[Philanthropy, Culture, and Society, October, 1993]
The toughest thing about Marilyn Szewczyk isn’t her name. You can forget everything you learned in grammar school and rattle off "Seff-check." Keeping up with Marilyn’s determination, energy, and vision is not so easy.
Marilyn arrives late for our lunch appointment, her ample silhouette filling the door. Outside it is a blistering white summer noon ; inside, darkness and plush chairs. She makes her way to the table leaning lightly on her cane, souvenir of the stroke two years ago. The waitresses know her ("Hiya, Marilyn, hon, howya doin’?"). Marilyn asks for a table for three; she has scheduled a second luncheon meeting with someone else later. Marilyn doesn’t have a lot of spare time.
Once seated, she begins laying out on the table her luncheon necessities: a smoky-transparent pill case, with yellow, orange, and gray pills; an insulin injection kit; a pack of cigarettes. A cigarette comes first; as the blue smoke curls overhead, Marilyn’s latest meeting has begun.
Few would begrudge Marilyn the title of the Mother of the Pro-Life Movement in Maryland . As this state has dealt with the abortion issue over the decades, she’s always been near the front lines. But most of her energy goes not into fighting to make abortion illegal, but into working to bring women hope and help. Abortion is a grim, unhappy choice. Marilyn believes that, by offering shelter and clothing and a kind word, she can help women make a happier choice, one they (and their babies) can live with. Over and over, she’s been proved right.
"I was pro-abortion when Roe v. Wade was decided," she says. "I thought it was a matter of religion: you know, ‘Mine says it’s not OK, yours says it is.’" Then a friend showed her photos of children in the womb, 4 weeks, 5 weeks, before the earliest abortions are done: tiny limbs blooming out like rosebuds, a heart tripping fast as hummingbird wings. "There’s no way anybody could say ‘We don’t know when life begins,’" she insists. Her gravelly voice is touched with simple sweetness. "That was life. There’s no question when life begins."
By the mid-70’s Marilyn was volunteering with several of Maryland ‘s pregnancy care centers. These centers offer pregnancy tests, material aid and emotional support to women who decide to continue their pregnancies. Largely staffed by volunteers, the centers give away free whatever services they can offer, and whatever material help they can gather, to help women choose life. In all, there are about 3000 of these centers across the nation; by contrast, there are about 450 specialty abortion clinics, charging $300-350 for an average abortion.
Pregnancy care centers are an admirable embodiment of the early 70’s slogan, "Sisterhood is powerful." The fight to defend or defeat legal abortion is no doubt overpopulated with male lawyers in suits; when women think about the issue, they are more likely to picture a friend in tears. While the political players thunder that abortion is a callous convenience or right, these women think it’s something else: a tragedy. Few women want to have an abortion. Who would want to undergo an expensive, awkward, and humiliating medical procedure, and gain from it only the death of her child? If pregnant women find themselves faced with that last choice too quickly, it is because other women have not reached out with love and support, filling in more first choices at the top of the list. The more these other women think about pregnant women’s sorrow, the more they think about the little torn bodies going into clinic dumpsters each day, the less they feel they can do nothing.
Pregnancy care centers operate on the venerable American tradition of barn-raising: neighbors help neighbors in need, and the job gets done. Since there is no income from clients, everything must be begged and borrowed. A typical center will have a lending closet of second-hand maternity and baby clothes, perhaps some baby furniture, a list of a few doctors willing to take on another charity patient, a list of families willing to take in a pregnant guest. One local grocery donates diapers and another gives some formula; a church pays the phone bill and a benevolent association covers the electricity. And, every month, the rent must be scraped together with donations from friends who’ve been asked too many times before.
Contrast this with the business-like approach at the abortion clinic down the street. Here there is a commodity which can be sold, and over 1,500,000 are sold each year. At $300 per abortion the proceeds near half a billion dollars; add in the much higher fees for late abortions, about 10,000 of them per year, and the figure rises dramatically. No wonder the providers of abortion can afford salaries, office space, even full-page ads in major newspapers and magazines. The pregnancy center director can just afford to run off "We can help!" flyers at the local quick-copy, then thumb-tack them to the bulletin board at the laudromat.
