Abortion is ready to engulf the nation as a social issue - again. President Obama has restored funding to overseas abortions and is poised to tell pharmacists who object to dispensing the morning-after pill to get a new job.
With even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia telling "60 Minutes" he would not vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the future of abortion seems secure in the U.S. But I wonder if we can move the discussion past the intractable positions of the pro-life and pro-choice camps. I cringe every time I see a man at an anti-abortion rally - not because his body is not the one carrying the fertilized egg, but simply because if men were more willing to be equal partners in contraception and in relationships, there would be many fewer abortions to worry about. If you want to cut the number of abortions in half overnight, get men to act like men instead of self-centered little boys.
These issues came to mind recently as I met with Jane, a successful white businesswoman in her mid-30s who has had five abortions.
She says she told herself over and over, "You're smarter than that."
She asked me, a person who claims to follow Christ: "Any judgment?"
No, not here. To begin with, my Bible says so-called Christians have no business judging anyone besides themselves. Besides, the fifth chapter of Galatians puts things like envy, jealousy and selfish ambition on the same level of wrongdoing as adultery, drunkenness and homicide. Seems to me the entire human race probably has no room for self-righteousness in that passage.
And, secondly, my heart went out to her for all she's been through at the hands of males. And how she has come through that mill with grit, intelligence and humor. Yeah, her mother is a piece of work too, but I'll stick to one screwed-up gender for the purposes of this column.
Since Jane's body is allergic to condoms, and she was only on the pill for about four years (articles about the pill's potential health hazards scared her off it), what's done is done. The experiences, she says, have made her the person she is today.
She is pro-choice and has three children. Her two youngest kids are doing very well in grade school, so much so that their teacher asked Jane what her "magic formula" was for raising terrific children.
She says she does not regret the abortions. "I was stuck, and I wasn't going to be stuck." But she says she has "remorse for the lives that were never brought to be. Viewing my three and how wonderful they are, there could have been five additional bright souls in this world."
Yet if you dig beneath the surface, you find that the issues in Jane's life were not always of her own making. In many ways, her life is emblematic of the problems with all too many males. And abortion is only one of those issues that have plagued us since the beginning of human history.
Jane's mom had three marriages. Jane's biological father split when she was young, eventually settling somewhere out west. Jane grew up in the big city, where her first stepfather, Art, molested her for a year, from the age of 5 to 6. When Jane finally got up the courage to tell her mother 10 years later, mom claimed Jane was a promiscuous liar who should be on the pill. Even though Jane was still a virgin at the time. And was an honor-roll student despite the turmoil at home.
Art also beat her mother but never struck the kids. Jane remembers climbing on his back to pull his hair to try to get him to stop the violence. Even at that young age, she says, when he summoned her to the bedroom for unspeakable things, she told herself that "if I do this for him, he won't beat her."
"I did go through counseling at 15," Jane continued, "which my mother refused to go to. Well, she said she'd go - and then she ditched me." Their relationship has not gotten much better since then.
A couple years later, she haltingly told four friends about the sexual abuse as they rode to school on a public bus.
"Five out of five girls on that bus had the same experience," she said through tears. "Stepfather, uncle, father. I will never forget that day. Five out of five? It's more prevalent in this country than people think."
Sadly, the statistics show Jane's story is all too common. Children 17 and younger are the victims of about 70 percent of all sexual assaults. The statistics also say that 25 percent of girls are sexually abused before they turn 18 (Jane's anecdote about her bus ride suggests it might be higher). And in 30 to 40 percent of the cases, the perpetrator is a family member.
More evidence, I think, of the carnage men leave behind. It's a wonder women want to have anything to do with us. For me, at least, it reaffirms my faith as a follower of Jesus that we do need a Messiah to save us from ourselves - and each other. And, of course, sometimes the ones we need to be saved from are people with distorted faith.
One could argue that was the case for Jane in 5th grade, when nuns at her Catholic school showed her and her female classmates photos of aborted babies. She was simply sickened and didn't know what to make of it all. She remained a virgin until her senior year in high school. Her first act of intercourse resulted in pregnancy, but not abortion.
She was planning to terminate the pregnancy, but says she was put off by the fact that the clinic also provided neonatal care for women planning to deliver. And besides sitting next to women with swollen abdomens in the waiting room, her mind was changed when a clinic nurse, exasperated by her hesitancy, told Jane, "Oh, honey, we've had 10-year-olds go through this."
Two years later, she had another pregnancy with her next boyfriend. Jesse wanted her to have the baby. She said no. "He was a vagabond," Jane said. "He was just a free-spirited guy who liked fun, somebody I knew I'd never have a life with." That was the first abortion.
A year later, at 22, "I was dating a guy [Dave] in a purely sexual relationship," she said. She got pregnant. "And I used abortion as a form of birth control."
