My junior year of college, I got pregnant. I was married, but the top layer of my wedding cake had barely frozen and unwritten thank you cards lay strewn on my living room carpet. I wasn't ready to get married; I certainly wasn't prepared for pregnancy and parenthood. But I was the personification of readiness compared with the man who was then my husband, whose troubled past was wreaking havoc on our relationship, even without a baby to br /eak the camel's back.
I never once seriously considered abortion, but more than once wished I could. As a Christian ministry major, I'd spent the last two years watching midnight turn into dawn discussing ethics and forming my embr /yonic ideas into convictions ready to stand the light of day. From the moment I saw the second pink line faintly glimmering on my pregnancy test, certainty gripped me that abortion was not an option. I simply could not lose my baby without losing myself. And on the deepest level, I think this truth holds for every woman. But not every woman facing a crisis pregnancy has a Christian education, parents who are willing to help out financially, and girlfriends who pick up where an absent partner or a terrified, emotionally crippled one leaves off.
As my pregnancy progressed, I watched my smooth, flat tummy turn into a bulging basketball and then into a giant globe with roads and rivers of stretch marks crisscrossing everywhere. Knowing the pregnancy was unexpected, my friends weren't sure whether to congratulate me or mourn with me. Whenever I swiped my card in the cafeteria or hauled my huge self to class at my evangelical college, I got raised-eyebr /ow glances from students who assumed I got into my interesting condition via some premarital tryst in the bushes. My professors learned to expect my midclass dashes to the bathroom. Sometimes the trips were just bladder appeasement, but usually I threw up so hard I was afraid the tiny child might come up through my mouth.
When I returned to my bioethics class after one such interruption, the topic was abortion. A class member was playing devil's advocate. "What if it's a 12-year-old girl who didn't know what she was doing? Can you make her carry her pregnancy to term when she's literally a child?" From across the room I heard a girl mutter angrily, "Abortion is murder." Several heads nodded righteously, with no compassion in their eyes. I shivered in the blustery wind on my way home from class.
Beyond Bumper Stickers
Marital pain continued and I often found my greatest intimacy with the porcelain throne. After hurling I'd collapse from dehydration on the bathroom tiles and cry to God, mouthing a simple "Help" from stomach-acid stained lips. One night, saltine in hand, I prayed, "God, help me keep this cracker down long enough to nourish my baby." Nibbling that saltine was the most real Communion I've ever taken.
My physically and emotionally difficult unplanned pregnancy instilled mercy in me for women in desperate situations who make desperate decisions. Deep in my belly churning with life grew the conviction that I must do something to help other women. My third trimester I volunteered at a local crisis pregnancy center.
The first Monday I waddled into the Capital Area Pregnancy Center, I was greeted with the mild, professional "May I help you?" reserved for clients. I smiled obligingly, announced that I was a volunteer, played with my wedding ring, and threw in a comment about what my husband was doing that very moment, so as to clear up confusion about me being a "case."
I was fed by my time working at the center. I met interesting people committed to the Lord, women like Angela who worked as a parole officer and inspired me with her commitment to give half her income to God, and 87-year-old Urma, whose no-nonsense, grandmotherly feel endeared her to many clients. When my cherubic daughter Nika was born, I got free onesies, overalls, and dresses.
Most significantly, I was honored to work directly with pregnant women as a counselor. I relished the joy and responsibility of sharing with women the life-giving story of Jesus' fleshy heart throbbing with unconditional devotion all the way to the Cross, where God's love absorbed all our sin and pain and death, becoming forgiveness for us. Many women knew the facts of Christianity but had never reconciled with God because they didn't believe the Almighty could genuinely cherish and accept them. Others were strayed believers who feared they could never go home.
