Commentary By: Lisa Murtha
I’ve interviewed probably over a thousand people by now in my 20+ year career as a journalist. Many of the interviews eventually fade into the background but there are a few moments I remember like they happened yesterday.
One of those was seven years ago, while shadowing Nickeya, a beautifully broken woman in a program called Off the Streets here in Cincinnati. I was learning what life was like for her and other women who were recovering from drug addiction – almost always to heroin – and moving forward after being trafficked and/or working in prostitution. I spent an extensive amount of time shadowing Nickeya, but I spent even more time in small group activities with her and her peers – morning check-ins, lessons on rebuilding finances and going back to school, and group sessions with psychologists.
It was one of the latter that still sticks with me to this day. A group facilitator, Miss Nancy, had just arranged the women in two rows, facing each other, and announced they were going to play “the line game.” The rules, I had written, go like this: when someone says something a participant agrees or identifies with, they step forward into the space between the two rows. The first question’s easy: “Step forward if you like pepperoni pizza.” The majority of the group moves. They all laugh. Quickly, the questions get more personal:
Step forward if you’ve ever woken up next to someone the next morning and regretted it.
… If you ever went into a clinic worried you had an STD.
…If you were abused or molested as a child.
The topics got successively more personal. I don’t go into much detail in the article, but another topic they eventually hit on is the one that sticks with me to this day:
Step Forward if you’ve ever had an abortion.
We’d already listened to a lot of people talk about a lot of things – how Nickeya gave birth to a drug addicted child. How another woman watched her young son get run over by a car. But also how one woman ate nothing except little Debbie snack cakes for weeks on end in between heroin binges and “turning tricks.” And how another sat on a school bus during high school and had sex, one-by-one, with every member of the football team.
They carried heavy burdens on their life journeys, but the biggest shock to me, an outsider, was their collective response to the abortion prompt. One by one, almost every woman in the line stepped forward. With unspoken words it became immediately clear that the sadness and depth of that weight far outweighed all others. Of all the things they’d seen and done and been exposed to during their lives on the streets of Cincinnati as addicts and prostitutes and trafficking victims, those women regretted most of all their abortions. I will never forget the sadness and regret I felt in that room at that moment.
To that point in my life, I suppose I would have considered myself – like so many other women I personally know my age – “pro-choice,” even though I had birthed my own three children. And even though I will always tell anyone who asks that being a Mom has been the hardest thing I have ever done, but also the most profoundly life-altering and utterly beautiful experience I have ever had. It gave me purpose and my life meaning.
Something in my heart and mind clicked that day at Off The Streets – an understanding that abortion was not really what I had been told growing up. It was not at all a throwaway procedure that empowered women to live their best lives. To these women, it was a cross to bear – one of epic proportions.
My mom has been actively “pro-life” as long as I can remember; my journey is ongoing. I spent much of my life feeling the same way about abortion as I did about the death penalty: I couldn’t do it, but it’s not my place to tell others what to do with their lives. As time progresses and the pro-abortion lobby grows more extreme, I grow more pro-life by the day. I hope I’m not alone in saying, though, that never once on my winding journey would I have believed that a fertilized human egg, from the moment of conception, was not a human being. That Bill Burr comedy bit from last summer pretty much says it all:
“That would be if I was making a cake,” says Burr, and I poured some batter into a pan, and I put it in the oven, and then five minutes later, you came by, and you grabbed the pan, and you threw it across the floor, and I went, ‘Aw, f***, you just ruined my birthday cake.’ And you were like, ‘That wasn’t cake, yet.’
“‘Well, it would have been if you didn’t just do what you just did,” he continued. “There would have been a cake in 50 minutes. Something happened to the cake, you cake-murdering son of a b****.’”
As Ohioans consider how they will vote on Issue One, I find myself mystified by the way so many women in our state have allowed themselves to be ruled by emotion over reason. I cannot imagine living in a state where abortion has become such a cherished practice that it is codified into the constitution, through all nine months. Is that what we have come to stand for? Peanut butter buckeyes, Ohio State football and the opportunity to kill pre-born babies until the moment of birth?
I recently helped my Mom write and publish More Than Me, a book for women who are considering abortion. Before I did that, I asked to speak with women who work in pregnancy clinics, so I could understand what exactly the women they see each day are thinking and feeling when they come into a crisis pregnancy clinic.
Pregnancy centers work with clients ranging from children to college students to trafficking victims and even women with families already. Whatever their circumstance, women in crisis pregnancies can experience a range of emotions, say pregnancy center staffers: uncertainty and fear, hopelessness, shame, exhaustion. “It’s a shock, just like a diagnosis of breast cancer,” a head nurse at a CPCI clinic in Sarasota once told me. “It’s overwhelming. They’re fearful. There are all these options, but you don’t know which is right for you.”
The accusation I hear most frequently about pro-life pregnancy clinics is they convince women to have babies and then leave both mother and child to fend for themselves. In speaking with staffers from both Pregnancy Center Plus here in town and Community Pregnancy Clinics (CPCI) in Southwest Florida, I’ve found the opposite to be true. In both places, I have seen rooms overflowing with new and gently used maternity clothes, baby clothes, car seats, swings and diapers – all available to any mother who comes in to ask.
