I was 11 years old when Roe v. Wade (1973) gave women a constitutional right to abortion. My parents told me a story to help me understand this momentous event.
Here was the content: a member of my family, whom I loved, once used her own knitting needles to abort a baby she knew she couldn’t afford to feed.
Here was the meaning: we were practical, hard-working Italians, and nothing was going to hinder us from achieving the American Dream for each and every family member.
This was a story of heroism. The woman was a matriarch who knew how to take control of her own womb, a loving mother who knew poverty and starvation were far worse than death before birth. This was also a story of a nation. Our country was advancing in its high regard for women, leaving the barbaric days of back-alley abortions and welcoming one where medical care came to the aid of heroic women like my beloved relative.
Grip of Old Family Values
This was one of the first times I remember history folding into future and holding me solidly in the grip of family values: we were a progressive family, and even our unschooled ancestors showed the grit and goodness of the progressive ideas we knew were best.
My family member was not a feminist. Although long dead, she would not want to be remembered this way. She was a poor woman abused by her husband and trapped by a life with too many children to feed. I was taught that the right to choose came to the aid of all women, but especially poor ones.
For most of my childhood and early adulthood, the name “Planned Parenthood” conjured feelings of safety and security. The institution represented for me and my family of origin a bedrock of civilization: a woman’s right to liberation from the oppression of bearing a child. As I understood it, because of Roe v. Wade a single mistake wouldn’t result in a lifetime of punishment for women. For as long as I can remember, my parents would designate Planned Parenthood as their end-of-the-year monetary donation.
We believed only third world countries would abandon women without medical solution to terminating pregnancy. Not only did abortion rights secure each person’s free right to consensual sex without impunity—a fundamental right of personhood, we believed—but it made the world a better place for children. Indeed, the sheer fact that the world was overpopulated and that “unwanted” children were subject to poverty and abuse proved abortion was good for both the environment and the family. It also seemed to us that the wrong people kept having babies—and lots of them—while educated people like our family knew to have only one child or two.
Long before I became a self-conscious feminist supporting the worldview of Planned Parenthood, I believed abortion was more than just some “necessary evil.” I believed abortion was a compelling good.
Frankenstein and Jesus
The goodness of abortion followed me through graduate school, when I wrote my dissertation on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
In 1818 Shelley, the 17-year-old child wife of poet Percy Shelley and the classically educated daughter of natural philosopher William Godwin and first feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote a novel on a dare. Deeply influenced by natural philosopher and English physician Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), Frankenstein is about a bachelor who learns how to create life in a laboratory. The protagonist scientist, Victor Frankenstein, is raised by a progressive family, one that protects him from the foolish superstitions of organized Christian religion and affords him the best education in the natural sciences. He’s therefore unafraid to collect body parts from a church graveyard by dismembering bodies. The novel records how night after night he returns to the graveyard and hacks away until he has the bloody parts he needs. It’s base and gruesome work done in the name of higher-minded science. Frankenstein works hard to extract intact internal organs. He skimps on the skin, though, creating a creature whose skin doesn’t stretch to cover all his internal organs. Frankenstein’s “monster,” in spite of having natural science as its mother and receiving the very best Rousseauian education, is literally falling apart at the seams, his internal organs spilling out for the whole world to behold and ridicule.
Like Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood, Dr. Victor Frankenstein understood the need for intact hearts.
Like Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Dr. Victor Frankenstein believed there’s no higher calling on the human body than the donation of tissue for scientific research.
And like both doctors, one fictional and one real, I followed in their footsteps.
Like Victor and Deborah, I wanted to control nature and believed I could with enough hutzpah and smarts.
And then I met Jesus Christ.
But when I was first converted, I did not understand why abortion was a sin.
I remember asking the women in church why Christians condemned abortion and celebrated capital punishment. I never heard a compelling argument.
And then, one day during worship, we sang Psalm 102 and it hit me between the eyes. Here was the line of my undoing: “And peoples yet uncreated shall praise and magnify the LORD” (Ps. 102:18). I got it: abortion is not a right or an entitlement. Abortion steals praise from God by denying image-bearers the opportunity to live through and for him. Abortion despises and attacks and destroys the image of God.
Yes, children must be protected from abuse, but abortion does not accomplish this.
What Could Have Been
Before committing suicide, Victor Frankenstein’s “monster” diagnoses his problem. He laments, “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on” (emphasis mine).
Frankenstein is an abortion novel. The “monster” declares he is an abortion—a present-tense, walking-and-talking, breathing-and-reading embodiment of a culture that values intact hearts but not the children who need them, and that values the all-cleaned-up Proverbs 31 woman but not the Mary Magdalene who precedes her.
The monster in Frankenstein is me—and you—and my sins are always so much worse than I confess. The wages of sin is death. It is always death—even if medical science promises the wages of sin is life.
I am a Christian now, and a wife and mom as well. All of my children are adopted, and all bore the label “unwanted” by somebody at one time. But their birth mothers loved them even when they could not raise them.
And today, as I reflect on the outrage of Planned Parenthood, I think of my life.
I could have been Dr. Deborah Nucatola. I was groomed to be her. I could have been videotaped pausing between bites of arugula salad and salmon to pontificate on the price of a dead baby’s intact heart and lungs.
Staying for the Long Haul
As I pause today to reflect on the outrage of Planned Parenthood, I think of Frankenstein’s monster. And the monster that I am. And for the life of me, I don’t understand how people like my beloved relative and her unborn child could have been helped apart from God’s people taking her and her kids into their home for long-term, real-life care. She needed more than a word in season. She needed the hands of God.
The worldview that redefines “personhood,” denies the God who created us, despises Jesus—the prophet whose wisdom knows no earthly bounds, the priest whose grace and sacrifice knows no earthly shackles, the king whose power and authority orchestrates the details of every life and every day—is the worldview manifested in the recent SCOTUS decision and the viral Planned Parenthood videos.
It was my worldview not too terribly long ago. And it would be my worldview now—if Jesus and his people hadn’t shown up in my life and stayed for the long haul.