Thursday, March 18, 2010

The paradox of pregnancy

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. -Mother Theresa

Earlier this week, President Obama sat down with a crowd and told a real-time story about a woman from Ohio who is dwelling in a chronic death-hole due, in-part, to our healthcare crisis. Instead of his usual: This bill will cover 30 million uninsured Americans, he made a single, emotional argument.

Those who raise money for abortion funds that primarily support low-income and uninsured women and families across the country know this empathic appeal may be the only true way to the light of justice. Regardless of the venue--a luncheon, an afternoon business-meeting, a personal ask, the happy hour, or house party--you will inevitably hear a compellingly heart-breaking story about a woman who needs an abortion tomorrow, and you will think of no other viable use for the twenty-dollar bill in your wallet than to love your neighbor.

Voila! Belief you can believe.

Jonah Lehrer blogged about Obama's approach and connected his refreshing impact to *decision researcher*, Paul Slovic's, observations in: If I look at the mass I will never act: Psychic numbing and genocide. Slovic’s article title is inspired by Mother Teresa1 who said, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

Slovic ponders the phenomenon of widespread indifference (aka. psychic numbing) toward the plight of one among many, in terms of mass murder, and concludes that humans are not wired to empathize with statistics, numbers, dots, and lines. Images are powerful persuasions--particularly images of one victim with one woeful face.

Between the work of Jonah Lehrer, Paul Slovic, and my last blog that highlights a research study that concluded that images of babies are like crack for your brain, I am kart-wheeling over here between Eureka! and No-F*@#%&-Duh!

This week, Guttmacher Institute released a vital new tool for researchers, advocates, policy-makers, journalists, and seriously-curious folks: the Data Center. Over the years, Guttmacher has ushered several solidifying moments for me: half of the pregnancies in the US are unintended! 9 in 10 abortions occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy! Most abortions occur in *developing* countries! 70,000 women die each year from clandestine abortions!

The truth resonates to my core as I stroll past the lovelorn Antis toting larger-than-life images of dead feti, as I drive past the billboard images of babies singularly declaring their unique worth in the *eyes* of *god* that pepper the Midwest: Who the hell has the audacity to protest pregnancy sacrifice when we know full-well that women and families suffer and/or die in droves when abortion is not safe, legal, and accessible?!

Consider this past year. The Abortioneers downward-spiral over the tragic loss of a women's-health leader; decreased funding for abortions for low-income and uninsured women in light of a tricky recession; unprecedentedly, poetically frightening, anti-abortion legislation proposed throughout the country; increased violence and harassment occurring outside our integral, healthcare facilities; and being fed to wolves in the healthcare reform debate.

Meanwhile, the male-dominated, anti-abortion movement is scheduling press-conferences with the Associated Press in jail, and our families would still prefer we talk about something else behind closed doors.

The declarations: One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime! 45 million in the US!, are still deeply lost in worldwide translation. In the case of abortion, the translation is often lost between the front door and the curb.

When I counsel women who feel alone in their decision and ashamed of their plight in the *eyes* of their *god*, I ask them to do something mathematical when their heart is tormenting their head, my cliche explanations of lines of commonality, and their honest, practicality do not comfort them. Go to church on Sunday, and instead of spacing-out while Father Gaga rambles on about some overspent, biblical chapter that sends you into the useless agony of total numbness, try counting heads. One in three. Chances are, you're not so alone even in hell, yes?

For now, President Obama can simultaneously sweep abortion under the rug while tackling healthcare reform for the masses. Several *free* states can give birdies to pregnant women everywhere. Delusional Antis can call me a satan-following, baby-killer as I walk into my expertise. Non-Abortioneers need not take the time to empathize with the life-work imbalance and harassment that pervades this actvists' movement.

But every Abortioneer knows how quickly the images of jelly-drenched feti can turn to hospital beds full of mutilated, septic women with dead feti invisibly rotting in the womb, how valiantly these 45 million voices will move mountains and salve volcanoes one story at a time, how swiftly we're now embracing the Age of Aquarius, how lovely is the love awaiting us when we choose to become an empathic civilization.

Curmudgeonly patriarchs don’t understand? We’re not surprised.

