The protesters at Obama's Notre Dame commencement speech reminds me that when people talk about the morality of abortion, the barrel of the ethical gun is always pointed at women. Men don't seem to occupy a bearing in the equation. They should. Not in the formulation of abortion's legality or the influence of their partner's choice, but in an entirely different moral obligation: To help women survive their decision. And that lies mostly in bearing witness to their pain.
Two essays give men just that opportunity.
The first, by Ayelet Waldman, makes you so uncomfortable with its raw honesty that you seriously weigh the merits of keeping your head in the sand. "I decided to terminate my pregnancy," writes Waldman. "I know exactly what I did, I wept for the fetus I killed -- and I have no regrets."
Though Waldman goes to great pains to say she believes in a woman's right to make the decision, she writes, "I also believe that to end a pregnancy like mine is to kill a fetus. Kill. I use that word very consciously and specifically."
Waldman chose to end her baby's life (her phrasing, not mine) because she didn't feel capable of raising a genetically compromised child. She wanted the baby. She could see it in the ultrasound, feel it move. "I have a very clear memory of his two tiny feet, perfect pearl toes, footprint arches, round heels," she writes. "This was, for me, a baby, not a "clump of cells" ... He was my baby, and I chose to end his life."
Another essay, this one by Moxie, takes on a softer but no less reflective view. Hers was a first trimester abortion. She had a "gut feeling it was a boy." And when she prayed, she asked the boy "to understand why I was doing what I was doing." The most jarring part of Moxie's prayer wasn't just that she named the fetus she was about to abort ("William") but that she asked her mother (who had died years earlier) "to take care of him for me."
Other than their choice, these women don't seem to have anything in common. Yet, there is a common theme to their experience (other than the obvious): Both pulled themselves out of the emotional rubble by extracting profound lessons. Moxie, especially. For her, the abortion led to a kind of personal accountability.
She recalls a woman in the clinic's recovery room saying, "Men suck, huh?" To which Moxie reacted, "No, I suck --for getting myself in this position in the first place. If I had only been strong enough to just be alone. If only I had been able to give to myself what I thought a man could give me. Instead, I allowed my loneliness to rule me...the guy was nobody special...but he gave me attention. Back then that was all I needed to feel pretty and special."
As a man, I feel helpless to do anything for women who go through so much pain. Helpless, except to listen and get a deeper understanding of such a complicated issue.