November 1998: Abortion advocates have a tough sell -- putting a happy face on death.
The National Abortion Access Project is test-marketing a series of print ads in Massachusetts before it goes national with them, perhaps on the theory that if any place is open to the message, it's the euphorically liberal Bay State.
"Will abortion services be there when you need them?" asks one. It's illustrated with a picture of an attractive young woman who discloses: "When I got pregnant, my best friend said I should 'pay the price' and have the baby. But I knew that abortion was the responsible choice for me."
It's not just her choice, it's also "the responsible choice" -- for her. But was it good for her unborn child, too?
Ah, but I forget, it's not a child; it's a choice -- unless you want it, at which point the child within somehow undergoes a magical mutation from fetus to baby.
What is the project trying to prove -- that there are women who've had an abortion and think they did the right thing? This is a news flash?
There have been approximately 36 million abortions since 1973. How many women walk into a clinic with the firm conviction that they're making a horrendous mistake? How many will later admit it, even to themselves?
Actually, there are a few. I talked with one of them the other day. Karen became pregnant at 16. When she had her abortion, Karen was equally convinced that she was being responsible. "I was too young. I was going to college. I had things to do."
Her future, bright indeed, included Yale and Harvard Law School, and another unplanned pregnancy at age 19. This child she carried to term and placed for adoption. "My first child wasn't real for me. It took me three years to come to the point where that baby was real for me.
"It was through carrying this little girl and giving her to a couple that wanted her very much that I began to make my peace with the baby I had lost," Karen told me.
She's now the mother of three who recounts her story in pro-life speeches.
I asked her: "When you discuss your experience, do you ever meet young women who respond: 'I had an abortion, and I'm just fine. No guilt. No post-abortion trauma. Your reaction is your own. You can't universalize it.' So, what do you say to them?"
Karen replied: "I would tell them, you have a lot of time in front of you to think about your abortion. You can try to bury it, but you'll never change the fact that you had a child in your life. It's having a child that changes your life, not the outcome of the pregnancy.
"Someday, you may be pregnant with a child that you want. Suddenly, the realization will dawn on you that, other than your own desires, there's no difference between the child you're carrying and the child you once carried."
And that's why the project's ads are so horribly dishonest. An unidentified woman informs us that her abortion was the "responsible choice," without explaining why, without disclosing how (or if) she weighed the consequences (to herself and her child), without identifying the other side of the equation as something other than a thing.
Rosemary Candelario, coordinator of the National Abortion Action Project, is certain the group's ads "are powerful enough to show that abortion is not something to be ashamed of." Does this sound like whistling past the graveyard?
If not "ashamed of," then what? Proud of? Complacent about?
Every so often, honesty creeps into pro-choice rhetoric. In 1994, Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, told an interviewer, "We think abortion is a bad thing."
But if we do something "bad," shouldn't we be ashamed? (Having time to reflect, Michelman later claimed she'd been misquoted, until reminded by the reporter that the conversation was recorded.)
Perhaps the most revealing pro-choice contribution to the debate was a 1990 "My Turn" column in Newsweek ("Why I Don't March") by Kim Flodin, who also had an abortion at 16 and another a year later.
Flodin admits that she sometimes dreams of her first child romping along the beach, red pail in hand, the waves toying with his perfect feet and the breeze picking up his dark, wavy hair.
She hasn't changed her mind about the rightness of the Roe vs. Wade decision, but at least she's not in denial. Flodin wrote, "I was pregnant, I carried two unborn children, and I chose, for completely selfish reasons, to deny them life so that I could better my own."
Try putting that in a pro-choice ad.