There is a vigil happening right now, in Union Square, for Dr George Tiller, the doctor who was shot in a church in Kansas. I can’t go to the vigil because I’m home, making dinner for my very desired, very wanted children, who I can afford to feed and clothe, as well as supply (sometimes) with legos, bakugan, hot wheels, and swimming lessons.
A (very long) while back, I was having dinner with four of my closest friends from college and we realized that in our college years (and the few years immediately after college), among the five of us, we had had four abortions, two incidents of date rape, and a wide array of unsavory and unsatisfying boyfriends. Through nothing but sheer dumb luck, I was not one of the women who had an abortion – instead, I drove friends to the clinic, waited with them, and drove them home. But those roles could have easily been reversed; I could have been the passenger, not the driver.
Now all of us are mothers – babies we had inside the shelter created by stable relationships, jobs, health insurance, family support.
But if we’d been forced to carry those college-created babies to term? Who knows what would have happened to those unwanted children, the products of broken condoms, drunken fumblings, “true love” that didn’t last – and who knows what would have happened to us, women not ready to be mothers?
What I do know is that more than twenty years ago, we had access to a safe, clean, close clinic that helped us through those dark hours. It never occurred to us, way back when, that twenty years later, those pro-life protesters would still be shaking their horrific posters at women caught in the most difficult decision of their lives. How does a “pro-life” agenda square with shooting a man in cold blood, in a church? The idea of violence in a church violates the very foundations of social order, even if, like me, “faith” isn’t a daily part of life.
A few years ago, Bill McKibben wrote an article in Harper’s, called “The Christian Paradox: How A Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong,” in which he points out that the most basic precept of Christianity is the truly radical notion of “love thy neighbor as thyself.” And it is radical: I mean, think about it: if you love your neighbor as yourself, can you imagine telling that person who (not) to marry? Or how to educate your children? Or what to do with your own body?
Somewhere in the fringes of the “pro-life” movement (and one must use inverted commas here, because let’s be frank: there seems to be a real confusion about whose lives are – and are not – valued) there are people who are applauding what’s happened in Kansas. How they rationalize this act of violence with their putative faith, I don’t know.
I do know that there are many people of faith, including many Catholics, who are outraged by what’s happened, and who knows, maybe – finally – Dr. Tiller’s death will be the catalyst that moves us closer to that radical and foundational Christian notion of loving our neighbors. But I have to say that I’m not optimistic.
The vigil in Union Square is over now; I can see from my window that people are filing home, and I suppose that some of the women in the crowd are themselves wrestling with the dilemma my friends wrestled with, decades ago.
How can it be that all these years later, we are having the same battle over women’s bodies – and how can it be that women have even fewer resources than we did then? And how can it be that the body of a doctor – a healer – has so little value?
A doctor killed in a church. How do we put that statement next to the phrase “a civilized society?”