But can they help? How much good can a pregnancy center do? When a pregnancy is difficult, there is usually a tangle of reasons, some easy to solve, some impossible. Abortion has the appeal of smashing all the problems at once, wiping the slate clean. It is brutal in its efficiency, though; the solutions are roughly yanked out through the woman’s aching heart. Her right to abort is noisily and publicly celebrated; her long years of pondering the cost are more privately endured. Abortion is forever.
The pregnancy care center offers a patchwork quilt of help that is thin in many places—not enough housing, not enough car seats, not enough medical care. Too often the deepest problem is one beyond the mending of any stranger’s kindness: the woman’s need for the baby’s father to love and cherish her, to give her the protection and provision that the center, a poor substitute, scrambles to supply. But what the center can give is encouragement, the strength of sisterhood, the strength of other women who know what it’s like and who won’t let you down. When hope mends the quilt, sometimes it is enough.
Marilyn puffs, squints through the smoke to line up her pills. She’s got twenty years of not letting you down. When a heart attack landed her in the hospital last year, her co-laborers would get furtive, whispered phone calls at moments seized when the doctor and her husband were out of earshot. Now she’s back running the Auburn Center , a toll-free hotline that crosses Maryland and unites its nearly 50 storefront pregnancy care centers. Women phoning in are given information about help available at their nearest center, plus plenty of kind words and reassurance on the spot. Each call is logged, and tagged as belonging to one of twenty request-categories, with 2300-2800 calls received each month.
The Auburn Center ‘s phones are staffed "in the garage—I mean the annex" behind Catonsville ‘s Pregnancy Center West. A staffer answers calls from 9:00 AM till 11:30 PM with short breaks; at other times a service answers that pages Marilyn or her daughter Barbie, and can patch them in with a frightened girl unwilling to leave her number. And Barbie isn’t the only other Szewczyk in the field. Marilyn rattles off a list of other kids and their spouses—Lynnie, Ann, Andy, Cathy, Richard—plus her own mother, Kathryn, who answer phones, fold baby clothes, and keep the computer humming. When Marilyn began the hotline in 1982, she originally staffed it by asking friends and relatives, "How much money do you need me to pay you for you to quit your job and do this?" The answer was in the range of $400 a month ("and it’s still about the same" she chuckles).
Marilyn’s co-worker Anne arrives as I ask about difficult calls. Anne says she just returned a call to the man who had phoned to confess that he was having sex with his daughter. He had asked for help; Anne called back with lists of resources and phone numbers. "He kept going ‘Uh-huh’, but I could tell he wasn’t writing it down," she says, dejected. Hotline work is frustrating: no eye contact, no way to know what the caller decides to do. Marilyn describes the call from a 13-year-old black girl who was afraid she was pregnant. "I said, ‘Listen, honey, even if you’re not pregnant, you have got to stop doing this.’ The girl said, ‘I do?’ like she was completely surprised. I said, ‘Yes, you don’t have to do this.’ ‘I don’t?’ She didn’t seem to know it was OK not to have sex."
Do people abuse the toll-free number? Rude or obscene calls? Marilyn and Anne, who have seen it all, laugh. "We had one young boy from Frederick who called every day. We were able to find out who he was. So the next time he called, I said, ‘Now listen, Allen…’ He hung up and never called again!"
* * *
Marilyn’s office is a cheerful little square building that bears no resemblance to a garage. Inside it is crammed with desks, books, videotapes, audiotapes, posters, fax, phones, and a monster copier. She sits at her desk rolling off anecdotes, pausing each few minutes to answer the phone. When the phone rings, she turns her back on me and covers the phone like a mother hen; her voice drops and becomes confidential and gentle.
Right now she is annoyed with one of the centers in her phone network. A woman had called after her husband suddenly walked out; she had children 3, 2, and 1, plus 14-week-old twins. She had no money, and no diapers or formula; for the last few days had been feeding the twins sugar water. Dependent on public transportation, she had been making rounds at public assistance offices, with the three-year-old carrying one of the twins.
