I am a fortunate woman. I know it. I was born into a family that wanted me. I had parents who enabled me to become secure in my womanhood. I have a husband who cherishes and loves me, and only me. I am a member of a community of committed believers, and I am thoroughly pro-sanctity of life at all stages. I have never known the shame and fear many women associate with pregnancy. Five times I have felt life quickening within my own body, and in the deepest shadows of my mind I cannot comprehend violence against this whisper.
So when I saw Plough’s new book, You Carried Me, written by a woman who was “unsuccessfully aborted,” I was ambivalent about reading it. An unsuccessful abortion means that the process employed to end prenatal life did not work, that the baby survived. But I know, and it always makes me deeply sad, about the forces and powers that drive women to such choices, and I cannot judge. So I read.
My ambivalence was quieted in the first pages of this remarkable book. In it, author Melissa Ohden takes us on her harrowing journey of discovery. An adoptee, she learned not only that her father and mother were not her birth parents, but that she was the survivor of a failed saline injection-induced abortion. I felt the jolt of knowledge – lived in a few vicarious hours her years of emotional roller-coasting through anger, despair, self-destructive habits, compassion, and finally love as she came face to face with the woman from whose womb she was forcibly ejected.
Ohden has told her story to Congressional committees and college campuses, Planned Parenthood protesters and to women who have had abortions. While she is obviously pro-life herself, Ohden’s message embodies compassion for the woman whose decisions are made under fear and duress. Because, as she was to learn, her birth mother was forced to undergo the abortion, against her will, and grieved her baby’s assumed death until their extraordinary reunion thirty-eight years later.
Ohden’s message is indeed compelling, and it is unusual. She is uniquely qualified to speak about the sanctity of life. But as I read the book, and thought about Ohden’s mother and the extreme distress of her situation, I found myself remembering words written decades ago that had lodged in my mind as a distillation of the argument against abortion. Eberhard Arnold was a German theologian and Christian writer of the last century, and the founder of the Bruderhof community movement of which I am a member.
Arnold posited that the only way healing is possible for women, on the issues of abortion or sexual objectification, is in the coming Kingdom of God. Indeed, the Kingdom of God was his life-long theme. In 1932 Arnold said:
The best moral philosophers become unjust by demanding that the sexual life be purified by insisting on purity before and during marriage without making clear the actual basis for the fulfillment of such high demands. Even the destruction of life that is waiting to come into being – a Massacre of the Innocents intensified a thousand-fold today – cannot be contested without faith in the kingdom of God. The supposedly high culture of our days will continue to practice this massacre as long as social disorder and injustice prevail. Infant murder cannot be overcome as long as private life and public life are allowed to maintain their status quo.…
As a woman on the Bruderhof, it is possible for me to forget what many of my sisters in this world have to bravely deal with every day. I never intend for this to be so, but I get to go to bed every night secure in the knowledge of God’s love and of the love of my family and church. I also go to bed every night praying that women all around the world could know this same security.
Arnold takes his premise beyond abortion and the forces that can drive a woman to have one, all the way into the sacrament of a marriage in which an abortion could never be an option.
Christian marriage cannot be demanded outside the whole context of life that is called the kingdom of God and the church of Jesus Christ. The place for marriage is nowhere but in the church. Only where the unity of the church, filled with the Spirit creates community…can these demands be made of marriage.
And we should broaden that to include every woman’s right to freedom from being sexualized, freedom from the fear of pregnancy when she is not prepared to become a mother, freedom from violence in all forms, including psychological and emotional; the list goes on and on. Arnold continues:
The unity and purity of marriage taught by Jesus and his apostles are unique. They have nothing to do with the old nature. They belong to the new church order, which lets the spirit of love rule supreme. Unity and purity in marriage do not belong to the unredeemed man. They can be realized only in the new church of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. They belong to the kingdom of God. They are a sacrament of that Kingdom.
Do not misread these words to imply that the only solution is in the ever-after. Far be it from me to tell my sister that there is no resolution this side of heaven. Au contraire. Ohden’s story is remarkable, but it’s also rare. There is, however, hope for the millions of other desperate situations – in Arnold’s vision of a new social order. Wherever there is an embassy of this Kingdom such expectations can be met, here, on this earth – as I and many other women have experienced. The embassy has to have love as its foundation, and a cornerstone of peace. These embassies are found today in families, in church-community groups, and in many unexpected places where men and women care for one another and do their best to live by the charter of the coming Kingdom. These embassies can provide shelter and compassion for those who have suffered under the culture that has created the abortion-on-demand society we have today. These embassies can provide shelter for the marginalized, the stifled, and the disbelieved.