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Thanks for Life, Mom

It’s Mother’s Day, 1979. We’re up for the early morning mass because afterwards, we’re heading to the Governor’s Mansion to drop off blood red roses. Mom has a bucket full in the back of the Ford LTD. We’ll leave the windows of the car cracked while we’re in church so the flowers don’t wilt before we can give them to people gathered in front of the wrought-iron gates. “Governor Jim Hunt is a dirty Democrat,” mom says, “He doesn’t care about the babies.” She pins a pink button to my dress and a blue one to my little brother’s suit jacket. “Thanks For Life Mom” they read.

We pull into the parking lot at Sacred Heart Cathedral. My brother kicks at the gravel as we walk around the back of the car where a neon yellow bumper sticker reminds us that Abortion Stops a Beating Heart. Images of helpless embryos in fetal sacs frame the message. Father Bill echoes mom’s sentiments in his homily as he speaks on the sanctity of human life. I can’t possibly counter protest. Of course all babies deserve a chance to grow inside their mothers safely. I am twelve and I do not have the slightest idea where babies come from. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. It’s the mantra in my house. And I am totally against MURDER!

Guards stand by the gates to the Governor’s mansion and we pass out the last of the roses, one

representing each of the babies needlessly murdered in the state of North Carolina that year. Jesse Helms prepares to take the podium. The crowd is dotted with nuns and people carrying signs reminding us that “Abortion is not a right, it’s a wrong.” Across the street the hippies have their signs too. They want the right to kill babies.

The following year, I’m in Junior High and desperate to join my friends at the State Fair. As we drive down Blue Ridge Road, you can see the red and white big top going up and the metal arms of the Spider and Tilt-a-whirl coming together, the smell of the livestock and petting zoo will soon mingle with the sweet scents of Carolina BBQ, ham biscuits and deep fried dough.

But mom says the only way I can go is if I put in a minimum of ten hours at the Wake County Right to Life booth to secure a free volunteer pass. So I stand at the table with the life-size resin replicas of fetuses from 9 weeks gestation throughout full term. I share the doctrine I’d learned while passing out brochures depicting slimy babies carelessly tossed in metal trashcans.

It’s Mother’s Day 2022. My Mom has been gone for 23 years. As she wished, she’s buried in a Catholic cemetery, just steps from the Tomb for the Unborn – the crypt for aborted fetuses - and I am torn, with love for this beautiful woman who cared passionately about her cause and taught me to stand up for what I believe in too. She would have been so happy to know that Roe is on the brink. And anger. I am filled with anger at her insistence that her beliefs were the right beliefs and everyone else must abide by them.

Was it the Women’s Studies class in college that changed my mind? Was it the stories of women making hard decisions? Was it the knowledge that I can never presume to know what is best for another person? People deserve grace and compassion as they navigate their lives. You’d think I’d have learned that in church.

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As shared at NOW HEAR THIS at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica on June 18, 2022.


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