Editor’s note: The woman’s name in this story was changed at her request.
Jennifer stopped hesitantly at the threshold of the Hillcrest Women’s Surgi-Center in Southeast Washington, composed herself, then made her way into the abortion clinic.
It was the Saturday after the 25th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and Jennifer has set out to counsel a woman out of an abortion. The protesters had long since dispersed, leaving the ground cluttered with bright orange signs – dissonance still hung in the air.
Jennifer thought of her mother. Her mom was a 14-year-old high school freshman from a small midwestern town when she got pregnant. The story goes that her father was 19 years old at the time. He never knew about the pregnancy.
“My mother never told anyone who he was because her parents would have charged him with statutory rape,” Jennifer speculated. “In ’79, an unwed pregnant daughter would have been a huge disgrace.”
Jennifer has never met her mother, though she knows from what adoption agencies call “unidentifiable information” that she inherited her red hair and brown eyes from her mother.
“I can’t put an age on it (when she learned she was adopted), but I do remember that while other kids were reading the children’s book Where Do I Come From?, I was reading, Why Was I Adopted?, Jennifer said. “I still have it. The first page says, `I was adopted because my mother loved me enough to let me have a better life.’ “
Looking at the abortion clinic walls, Jennifer pointed out that a 20-year waiting list exists of couples hoping to adopt a child less than two years old. “So many couples who’d love the opportunity to have a child of their own can’t have one,” Jennifer said.
In the waiting room at Hillcrest, Jennifer shook her head at the subdued faces on the patients.
“I feel sad for them. They think it’s their only way out.”
“It’s weird, creepy,” she added. “Today I have a younger sister who is my parents’ biological daughter. She’s 10 years younger, but there’s no favoritism. I guess I’m lucky that way. That I was adopted by people with so much love to give. I owe my existence to the fact that my mother was pro-life.”
Jennifer said that her staunch pro-life convictions have given rise to conflicts with pro-choice friends.
“One of my best friends in high school had an abortion during her senior year and was emotionally devastated afterward,” Jennifer recalled. “What hurt her most was that her boyfriend pressured her into the abortion. He was a college student, and he wouldn’t support her financially or emotionally. So she just took on this attitude of `it can’t live without me; it’s my body.’
“Afterward, she changed from being one of the happiest people I know to looking at every child that would have been the same age as hers with tears in her eyes.”
Jennifer looked out at the street. “A lot of times people will ask me, `how can you be a woman and be pro-life?’ ” she mused.
“I always say, `How can you be someone’s child and be pro-choice?’ “Fighting for choice
By senior Kate Carpenter’s own admission, the Choice First student organization she founded during her freshman year has failed.
“There’s not enough interest for the pro-choice cause on campus. Students don’t think there will ever be a time in which abortion will be illegal. They don’t see anything to fight for,” Carpenter said.
The group disbanded officially in the middle of last semester, although a core group of about five members often spend Saturday mornings with the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force. The group escorts patients through the pro-life protest lines at clinics.
Still, campus awareness has been difficult, said Carpenter, who sent an e-mail to 75 former Choice First members to come together on the 25 year anniversary of Roe v. Wade. None responded.
“It’s pathetic,” Carpenter said.
She pointed to recent court decisions and the support for the partial-birth abortion ban as indicators that the nation may already have started down the path to criminalizing abortion once again.
“They’re starting with certain procedures as the first step. And in many places in the Deep South, there is no access to abortion . and thus no `right’ to abortion. It’s unfortunate that there is not accessibility.”
Carpenter said she acknowledges demonstrators’ right to protest the existence of abortion clinics, but she decried what she called efforts to force pro-life opinions on other people.
“I don’t take my ideas and force them on others. They shouldn’t either,” Carpenter said.
“The anti-choice side always makes the argument that women are enslaved by the abortion culture. I see it as a choice. I cannot see it any other way. That’s all there is to it,” she added.
But Carpenter said the language of the debate is important as well.
“I think on the partial-birth abortion issue, the anti-choice side gained ground and caught a lot of people up in their rhetoric. Just the term – partial-birth. It’s not a medical term, it’s a rhetorical term. I call them anti-choice. And I guess the other side would call me anti-life.”