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Pro-Life Resources

Romanesque carving of Christ with Cain after the murder of Abel. Autun, France. (photo: Jim Forest}
Romanesque carving of Christ with Cain after the murder of Abel. Autun, France. (photo: Jim Forest}

From the early days of Christianity, the protection of human life — from the womb to old age — has been a major priority for the Church. Safeguarding unborn children is a topic that has often been addressed in the pages of In Communion. A partial list of articles and essays on this topic follows.

Peace With My Body

by Monica Klepac

On April 20, 2006, just a few minutes past seven in the morning, I held my new- born son, Abram. As I gazed into his beautiful face, deep gratefulness welled up within for the wonderful pregnancy and childbirth I had experienced. And at that moment, I made peace with my body. I had always been healthy and had a pretty uneventful medical history until 2001 when my husband and I were expecting our first child. At about four months into the pregnancy, just when I thought I was out of the danger zone, I miscarried. It was the most emotionally devastating event either of us had gone through. For months we cried and wrestled with God about the injustice of our loss. A weight descended on us as we saw the world as a place where bad things happen, even to good people, with little or no explanation. I began to see myself and my body as defective, unable to carry a child as it was created to. I had no health problems related to the miscarriage, yet I felt scarred and broken.

In May 2002, we had the joy of finding out we were pregnant again. Our hearts were full of hope and expectation, but with that little shadow of “what if” lurking in the corner. We had learned that there were some circumstances that we could not control and we prayed daily for health and safety for this baby, but not knowing if our prayers were enough. Almost halfway through my pregnancy, I woke up one morning to severe bleeding and cramping. This was farther along than my first pregnancy, but that shadow in my mind became a beast of fear rumbling around in my every thought. The following months brought many hurdles including placenta previa, bed rest, gall stones, bells palsy and a breech presentation. But ultimately, after a c-section delivery, we met our beautiful son, Simeon, face to face.

Despite my enjoyment of being a mother, the struggles I encountered during pregnancy left me with a deep distrust in my body. I could not look at myself and say, as God did after creating man and woman, “It is very good.” I could only say, “It is good enough, I guess.” I felt there was a flaw, an error, in my form that made me unable to have a healthy, normal pregnancy. A feeling of latent hostility towards the body God had given me remained in the background. This feeling of enmity towards the human frame is reflected in the popular culture. Society has sanctioned a very narrow range of what is “good,” when it comes to the human body. To fall into that category, the body must be thin, healthy, muscular, attractive, clean, and strong. Even the smallest variation is grounds for dismissal as sub-par.

This might mean aborting a baby with an extra chromosome, or denying food or drink to a patient in a vegetative state. Frequently young women who believe their bodies are unattractive turn to eating disorders or obsessive exercise to create a body that fits into the ideal form. Athletes use drugs to achieve new heights of speed and strength. Paradoxically, even though the mass media lifts up an impossible standard of physical perfection, America has an epidemic of obesity and many other wealthy countries are following suit. It seems that whether it is through medicine or fast food, we have yet to find how to respect these fragile frames we have been given. Our relationship with our bodies is more of aggression than harmony.

My path to peace with my body is intertwined with my journey into the Orthodox Church. At the time of my first pregnancy, we had visited Orthodox churches and monasteries and were attracted to the faith, but had made no commitments.

When I miscarried, one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to go to the liturgy so I could be free to weep and pray on my knees as my heart cried out “Why?” In the midst of my grief, I knew the Church was a refuge for my wounds. Within a few months, we were chrismated and made our first steps in our walk in Orthodox faith. As they say in Romanian, “Pu in cte pu in” – bit by bit scales were lifted off my eyes to see myself and my body in truth.

Through my increased understanding of the Incarnation and learning to pray with icons, I have grown in wonder at how Almighty, Omnipotent God was manifest through this broken, vulnerable vessel we call the human body. Christ’s feet being washed, his hands breaking bread, his mouth eating fish, are all moments of intersection of the Divine with the human. And our Savior was not tainted by living in a human form, quite the opposite. His presence as a man made possible the salvation, not just of our immaterial souls, but our hairy, sweaty, wrinkled, callous- ed bodies too.

As I work among poor children and street boys, I see arms with the scars of self- mutilation. I see little children with rotten teeth. I see old people choosing between buying medication or food.

Through the window of icons, I have encountered the truth of God made man and I have been given hope that salvation means that our bodies will one day be restored and healed.

Each Sunday, we make our way up the street and around the corner to a hundred-year-old church that has survived two world wars, revolution, and numerous earthquakes. Under its massive dome, I have learned to worship with my whole body. I have never experienced a more physical form of worship than the drama of the Liturgy. Between standing, kneeling, crossing, kissing, eating, drinking, smelling, seeing and hearing, there is enough activity for even my busy three-year-old to be engaged.

