By Hannah Ihms -
There’s something more convincing than statistics, and that’s pain.
As I stood outside an abortion clinic this summer, I caught just a glimpse of the crushing pain—physical, spiritual, and emotional—that abortion inflicts on all it touches. I saw that there’s times when statistics just insulate me from what I don’t want to see, and inure me to the thought that trends pile up one life at a time.
The building itself was a hideous block building with a tiny parking lot. The waiting room must have extremely cramped, because even though the sun was beating down, family members would check in their sweethearts, wives, sisters, mothers, or friends, then stand in the parking lot, drive away to return later, or wander around aimlessly.
I had no undercover camera to see what was happening inside, but the horror of these moments was reflected in the faces of those enduring it outside.
One man paced around, puffing on a cigarette a few times, then feverishly stamping it out. Another man wept uncontrollably. One of the prolife counselors asked him what was wrong. He said that his girlfriend was inside having an abortion, but he had wanted to keep the baby. He never even got to meet his child.
At that very moment, I’m sure there were delivery wards full of people of the exact same age, socioeconomic class, and ethnic background, just as distracted and distraught. But at least they could talk to one another about the baby’s name, rearrange the baby clothes for the umpteenth time, or speculate on whether she’d have her mom or daddy’s eyes.
What did the people here have to talk about?
Their wife or girlfriend would come out in pain, and there would be no precious bundle. There would be no congratulations, cards, or baby bows. Just pain. And shame.
A prolife counselor greeted each person coming up to the clinic, and told them about a free ultrasound and other resources for their child. His gentleness sometimes elicited a response, and one woman, after checking her sister into the clinic, came back to talk.
She wanted to know if we had any advice on sterilization. She said she knew her sister would never talk to us, but she needed help: this was her eighth abortion. A tall, spare woman, she nervously crossed and recrossed the street several times, always clutching her purse to her arm. Finally she asked us if we knew where she could get a drink. When the procedure was finally done, she pulled her car into the clinic’s narrow lot and helped wheel her sister down toward the car. When the wheelchair was as close as possible, she helped her sister stand and move into the front seat. The woman was visibly in pain; she walked deliberately, seemed drugged or extremely tired, and slumped into the front seat.
Not everyone had the support of their family. One beautiful African-American woman, probably in her late teens and dressed to the hilt, was escorted in by a forty-something white guy in a stylish jacket. The next day a man who looked strikingly similar was back with a different girl. I wondered what questions, if any, the front desk asked those who checked in patients.
A young family with a father, mother, and boy about seven years old came up. The father and son checked in the mother, then left. I wondered what you told your son about something like this. If Mom was going to bring a new baby home, you’d need to prepare your son over a course of months so he could get ready for a new baby sister or brother. He might think about which toys to share, and ask all the questions about where they were going to sleep, and if he’d get to hold him or not. With something like an abortion, I figured the parents just said it was a routine doctor’s appointment. How do you tell your son he had a sibling you decided he would never meet?
One threesome that came up to the clinic was a mother, a daughter, and the daughter’s boyfriend. The girl was silent, but the mother and boyfriend were either extremely cheerful or doing their best to act as if they were. They smiled, laughed—and deliberately avoided eye contact with any of us there on the prolife side. I’ve heard so many women talk about how much they’d love to have grandchildren. Some are desperate enough to start talking about their kids’ pets as grandkids. What would it be like to talk yourself out of grandkids?
The women who breezed by the quickest were well-dressed, on their way to or from work, and evidently just picking up birth control. Those in PJs and flip-flops were there for an abortion, and often entered more slowly. But how many women in the loose-fitting clothes and sandals had originally visited in slacks and high heels?
The only other time I had been to a clinic was when I was a child, and the women looked so much older than me. It was easier to distance myself from what was happening then. These were old people doing things I couldn’t fathom. Now, some of the women I was saw were my age, and most were younger. I saw a girl who could have been ten years younger than me, coming in with her mom. I began to realize that whether I acknowledged it or not, this was my world. The people coming in and out were Americans overlapping with me in space and time. I could have been one of them, leaving behind a medical record and my first, or eighth, child.
Abortion has ingrained itself so thoroughly in our culture that abusive boyfriends and supposedly loving mothers often pressure young women into the same decision. I saw only a single time point in a drama that had started long before. We have got to get engaged so much earlier in this process, so a child’s life doesn’t come down to keeping or rejecting a certain card on a certain day. We’ve got to build a culture where abortion is unthinkable. Where parents decide to be the stewards of their children’s education. Where a girl doesn’t rely on a twerp telling her she’s hot because her dad’s told her he loves her. Where a twenty-something proudly wears a “Virginity Rocks” t-shirt. Where God’s definition of marriage is celebrated.
There is this blessing in the midst of the pain: the further our culture erodes, the more distinct the options become.