Marilyn referred the woman to her nearest center—but they told her that she would have to produce a birth certificate and other documentation before they would help her. "Can you imagine it?" Marilyn asks, angry and amused at the same time. "They’re afraid someone will take advantage of them. Who cares? I’d be afraid that someone who really needs my help would get by. I don’t care if some people take advantage. I’m not going to miss your baby." Her finger jabs for emphasis.
When the woman called back, Marilyn took it on herself to help. She bought a carload of groceries and took some baby furniture, clothes, toys, and set out to find the section of Baltimore called Westport. "It’s near Cherry Hill—you know, that’s always on the news for another shooting?" When she stopped to ask directions at a gas station, the black attendant pleaded with her, "Lady, you don’t want to go there! We don’t even go there!" But Marilyn and Barbie found the place: past overflowing dumpsters and abandoned cars, "But inside it was neat and clean as a pin, with nice furniture, not expensive but nice. How she keeps it that clean with five little kids I don’t know. I have three grandchildren living with me, and I know my house doesn’t look that good!"
* * *
North and west from Baltimore the hills begin to roll, lapping up at the base of the Appalachian Mountains, with farmland, woods, and vacant businesses dotting the route. Just before the Pennsylvania border lies Taneytown, founded in 1754, a cluster of worn brick buildings with white wooden porches, glowing rose today under a drizzly pearl sky. Taneytown was the home of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, whose infamous Dred Scott decision (1857) decreed that blacks were not citizens; many have suggested a parallel to Roe v. Wade’s denial of personhood to the unborn.
Marilyn’s daughter-in-law Gloria has set up the Carroll County Pregnancy Center right at the town’s crossroads. Her building is one-room-wide, going back deep into the block. The front section is the "Bear-ly Used Boutique," the town’s thrift shop, with an extra-large rack of maternity clothes. Prices are posted, but are negotiable down to free. The next room back is a waiting room/lounge shared by clients and volunteers; then comes the computer room, pregnancy testing room, a large closet where layettes are stored, and an inviting counseling room in apricot and blue with a well-cushioned couch and a pillowed rocker. Tucked around the L by the back door is Gloria’s "office"—a cluttered desk.
Gloria is a willowy blond with large, limpid eyes. She explains that the thrift shop is a unique feature for a pregnancy center; it was begun as a source of funds and has become a mission in its own right. "It gives some dignity back to the young girls who come here—they can pick out the clothes they like."
Dignity is important to the families, mostly white, mostly farming, that live around here. The area is economically depressed, and many businesses have closed. But, as Marilyn had said, "They’re too proud to admit that they’re hungry." She had described how Gloria has had to buy up a load of groceries and go to a client’s house with a white lie: "Somebody gave me all this food, and I have to give it away or it will just go bad! Can you take some?"
Gloria says that her average client is an 18-year-old girl in a steady relationship with a boy she plans eventually to marry. What they didn’t plan was for pregnancy to complicate the picture. "They’re naive, following the trend for teen sex, and have an unrealistic idea that they can have sex and everything will be fine."
Gloria describes a case where the girl came in with the boy, plus both mothers. She giggles a bit at the memory; the mothers were furious with each other, fighting over the kids’ heads and volleying the blame back and forth. Gloria took the girl aside for a long talk about abstinence, while the mother listened in. "But I’ve been saying those same things for years!" she exclaimed. Gloria sits back. "Sometimes they’ll hear it from me, where the parents were never able to get through."
The center’s funding is cobbled together from many sources. In 1992 the Boutique brought in $4,363 as clear profit; it is staffed by volunteers and sells donated goods, so it has no expenses (rent and utilities are covered by the pregnancy center). Another $11,800 was raised in various ways: a ham raffled at Easter raised $500, and the annual Walkathon brought in nearly $3,000. The Walkathon is a fixture of pregnancy center fundraising across the country, probably the most popular money-making tool. In Taneytown, about 100 walkers signed up supporters to donate so much per mile to the center. On a sunny Saturday, pushing strollers and wearing T-shirts with the center’s name, the walkers followed the designated route in a festive throng, and later collected the pledged donations. In past years, volunteers have delivered business lunches to raise funds, canvassing area offices and taking orders for home-made sub sandwiches. Gloria says she also has two churches which give regularly, and a number of individuals give $5-25 per month. In 1992 she served 392 clients.
