Both Sides of Roe: My Own Journey from Death to Life
“How do you feel about Roe being struck down?” I emailed an old college friend.
“Ticked off,” she wrote back, “and scared because if I were to get pregnant, my medications, which keep me alive, are not good for babies. I was even more ticked when Tennessee enacted those trigger laws banning aborting at six weeks. I knew too many people who got pregnant in middle school and high school. . . .
“I firmly believe in protecting life. I believe in vaccines. I believe in supporting families. I believe in letting adults and their medical professionals make personal decisions that only affect them in a private manner. . . . I don’t believe abortion is evil. Or wrong. Or sinful.”
How Did Roe Fall on You?
When Roe was struck down, I was at a park, meeting another mom. She walked up and blurted out (by way of greeting), “Roe was struck down!” I gasped, sat stunned for a moment, tried to wrap my mind around the fact that I was drawing my breath, for the first time, in a post-Roe country.
Seven months ago, we all lived in the America of my birth. This was an America that legally affirmed the inalienable right of women to a form of “health care” that intentionally ends the life of children in the womb. This position, established by the Supreme Court in 1973, led to the near tripling of annual abortion deaths in the United States within eight years. More than 63 million babies lost their lives in the years between Roe’s ascendancy and its reversal.
“More than 63 million babies lost their lives in the years between Roe’s ascendancy and its reversal.”
Many people I know have prayed for this day longer than I have been alive. They have established pregnancy centers offering family education, free ultrasounds, and free clothing and supplies. They have adopted and fostered. They have cared for babies and children while single mothers were at work.
But other people I know, like my friend from college, lament and even panic over the end of Roe. They experience fear, the fear of former rights revoked and children uncared for. What is the difference in worldview that produces such perfectly opposing opinions on abortion?
From Lamentation to Celebration
How is it that I, a mother of three, and my friend, a mother of three, have such fervent beliefs — and that our beliefs are absolutely incompatible?
One of us believes that an unwanted life is worse than intentionally inflicted death, that a person who can’t survive on his or her own doesn’t have the rights of personhood, and that if we declare life to begin at birth, then that is when it begins. The other believes that murder is not a viable solution to any problem, that life is a gift and responsibility that can’t be thrown off at will, and that neither mother nor doctor has the right to kill.
We quiver with conviction in describing our views to the other. I celebrate the end of Roe in my country without reservation. She decries it without reservation.
The thing is, fifteen years ago, I would have been lamenting right along with her.
Godlessness Births Hatred
At the nominal Christian college I attended, my career-driven friends and I didn’t analyze our deepest assumptions about our futures. We didn’t realize that our vision for life was deeply influenced by the air we were all breathing, which was a confusing blend of nineties purity movement and second-wave feminism. We only knew that we were expected to “have it all,” and even I, with my stay-at-home-mom aspirations, was unwilling to imagine a life that didn’t include some kind of glorious accomplishment out in the “real world.”
A few years after graduating, having walked away from church and faith, I found myself in the pregnancy test aisle at Walgreens. Would I keep it? I thought — and then was shocked by the question. I’d grown up staunchly defensive of the unborn. But for the first time, I was actually experiencing the fear of an unwanted pregnancy. I felt the despair of not liking the world enough to bring a child into it. I imagined the reaction from friends, family, and former church members when they saw me and my baby, alone against the world.
Until that day, I had never understood the close link between godlessness and death. I don’t just mean that the wages of sin is death (it is). I mean that within just a few years of rejecting God as Father, I was also willing to reject life itself. I would have preferred not to live, and I couldn’t imagine a baby in my womb would make a different choice. My godless view of the world had created a hatred of the world, and of existence itself. Motherhood would have meant embracing life as good and worthwhile. I knew I didn’t have it in me.
God didn’t give me a baby that year. I never had to test how far my hatred of life would go.
Fearing Life in an Unsafe World
A few months later, God saved my soul, and he brought a man into my life a year after that. As the years passed, he gave me three precious children. I am currently expecting a fourth. I am far enough along that if I wanted to end the heartbeat that I’ve now heard half a dozen times, I’d have to drive to one of about six states in the country.
When you spend all your time nurturing life, feeding life, telling young children about the wonders of life, it’s harder to remember what it was like when death seemed preferable to life. But I can still put my finger on that fear, especially in the early hours of the morning if I awake from a nightmare or hear my child coughing. It’s the fear of life itself. The fear of responsibility’s weight.
