Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Thinking aloud about PP and such

Lately, my feed is a conflicted mix of pink profile photos and metaphorical rendings of garments. I tentatively thumb up the former when I see them, not quite confident enough to place the Planned Parenthood filter over my own picture, but ultimately landing on the pro-choice side of the abortion fence.

I haven’t always been there. I attended many a pro-life rally as a child, and in junior high I regularly volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center, folding baby blankets and sorting diapers and formula in a back storage area. Up front, in the reception area, a chain-smoking, disorganized, very personable and probably not-well-paid director handled the anti-abortion counseling sessions and walk-ins and such.

I am pro-choice now, albeit uncomfortably. My upbringing closely paired religious orthodoxy with vehement opposition to abortion, and these days I’m more fearful of admitting – and of trying to defend – a difference of opinion on this issue than even on something like hell or resurrection. But maybe that makes it more important to try and open up about.

It's difficult to pinpoint what specifically eroded my assurance about the anti-abortion camp being quite simply the right camp. Several moments have stuck with me, though, over the past decade.

The first is a statement by an evangelical, adoptive mother who said to me (in a 2007 interview for a feature I was writing about the practice of adoption) something like, "If you're going to be against abortion, adoption is the obvious thing to do." Although I had long admired the adoptive families I knew, this was the first time I’d heard an evangelical so starkly call other evangelicals to account in terms of a concrete commitment (or lack thereof) to this pet issue. She was very matter of fact about it, and it got me thinking.

And thinking (about this and many other issues) got me reading up on such topics. Pieces like this one, offering first-hand accounts of experiences I had never endured, and the heartbreaking testimony of Michael Chabon's wife, about her later-term procedure, pulled at me. This long-lived controversy was more complex, and more personally fraught, than I'd imagined.

Meanwhile, I moved to St. Louis, where I ended up living just a few blocks from the main Planned Parenthood facility in town. My short commute to work took me right past the gated parking areas, offering daily glimpses (while waiting at the light on my bike or on foot) of PP clients, employees and protesters – and of the latter’s strident voices and signs. And it was in St. Louis that studies like this one showed a dramatic decrease in abortions in the context of free access to contraception – something the right wing continued to push back against.

I also started taking public transportation, which among other things frequently offers a palpable and sobering reminder of the poverty and despair around me. Sometimes the children across the aisle from me look happy, well-fed and beloved. But this is not consistently the case. Now and then parents on the train yell hatefully at their children, completely overwhelmed and burdened and impoverished, barely holding on. It's a devastating scene.

On top of all this (and more…this is a bit of a rushed post, and hardly exhaustive) is what I observe on social media. First, the positive: I see adoptive families loving children in need – and, despite having perhaps the most integrity-filled case for being vocal about abortion and PP, not really going there much. I see a single friend fostering and adopting children in need in her own southern state – and again, not outwardly flipping out about PP, but doing the amazing work of offering shelter to unloved children around her. It’s these posts on my feed that bring, rightly, a convicted lump to my throat and motivation to do better, to find ways to help. There is so, so much suffering in this world, and here I am staring at Facebook.

The loudest anti-abortion outrage on my feed, on the other hand, typically comes from those with a number of biological children – children who understandably require the majority of their day-to-day attention. I don’t begrudge them that. But they sometimes come across as seeing their way of life as inherently laudable, above reproach or critique – and as if the only thing the reality of abortion (which, as a reminder, won’t go away if it’s made illegal/inaccessible) requires of them is righteous indignation. (And maybe showing up somewhere to wave a sign in front of someone who has come to different conclusions about this complex issue, or was raped, or may not live if she goes through with the pregnancy…oh and be sure to post pics!).

There's enough hypocrisy and deep inconsistency to go around, certainly. And this post is a half-finished jumble. Maybe I should have just filed it away in a “good try but…no” folder. But I do stand with Planned Parenthood, peeps.