I heard this yesterday on the radio. As soon as I heard the story, I knew that I should blog about it. But the second thought that came into my head was, "and say what, exactly?" The same things I've said many, many times before?
The story is this: a woman, pregnant with her fifth child, was seen in the hospital during her 11th week of the pregnancy. She was told by her doctors that her health was poor, and that, if she continued the pregnancy, she and the baby would die. She was in a Catholic hospital, and, in an act of mercy, a nun gave the woman permission to have the abortion. It saved the woman's life.
The nun has been ex-communicated.
This by a Church that has yet to excommunicate any of the mass child rapists that it is aware have been administering the Mass.
As if to back up the story, I had read one of my student's essays the day before. She had made the painful decision to leave the church in which she had been raised. One reason was her church's "pro-natalist" position: it encouraged each and every woman in the church to bear as many children as they could. When a woman, who, like the woman above, had been told by her doctor that her pregnancy would kill her went to her pastor for counseling, he told her that if she were to take the doctor's advice, to do so would place the word of a doctor over the word of God. The pastor threatened to cast the woman out of her church if she had an abortion. The woman carried the baby to term, but, as she had been warned, the pregnancy did irreperable damage to her body. She now lives as an invalid in need of 24-hour care.
I'm still hunting for the right words to say. Nearly 40 years after abortion was made legal in this country, 50 years since we've had the Pill, and women are still told, day-after-day, that the only thing that matters about them is their ability to bear children. And if bearing a child costs you your life, well, what greater sacrifice can you make? (And besides, there are plenty of women to replace you.)
To visit the local cemeteries is to see this philosophy carved in stone--acres of stones that tell the same story. One man will be buried with two, often three, wives. He died in his 80s. The first two wives died in their 20s or early 30s, but the third wife grew old with him. Frequently, there are newborns whose death dates approximate the death dates of their mothers.
We tell ourselves that this was before modern medicine. That puerpural fever, or ruptured uterii, or hearts weakened by childhood diseases and then too weak to bear the strains of pregnancy, that these things are all things of the past.
But, we maintain maternal mortality statistics because pregnancy is still potentially deadly. And lest any American think that we have the best healthcare system in the world, ask yourself why our rates of maternal death are among the highest in the industrialized world?
I wonder if you can imagine what it feels like to be told, again and again, what it means to be a girl. You're not really a full human being: you're a sexualized baby-making organism who, once we are post-menopausal and no longer attractive, there really is no use for.
Imagine the way this might tear at you. That you have two daughters, and that you love them with every fiber of your being, but you also know that there is so much more to you than your ability to ovulate, conceive, and deliver a child.
Imagine watching others of your gender participate in their own oppression and call you all sorts of names because you question whether there shouldn't be more to life than this for women. Or imagine being in another country, where not following the status quo can get you killed. (Ask my daughter, who has recently returned from India, about the woman she met whose face had been burnt off by acid.)
Imagine sitting at your computer, sick unto death of a fight that will not go away--seemingly will never go away--and trying--again--to find the words to call attention to the obvious: that women should not be asked to sacrifice their lives to bring another child into this world.
Imagine that you can anticipate some of the comments.
Imagine that you have simply been stripped of language, because no matter how you try to parse it, analyze it, understand it, have compassion for it--what you know, is that for a huge portion of the world, including many who live in this country, women simply do not matter.