely innocent, is about to receive the death penalty. A lot of people in my life are pro-“choice”, and this type of hypocrisy gives them ample ammunition. And ruins all chances of their conversion.

    That being said, pro-lifers who oppose government-funded charity programs shouldn’t automatically be dismissed as hypocritical. Many of these same people donate their time and money to pregnancy support centers, food pantries, etc. They just believe that the private sector should meet these needs rather than the government. This does not make them hypocrites.

    I’m sorry that you have backed away from identifying as pro-life and discussing these issues. The pro-life movement needs people like you who are consistently pro-life without the hypocrisy. You’ve been a great witness regarding pandemic controversies, and I know you would be on this issue as well.

    1. Ugh. Now that same pro-life leader is saying that women who have abortions should be criminalized. Her rationale being that women who murder children post-birth are criminalized, so if pre-born children are just as human, then the standard should be the same for killing a pre-born child. She is playing into the hands of the other side, who have predicted that illegalizing abortion will result in witch hunts where women who have miscarriages are investigated and jailed. I’m glad Roe is being overturned, and I want abortion to be illegal, but without criminalizing the women who are often secondary victims of abortion. Women who feel desperate enough to consider aborting their own children need empathy, compassion and options. Women who miscarry should not have to fear being investigated. This mentality will not build bridges between the two sides and will not convert hearts.

  13. Yes. I want people not to want or think they need an abortion. I want people to choose not to have one, to choose life. Forcing them feels different.

    1. Thank you. I have always been pro-choice, because I learned early on that banning something never actually stops people from doing it; the ban gives the states the power to imprison or fine people who continue doing that thing. With abortion, that means putting teenagers in prison, because there’s no way to just punish the providers.

      I understand and appreciate yours and Simcha’s positions, in that you all are actually interested in making it easier to be a parent. Sadly the political part of your movement has zero interest in any policies other than punishing people for having sex. I hope that you all will come to understand that you’ve been duped by people who wanted your votes for terrible policies based in misogyny and help us make it a better world for all parents and kids.

      1. Anti-abortion laws should not result in the imprisonment of teenagers. Women (and girls) are additional victims of abortion, and are not the ones who should be criminalized. I totally agree that many lawmakers who call themselves pro-live actually have nefarious motives. Part of pro-life activism should be to promote political leaders who are genuinely pro-life, who aren’t seeking to criminalize victims of abortion.

        1. I believe you when you say that the policies you support won’t involve punishing the customers, but I’m a lawyer, and it’s a violation of the principle of equal protection of the laws to make selling something illegal but not buying the thing. Further, if the statutes don’t impose penalties on abortion-seekers, then self-administered pharmaceutical abortions would be legal.

          I really do think that like drugs, most porn*, and, sadly, lots of family violence**, abortion is something that can’t be addressed through the criminal law system. There’s just no way to write a statute that only punishes the providers, and no good way to ban the procedure that doesn’t make miscarriages subject to criminal investigations if a local sheriff or DA wants to make a name for himself. As I noted, I am pro-choice, but in the same way I’m pro-chemotherapy. Cancer is horrible, but it’s chemo exists and I want it made better. Crisis pregnancies happen, and making them subject to criminal prosecution is only going to make bad things much, much worse.

          *If the participants don’t have capacity to consent or were coerced into it, then throw the book at the producers and consumers. I think porn is damaging and dangerous, but the actions necessary to gather evidence for a case against producers who use consenting adults are worse for the country than allowing the smut to continue. I think there should be a much more vigorous discussion of the harm even the consensual stuff causes and social stigma for buying it.

          **My emotional reaction is that anyone who beats their children or spouse should be beaten and then shot someplace not immediately lethal. I also recognize that the goal is to stop it, and that criminal punishment tends to puddle around the poor and marginalized while running off the rich and connected. Therefore, some kind of diversion process like some places use for drug offenses is best; letting social workers and therapists do most of the work here.

          1. You make good points Karen. I still can’t get behind the law sanctioning an act such as abortion, but I certainly don’t have the answers on how to reconcile the dilemmas you have raised.

          2. @Karen said, “I’m a lawyer, and it’s a violation of the principle of equal protection of the laws to make selling something illegal but not buying the thing.”
            Unless you’re a really rich man buying a child from Jeffrey Epstein.

            Can’t some things be felonies for the seller and misdemeanors for the buyer? Don’t drugs sometimes work that way? I wouldn’t support any criminal charges against a mother, but if she essentially got a traffic ticket, I would bet most judges would forgive it anyway.

  14. I think you nailed it with this piece. I’ve felt so many emotions since the news broke and I used to be the one standing outside the Planned Parenthood building. You’ve articulated my thoughts perfectly.

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