At 23, she was still with Dave and got pregnant again. It was only then that she learned Dave already had a child with a former lover. Worse, he told Jane he planned to renew those relationships. "They kind of came out of the woodwork into our lives. And he was sure that he wanted to reconnect with her and this child," said Jane, weeping. "That was abortion number three."
If Dave sounds like a loser, he probably was. "He had some issues," Jane admitted. "I would get (emotionally) attached to the men."
The only stable man she'd seen in her life up that point was Chris, her mom's third husband. Perhaps too much damage had already been done by her biological father and Art the pedophile. But Chris was "a saving grace," Jane said. "He was easygoing, gentle and kind-hearted. He brought a lot of balance to the family."
Jane and her stepdad would go to sporting events together, but there was some angst there as well. Even when they were doing father-child activities, he was distracted. It seems Jane's sister Beverly hated Chris, so he tried harder and harder to win Bev's approval. "I was always hurt by that. 'Why is he fighting for her attention? I'm right here.' "
So, she stayed with Dave, even after two abortions with him. "And then," Jane said, "it started to get to be a volatile relationship. Physically."
National statistics show that Jane isn't alone in that either. Every year, about 4.8 million women are beaten or raped by their male partners. And we haven't even talked about stalkers in these paragraphs.
If Jane's relationships were a mess, her parenting was not, as alluded to earlier. Her son was gifted, so she worked long and hard to send him to a private school while she lived at home with her crazy mom, functional stepdad and reclusive sister. She also put herself through community college and bought a car. Then she made the break from Dave and moved out of her mother's home to a town she only knew as a name on a map. A better job and, she hoped, a better life awaited.
But she didn't know anybody out in the 'burbs. She managed a retail store. One day, she met Russ in the shop. She was lonely. It was the week of her birthday and she felt isolated. She slept with him and began a relationship, but didn't see it as a long-term fix because Russ was an alcoholic. She got pregnant. And ended it. Number 4.
Some hope would come when she met Steve, who would later become her husband. But he had no more interest in preventing pregnancy than her previous boyfriends. They were living together. By then, Jane was in a job that required travel and paid her $80,000 a year. She got pregnant, but this time she was ready for another child in her life.
Unfortunately, Steve wasn't. "I just can't do this," he told Jane. "I can't have this baby."
Jane felt stuck. She was 27, with a 9-year-old son, living in Steve's home, relying on him for shelter and emotional support. "This is the one time I didn't want to do it," she said, the tears spilling again. "But I did."
Within a year, she was pregnant again and expressed her anger to Steve about his reluctance to become a father. She won this round. She had a second son. Steve told her she should become a stay-at-home mom.
"I never thought I could have that opportunity," Jane said. "It sounded pretty good."
Steve proposed to her during her pregnancy. Her intuition told her not to marry him. But she did. She got pregnant again on their honeymoon, which resulted in her third child. But the sex disappeared from the marriage, and so did the money.
"He put me on an allowance," she said.
Emotional abuse followed, and Jane braced herself for worse. "I was waiting for him to hit me," she said. One day, at lunch, her doorbell rang. The woman at the door had a summons.
"Who could be suing me?" she wondered.
It was Steve, suing for divorce. He didn't have the guts to tell her to her face. She was devastated.
"I never wanted to be a woman of divorce, like my mother," Jane said. A year later, she found out Steve was gay. He didn't have the guts to tell her that either. Although they have become friends in the years since, and Steve, she says, has been a good father to their children (they share custody), Jane has bounced through several relationships since then. She recently broke off an 18-month relationship with a terrific, gentle older man because it just wasn't right for her.
"I always thought you were looking for a father figure," a relative told her.
The relative was right, Jane says. But now, for the first time in her life, "I'm OK with being alone," she said. Comfortable, even.
An aunt took the breakup hard because she liked the boyfriend.
"She just wants me to be happy," Jane said. "But I think the women in our family think it takes a man to do that. And it's the first time in my life I feel like a grownup."
Jane doesn't blame the men for the abortions. They all supported her in the decision, even went to the clinic with her, where they sat amid other couples, as well as women abandoned by their less-than-equal partners. Those women were accompanied by female friends or relatives.
Not all get the kind of support Jane has experienced from her partners, even if Jane's men were utterly passive about preventing pregnancy. Too many males won't lower themselves to worry about a little thing like birth control, like a friend of mine who would walk out the door if the woman he picked up at a bar pulled a Trojan out of her purse. Others walk away when the woman gets pregnant. Others insist she have an abortion even if she doesn't want one.
If you want cut abortions in half, don't waste your breath picketing abortion clinics or, on the other side, passing out the pill to middle-school girls without their parents' consent. Get males to become men. That's a tall order, but we owe it to the women who put up with so much from us.
Pseudonyms have been used in this article to protect identities.