During the last ten minutes an incessant "Mrow? Mrow? Mrow?" has struck up outside the back door. Gloria opens the door, and in walks a very tall, very thin cat: on an oversized frame designed to carry 20 pounds of burly catflesh is stretched about 8 pounds of hungry orange kitty. Gloria gives him a skeptical look as he begins pounding his head against her ankles, purring like a furnace. "Mr. Bones. He belongs to the people upstairs, but I don’t think they feed him," she confides. "We’ve sort of adopted him, but I keep his food out on the back porch." Gloria, like all those in her line of work, is constantly making decisions about what kind of help helps and what kind of help ultimately hurts. I ask how she keeps clients from becoming over-dependent. She considers this question with an air of regret.
"We took a hard look at our files awhile back and realized that we were enabling some people to use us. If they ran out of money at the end of the month, they’d call us—we’ve paid electric, fuel, given diapers," she said. "We decided that, once we’d helped people three times, we would require them to get involved with the services the county offers, teaching budget planning, job training, and so forth. Obviously those sort of skills are not there. If somebody has $20, but they decide to spend it on cigarettes, well, we’re not going to support that decision."
Gloria is looking to move to bigger quarters. At the edge of town stands a big house on a hill, and she imagines using every corner: the clothes closet will fill the basement; a Christian book and gift store on the main floor; pregnancy care services on the second floor, and on the third floor two bedrooms for emergency housing ("Sometimes we need up to 30 days to get a client into services"). The owner, she thinks, would rather sell to a ministry like hers than have the house torn down for a commercial building. The mortgage is not prohibitive, but she has to raise $25,000 for the down payment. She’s writing letters to friends.
I am thinking about Gloria’s instinctive, practical generosity. I am imagining that, the next time she goes to put food out on the back porch for Mr. Bones, someone in a limo puts a paper bag holding $25,000 on the front porch for her.
I ask how she got into this line of work, and she laughs and shakes her head. "Marilyn is just relentless! Every gathering always turns back to a discussion of the issues." She smiles as she recalls. "When we lived closer to Baltimore, I volunteered at the center there, but when we moved way out here I thought, ‘Thank goodness, I’ve gotten away from all that!’ There’s no abortion in Carroll County. But soon after I got here a neighbor’s child called up; she said a friend was pregnant and wanted her to drive her to Hagerstown for an abortion. I hated to admit it, but I realized that we needed a pregnancy center. I told Marilyn, and do you know what she did?" Gloria’s really laughing now. "She gave me a grocery bag—just a plain, plastic grocery bag—with about 30 pieces of literature in it, and a check for $50. And she said, ‘Go open a pregnancy center.’" She shakes her head at the memory. "How did I get into this line of work? From just being stupid and not knowing that I should not listen to Marilyn."
"Nobody warned me that I should not listen to Marilyn," she laughs.
* * *
Heading south out of Baltimore, almost to Washington, DC, you will arrive at the oldest pregnancy care center in Maryland, the Pregnancy Aid Center in College Park. The Center occupies a rambling, two-story turn-of-the-century house, whose antique charms are now encased in sheet paneling, drop acoustical tile ceilings, and mustard-yellow aluminum siding. The center was founded 19 years ago, director Mary Jelacic tells me, "by a group of students at the University of Maryland who were incensed about Roe v. Wade; they asked, ‘Why isn’t anyone addressing the needs of women in crisis pregnancy?’ They set up a counseling center that’s been operating ever since."
Unexpected pregnancies became even more of a crisis in 1988, when local hospitals cut back the number of charity patients they would accept. But the Pregnancy Aid Center was ready, having developed facilities for on-site pre-natal care. In addition to the usual pregnancy center offerings of practical and emotional support, clients could come to the Center’s clinic for a medical exam and be assured that they and their babies were progressing toward a healthy birth. Patients are asked to give $5 per visit, but the fee is waived whenever necessary.
Mary Jelacic believes that the center’s ability to offer medical care is what makes the difference between choosing abortion and choosing birth for many of these women. The clientele is 85% Hispanic, and their choices are often limited by language, finances, and legal status. While they can make room for a new child, the up-front charge of thousands of dollars for the delivery is daunting. The Pregnancy Aid Center fills the gap, allowing immigrant Hispanic women the same choices that their more wealthy, insured American sisters enjoy.
