[Beliefnet, January 24, 2000]
When I saw the pink earplugs in his hand, I felt older than I’ve ever felt in my life.
I had been invited to be a speaker at an all-day rock concert, and the host had warned me in a prior e-mail that the groups following me would be pretty loud. The afternoon bands, I was told, were “kind of mellow — my mom likes these bands.” (Reading that sentence was the second oldest I’ve felt.) But “the bands at night are hardcore, which is very loud and the lyrics are basically screamed out.”
As I came off the stage and some rangy kids in black took my place, my host was there, reaching into his pocket and bringing out a pair of earplugs for me. Taking care of Grandma, I thought.
The event was a Rock for Life, one of a series of rock concerts held nationwide to benefit organizations that help pregnant women. Admission was $8 “and a jar of baby food or some baby clothes.” When I walked in, the room was crowded with teen and twenty-somethings wearing chains, tatoos, spiked hair, metal studs, and distant, aloof expressions. Perhaps that was part of the outfit, or maybe they were just worn out by the preceding punk rock and ska bands.
How to get their attention? I couldn’t imagine they were waiting eagerly to hear a pro-life movement oldtimer speak. I clambered up on stage and announced that since it was a concert I was going to begin by singing something. Eyes got very wide. I sang the Exapostalerion of Nativity, one of the ancient Byzantine hymns of eastern Christianity. Eyes got wider. I figured I had their attention for about fifteen minutes, so I talked fast.
I told them that the abortion debate is over. There was a time there that it was the hot topic, and you couldn’t turn on the TV or pick up a magazine without seeing it discussed. But that’s over. People got tired of it. It seemed, after awhile, that there was nothing left to say.
That doesn’t mean that the issue is settled. It won’t be settled until we arrive at a solution that will let our consciences be at peace — one where unwanted pregnancy is prevented, pregnant women are supported, and unborn children are protected. Abortion is an issue of violence, I said, and no just nation condones violence against children.
I didn’t think of it this way when I was in college myself; then I was strongly in favor of abortion. At the time I thought it was an indispensable element of women’s liberation. How could we succeed in a man’s world unless we could be un-pregnant at will?
Then I read an article in Esquire magazine describing an abortion. It told how the doctor injected prostaglandin into the woman’s uterus, then left the syringe in place on her abdomen. The writer described the surprising, disturbing thing that happened next: the needle began to bob and jerk against her belly, as the child within went through its death throes. He concluded by saying that whatever else is said to defend abortion, he would never forget that child trying to defend its own life.
Reading that essay made my hair stand on end. I realized that I had embraced, even championed, an act of violence — me, who was proudly, consistently, anti-violence, anti-war, anti-death penalty, rigorously vegetarian.
Worse, it was violence against our own children. How had women been tricked into seeing our own sons and daughters as our enemies? How had we been persuaded that we must be willing to sacrifice them in order to succeed? Why had we accepted the male never-pregnant model as normative for women? Instead of fighting for changes in society, we were submissively allowing the changes to be worked out within our own bodies.
The debate is over, I told this audience of young people. The cause is not. Your generation is already showing new leadership on the issue.
Last year the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League revealed that their movement is seriously aging; the age of the average member was 55. (Whew—at least somebody’s older than me). On the other hand, an annual survey of college freshman indicates that support for abortion drops further every year, falling since 1990 from 65% to 51%. A 1996 survey showed that the age group most likely to agree that “abortion is the same thing as murdering a child” was those from 18 to 29.
Heads were nodding. I could see several in the audience wearing black t-shirts inscribed in white block letters, “Abortion Is Mean.”
This youthful opposition to abortion is not surprising. Anyone under the age of twenty-seven could have been aborted. In fact, a third of that generation was. A lot of the kids in the room were surrounded by the unseen ghosts of classmates, siblings, and friends. No wonder they feel solidarity with those whose lives are at risk.
This isn’t just youthful idealism — after all, my own youthful idealism made me vehemently pro-abortion. No doubt the graying heads dominating today’s pro-choice organizations would admit the same.
Young people are going to go their own way, no matter how hard the older generation tries to make them conform to its values. In this case, it’s a very good thing. At this concert, youngsters proved they were willing to work and sacrifice so that pregnant women can have the support they need to choose life. And they planned ahead to take care of Grandma, too.