Dark blond 17-year-old Kara sat down on the floral couch across from me and allowed me to get to know her as we waited for her pregnancy test results and filled out her intake form. Raised by her mother after her father left when she was 11, Kara had always had to fight for everything she had. Grace—the idea of being loved simply because God is love, and not because you've scored a perfect 10.0 in spiritual gymnastics—was alien to her. Kara squirmed and picked her hangnails when I mentioned trusting God. But at the end of our hour together, after we'd discussed fetal development and parenting options, she let me pray for her. When I looked into Kara's worn face, there was a tear from one eye making its way slowly down her cheek.
Despite such profound and plentiful blessings, I noticed an attitude among some staff members that disturbed me. One coworker frequently commented about how pro-abortion people hold and promote their view only because they feel guilty about something in their past and are trying to defend it. I believe this is often true. But I have friends and relatives who support abortion rights and are thoughtful, caring, down-to-earth people without any more complexes than the average American. They are not promoting an idea to appease a guilty conscience. They believe they are helping women and sparing what they view as merely potential children from real suffering.
An Inspired Detour
My little Nika was born with six fingers on each hand. People are uncomfortable asking about it, but most lighten up when they see her father, Ron, and me joke easily about her extra digits. When Nika does something cool, our faces br /ighten and we say, "Yeah! Gimme six!" And everyone br /eaks up laughing, including Nika. We've been told she'll get made fun of, so we're considering having a nice plastic surgeon cut these extras off.
One day Ron and I consulted a doctor about this, and on our way from the medical village, we drove by a Planned Parenthood clinic. I felt a pit of grief in my stomach for the loss of life within the cheery exterior walls of its building, and with it a temptation to demonize the people who participate in these death acts. Then I recalled the hushed judgments of my peers from bioethics class. I prayed and was shown through a window in my heart the humanity of the workers and women who frequented the clinic. They are people just like me. People who pee and watch TV, people with parents and coworkers, stories and pain, thoughts and dreams.
Suddenly Ron said, out of the blue, "Hey, let's go in there and talk to them."
"Yeah, let's do it," I said, ready for a Jesus adventure.
"Let's stop a second and think about this. I mean, what will we say?" he asked.
"We can tell them that we're pro-life and ask their forgiveness on behalf of all Christians who've been judgmental or unkind to them," I responded.
As we prayed for our sortie into pro-choice territory, my thoughts traveled back to my high school youth pastor and his wife, who opened their home to pregnant girls through a program called LifeSavers. Their stories conceived in me a sense that no Christians have a right to judge women who choose abortion unless they are willing to get involved in loving unexpectedly pregnant women and their children to life.
"God, help us to be a br /idge of love, understanding, truth, and grace," I prayed, and with an "amen" I stepped out of our Subaru Forester, unbuckled Nika from her infant seat, swept her over my shoulder, and set out with Ron for Planned Parenthood.
Walking toward the clinic, my eyes darted everywhere, more alert than usual. Across the street from the clinic stood a br /ick church with a tall white steeple spearing the sky, while just a median strip away a mid-30s woman wearing scrubs was taking a br /eak outside Planned Parenthood. These opposing symbols made me think of all the witty and sad abortion bumper stickers I'd seen: "Let them eat cake, birthday cake." "Adolf Hitler made 6 million choices; some choices are wrong." "Keep your laws off my body." "Pro-life? Then get one and stay out of mine."
I love bumper stickers; my car is quickly getting plastered with them. But when you don't know the drivers behind the stickers, slogans can stir anger rather than understanding.
As we approached the woman in scrubs by Planned Parenthood's doorway, Ron and I nodded and said "Hello." She acknowledged us by saying "Hi" and holding the door for us to enter the clinic. We tentatively tiptoed inside. I was half expecting to see blood dripping down the walls or hear babies screaming from the ceiling. Instead I found a coolly lit, comfortable waiting area with neatly stacked br /ochures. I was pleasantly surprised to see glossy br /ochures about adoption and clothing programs for new mothers. What a contradiction: a place where they both welcome and kill little ones. Snapping me out of my thoughts, the receptionist asked, "Can I help you?"
Stuttering only a little, and shuddering inside as I glimpsed the woman in scrubs disappear down a narrow, fluorescently lit hallway, I explained, "Actually, we're Christian and very pro-life. We're here to say we're sorry for all the people who are mean to you guys. This is not how Christians should behave, and we feel deeply sad about it."