1 Apparently, Mother Theresa was declaratively anti-abortion during her lifetime - probably because she failed to count heads during her countless years of service to the masses. She may have also been psychically numb due to all those years of attending Mass.


  1. Good post.

    I'm no fan of mother Teresa. She was one vile hypocrite, no saint.

  2. Thank you, Steph. Nor am I. One of my friends recently shared this quote that has been resonating with me lately: "Patriarchy is itself the prevailing religion of the entire planet...All of the so-called religions legitimating patriarchy are mere sects subsumed under its vast umbrella/canopy"- Theologian Mary Daly

  3. Just out of curiosity, why do you think Mother Theresa was so awful? I'm a (pro-abortion rights) Catholic, and I've always found inspiration in a lot of her work. In a way, she's like Margaret Sanger -- lots to admire, lots to disagree with. (Can you tell I'm a "cafeteria Catholic?" Heh.)

  4. Thanks so much for this! As a minister-in-training and abortion counselor, the other thing I say to women regarding God is something like, "Isn't God capable of compassion and forgiveness beyond our imaginations?" At least in Christianity, there is the "God as Wrathful Judge" image and "Amazing Compassionate and Forgiving God" image. Not that I believe these women need forgiveness. (hell, I think that if there is a God, it's working through the hands and hearts of the abortion provider, counselors, and fundraisers!) However, I have found it's helpful for the women who are caught up.....

  5. Glad you asked, L. If it were opposion to abortion on principle alone, I'd be fine with that. But that was far from the only issue with her:

    This short documentary about shows all that needs to be shown:
    Hell's Angel

  6. But here's a written summary:

    1) Mother T had a lifelong obsession with abortion. It was her central issue. She was fundamentally opposed to it, regardless of circumstances. She was against abortion in all cases, even in the case of rape, incest, or risk to the woman's health. In 1993 she was asked about a case in Ireland about a 14-year-old rape victim. Mother T remarked: "Abortion can never be necessary because it is pure killing." Needless to say, M.T. was equally opposed to contraception in all forms.
    2) But her ideals always seemed to take a back seat around her friends, the dictators. In 1975, Indira Ghandi imposed martial law in India. During the two year "state of emergency" she suspended the constitution, imposed censorship on the news media, and arrested her political enemies. Indira's son Sanjay spearheaded an effort in population control for the poor, wherein they were rounded up and forcibly sterilized. Despite her lifelong opposition to contraception and presumptive support for human rights, Mother Teresa chose to embrace the new order and issued a public statement lauding the government's efforts.
    3) In 1981, she flew to Haiti to accept the Legion d'Honneur from Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. In return, she declared that the Duvaliers loved their poor, and that their love was reciprocated. (The Duvaliers were forced to flee Haiti and live out their days in exile.) In 1989, Mother Teresa traveled back to Albania to pay respects to Enver Hoxha, one of the most repressive rulers of the 20th century. She laid a wreath at his grave and drew wide criticism for it.
    4) She had other questionable supporters as well. Charles Keating, who stole in excess of $252 million in the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980s, donated $1.25 million of his loot to Mother Teresa. When he was eventually caught, M.T. interceded on his behalf and wrote a letter to the court urging leniency. When the district attorney wrote back informing her that the money she had received was stolen money, she made no attempt to reply. She also accepted money from the embezzler Robert Maxwell, who stole £450 million from his employees' pension funds (and committed suicide rather than face Scotland Yard).
    In fact, the Missionaries of Charity probably garner annual donations in excess of $100 million worldwide. (It's only "probably" because her organization patently refuses to release their financials.) Where does all that money go?
    It certainly doesn't go into health care for her wards. People get the misconception that her facilities operate as hospices or medical clinics. This is not so. Those facilities are devoted to giving people someplace to lay down and die. M.T. herself named them "Houses of the Dying." Over the years, her organization has grown to support a worldwide network of schools and soup kitchens, but these are rather modest affairs and require very little cash to maintain. In fact, one former staffer of the New York branch revealed that although there was more than $50 million sitting in the bank, the local subsidiary continued to appeal to the public for more donations. There is no telling how much money resides in all their other accounts around the world.
    Of course, when she required her own medical care, only the best would do. In public, she declined a 1984 offer for free cataract surgery from the St Francis Medical Center, worth $5,000. But the following year, she quietly received the same treatment at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York. Not to mention visits to the Scripps Clinic and the Gemelli Hospital, and numerous visits for cardiac care at the Birla Heart Institute in Calcutta. At some point she got a pacemaker installed.