The whole liturgy is a call to give every facet of my being – body, soul, mind and spirit – to God. To make one more step forward in my continuing journey of theosis and to let go one more time of all the things holding me back. As I have learned to worship with my hands, feet, knees, mouth, nose and eyes, I have seen my body in a new way. As the psalmist praises, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I have been given this beautiful body to give it back to God in worship. When I am turned toward Christ, and my whole self, including my body, is in right relationship to Him, then I hear the Creator pronounce, “It is very good.” In addition to the Incarnation, and the Divine Liturgy, I have begun to see how the ascetic life has given me peace with my body. As opposed to the never ending diet fads that punish the body for being less than perfect, the cycles of fasting and feasting embrace the good gift of food. Like the manna that fell down from heaven, food is a blessing given from our Creator to be enjoyed and celebrated and given to others. Fasting reminds us that food is not our master, but provision from the Master. As we willingly give up certain foods, and return to the diet that Adam and Eve had in the garden, we remember that original, perfect relationship between God and his Creation. I begin to see my body as Eve must have seen hers before the Fall: a beautifully created gift.

The final passage towards peace with my body was my third pregnancy, with my son Abram. As we considered having another child, I was reminded of the experiences of the past. Fear and doubt in what my body could do tried to creep in. But the lessons taught by the liturgy, icons and fasting were deeply rooted. I did not know what the journey of carrying this child would bring, but I rested in the fact that I was under God’s care. This sense of trust, no matter the outcome, gave me the security to treat my body as the wonderfully made creation it is. I listened to what my body was telling me and responded with respect. I rested when I was tired. I ate as I felt hungry. I put heat packs on my aching back. And each day, during my afternoon nap, I relaxed and thanked God for the gift of my body. I thanked him for the ability to bear a child. I looked to the Theotokos, Elisabeth, Hannah, Sarah, the great women of faith that were given the gift of children.

And, to my delight, Abram’s pregnancy was problem-free. I was shocked to go to my check ups and not be sent to a specialist or asked to perform extra blood tests. As his due date approached, I knew that this body could birth a child because God had made it for that purpose. When labor began, I found the reading and praying and reflecting I had practiced gave me a deep sense of calm. It was strong foundation for me to stand on as I let my body do the work of childbirth. The contractions brought forth not only the gift of a baby boy, but a truce between my body and me. I know that Abram’s pregnancy could have been just as difficult as my first and second, yet I believe that the grace and peace I had received would have sustained me through joy or sorrow. This journey of peace-making with my body will vary its forms through my life. Now I am in the season of child bearing and child rearing, and God has worked through the loss of a child and the gift of two children to reveal the goodness of his gift of my body. Yet, this gift is not one for me to hold onto with a clenched fist. It is one I offer with open hands in return to the Creator, to be used and used up for His Glory. One day, I will experience what Christ expressed to St. Peter “When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18).

As I have seen the baby boomer generation attempt to evade growing old by spend millions of dollars on “anti-aging” products, I have wondered what it will mean for me to live at peace with an older body. I do not know what illness or ailments may come with the years, but more than the pleasures of youthful vigor, I seek the serenity of a spirit whose security is in Christ. As I move through the seasons of life, I pray for peace, meaning the ability to rest and be led where Christ leads, knowing he is with us.

As St. Paul tells the Ephesians, “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

God has used many means to bring me to the place where I have relinquished the feelings of hostility towards my body. I have experienced a healthy, normal and natural pregnancy and birth. I have taken first steps on a path of faith in the goodness of the Creator, reflected in the beauty of the creation. I now understand that God has graciously given me this piece of his workmanship, this body, and we are at peace.

Monica Klepac and her husband, Joel, live in Galati, Romania where they work with Word Made Flesh. Besides caring for her two sons, Simeon and Abram, Monica works among young men who live on the streets and school children living in poverty. Her blog address is www.monicaklepac.blogspot.com.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

On Abortion and Over-Population

by Nancy Forest-Flier

In a recent letter, a friend explained his reluctant acceptance of abortion with the statement: “I also believe that the human race is over-running the planet and destroying our Mother the Earth.” While recognizing abortion as a moral problem, he saw it as the lesser of two evils. The cost of saving the planet is to reduce the human population. This is a widely accepted notion, and there are many who have succeeded in making us believe that over-population is the problem and that birth control and abortion are the answer.

Population control is often an attempt by Western, wealthy nations to impose their values on poor, usually non-white nations, and these countries are not happy about it. At a recent 1998 Population Consultation of the UN NGO Committee on Population and Development in New York, the ambassador from the Dominican Republic, Julia Alvarez, shocked the audience with a speech in which she sharply criticized groups such as Zero Population Growth and Planned Parenthood for trying to reduce fertility in countries that don’t want it (and thinking that it’s for their own good, etc.). She accused the West of targeting poor and darker-skinned countries, such as her own. “It used to be,” she pointed out, “that older women could depend on their adult children to care for them in old age. In 1960, for example, a Jamaican woman had an average of six children; by 1990 she was likely to have fewer than three. Now typically she has two. Who will supply the support system for this mother when she is old?”

