My Saturday morning took an unexpected turn a few weeks ago when my daughter and I saw a large group of protesters outside a Planned Parenthood clinic two blocks from our destination. They were holding up signs that said, “Abortion Kills Children,” “Abortion stops a beating heart” and “Abortion Hurts Women.”
“Mom, what’s going on?” my 13-year-old daughter asked. I calculated that I had about four minutes to answer her question before she would scurry out of my car to go play Pokémon cards for two hours, so I had to think fast.
“They’re protesting Planned Parenthood because they don’t believe that women should have abortions,” I said. “But Planned Parenthood does more than that. They provide birth control and medical services to women who can’t afford insurance.”
I expected that would be it. When we pulled into the parking lot, she’d hop out and say goodbye. Instead she asked, “What’s abortion?”
“Well, sometimes women don’t want to have their babies. They might have been raped. Do you know what rape is?” She nods her head.
“Or they might have been a victim of incest. Do you know what incest is?” She didn’t know so I had to explain that, too.
“Their father, brother or uncle might have had sex with them and now they are pregnant. Women don’t always want to have babies that are the result of incest or rape.”
“That makes sense,” my daughter said and looked at her watch. “I’m going to be late.”
“OK,” I said as she got out of the car. “Have fun. We can talk more later.”
In that moment, I was both relieved and upset that the conversation ended. There is so much more I wanted to say, but I realized it would have to wait. I was pissed at the protesters for forcing me to have this disjointed, rushed exchange with my daughter.
I drove by the protesters again. Their numbers had increased to at least 100. One of them was holding up a giant poster of an unborn, bloody fetus.
Driving home, I thought about all the things I didn’t say to her. That I don’t want someone else making decisions about my body or my daughter’s body; that it is possible, in my mind, to be Catholic and be pro-choice; that I used to work for an organization called Catholics for a Free Choice; that being pro-choice is about more than just the right to have a safe abortion. It’s also about the right to easily obtain birth control.
I have been pro-choice as long as I can remember, possibly even since I was as young as my daughter is now. When I was pregnant, I wondered if my pregnancy would change my feelings about abortion. In the end, having a daughter only increased my resolve to defend a woman’s right to choose.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I drove home, and I remembered that in March 2004, when my daughter was 18 months old, my husband and I took her to the March for Women’s Lives, the last major pro-choice rally in Washington, D.C. At home, I frantically searched for photos of the three of us proudly declaring our support of a woman’s right to choose.
I found the photos and left them out for her to see.
On the drive home from picking her up, I tried to explain the concept of choice, that our bodies and our health decisions are personal and no one has the right to make those decisions for us. Without the immediacy of the protesters, she seemed less interested. She just nodded her head and didn’t ask any questions, so I left it at that and we talked about Pokémon — how many games she played, how many cards she traded.
When we got home she saw the photos right away. There is one of the three of us that I especially love. My daughter is on my husband’s shoulders and I’m next to them holding a “Who Decides?” poster.
“Where is this from?” she asked.
“Your dad and I feel strongly that abortion should be legal. We took you to a rally supporting the right to choose when you were 18 months,” I said.
“That’s cool,” she said, and asked if it was OK for her to watch some YouTube videos.
“Sure,” I said, realizing I have a lot more to tell her and she has a lot more to understand, but there’s time. While I wasn’t planning to have this discussion with her that day, in the end, I am glad that I did. I also realized that I need to do more to educate my daughter about the importance of a woman’s right to choose or risk her not understanding what is at stake if that right is taken away.