Ideological partisanship does not stand in the way of serving women. Three of the doctors who previously staffed the clinic labeled themselves pro-choice; they believed that birth was a choice that should also be available and supported with quality care. These three have now all moved from the area, and Certified Nurse-Midwives from the faculty of Georgetown University’s School of Midwifery have taken their place. Michaela Donohue and Becky Skovgaard will be seeing patients today.
The Pregnancy Aid Center’s client load—2,000 per year, 800 using medical services—makes use of every square foot of space. An assortment of high chairs, squeezed out of interior storage, stand in a forlorn group outside the front door, as if hoping to be let back in. Just inside there is a sunny waiting room with 6 mostly-mismatched chairs and a sofa; in the next room, the office, there is a metal desk and another 7 chairs. Boxes are stuffed under chairs and stacked in corners.
Notices and signs tacked to the walls are in Spanish and English, or sometimes only Spanish ("Consulta Legal Gratuita"), and pamphlets with titles like "Esta mi bebe tomando suficiente leche?" line the wall rack. Further down the hall are rooms for counseling and storage of clothing, and Mary’s office in a large and utterly crammed space that was once no doubt a parlor. Now a large copier sits in the bay window. Upstairs there are two examining rooms, more storage, and another large waiting room with a doctor’s scale and specimen cups.
Waiting in the office this lunchtime are two Hispanic women and a blonde with two children; an African woman wrapped in bright batik represents another segment of the Center’s clientele. The blonde has completed her examination, and is telling her kids that it turns out the early contractions are nothing to worry about, she’s having them because "I’m on my feet with the band so much." The girl, about 10, runs over to the fetal models and brings back the one of six-month size. "The midwife said that the baby is about this size now." She shows it to her mother, a pink doll the size of her hand, curled in on itself and sucking a thumb. The mother gazes at it and beams a dreamy smile; sister and brother frown at the rival with a bit more ambivalence.
I am invited to the upstairs waiting room where the staff is having lunch. Here the Wide World of Chairs theme is continued. Mary Jelacic is a bright-eyed brunette in a red cotton dress and a ponytail. Decades in America have not erased her Scottish accent, although the Croatian surname comes from her husband. She came to the Center as director in 1981, when she read in her church bulletin an offer of part-time employment. Her children were in school and it seemed a good time to take on something not overly demanding (or so it appeared at the time). Mary’s training was in Special Education, and she says, "I considered unplanned pregnancy to be a somewhat handicapping condition."
Also lunching with us are Alicia, a new volunteer, a man named Terry (whom Mary jokingly refers to as "el jefito"), and midwife Michaela Donohue; soon the second midwife, Becky Skovgaard joins us. Everyone is downing sloppy sub sandwiches, and Terry jokes about raiding the layette closet for bibs.
How does the Center find funds to operate? Michaela says wryly, "Mary goes out on the streets and begs." Mary laughs and explains that the Center is listed with the Combined Federal Campaign, and can be designated through United Way. There are also individual and church contributions, plus grants from the March of Dimes, the Giant Food grocery chain, the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Malta, the Archdiocese of Washington, and a few local foundations.
How busy does it get? Mary recounts the story of the infamous evening, a couple of years ago, when they had 33 patients come to the clinic. The doctor attending that evening was there for the first time, on loan from Holy Cross Hospital; his specialty was infertility. ("He didn’t find much of that here," someone comments.) It was a chaotic time: "Number thirteen was an ectopic—that set him back a wee bit," and she was rushed off to the hospital. Apparently the doctor had expected to finish at a reasonable hour, and had to keep making trips to the phone to cancel dates and appointments. Finally he got to number 32, who had been sitting quietly on the steps all evening with her hands folded on top of her belly. But once she got on the table, the doctor yelled, "Mary! Th’ feet are in the cervix!" This baby was about to come into the world wrong-way-around, and such a case usually requires an emergency Cesarean. Mary called the Fire and Rescue Department located across the street, which made the short trip sirens blazing and arrived before the patient had managed to get back into her clothes. She was hastily dressed and sent off to the hospital with her chart pinned to her chest "because she didn’t speak any English, you know."