Even more amazing was the speech by Dr. James McCarthy, Head of the Center for Population at Columbia University, who called himself a “recovering demographer” and told the audience that “population doesn’t matter.”

In her book Sex and Destiny, feminist Germaine Greer comments, “we [should] abandon the rhetoric of crisis for we are the crisis. Let us stop worrying about a world crammed with people… stop counting the babies born every minute… use our imagination to understand how poverty is created and maintained… so that we lose our phobia about the poor. Rather than being afraid of the powerless, let us be afraid of the powerful — the rich, sterile nations who have no stake in the future. More ‘unwanted’ children are born to us, the rich, than to them, the poor.”

Although there are clearly some over-populated places in the world, this does not mean that the world is over-populated. There are many, many factors involved. Someone told me recently that the entire population of the world, if it agreed to live at the same density as New York City, could fit into the state of Texas. Not a very savory prospect, but interesting.

Justifying abortion by the population-control argument boils down to saying that we should encourage the use of abortion as birth control. But there are already countries that use abortion as birth control — Russia and other former East bloc countries — and the women there are in despair. Some women have several abortions in their lifetime because the birth control possibilities are so limited, and they are urgently demanding better conditions so that they don’t have to resort to abortion just to limit births. So this argument just doesn’t hold water. Not only do the poor countries not want population control, not only is the whole over-population argument questionable, but individual women who are forced to control births through abortion are crying for help.

I would be surprised if any woman ever had an abortion for the sake of the planet, or because of her concern for over-population. Among the women I have known who had abortions, none of them, at that terrible point in their lives, cared a hoot about over-population. Women have abortions because they feel cornered, abandoned, hopeless, scared, manipulated. At least my friends all felt this way. And after the abortion they mourned deeply. They may still be mourning. Frederica Mathewes Green, in her book Real Choices, explains the psychological after-effects of abortion; if they had it to do over again, most women admit that they would choose not to abort.

My personal feeling is that abortion is just as much a feminist issue as it is a pro-life issue. I think women have been sold a very shoddy bill of goods. Radical feminist leaders have played right into the hands of Hugh Hefner types: abortion is a wonderful solution for both of them. Women are expected to make the “right” choice as soon as a problem pregnancy comes along (at least the playboy philosophy hopes they will).

The other argument one hears is that abortion is a more merciful solution for the children of the poor than growing up in destitution. My friend asked: “Isn’t poverty and isolation a slow, cruel death as opposed to an operation that deals with the new life before it can actually think and breathe?”

Not necessarily. That’s implying that poor people should consider abortion when they get pregnant, because it’s sure better than raising children in poverty and isolation. But there are lots and lots of poor women who curse their poverty, and then on top of it all they feel driven to the abortion clinic when they get pregnant, just because society has few other options.

With all our collective intelligence, with all our social science, with all our money, society in the West should be able to come up with a better solution for dealing with problem pregnancies (not medical problems) than abortion. Abortion leaves far, far too many psychological scars. But it’s the cheap way out. What abortion does is pressure the most vulnerable — scared pregnant women — into “getting rid of the problem” so that society doesn’t have to deal with it.

My friend wrote: “I shudder to think of our making common cause with the so-called ‘Christian’ right who are militantly against abortion but endorse war, sexism and capital punishment.” But must we be inconsistent simply because others are inconsistent? Just because the far-right seems to have co-opted the pro-life argument doesn’t mean that nobody else can endorse it. This calls for a little bit of courage. I urged my friend not to let the agenda of the far right limit his agenda. If you think abortion is wrong, oppose it bravely!

Here in the Netherlands we have the lowest abortion rate in the entire Western world. And, says the Minister of Health, “we’re proud of it.” Proud to have a low abortion rate? That must mean that lowering the abortion rate, or trying to, is a thing worth doing. What I’m saying is, let’s try to lower the abortion rate everywhere. Let’s not abandon women to their own private darkness where they have to make these impossible decisions alone (and then face a society that shrugs its shoulders).

William Styron’s book Sophie’s Choice is about such an impossible choice. On one level it’s about the Holocaust, but on another level it’s about the pressure to decide which of your children you will allow to live and which you will abandon to the hand of violence. Sophie could not live with her choice and finally took her own life.

One can find women who are no more troubled about an abortion they had than they are troubled about a missed bus, but for every woman who is blas about having abortions you will find many more who wish they hadn’t had to do violence to their unborn children and to their consciences. I’m not insisting that the laws be changed (although it would be good if it did eventually happen), or that all women be forced to go through with their pregnancy no matter what (even if their health is at risk), or that we abandon women to back-street butchers. I’m saying, let’s work from the other side. Let’s try to create a society in which abortion is unthinkable. A society that forces the weak and frightened to shoulder the burden of a social problem should be ashamed of itself.

How do we do it? That’s a good question. My hope is that peace organizations will at last begin to explore rather than ignore the problem, to start some dialogues, to try to cut through the rhetoric and terrible division and to address a problem that everybody can rally around.

Nancy Forest-Flier is a translator and editor.