I am a fan of StoryCorps. Since 2003 this public service nonprofit has offered ordinary people the opportunity to tell and record their stories and to be heard with "respect, care and dignity."
Recently a StoryCorps remembrance touched me. David Young is a Jewish rabbi and his wife, Natalie, is a cantor. In 2006, they were so excited about her pregnancy. They anticipated the birth of their son Elijah. But an ultrasound revealed that their son would not survive outside the womb and would probably be brain dead at birth.
Their choices were horrible. They could wait until the last month of pregnancy knowing they would give birth to a baby who could not live, or they could have a third-term abortion. They knew. Waiting would be torture.
They had to fly across the country to find a doctor who would serve them. In the U.S. less than a handful of physicians have ever performed abortions so late in pregnancy.
There were protesters outside the doctor's office. I'll let them tell it:
Natalie: "I felt like this was the last place we wanted to be. I remember us meeting Dr. Tiller, who was so kind and so sorry that we were there."
David: "He kept reminding us that nobody wanted to be there."
Natalie: "And that it wasn't our fault ..."
David: "And that it wasn't our fault ..."
Natalie: "... which I kept needing to hear."
David: "He made sure that we knew he had kids of his own and grandkids of his own."
Natalie: "And that he was a man of faith."
In 2009 Dr. George Tiller was murdered, shot in the head while serving as an usher in his church, Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. His clinic had been firebombed in 1986. He survived being shot five times while in his car in 1993.
Rabbi David and Natalie grieved his death. Speaking to StoryCorps in 2016, a decade after their tragedy, they remembered Dr. Tiller as a compassionate and courageous man who helped them and others at their darkest times in their lives. They said, "He was so deeply needed by so many people."
I have a friend who was working his third-year medical school rotation in an ON-GYN clinic. An impoverished 40-something mother of several children presented with a well-advanced pregnancy. There was nothing to be done but to deliver the news.
She wept silently. Then she spoke quietly. "Oh God, doctor. I was hoping it was cancer."
A friend told me of a grandfather whose 13-year-old granddaughter was impregnated by her uncle. He convinced a kind doctor friend of his to "make this go away." It was medically very simple and safe. Much safer than a 13-year-old child bearing another child to term. You can imagine the psychological and social suffering she would have suffered over those nine months. I pray that she'll be just fine now. I worry about overzealous religious people assaulting her with false guilt.
I don't know what pain and suffering the Supreme Court ruling will unleash as zealous male-dominated legislatures create new anti-abortion laws. Some of us still remember the deaths and injuries from desperate DIY abortions pre-1973.
Economist take different measurements. Well-known scholar Steve Levitt of the University of Chicago and his colleague John Donohue have studied the link between abortion and crime over the last 30 years. They found that the states with high abortion rates have crime rates that have fallen about 60% more than the states with the lowest abortion rates. They claim that abortion might explain something like 80% or 90% of the entire decline in crime during these 30 years. (It may be that covid has recently changed this downturn somewhat.)
Levitt stresses the profound significance of unwantedness. "Unwantedness is super-powerful" as an influencer on people's lives.
"O God, doctor. I was hoping it was cancer." That's what an unwanted pregnancy can feel like.
Levitt suggests we need to remove the obstacles that make child bearing threatening to mothers. My previous column suggested that pro-life and pro-choice advocates can find some common ground working together to help mothers and their families who do not have a sense of security that would allow them to welcome childbearing -- food, shelter, diapers, clothing, money, transportation, health care, quality child care, excellent education, meaningful work. Government has a crucial role and necessary resources for this work.
The new abortion laws will unleash profound suffering. Suffering and crime if we can't eliminate unwantedness. We need a season of open hearts to deal compassionately with a new season of suffering.