Only when the Keystone Kops frenzy had died down did they realize that the last patient, number 33, had been sitting patiently in the back room with her clothes off all that time. As she took her leave, the doctor told Mary, "You took ten years off my life tonight!" He never returned. The next day Sister Jane Anne at Holy Cross Hospital scolded Mary: "What did you do to our boy!" The doctor moved out of state and into the relative calm of an infertility practice. Mary winds up the story by talking about that breech baby: his name is Mario and he’s now 2 1/2. Every year the mother brings Mary a potted plant and a birthday party invitation; every year Mary goes.
We are interupted by a Hispanic boy of about 15 with headphones slung around his neck and a heart-melting bashful smile. He is the son of a patient, and he asks to speak to Mary; he wants to know if he can become a volunteer at the center. When Mary returns, discussion ensues about this boy, whom they are afraid is becoming a "Parental Child"—he is missing school in order to take care of his mother and siblings. The room becomes an extended-family conference on the boy’s welfare and family situation.
As I watch them I am thinking about how much Mary does for women and their families. I picture Marilyn driving into Westport with a carload of gifts, and Gloria cocking an eye at the wildly purring Mr. Bones. I am thinking about the charge that pro-lifers only care about fetuses. I haven’t heard any of them talk about a fetus yet.
Instead, Mary and Michaela and the others talk about the Center’s clients, most of whom are between the ages of 12 and 25. Just over 50% turn out to not be pregnant; like Gloria, Mary encourages abstinence for young women: "They’re adolescent, their bodies are still growing, they’re not in stable relationships—abstinence is best." She says that many feel that sexual activity is almost a requirement; if everyone is telling you to use condoms, you can’t use them without having sex. Some just need permission to stop.
Mary encourages teens, most of all, to talk to their parents. Yes, she agrees, when your parents find out you’re pregnant they’ll hit the roof. But if you have a secret abortion and get injured (like a 16-year-old girl in this county who died after having a legal abortion without her parent’s knowledge), your parents will find out anyway, and then they’ll have three shocks to endure: My child was sexually active, got pregnant, and had an abortion! Mary urges, "Tell them first."
To make this easier, Mary or volunteers will go with the child to tell the parents. They do this at the Center or the home, or meet them at McDonald’s. About a third of the time, the client chooses abortion. Some of these come back for medical care or post-abortion counseling; the Center does not reject or condemn.
Like Gloria, Mary is hoping to move her Center to a new building. Her Scots blood makes her tenacious in a bargain; when the center was evicted from the present building years ago, she didn’t leave ("We had no place to go, so we stayed") and instead got an interest-free loan and bought the building. She laughs, "The board thought it was time to fire me because they thought I’d lost me marbles." Now she has her eye on the new medical building down the street. The price is dropping fast, but she’s patient enough to wait, and then there’s the matter of an absence of funds to purchase it. But she believes the building is for her. It will put her a block from the local abortion clinic.
As I leave, Mary is speaking earnestly to a Hispanic client, working hard to assemble sentences in Scottish-accented Spanish. Here we have a Scot with a Croatian name speaking Spanish to a woman from El Salvador, while upstairs women with Scandinavian and Irish backgrounds are examining pregnant women from Mexico and Cameroon. All around the world, women make babies and have babies the same way. And all around the world, other women help and support them. This is how they do it in College Park, Maryland.
* * *
Who would oppose the work of centers like these? They don’t threaten anyone’s access to abortion, but just offer support to those who make a different choice. Without the thousands of pregnancy centers like these giving hope and help across the country, the pregnancy rate would be much higher than its present 4,000 per day. Pregnancy care centers give women an alternative to abortion.
But that is precisely the problem. Abortion clinics must be equipped and operated every day, by professionals who are less likely to be willing to work for a sandwich and a smile. Expenses roll up continuously, and aren’t paid by women who choose life.
Consider, for example, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, with 100 affiliates offering abortion—30 of those doing abortions through the second trimester (that is, until the seventh month), when it is a grisly procedure indeed. These hundred clinics constitute the largest chain of abortion outlets in America. While Planned Parenthood insists that their counseling helps pregnant women fully understand their alternatives, past clients frequently say that it was directed toward helping them fully understand that continuing the pregnancy would be a disaster.