Ron chimed in, "It's not right for believers in Jesus to judge or despise you. It's just awful, and we wanted you to know that we don't hate you or believe you are terrible people."
The receptionist took a moment to collect herself, then responded with a quivering sigh, "I can't tell you how much that means. My uncle won't talk to me because I work here. You have no idea how many hateful, awful things Christians say and do to me. I don't hope people get an abortion; I hope we can help them to use birth control. We're just trying to avoid having babies thrown in trash heaps."
We br /iefly exchanged our different views of when life begins and then thanked the receptionist for letting us stop by. She thanked us profusely for coming, with a happy look of disbelief on her face. She smiled and gave a grandmotherly wave "bye bye" to Nika, and told us we were welcome to visit anytime.
I may have knee-jerk reactions to what seem like lame excuses for taking a human life, but I cannot deny the sincerity of this Planned Parenthood employee. I never imagined I'd leave an abortion clinic feeling good, but I did in a sad and hopeful sort of way. My heart was filled with pain over the children whose lives end in that place and their mothers who'll grieve silently forever, yet a prayer of thanks stirred in me because a br /idge of humanity was built across the great divide of pro-life and pro-choice.
Abortion is the tragic ending of a precious life, but when I think of people who choose or perform this death act, rather than feeling hate or condescension, I get a lump of love in my throat, with a longing to hug them, and pray, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." Technically, some of them know exactly what they're doing and may even flaunt it as their right. But remember those who cheered and jeered during the Lord's crucifixion. They were the very ones Jesus asked his Father to forgive.
Jemila Monroe lives with her family in New Jersey where she is enrolled in a clinical pastoral education program.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
More on the theology of apology includes:
All Apologies | Are today's kinda culpas more safe than sorry? (July 14, 2004)
So I'm Sorry Already | What do you say after you say "I'm sorry"? By Frederica Mathewes-Green (April 6, 1998)
Those interested in church apologies will want to read Mary Ann Glendon's "Contrition in the Age of Spin Control," which appeared in the November 1997 issue of First Things, and Avery Dulles's "Should the Church Repent?" which appeared in the December 1998 issue.
More on abortion is available on our Life Ethics page.
Other Christianity Today articles in which apologies are offered on the behalf of others include:
Disciples of Christ Board Apologizes For Not Doing More to Oppose Slavery | Move comes as denomination considers asking U.S. government to apologize. (May 10, 2001)
Norway's Lutherans Apologize to Gypsies | Church asks forgiveness for "the injustices and infringements" committed against the Romany people. (Dec. 8, 2000)
Catholics Apologize to Portugal's Jews | Peace Conference in Lisbon ends with an apology, and a document denouncing 'religious' wars. (Oct. 6, 2000)
Reconciliation Walk: Apology Crusaders to Enter Israel | Since 1996, evangelicals from the United States and Europe have participated in the Reconciliation Walk to the Middle East in order to apologize face to face to local Muslims and Christians for the atrocities committed by Western Crusaders 900 years ago. (April 5, 1999)
Me? Apologize for Slavery? | I may not have owned slaves, but I've benefited from their having been used. (Oct. 5, 1998)
Christians Retrace Crusaders' Steps | The 2,000-mile, three-year walk across Europe, through the Balkans and Turkey, then south to Jerusalem, seeks to build br /idges of understanding and to reverse a legacy of animosity among three of the world's most prominent religions. (Oct. 7, 1996)
Other apologies include:
Graham Laments '72 Comments on Jews | Jewish leaders seek meeting before June outreach. (April 03, 2002)
Weblog: Falwell Apologizes For Calling Muhammad a Terrorist | Falwell apologizes amid calls for his death (Oct. 14, 2002)
At Historic Service, Polish Church Leaders Ask Pardon For Past Mistakes | Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran heads apologize for egoism and indifference. (March 13, 2000)
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