By Paula Kappos
Zoe means life in Greek.
In 1997, a group of Orthodox women in Ohio began meeting to see how we could make a life-saving difference in today's society. A survey was sent to women in the area aged 18 and over. Responses indicated three major areas of concern: the need for an Orthodox Christian adoption agency, help for women in crisis pregnancies, and assistance for battered women and children.
The group began meeting with professionals in these areas to see what we could do -- perhaps start an Orthodox adoption agency. A licensing specialist from Ohio told us that the creation of an adoption agency would not be difficult, but was a waste of time because there would be no babies for us to put up for adoption. Why? "Because abortion rates are so high. Babies who might have been adopted usually die before birth."
After talking with directors of various crisis pregnancy centers, we contacted Care Net, a national organization advising those who want to establish crisis pregnancy centers. They were especially happy to meet us because experience had taught them that Orthodox Christians have a higher abortion rate than the U.S. norm. "Orthodox Christians," we were told, "have two strikes against them -- a concentrated ethnic group and a tightly knit religious group. For reasons of pride and shame, these factors invariably are linked to high abortion rates." Trying to recall unwed mothers in our own parishes, we could remember only one in the past 25 years.
We returned to our parish priests to ask about their experiences with crisis pregnancies and abortions. To our dismay, they all confirmed what we had been told. Many Orthodox women abort their children, but their priests become aware of the event only through confession. We discovered there are even those in the Church who regard abortion as "a valid choice" or "not a serious sin."
Thus our group, ZOE FOR LIFE, came into being.
Zoe for Life links women with professional agencies for counseling and medical care. We also provide emotional and spiritual support, a sheltering home if needed, and -- if the mother opts for adoption -- an adoption plan with Orthodox Christian families. (While we limit adoption assistance to the Orthodox community, we help any woman with a crisis pregnancy.) Many bishops have lent us their support. Our board includes representatives from the Antiochian, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, and Greek jurisdictions.
From the outset we knew finding children for adoption would not be easy. Then a local couple went to an Orthodox orphanage in Guatemala as part of an Orthodox Christian Mission Center team. The nuns there asked if Zoe for Life could help find homes for the children in their care. Our answer was a resounding yes. Now we also have ties with orphanages in Russia and Ukraine.
Abortionists have done a great job of portraying pro-lifers as lunatics, cult-like hysterics, bent on bombing abortion clinics and killing doctors. Zoe for Life emphasizes its pro-woman position, which also translates into pro-child.
The fact is that abortion clinics are not the problem but rather a symptom of social sickness. Slogans like "It's a baby, not a choice" answer a question few are asking. The chilling truth is that even the abortionists agree that it's a baby.
The sexual revolution promised sex without consequences. Pro-abortionists chant, "My right, my body, my choice." But the reality is that abortion translates into isolation and loneliness. Women who abort their babies have betrayed the one person who so desperately counted on their protection -- their child. Most will grapple with this realization for the rest of their lives.
Abortion never solves a mother's problem, because the baby is not the problem. Thus we help women focus on the real problems: relationship issues with the baby's father; pressure from family and friends; embarrassment at being pregnant; and all the other the issues that brought her to this place. We let her know that she is not alone.
Orthodox Christians must do more than say we're against abortion. That's too simplistic. By our silent conviction that "our girls don't do those things," we force our young people to have abortions. Pride in our ethic identity and Orthodox heritage is brutalizing our children and murdering our grandchildren.
Any society that pits a woman against her unborn has perverted the very essence of motherhood. We must transmit the message of non-judgmental, Christian love and support for our children in crisis pregnancies. It is imperative that we speak to our children candidly, in our homes and churches, to help them understand that living a pure lifestyle is a real option.
Such discussion is crucial. Would you offer a teenager the car keys, and not expect them to take the car out for a spin? Or offer them alcohol and expect them to say no? What about birth control? Contraceptives are easily accessible, and casual sex portrayed in contemporary music and so many movies and TV dramas, gives them the impression that "everyone is doing it." In such a social context, do we seriously expect our teenagers not to experiment with sex?
The Orthodox perspective on marriage and pre-marital sex is essential for balance. For this reason, Zoe for Life is working to create an "Orthodox Life Choices" program to help our young people think ahead to where they want to go in life, and reflect on how decisions they make today will shape their tomorrows. Our inaugural presentation of the first phase of this program will be presented in April. However, they need to know that if they fall short of their goals, the Church -- and Zoe for Life -- is there to help.
Are we having an impact? Though we've only just begun compiling statistics, in the past three months we received 62 requests calls for help, came into contact with eight potential adoptive families, found two host families, and played a part in averting at least three abortions. Consider Camille, born two years ago to a young unwed mother. Consider Alexandra, brought to this country in time for Christmas last year from Guatemala, by a loving adoptive couple in Virginia. Ask little Anthony and his mother Gina, who gained emotional support and shelter from a host home for the last four months of her pregnancy. Anthony was born on October 22, 2001. Ask the priests who've called seeking support for parishioners in crisis, women who had already made appointments for abortion.
We are ordinary Orthodox Christians. Together, with God's help, we can change our world. If we don't speak for the unborn, who will? If each of us could help just one young person avoid the lifelong torment and guilt of an abortion, if we could save even one life, if we can help create even one family, wouldn't that be a blessing for all of us?
There are at least two victims in every abortion: the baby and the mother who felt she had no other option. Women who have had abortions so often say, "If only I had had someone to stand by me." The missing "someone" is you and me.
Paula Kappos, founder of Zoe for Life, lives in Moreland Hills, Ohio, and is a member of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland Heights. She is married and the mother of two. You may reach Zoe for Life at 3352 Mayfield Rd., Cleveland Heights, OH 44118; 440-893-9990; Hot Line phone 887-436-LIFE; or at their website: www.zoeforlifeonline.org.