American Life League, a pro-life advocacy group, reports that a review of "yearly projection for early abortion counseling" at two Planned Parenthood referral facilities in California reveals that 98% of women at one clinic and 93% at the other "chose" abortion. Jim Sedlak’s watchdog group, STOPP, reports that internal documents for some Planned Parenthood clinics show the projected number of abortions the clinic expects that year. "Any increase of actual over projections is reported as a ‘gain,’" writes Sedlak. "Any decrease is reported as a ‘loss.’"
While it seems a bit harsh to designate the choice to give birth as a "loss," that is not to say that those who provide abortion are motivated only by money. The woman with an unplanned pregnancy stands between two camps, each of whom offer her their own brand of compassion. Those who offer abortion can rightly say that it is a quick way to solve many problems at once and send the woman on her way. If pregnancy is the problem, get rid of the pregnancy.
Those who provide alternatives to abortion believe that pregnancy is just one facet of the woman’s larger and more complex life. They believe she is not best served by treating her as merely a polluted uterus in need of a good scrubbing. Her life is tangled with the life of her child growing within, woven with the lives of the child’s father, with her own parents, friends and co-workers in a tapestry of lives. To remove the child is to cut a hole in the tapestry, by literally cutting into human flesh, tearing the child apart and tearing the mother’s heart. Unplanned pregnancy is not one problem, but a host of problems, great and small; pregnancy care providers try to solve them, one at a time.
Problem pregnancy is associated frequently with poverty, and Planned Parenthood selects the poorer neighborhoods; it is popularly believed that abortion is the best solution for the poor. At any rate, this belief is popular with those who are not poor. Polls regularly show that those with higher income levels are the most likely to endorse public funding of abortion, a gift that the recipients are not eager to accept. David Gergen, in an editorial written before he joined the Clinton administration, pointed out that a 1992 Reader’s Digest poll discovered "poorer Americans are the most opposed to federal funding [for abortion]. Among those earning less than $15,000 per year, opposition ran 63 to 32 percent against funding, while those making over $60,000 favored it by 57 to 41 percent." Gergen asks, "Is Clinton listening to the people he wants to help?"
When people offer to help you by giving you money to eliminate your children, there’s an implied message that’s hard to miss. A friend who worked in an abortion referral center stocked a flier which explained how we could reduce our tax burden by helping poor women have abortions; one day a Hispanic client came in, slapped the flier on the counter, and hissed, "This is what you really think of us." Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was an enthusiastic eugenicist who wanted "to create a race of thoroughbreds" by rectifying "the unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit.’" Planned Parenthood still has great admiration for Sanger, and president Faye Wattleton said a few years ago that the organization is "just following in the footsteps" of its founder.
Two brands of compassion, each offering what they think is best, but one gets the lion’s share of funding. While pregnancy care centers are a woman-to-woman operation, with funds raised in batches through bake sales and small grants, abortion is more lavishly supported from above. Planned Parenthood Federation of America is the recipient of impressive grants from a long list of foundations and corporations, from Helena Rubenstein to the Pew Charitable Trusts to the New York Times Company. In a typical year, $125 million was received via Government grants and contracts. Planned Parenthood has fought for federal funding of abortion, and with the expanded provisions of the Hyde Amendment will now be able to charge more abortions to the public purse. Some states, as well, use taxpayer funds to underwrite abortions: in Maryland the bill totals $3 million per year. There is plenty of money from above to eliminate the children of the poor, and little need for bake-sale fundraising from below. The director of Planned Parenthood in Maryland is a well-mannered, sober Bostonian in a dark suit; it is hard to imagine him raising funds by poking his head in an office door, like Gloria’s volunteers, and asking how many want a pastrami sub.
But even without lush funding, pregnancy care centers will go on. The abortion battle may be most loudly fought in the political arena, but few pregnant women are found there. Where women in need go, other women go to help, in Taneytown and College Park and three thousand other centers across the land. It is a subversive work, when women help women give birth, and it is the best proof yet of the power of sisterhood.