In the announcement of their wedding in the New York Times wedding-celebrations section, former track star Faith Rein and Miami Heat player Udonis Haslem talked about an abortion decision early in their 14 years together.
“Despite the pregnancy, she was busy with track meets and helping him complete homework. The timing was bad,” the Times reported.
“I am not a huge fan of abortion,” Haslem said, “but we both had sports careers, plus we could not financially handle a baby.”
“Udonis appreciated that I was willing to have an abortion,” Rein said, noting that it was a “difficult time” and praising Haslem for being “caring, supportive, nurturing and all over me to be sure I was O.K.”
On the Internet, where everyone has an opinion — even more so than around the water cooler or the dinner table, because there can be the illusion of anonymity — Haslem and Rein were both criticized for sharing too much information and celebrated for divulging it. It’s part of the story of their lives together, some said, and it is part of who we are today. To not mention it, to not reflect on it, is to live in denial, to live a lie.
It’s hard not to ask questions once the issue is raised. What about that lost motherhood, that lost fatherhood? What was the pain about? There was a death there, a chosen death. What is the relationship between career and convenience on the one hand, and human dignity on the other? What if you had made the pregnancy work? Do you ever ask yourselves, “What if?” Love is built on sacrifice — who are we with our priorities today? What is it that is so difficult about abortion? Is the death of a child an ongoing grief?
If a reporter asked any of these questions in honest inquisitiveness about the human condition and the choices our culture seems to welcome and encourage, all part of a “modern love” story, it would be not in judgment but in reflection. How else do we live and learn? And it is in humility, knowing who we are — our desires, mistakes, duties, limits — that we have some hope of acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly today, toward tomorrow, as stewards of creation, with the gifts of our Creator, which include, most preciously, life itself.
Writing from Australia, Anne R. Lastman, a counselor who works with women and men who are struggling with the loss they feel after an abortion, sometimes years and even decades later, talks about a cultural “sense of loss” and a community guilt in the air, at a time when abortion seems expected at certain times, for certain people. It’s a culture — something the Aussies confront as we do — where women and men come to understand “their intrinsic worth” as “gauged upon their worth in the market place rather than upon their worth as uniquely created beings.”
“It would be easy,” Lastman writes, “to lay the blame for abortions at the feet of the aborting mother, father, or abortionist.” That’s the level of so much of our public discourse, even as opponents of legal abortion lead with compassion (see the work of so many of the national and local activist and service organizations, crisis-pregnancy centers, and maternity homes). But the community, the culture bears a grave responsibility, Lastman contends. The woman’s choice is “a reflection of the prevailing and unspoken attitudes and beliefs. Abortion is a community issue because at stake are the mother, father, grandparents, and a dead infant who would have been a member of that community.”
Writing in her book Redeeming Grief, she asserts: “If it becomes licit to take a human life when it is weakest, wholly dependent on its mother, on its parents, on the strength of human consciences, then what dies is not only an innocent human being but also conscience itself.”
Now, I understand that questions of innocence, death, and conscience aren’t likely to be explored in a New York Times wedding profile. But Rein and Haslem did open the door. Unspoken is what we are talking about and where we are in our history. And if we’re ever going to tell the truth about life, maybe what Rein and Haslem did in the Times serves as an important milestone, however incomplete, in confronting what Lastman describes as a culture of “abortion trauma” that all too often is “quietly simmering” in the lives of women and men; it has unmistakably “produced a new mentality, a new understanding of how things should be.”
During a prayerful event this summer at the Vatican revisiting Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”) and the world as it is today and the gravity of our moral responsibilities, American cardinal Raymond Burke reflected on the essential need for “a new proclamation of the truth regarding woman and motherhood.” Citing John Paul II, he stressed that “the indispensable requisite for an authentic cultural change” is realizing that we need women who are open to life, who protect life, who sacrifice for another, who “first learn and then teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health.”
We have a ways to go in reconciling our lives with life. In very different ways, Rein and Lastman are helping us take baby steps.