Even in my latest pregnancy, I still experience that fear of bringing new life into a world that is in one sense totally unsafe. Even under the protection of marriage and family, my children are held only by God’s hand, and I still have to wrestle with him daily over the promises he’s made for them (and the promises he hasn’t). I now understand more deeply than ever how pain and fear is part of the curse connected to motherhood, and how only in Christ can any of us see the world as it is: a place of hope, joy, blessing, and ultimate victory over sin and death. It is a place worth bringing children into — but only because it’s a place ruled by a kind and loving Father.
“This world is a place worth bringing children into — but only because it’s a place ruled by a kind and loving Father.”
And yet, without the lens of hope that drops into place when we embrace the kingship of Christ, death seems stronger than life — and sometimes even preferable. We all are living with our terminal disease, in a world with its own terminal disease.
Besides the realities of death and curse, we all inherit cultural attitudes toward motherhood without knowing we’ve done so. We all breathe air from a place that chooses to see child and elder care as unskilled labor, which we outsource to the less educated. It’s a place that sees motherhood as the final cap on a pyramid of career moves — just one more accomplishment to adorn a more necessary list. It’s a place that tells its women to throw off encumbrances (including people) that keep us from tending to ourselves first and always. It’s a place that disincentivizes fatherhood and subsidizes abandonment and murder. It’s a place that has managed to sell women the word empowerment, by which she trades love and commitment for the total loss of self and becomes a sexual commodity for the pleasure of men who have no intention of cherishing her humanity.
True Value of Motherhood
Motherhood is valuable. It’s not valuable like a Precious Moments card; it’s valuable like time is valuable, like life itself is valuable. It’s valuable with the kind of value that God names when he blesses meek things, quiet things, unseen things. It has a value that reaches beyond the fiscal, that asks better questions than “Can I earn more than the babysitter I pay to watch my children while I’m gone?” and “Do unwanted pregnancies result in children who are a burden to the church and state?”
This is what’s valuable in God’s economy: life, because he made it; and love, because he embodies and commands it.
And looking at life and love as fundamentally valuable means that we look at motherhood as the stewardship of something fundamentally valuable. A single mother is the steward of something fundamentally valuable. A married middle-aged mother is the steward of something fundamentally valuable. An adoptive mother is the steward of something fundamentally valuable.
A woman who accepts the call to motherhood steps into a story written by someone else. She steps in despite inevitable fear and pain. She steps in to demonstrate in her own body the unanswerable story of life triumphing over death. Motherhood is God’s inventive answer to the question, “Is life good, or isn’t it?”
And when the laws of the land step forward to throw the burden of proof back onto death (instead of onto life for mothers and children), that law has made a step toward confirming and proclaiming the truths built into God’s world and word.
Thou Shall Not Kill
When Roe was struck down, more was accomplished than the erection of more hoops for abortion-minded mothers to jump through. It was a moral marker for our nation. Every time a human government makes or upholds legislation that reflects accurately the good established by God in his world and word, it functions the way it was meant to function. It sends a message about what is right and what is wrong. It establishes a moral code that does in fact work in the hearts of the people.
I rejoice in the reversal because of lives saved. But I also rejoice the way I always rejoice when truth is declared, from any lips, in any forum. A breath of fresh air blows through the nation in the form of sanity, as our human hearts are reminded of a law that was stamped there before we knew ourselves, stamped without our own consent: Thou shalt not kill.
For My Friend on the Other Side
As I continue talking with my friend, I gently press for logical consistency by asking questions about rights. When does the infant in the womb become human? On what basis do we confer the right to live? If the baby has no right to live until it has passed through the birth canal, what about a few moments after it has passed through? A few minutes before? If we confer the right to live only on human beings who are competent to survive, what does that mean for the disabled child or adult, or even for a healthy baby in the first few years after it’s born? She keeps talking with me, and for that I’m grateful.
As we talk, I’m aware that underneath the logical issues about human rights, the strength of her beliefs has more to do with the pain of motherhood under the shadow of death. What she really wonders is, Is life good, or isn’t it?
Does someone have a sure hand on the steering wheel of this dangerous world, or not? Should we not limit life on the earth when life is so difficult and dangerous? Is there any possible reason to do what is right in obedience to the King who reigns justly, to embrace the gift of life even when the costs are so high? Could his promises possibly be true, really true, when he says that soon, every tear will be wiped away, “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4)? Will we see him face to face and hear his account of everything sad coming untrue?
When I look this last question in the eye, it’s too much for me to bear. I know it’s too much for her heart too, if she ever thinks of it in the watches of the night. Some things seem too good to be true.
Credit: Tilly Dillehay