“Can I tell you my story?”
She was nearing sixty years old, with graying, shoulder length hair. She had sad, but friendly, eyes. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, that she was on my side, but I had a nagging feeling that she wasn’t.
Before she approached me, she had gotten her husband’s attention and pointed in my direction. He nodded and walked away, giving her space. This was clearly a routine they had done before.
“Sure,” I said.
I had a story in my mind that I hoped she would tell me. She would say that she had been young, that she had gotten pregnant, that she had gotten an abortion. She would tell me that it had been hard, but now, forty years later, there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that it was the right choice. That a couple of years later, she had gotten married — perhaps to the man who was now leaning on the fence, people-watching to pass the time — and now they had three grown children. They had numerous blessings — a career, economic stability, a happy life — that wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for abortion. And then she would write a check for $100.
That wasn’t the story she told. “When I was young,” she said, “I made a mistake.”
“I was in my twenties, and I thought that having an abortion was my only choice.”
Great, I thought. I glanced at my partner, who was standing a bit farther down the sidewalk. Her blonde ponytail bobbed up and down as she chatted happily with a new donor, who was probably signing up to give $30 a month. Meanwhile, I had my own quota to reach and no time to talk to an overly emotional woman about her regrets from the past.
I smiled politely and tried to cut her off.
“I understand,” I said, “but it seems like we’re not on the same page here.” I tried to escape. She was ruthless.
“I think about my baby every day,” she continued. She had tears in her eyes.
I nodded and tried my best to look sympathetic, but I knew what the statistics said: Most people don’t regret their abortions. It was a shame that she did, of course. But one woman’s regret was no basis for changing laws nation-wide. I looked at my watch. Only fifteen minutes left.
The blonde canvasser, a college student just a couple years younger than me, glanced over at me a few times while the woman talked. My eyes darted in her direction, hoping that she would extract me from the conversation.
But the older woman looked nice and friendly. She wasn’t an obvious pro-lifer. She didn’t carry around posters of aborted fetuses like one man did. She didn’t start loudly asking why we kill so many babies, like another one we often encountered. She didn’t intimidate me until I abandoned my post or follow me for blocks until I ducked into a local business to beg the manager for sanctuary, as had happened to me already on multiple occasions.
For all my young supervisor could tell, this lady was a generous donor with a very long story.
I was new to canvassing, fresh out of college. I had moved away from home for the first time and loved my new city. I didn’t know yet that I would return home a year later, that someday soon, I would be married and practicing the faith of my childhood again. I didn’t know that I would think about this woman approximately once a week, full of my own regret for brushing her off and hoping that she had finally found healing.
I didn’t know that I would keep this “temporary” job for almost a year. I didn’t know who I would encounter. I didn’t expect the dozen or so young people who would walk past me over the course of the year and calmly reply, “No thank you, I’m Roman Catholic.”
I didn’t know that I would always remember the black preacher who very respectfully explained that abortion was an attack on his community, that Margaret Sanger had been a racist and a eugenicist. My white, female companions and I would politely thank him for his time and reassure ourselves that we were not racist and Margaret Sanger probably wasn’t either. His face would pop into my head one day when I saw a t-shirt that proclaimed, “Margaret Sanger is my homegirl.”
I didn’t understand that most women weren’t proudly marching into abortion clinics, glad to be exercising their rights. Many of them felt that they had no choice. I would catch only a glimpse of that desperation someday. I was back at home, unemployed, defaulting on my student loans, dodging calls from collections while I applied for jobs — and buying a pregnancy test. I would declare that abortion was the only choice I had. That pregnancy test would be negative, and not three years later, when my debts were paid and my credit good, my new marriage was happy and stable, and my insurance benefits were decent, I would stare at an ultrasound screen, watching an eight-weeks-gestation fetus wave its tiny arms and kick its tiny legs, looking not unlike a dancing gummy bear, and I would thank God that He has spared me the opportunity to make such a permanent, violent decision back when my life was temporarily falling apart.
“You are very young,” the woman told me that day on the street, wiping a tear from her eye. “I always stop to talk to young women when I see them doing things like this.”
Jeez, I thought. I’m raising money for healthcare, not slaughtering fully-grown infants on street corners.
“I’m sorry that you had a bad experience.” I chose my words carefully. “Abortion isn’t the right choice for everyone.”
By now, the husband had made his way back. He put his arm around his sniffling wife. The genuine concern on his face surprised me, but I brushed it off. I knew the type. Khaki pants, collared shirt. He was clearly a privileged, conservative man who wanted to stop women from making their own decisions. How lucky for him that he had found a woman who happened to agree with his backwards views. He addressed me directly now.
“Gloria always stops to talk to women about this. It’s a very painful subject for her.” His brows were furrowed, his face stern. He seemed torn between feeling sorry for me and blaming me for his wife’s experience. “No woman should have to live with the pain that she has.”
They left just as my partner approached me. Our time was up. Her clipboard looked very empty — lots of forms filled out and tucked safely away in her bag — while mine was still full of blank ones.
“No luck?” She asked, glancing at the couple who were now heading toward a nearby restaurant. “They seemed friendly.”
I rolled my eyes: “Pro-lifers.”