“A lot of times couples are going for abortions because they think they can’t afford [having kids],” a mobile ultrasound tech from CPCI once told me. “But WIC helps out with food during pregnancy and stays with families until the child is five years old. And we will help with anything you need – we support women until the child is three years old.”
In addition to supporting women and children, many pro-life workers have told me their main objective is educating clients about the potential physical and psychological damage they may endure post-abortion. I have read stories of women who suffered from a perforated uterus during an abortion, and cardiac arrest. I have read others about women so filled with scar tissue they cannot bring a wanted pregnancy to full term years later.
Many women in crisis pregnancies see abortion as “a means to an end,” the CPCI mobile ultrasound technician told me. “But that means to an end can cause more damage than you think. You’re making a life and death decision and you have to live with that for the rest of your life. Five years from now, how will you feel about this decision?”
The goal at pro-life clinics, she continued, is “to show women that what they’re going through is just temporary – a hurdle – and that two, three or even five years from now everything will calm down.” It’s also crucial to show girls and women in crisis pregnancies that they’re not alone, she adds. “Even those who choose abortion still need support and compassion. In the end, we’re not God. Our job is just being there for them, getting them to take the blinders off and see that there is hope and that they’re not alone. There is help in the community.”
I think often about how empty my own life would be had I aborted any one of our sons in favor of my career. I read heartbreaking stories from the Project Rachel website, about women struggling to recover form abortions years ago. I hear the words of other abortion survivors, like Christy Ballor, Ohio Regional Coordinator of SilentNoMore.com, and they suddenly make so much sense to me.
“Mother and child are inextricably linked from conception on,” Christy wrote me in a recent email. “You cannot hurt a child without hurting the mother and you cannot help a child without helping the mother.”
Ballor wasn’t an addict when she got pregnant; she was a normal 16-year-old girl who was scared and felt alone and confused. She describes her journey toward abortion in a recent Northeast Ohio Catholic article and series of videos. Decades later, she regrets now more than ever that she never got to meet her son. She prays each day that she will meet him one day in heaven.
One of the largest concerns I have with the abortion industry today is that women aren’t being told the whole truth. They are only being told one side of the story – the side that bills abortion as a quick and easy way to dispose of an unwanted pregnancy and move forward with your life. A “choice” that’s all about their own rights and feelings, with no regard for the pre-born baby, who is merely an innocent bystander.
After extensive research, I’ve learned that a lot of women actually don’t move forward with their lives. Maybe they seem to at first, but eventually, it seems to come back to haunt them in some way – alcohol and drug abuse. Staying in abusive relationships. Self-loathing.
As my Mom and I note in our book, the minute a woman becomes pregnant, whether intended or not, her life has already changed. Having an abortion might seem to erase the baby, but it won’t erase that fact. As Abby notes on the Project Rachel website, “I will always regret my decision, and I will continue to carry my quiet secret with me. It has become part of who I am.”
These days, abortions are just as likely to be pharmaceutical interventions as surgeries; the end result seems no better. “I remember sitting in the empty bathtub, a stream of blood running to the drain, holding this tiny mass of tissue in my hand. This tiny mass that could not be mistaken for anything else but a helpless baby,” one reader wrote on the Hope After Abortion website. “No one can be right after that. I sat there for hours, crying and puffy eyed, holding the tiny body in my fingers wondering what I have done. Thinking about how beautiful and healthy this child would have been… I avoid the pain and bury it deep, but it is still there. I am now 22 years old and need to heal. I feel like it has been a lifetime of regret, but it has only been a little over three years.”
We live in an era where make-believe passes for reality, where media and powerful organizations like Planned Parenthood and once-prominent universities have effectively convinced people that women can be men, men can be women, and babies are both inconvenient and an unrewarding life investment. Jobs, careers, social media influencer status – all are painted as admirable above all else. As a woman who has won so many awards for my writing and work but has also dedicated her life to being a mom, it makes me sad beyond measure to think there is an entire generation of women out there who have been convinced that “reproductive health and freedom” and success in careers are in any way more fulfilling than the very jobs our own bodies were naturally created to do.
Rising above the din of the current culture takes guts. It takes strength and purpose and resolve. Maybe abstinence is the answer in the end – I’m not sure. What I do know is that codifying abortion into the Ohio constitution is a twisted way of continuing to lie to young women. Abortions are not quick and easy solutions without repercussions. In the long run, they come with just as much of a cost. Maybe more.
Consider Karli’s testimony from the Hope After Abortion website. “I won’t lie to you,” she wrote. “[Healing after abortion] was a difficult journey. You must face yourself honestly, and it is frightening to confront the many faults we have. For those of us who are post-abortive, often the very things we have to face are the same fears that caused us to choose abortion in the first place. The paradox is that facing these things – fear of abandonment, self-love, pride, etc. – is the very thing that will set us free from them. No matter how hard the journey, it is never as difficult as what you are living with now.”
And perhaps most powerful of all, the words of Francine: “I wasn’t told that I could become suicidal in the fall of every year, when both of my [aborted] babies should have been born. I wasn’t told that on the birthdays of my living children, I would remember the two for whom I would never bake a birthday cake, or that on Mother’s Day I would remember the two who would never send me a card, or that every Christmas I would remember the two for whom there would be no presents. My abortions were supposed to be a ‘quick-fix’ for my problems, but they didn’t tell me there is no ‘quick-fix’ for regrets.”