This week marks the anniversary of “Roe v. Wade,” the historic supreme court case that made abortion legal in the US. Many people observe the anniversary by attending the March for Life in DC or engaging in other forms of “pro-life” activism. As much as all those gestures have value, I instead am spending this time reflecting on my relationship with one of my closest friends.
A few months ago, my friend was impregnated by a man with whom she was very much in love. This man, who already had a child from a previous relationship, expressed to my friend that he was not in a position to raise the new baby with her.
Knowing that our government offers few resources to single women in crisis pregnancies other than abortion, I along with some of my other friends offered to help her raise the child and to support her financially. But my friend, for various reasons, decided to have an abortion anyway.
My friend’s decision forced me to reflect on the reality that many pregnant women face in our society. It’s amazing that a society that claims to be so progressive…so much in favor of supporting the rights of women, expects next to nothing from men when it comes to pregnancy and childrearing. While many advances have indeed been made in favor of women’s equality, from the right to vote to equal pay, little has been done to empower the pregnant woman.
If the mother is single, she is usually faced with two options: either give up the gift of motherhood by terminating the pregnancy, or carry to term and give up a financially comfortable life. The latter of these options is hard to sustain in a society like ours that places excessive esteem on personal wealth and success.
The pregnant woman, with her financial, medical, and emotional needs, is often treated as if she and her child are leeches on the body of the secular capitalist system, sucking out all the resources which could be used for making other people more wealthy and comfortable than they already are.
Though I could rant against social injustices for several more paragraphs…I discovered through these past few months since my friend’s abortion that pointing out the sinfulness of society or individual people is of negligible value in the long run. At the end of the day, I had to face the question of what my friend needed most during this difficult moment in her life. As much as I was disheartened by her decision, I had a strong desire to be present to her.
What my friend communicated to me was that at the root of all of her actions, both her most commendable and questionable ones, is an infinitely deep need to love others and be loved by them. While sometimes she expresses it in ways that are harmful to herself or to others, she has come to see over time that Christ’s gaze toward her is based not on the “correctness” of her choices, but on that profound need that is so deeply ingrained in her being.I’ve had to learn how to listen to my friend without interjecting or correcting her when I think I know what’s best for her (I’m still learning, as I’m sure she will tell you). I’ve had to learn to stand by her, in the moments when she was most in pain…when I often didn’t know what to say or what the “right answer” was. Above all, I’ve had to learn how to allow myself to learn.
My friend’s vast need for love is perhaps her most striking attribute. While some may look at her neediness like it’s a gaping wound or an unattractive blemish, I’ve come to see that it’s a beautiful flower, a shining piece of gold, which has sparked in me the desire to love in a new and gratuitous way.
What I cherish most about her is that she shows me how to let myself be vulnerable, how to allow myself to expose my wounds–both to my friends and to God–rather than to try to mask them with my ego and false nonchalance.
When it comes to the legal status of abortion, it has become clear to me that not everyone is going to see eye to eye. At this point, what would be even more promising than making abortion illegal would be to see the government offer more resources to women in this situation, whether it be by offering free access to medical services, or finding ways to enable women to finish their college career or maintain their jobs while offering them affordable child care services.
But above all, what I think is needed—more so than government support or a vague notion of “social progress”—is people who are willing to take the risk of accompanying each other.
We need people who won’t run away or hide as soon as the other person reveals their neediness. We need people who are willing to take the risk of making themselves vulnerable by staying by the other person’s side…entering into true solidarity with them, no matter the inconvenience of their circumstances or how much you might disagree with their choices.
More than anything, we need people who will look into the wounds of the other—without trying to eliminate or fix them—and tell them “you are beautiful as you are…you are beautiful because you exist.”
So this year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I challenge you to take the risk of radical accompaniment, of embracing the people around you for who they really are, wounds and all, and of letting yourself be embraced in the same way.