By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. Author Anne Lamott turns 61 this week. Over the years we have run several stories about this wonderfully creative, emotionally complex, and, alas, resolutely pro-abortion writer. The story first ran in 2005 and was a follow up to an earlier piece. I re-run it periodically for two reasons. To illustrate how a commitment to “reproductive rights” can waylay the better angels of almost anyone; and to remind myself how dealing with an abortion can recycle in a woman’s heart in many tragic ways without her ever understanding what she is repressing.
To bring new readers up to speed, Anne Lamott recently went ballistic at a meeting of religious “progressives” when an older man asked (as Lamott described the exchange in a Los Angeles Times op-ed) “how we should reconcile our progressive stances on peace and justice with the “˜murder of a million babies every year in America.'” When he did, “everyone just lost his or her mind,” Lamott wrote. “Or, at any rate, I did.”
In a minute I’ll talk about what she said she said. However, the specifics of Lamott’s industrial-strength verbal assault is less important than what the background and the context is telling anyone with eyes to see [and to read with].
Lamott had an abortion in 1984. A woman who, for most of her life, has hung on to life by her fingernails, she tells the reader in her book Traveling Mercies that, “I was sadder than I’d been since my father died.”
Last night I went back and re-read the first 100 pages. It would be almost impossible to exaggerate how much Lamott loved her father or how his death shredded much of her already fragile life-line to emotional stability. So, when Lamott compares the pain associated with her abortion to the pain she felt at the death of her dad it tells us something very significant, even if she might adamantly deny that it did.
Following the abortion, Lamott drowned herself in codeine and alcohol for a week. On the seventh day she began to bleed profusely.
Without retelling the entire powerful story, it is pivotal, as Lamott wrote, that
“[E]verywhere I went I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I left or entered.”
This, of course, is a metaphor for the gentle Jesus, whom she knows was in her room “watching me with patience and love.” A week later, she goes back to church. Prefaced by an obscenity, defiantly, Lamott takes a “long deep breath and said out loud, “˜All right. You can come in.'”
I do not think it is a stretch to draw two conclusions. First, Lamott’s decision to abort hurt her terribly. It was fundamentally at odds with who she was/is as a human being.
As she says elsewhere in Traveling Mercies, “I was raised by my parents to believe that you had a moral obligation to try to save the world.” Also, at some level, my guess is that Lamott guiltily realized that she was alive because (and only because) so many people have showered her with selfless love as she has battled years of alcoholism, bulimia, drug addiction, and depression.
Second, there’s the little cat who wants to be let in. To my mind it takes nothing away–indeed, it only strengthens and deepens–Lamott’s insights about her conversion to realize that this could also stand for the child she had chosen not to allow in.
I thought of all this as I read Lamott’s op-ed. When the older gentleman said his piece, others on the stage, apparently, tried to keep the discussion civil. Lamott considered a similar strategy, rejected it, and went nuclear.
“I wanted to express calmly, eloquently, that prochoice people understand that there are TWO LIVES INVOLVED IN AN ABORTION “” one born (the pregnant woman) and one not (the fetus) “” but that the born person must be allowed to decide what is right.”
“Also, I wanted to wave a gun around, to show what a real murder looks like,” she writes.” “This tipped me off that I should hold my tongue, until further notice.” Anne being Anne, she quickly disregards her own advice.
Lamott tells the audience that she had to speak out on behalf of the many women who have had abortions, including herself. She had to speak out, she writes, for “Women whose lives had been righted and redeemed by Roe vs. Wade.”
Her final paragraph is a childish recount of an older woman who had come up to Lamott to tell her, “”˜If you hadn’t spoken out, I would have spit,’ and then she raised her fist in the power salute.” Just before this, however, Lamott adds this observation:
“But as a Christian and a feminist, the most important message I can carry and fight for is the sacredness of each human life, and reproductive rights for all women is a crucial part of that: It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society.”
Well, naturally, your teeth and mine are set on edge by the bizarre notion that the right to take the life of unborn baby–far from undermining the “sacredness of each human life–is essential to its realization. What about “inflict[ing] unwanted children on society” ?
I could offer the obvious responses, but, again, Lamott’s own life story is the best rebuttal.
In Traveling Mercies, we learn that the father of the child she aborted was someone she had just met and who was married. He was also “no one I wanted a real life or baby with.”
Fast-forward several years. Lamott is again pregnant by a guy “who really didn’t want to be a father.” Only this time she does not have an abortion.
She delivers Sam, who, as anyone who has read Traveling Mercies or Lamott’s subsequent books and columns knows, is the absolute center of her life, a young man she loves unconditionally.
Why did she not abort Sam? Because her friends and the people at the church she was attending stood right by her side, promising to provide support every step of the way “if I decided to have a child.”
Her best friend, who had been “both trying to conceive and waiting to adopt for years,” told Lamott, “Let me put it this way, Annie. We are going to have this baby.”
Sam–the core of Lamott’s existence–is born in August 1989. He is alive [and a father himself now], both because of the loving affirmation of those who have adopted Lamott like a stray puppy, and because (I strongly expect) of the impact on Lamott of her decision to abort her first child. The former is clearly true. The latter is, I would argue, likely true.
I would only add in conclusion something pro-lifers talk about all the time amongst themselves. There are tens of millions of wounded women in America today, trying to come to grips with a decision many, many of them regret more than anything else in their lives.
We–you and I–need to be there for them. With your help and mine, they can find the forgiveness that is waiting for them.