AN OPENING on the Supreme Court means a renewed burst of hostilities in the abortion wars. While the activists prepare to battle once more on the narrow issue of legality, real-life sorrows drive women into abortion clinics 4,400 times every day.
Abortion is not merely a matter of "convenience." No woman pops in for an abortion just because the clinic was handy. There is tremendous sadness, loneliness, in the cry "A woman's right to choose." No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg. Abortion is a tragic attempt to escape a desperate situation by an act of violence and self-loss.
Putting a padlock on the clinic door will not solve the problems that drive women to this grim choice. We must begin to envision a post-abortion America, one where women have the support they need to take a courageous and life-giving path.
The first step is to offer simple, practical assistance. To the woman in a crisis pregnancy, the baby can seem an enemy. Informed consent measures -- which require women seeking abortions to be informed of health risks, alternatives to abortion and fetal development -- can give the natural impulse of motherlove a chance to bloom, introducing her to the daughter or son who, at six weeks, is already baby-shaped with shoe-button eyes and a veiled red heart beating like mad. Information about the medical risks of abortion can slow the panicked flight to that sad solution. Information about public aid, and the 3,500 pro-life agencies offering crisis pregnancy services, can tip the scales toward hope.
The second step is one both obvious and neglected: involvement of the child's father. Activists on both sides of the issue tend to assume that men just want to use women and walk away; the father is at most a walking checkbook pursued for child support. Yet the baby's father fills a role in the family that nothing else can replace. We need to recover the expectation that men are obligated to help their mates -- and at some level take pride in doing so.
We next need to bring in her parents. A frightened, embarrassed teen is not likely to welcome such a prospect, and without a parental notification law to guide her may choose the lonely and sometimes lethal path of secret legal abortion. Teens in New York, Maryland and Missouri have died following legal abortions obtained without their parents' knowledge. Parents must retain the right to be involved in their teen daughters' lives. In a crisis pregnancy she needs their love more than ever.
Employment problems also can make abortion appear the only choice. To support better alternatives, pregnant women must not be discriminated against in hiring, nor should pregnancy threaten their jobs. After the birth, alternative work situations such as home office "telecommuting," job sharing, and flex-time employment can help.
The single woman who chooses adoption will also feel bittersweet pain in following this path of unsung heroism. She may be comforted to know that her child is wanted, whatever his or her condition. There are waiting lists for Down's syndrome and spina bifida children; and minority babies wait only a few months to be placed, a delay heightened by regulations forbidding their adoption by white families.
Finally, we must involve the public community of taxpayers. Those who work daily to aid women in crisis pregnancy praise programs like the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and public prenatal health care but lament their chronic underfunding; there is division as to whether more money or less waste and fraud would best ease the pinch. Some are concerned that public aid encourages impoverished single parenting, the least beneficial situation for mother and child. A program such as that being considered in Wisconsin, which rewards teen parents who marry but caps aid to single mothers, deserves a cautious but hopeful thumbs up.
Such suggestions as these only begin the task of aiding the woman in a crisis pregnancy. If our assertions that we value life, or that we support her choices, are to have any meaning, we must reach out to her. There is much we cannot do, will never be able to do, to ease her pain. But there is no excuse for our not doing whatever we can.
Frederica Mathewes-Green is an official of Americans United for Life and vice president of Feminists for Life of America.