The Boston Doula Project volunteers look and sound a lot like 21st-century embodiments of Christ. These men and women provide full-spectrum care for pregnant people, offering practical support to women who opt for abortions while connecting others with allied organizations that facilitate additional reproductive services. In a country where racial minorities and low-income households represent the majority of those choosing to terminate their pregnancies, these doulas go out of their way to walk alongside the women whom our society discriminates against and regards with suspicion.
If examined for more than a moment, the love and acceptance these doulas display are too vast for even the most seasoned Pro-Life activist to brush aside in a terse concession.
“For me, the more well I feel, the more able I am to be present for somebody else,” says abortion doula Annie Robinson in her interview with The Atlantic. Her wisdom about the need for self-care sounds like something one might well expect from a seasoned pastor. If you visit the Boston Doula Project’s website, you’ll find a rainbow of useful links to abortion grant applications, family planning information centers, rape crisis hotlines, and affordable healthcare advocacy groups. The Doula Project, based in New York City since 2007, gives us a glimpse of what the Boston Doula Project may someday become if it continues to grow. This New York organization serves people who experience the full range of pregnancy outcomes. They facilitate a Photo Match Program where families with the extra resources can sponsor another baby’s photo-shoot when purchasing one for their own newborn.
As a community, abortion doulas offer the loving antithesis to conservative Christian picketers who shame women in front of Planned Parenthood clinics with gruesome signs and hateful speech.
Of course (and here I put my anti-abortion cards on the table) abortion doulas are only able to express this compassion by trivializing and ultimately cutting short the potential for human life, perhaps even facilitating the killing of millions. In this way their actions oppose what Christ stood for in living and dying to redeem the human race.
(I use words like “potential” and “perhaps” because I have a hard time making an airtight case for the personhood of a zygote. All people who lay claim to when life begins with any kind of certainty must know something about embryology that the rest of us don’t. That said, conception does mark a fundamental turning point in a person’s potentiality and should be regarded with care. Before a sperm fertilizes an ovum, there is nothing to develop into a something. After the two unite, a zygote will eventually become human, barring any accidents or willful termination of pregnancy. In this sense, my use of “potential for human life” does not refer to a hypothetical being who might be brought into existence but rather a specific set of DNA that could develop, if undisturbed, into a unique and precious individual. It is for this reason that I oppose abortions performed at any stage in a person’s pregnancy without at the same time mandating that any couple who can conceive do so as often as possible.)
In an interview with the co-director of the Boston Doula Project, Sarah Whedon, blogger Reina Gattuso defends the project’s efforts to serve women regardless of their pregnancy outcomes by saying, “We are innately important and deserving” (italics in original). Gattuso finds the need to point out a claim many would consider self-evident in light of the significant amount of body-shaming directed towards women that the Church has perpetrated over its 2000 year history. (For proof of subtle yet pervasive church policies that systematically portray women’s bodies in a more disdainful light than men’s, consider the Greek Orthodox Church’s position on participating in the Eucharist while menstruating.)
Yet it is by Gattuso’s very words that I condemn the practice of abortion. A society in which abortion is permissible is one wherein the value of my soul depends not on something inherent but on my mother’s choice to bring her pregnancy to term. In such a world, human worth is conditional and can be cut short in the face of someone else’s greater concerns. It is a system predicated on someone else deciding I’m worth it.
Through my studies as a History Major, I have walked slowly through the carnage of antiquity. I have seen millennia of men auction off their daughters to abusive husbands. As a woman, I have tasted the lingering shame of sexual assault in my dreams and felt the latent evil of Nazi blood in my veins. In my own generation, I have sat down and cried over the news too many times this month alone to doubt the cruelty of man. In short, I know what happens when we allow other humans to define just who is innately important and deserving and who is not.
No right is so essential to human dignity as life. But for life, we cannot speak out against the political and religious institutions that shame women’s bodies. But for life, we cannot dismantle the oppressive systems designed to exploit the poor and imprison people of color. But for life, there is no precious thing for which we pray and fight and die to uphold.
What then, brothers and sisters, are we to make of this paradox: the loving killer? I would not for a minute occlude the compassion and self-sacrifice that abortion doulas freely display, nor can I deem their actions good in light of how their work undercuts specific potential for human life. I can only remind myself that loving intentions often result in grievous error.
History is littered with examples of worthy motives gone awry, even and especially at the systemic level. In the 1950s, tearful fathers signed their sons up for shock therapy and lobotomies. In the early 2000s, concerned mothers prayed and took heart while their daughters attended sexual reorientation therapy.
Recently a good friend of mine and the descendant of white slaveowners commented of his great-grandfather, “Here’s a man, by all accounts a good, moral person, who owned slaves and thought it was completely okay. It’s very humbling.”
Films like Django Unchained and books like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest suggest that evil is in some way self-evident. We lull ourselves into a false sense of satisfaction. “I am not wicked,” we think, “How then could I be guilty of one of the big-deal sins that spin our world off-axis?”
I charge anyone reading this article to resist this attractive simplification of the battle between good and evil. Sometimes Charon isn’t standing be-cloaked in a boat atop the murky River Styx. Sometimes he is holding your hand, colorfully dressed, entirely unaware of the path he leads you down.
Veronica Wickline ’16 studies Ancient History and lives in Kirkland House. She’s a member of Harvard College Faith and Action, and her interests include acting, writing, and discussing gender equity and sexuality in the Church.