    Cant paste it all here, so full text at:

  7. And typical me I forgot one:

    Exposing Mother Teresa

  8. This morning a young woman arrived at the Allentown Women's Center only to be met with one of the patriarchy-motivated, god-deluded street walkers (AKA "life advocates"). The moment was beyond frightening for this young woman. Once she was finished with her appoint and left the clinic, she walked over to the McDonald's next door to wait for a cab to take her home. In the meantime, one of triumvirate (a sanctimonious threesome who have filed a frivolous lawsuit against the clinic and the police) followed her into McDonald's to solicit her version of help. I intervened and to make a long story short, learned how utterly angry this young woman was with the antichoicers. As the case with the overwhelming majority of women, this woman was absolutely capable of making an informed decision. Yet the antichoicers, the misogynistic extremists, assume that women are ill-advised, not advised, stupid, wrong, evil, etc. But for all of us who respect and trust women, we know better.

  9. Wow. Thank you for these thoughtful perspectives. I've learned SO much from you.

    How I admire Abortioneers: our knowledge-set spans the universe and beyond.

    I can't help but know that Steph's comprehensive explanation of MT's hypocrisy can apply to many other seemingly valiant leaders of the human right's movement.

    It is a good time in our history. Despite all this agony--how quickly our truth can spread. Until unconditional empathy is not only contagious, but epidemic, I say: Fame of any kind is suspect.

    Also, Trusting Women: In my most heartfelt and connective counseling sessions, we take a moment to *ask* if the pregnancy is meant to be, and often in that silence, we find that the abortion is meant to be so we thank the life inside her.

    Praised be!

  10. Also! Bullywatch: I was thinking of your story. I walk to work and usually bypass the Antis by taking a slightly long way, but at times, I do pass them and even when I blast my earbuds and smile forth, my gut wrenches inside and I usually have to take several moments to compose myself between passing them, rounding the entrance, and entering.

    When patients address their confrontations, curiosities, and discomfort with the protestors, we discuss ways folks could better demonstrate their pro-lifeness on a Saturday morning. It can be fun in light of the heartsick ridiculousness of it.

    We have to believe they'll go away.

  11. Yeah, Mother Teresa's attitude toward abortion was entirely in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church, which sees the issue as black-and-white, good-and-evil, no middle ground or gray areas. The reason she fascinates me is the book published in 2007, after her death, including material that she said she wanted destroyed -- Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), in which she expresses doubts about the existence of God and heaven. This makes me see her as....human. Can you imagine, the pressure of being a "living saint," while at the same time normal human feelings are burning you like acid from the inside?

    Anyway, as I said, she reminds me a lot of Margaret Sanger, whose ideas about contraception were so revolutionary and ahead of their time, but whose writings on eugenics I find frankly chilling.

    Lots to both admire, and recoil from -- both MT and MS were products of their time and place.

  12. The stories about Mother Theresa remind me of another story from Allentown Women's Center about one of our snarkier anti choicers I'll call J-dog. In public, she's all about offering hope and help, anything you need, will be there always. In reality, when a young mother (who had been "sidewalk counseled" and coached to carry the pregnancy to term) needed J-Dog to babysit, our janus-faced life advocate scoffed that she was too busy.

    In another example, listened to J-Dog and her fellow street counselor gloating about the one can of formula they were going to pawn off on a mother who needed help. Problem was the formula wasn't what the child was using but it didn't matter to these two goons. "Just mix it in with the other stuff. It will be fine."

    And in a testament to their compassion and respect for women, a client decided to take these women up on the offer of a free ultrasound. She woman said they were really nice to her but were absolutely unable to deal with her realities, with the complexities of her life. When she returned to the clinic to get her abortion, the protesters showed their true colors by screaming nasty comments, telling her she was a murderer.

    It's been my observation that these folks have a very thin veneer of sugar coating that easily disintegrates if they are ignored.


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