National Catholic Register
by Nancy Valko, Register Correspondent Sunday, Mar 22, 1998 2:00 PM
When it’s your own unmarried teenage daughter facing a staggering ‘choice,’ are you still pro-life?
Mom, I’m pregnant.” When these words are uttered by your unmarried teenage daughter, it’s a heart-stopping moment for any parent. When the parent is a committed pro-lifer, the shock is often overlaid with stunned disbelief, shame, and guilt. “Hasn’t she been listening? This isn’t supposed to happen to my daughter!” and “How did I fail her?” are common first reactions. I know.
This Christmas, my 18-year-old daughter quietly told me that two at-home pregnancy tests came out positive.
Marie, named after the Blessed Mother, had long been my “worry child.” A brittle crust of teen rebellion had long covered a soft, sensitive heart, leading to a constant round of minor and not-so-minor infractions and arguments. Lately, though, her life seemed to be coming together. A“B” average at college and a job she loved lulled me into a sense that the worst was over. She confided that she thought she was falling in love and we talked about the pressures and temptations such strong emotions bring. Street-wise and assertive, I thought she was “safe.” But, as countless other parents have also discovered, my child lives in a world that too often considers virginity a disability and chastity an old-fashioned ideal.
The one bright spot in that night of tears and fears was that abortion was never considered an option by Marie: “Mom, I couldn’t kill my baby!” Although I was heartbroken by the circumstances of this pregnancy, I couldn’t help but feel proud of her for having the courage and common sense to reject the abortion “option.”
Surprisingly, she said all her friends were against her having an abortion and a few who had been leaning “pro-choice” were now rethinking their position. Two of her friends actually threatened to physically stop her from having an abortion even before she told them that she would never abort.
We didn’t resolve everything that first night or even later. Adoption or keeping the baby is still the big question and one that will involve a lot of prayer, thought, and discussion. It hasn’t been easy, but facing this crisis together has taught both of us so much already. What the future holds for Marie and her baby is uncertain but, with prayer and love, it is still a future bright with promise for both of them.
A Common Stereotype
A January 1998 New York Times article, “Many Women Make No Link Between Abortion and Politics,” perpetuates a common stereotype-the pro-lifer who chooses abortion when a crisis pregnancy hits home. Writer Tamar Lewin states, “Almost every abortion-clinic counselor can reel off stories of patients who say that they have always opposed abortion but that their own situation is different, or men who bring their pregnant wives or teenage daughters to the very same clinics that they have long spoken out against.”
But conversations with people active in the pro-life movement reveal a very different picture. Not surprisingly, pro-life people willing to help total strangers with a crisis pregnancy are also ready to help and support their own sons and daughters facing the same crisis.
“You think it’s the blackest day in your life when your daughter tells you she’s pregnant,” Lucy R., long active in the pro-life movement, says. A smile lights her voice. “But it’s really the beginning of a great blessing. That little boy (now six years old) is the light of our lives.” She credits prayer and pro-life principles for that happy ending.
Janet B. was a young professional when her sister told her that she had had an abortion without their parents’ knowledge because although their mother and father were strongly pro-life, the sister was sure they “just couldn’t take it (an unwed pregnancy).”
When Janet herself became pregnant out of wedlock, her parents became her biggest supporters. “We became so much closer,” she says. “My sister was wrong.” Interviews with pro-life supporters around the country reveal that this kind of family support during a crisis pregnancy appears to be the norm, not the exception.
Marcia Buterin RN, founder of Missouri Nurses for Life and active in the pro-life movement for 25 years, has had broad experience with pro-life parents whose daughters or sons have had crisis pregnancies. “It almost seems like an epidemic sometimes,” she says. “Pro-lifers are not immune from what is happening in the rest of society.”
But, she says, the reaction of the parents she has known has been invariably positive despite the heartache at discovering a son or daughter has been sexually active. She also says that, in the vast majority of cases, the young women keep their babies rather than releasing them for adoption. This echoes statistics which show that more than 90% of unmarried mothers keep their babies, almost the opposite situation of a generation ago when most of these mothers chose adoption. Thus, pro-lifers are not only supporting their daughters and sons during their pregnancies but also are usually involved in helping to raise their grandchildren.
