Her Mother’s Glory
Robert Harton the Hardest of Abortion Cases
I promised myself that I would not be the stereotypical father of the bride, like Spencer Tracy, who hates to give away his little girl. But as I walked her down the aisle, and approached the moment she would become a full-grown, married lady, I felt everything I had determined not to feel. Very far from my mind was the story of her strange origins. It is always far from my mind, unless something reminds me of it, like the recent news from Poland.
The infamous abortion ship from Holland was daring to stop off a port in Poland in order to make its “services” available to Polish women who do not have “reproductive rights”—as the anti-life crowd call them—in their own country. Polish law restricts abortions to cases in which the mother’s life is threatened, to cases of incest, and to cases of rape. Compared to the ease with which most women in the Western world can obtain legal abortion for any reason, in fact for no reason at all, and at just about any time during pregnancy, Poland is better. But pro-life? No, sadly, no.
His Daughter Alone
Of my four children, my daughter alone is the one I adopted. I never exactly forget the fact; it simply passes out of conscious thought since it does not matter, for she is, in every way that counts, my daughter, my first child. Over the years, I have always felt what a father ought to feel.
When she was eleven, she suffered a staph infection, and Diane and I feared we would lose her. This was the second time in her short life that she was in danger of dying. The first time she was in danger she did not face an impersonal disease, but determined persons: when her mother had to fight against intruding social workers, and the whole system, for the right to make the choice that her baby would be born. After all, when a woman has been made pregnant through rape, it is not only her right, but her duty, to do the “honorable thing.” At least, so it seemed from all the pressure put on her in those months. She was upsetting the expectations and demands that “liberated” women have no right to upset. She was refusing the “sacrament” of abortion.
What a terrible thing she did. For a woman to bear a child when abortion seemed so justified, so necessary, when the pregnancy was the result of rape—well, it was certainly anti-social behavior. She was coerced into seeing a psychiatrist who could help her overcome the obvious defect known to Christians as principle. He might even have cured her of maternal instinct and the malady called love.
But all those years ago I knew nothing of what had happened, only that she was suddenly gone, nowhere to be found. Why had this girl vanished from our hometown in Maryland without a trace? When I discovered her whereabouts, 3,000 miles away in California, I hastened to call her. I had expected, had hoped, to have seen her in those months. “I have a baby girl,” she told me.
“Are you married?”
“I see. Well, as a Christian I hope you have repented of . . .”
“Well, it was from rape, actually.”
I found that she would not put up her child for adoption. She was willing to live as a single mother because she could not be sure that a couple would raise her child to believe in Jesus Christ. She decided to keep the baby; and God rewarded her by giving her a wonderful, not to mention dashingly handsome, husband.
I never think of my daughter’s origins and the strange circumstances of her early life unless something brings them to mind; for example, the disappointing remarks of a “conservative” radio talk-show host. This fellow talks a lot about his Catholic faith and Irish heritage, so it was with some astonishment that I heard him defending his view that abortion in cases of rape may be justified. “After all,” he pointed out, “it’s not the same as when it’s someone’s fault that she is pregnant. I just think it’s different.” He certainly did not get this idea from the Catholic Church.
I remembered back over twenty years ago hearing the same convoluted reasoning from Christians, some Catholic, some Evangelical. I recall a very Evangelical and Charismatic lady asking me, “But if it was rape, why didn’t she get an abortion?” I thought about the king of Judah, the one who would not execute the sons of his father’s assassins because of the Law of God, which says “the children shall not be put to death for the sins of the fathers, nor the fathers for the sins of the children” (2 Chronicles 25:4; Deuteronomy 24:16).
Where did the “conservative” radio talk-show host get the idea that pregnancy is a penalty? If it is a penalty, it might be unjust for the innocent to bear it. But what if it is not a penalty? What if it is the healing that God might give to a woman who has suffered a violent attack? What if the Author of Life takes the opportunity to do good from someone’s evil? The injustice done to Joseph resulted in the saving of his life, and that of millions of people, foreshadowing the good done for the whole world by the unjust crucifixion of a young rabbi from Nazareth. It is ever the way of God to make good come from the evil that men do.
Just who is it that these well-meaning people, such as the very Charismatic lady and the talk-show host, would sentence to death?
I remember the very wide eyes of a ten-month-old baby girl looking up at me, having just arrived by plane from California with her mother. I remember her first steps across my parents’ living-room floor. After her mother and I were married, I remember the first Christmas in our apartment, and her excitement at the wonder of a lit and decorated tree. She had names for us from Winnie the Pooh.I was Pooh, she was Piglet, and as she looked at her mom, now pregnant with the first of our three sons, she said, “And mom’s the kangaroo.”
Her very first day of school I remember watching her bravely walking into the classroom, as a lady laughed at the sight of my perplexity—a feeling of mingled loss and pride that was small compared to what I felt when I gave her in marriage to a fine young man. I remember her saying to him, “I do,” and pledging her life not only to him but also to any children they are blessed with, and to God who blesses them.
She is a young lady who spreads joy wherever she goes. She has a place in the lives of many, not only her new husband, her parents, and her brothers, but many who know her well, and many who have met her in passing—a unique place that no one else could fill. She is happy by nature at 23, married, an avid reader, a good friend, a serious Christian. This is the person that these well-meaning people were willing to sentence to death. Oh, not now, not when they can see her; but when she was in danger the first time, in the womb and hidden from view.
Enough for Her
My wife is not living the life of a tragic victim. She is the happy mother of four children, and would not wish to part with any of them. My daughter learned of her origin after she was over twenty years of age and it became obvious that the truth could not be hidden without confusion. Someone had taken pictures of her as a three-year-old, at the wedding of her parents. I had been warned, “Never tell her, it would devastate her to know.”
Not so. Rather, the mystery was unsettling, and the truth was welcome. You see, it did not matter. She had always known that God is the Author of Life—all life. Every human being is made in his image, and that means everything when a child is raised to understand that the image of God became more than an abstract idea in Hebrew Scripture when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And it was enough for her that she has a mother and a father who love her.
For both Diane and me, the details of our daughter’s early life and strange origins are very much out of mind, far from conscious thought. That is, unless something brings them to mind, such as realizing that it is time to tell our story for the benefit of others who are caught in what seem like desperate circumstances, and who need the courage to make the decision to let the Author of Life do his healing and creative work, bringing light out of darkness and good out of evil: who need to make the decision of love.
Robert Hartis rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.