Waning Support for Abortion
Not only do pro-lifers appear to routinely reject abortion for their unmarried children, society seems to be slowly starting to change its attitude toward abortion and the unmarried. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, not only has support for abortion-on-demand eroded by an estimated 8% since 1989, but public support for abortion when pregnancy threatens to interrupt a woman’s career or education has also dropped 14% and 8% respectively.
A clear majority of the people polled did not feel these circumstances justified abortion. Undermining a basic abortion rights tenet that familiarity with abortion increases public acceptance, the same poll showed that “personal experience” was twice as likely to be given as a reason for becoming less favorable towards abortion rather than more supportive of abortion.
At the same time, a new wave of pro-life sentiment appears to be rising in a most unexpected place-the young people who have grown up under the shadow of Roe. The Times/CBS News poll showed even less support for abortion on demand among 18-29 year olds (29%) than among the general public (32%). The Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, has noted that “in recent years, fewer pregnant teens have chosen to have an abortion.” Even the media is beginning to notice. In a Jan. 21 New York Times article “A New Generation Rising Against Abortion,” writer Laurie Goodstein interviewed an eclectic group of young people attending a Rock for Life concert and found thoughtful and strong pro-life support even among those sporting tattoos and punk-style clothing.
Some explained that they began considering the value of life after losing friends to suicide, drug overdoses, and automobile accidents.
Goodstein also noted that many of the concert-goers she interviewed said that they arrived at a “right to life” position on their own and that, to be consistent, they also opposed the death penalty and assisted suicide and supported abstinence.
Countering Rock for Choice and other groups which help raise money for abortion rights groups, Rock for Life is a relatively recent phenomenon which reaches young people through the potent medium of music. Concert organizer Bryan Kemper told Goodstein that 15 concerts have already been staged and that there have been 110 bands “willing to perform for gas money.” Rock for Life is not the only sign that the pro-life movement is connecting with a new generation. Teens for Life, started in 1985, is a national organization run by young people encouraging teens to speak up for life and get involved in community activities. It has chapters throughout the country and continues to grow in numbers.
Another positive sign is the increasing number of pro-life groups springing up on college campuses. And not just on religiously-affiliated college campuses. MIT, Princeton, and the University of Texas are among colleges which not only have pro-life groups but also have websites on the Internet.
What Helps, What Hurts
But trends and statistics do not meet the needs of the individual young woman and her family suddenly facing a crisis pregnancy. The first reactions of parents and others to the news is extremely important to the woman and can even make the life-or-death difference for the unborn baby. When the first reaction is anger or a stern lecture about premarital sex, the young woman can feel abandoned and, in her despair, decide that eliminating the baby will make everyone feel better.
Parents and friends of young men and women coping with an unwed pregnancy are often unsure of what to say or how to handle the situation. One newer resource developed to help with this problem is a video and pamphlet called First Words: Can Our First Reaction to an Unplanned Pregnancy Save a Child’s Life? produced by American Life League.
The video tells the stories of four young women who faced an unwed pregnancy and encountered a range of reactions from friends and family. In their own words, these young women share how these reactions influenced their decisions about whether or not to abort their babies. The pamphlet is written by Cathy Brown who candidly tells her own story and offers helpful advice to parents and others.
But deciding against abortion is only the first step in a crisis pregnancy. The decision about whether to keep the baby or release him/her for adoption is often the most agonizing question for a young woman. Questions about insurance coverage and prenatal care, maintaining or losing a relationship with the father, the reactions of other children in the family, etc. are some of the practical and immediate concerns. Birthright and other pro-life pregnancy counseling centers can be a big help to families struggling with a crisis pregnancy.
Members of the family’s church can also help provide much needed spiritual and emotional support as well as involving the community in the nurturing of a new life.
For parents, especially pro-life parents, embarrassment and feelings of failure are common and understandable. It’s hard to put aside such feelings and concentrate on the feelings and needs of a son or daughter. But, as Donna B., a long-time pro-life activist and herself the mother of a pregnant teen, says, “Abortion is the real failure. It’s OK to be proud when your daughter chooses life.”
Nancy Valko writes from St. Louis, Mo.