Dear 15-year-old Madison,
I’m so sorry that you attended the Pro Life March in high school without truly understanding what you were marching for. I know you did it mostly because you got out of school for the day, but that doesn’t change the things you chanted or what marching represented. You grew up in Catholic school, attended it for 12 years to be exact, and this was all you knew. You blindly believed what they told you without questioning anything. Instead of presenting you with facts to form your own informed decision, you were only told one side of the subject. Instead of getting important information on your body, sex and sexual health in school, you had a class called Sex Respect in which the only lesson was abstinence. Don’t have sex and God will still love you. Don’t have premarital sex. Especially if you’re a girl, because your virginity is a gift from God that should only be unwrapped by someone you love, and only on your wedding night. Without your virginity, you are impure. Without your virginity, you are sinful. Without your virginity, you’re unworthy of the love you could have experienced if you kept your legs shut.
Sex Respect was taken one half of freshman year and after that, sex and sexual health were never discussed in your school again. Unless you want to count the time some Born-Again Virgins spoke at a school retreat, but that was more of a joke than anything. Your school had a “Spiritual Baby” program in religion, where the class would name babies that could potentially be aborted, praying for them for nine months in the hopes that their mothers chose life. Each day during the morning prayers, those babies were a special intention so you wouldn’t forget. There were bulletin boards in the cafeteria with those baby names on them, reminding you at all times to only think of the babies and never the women carrying them. To think of the potential life instead of the woman who was alive. You grew up thinking that any woman who made the choice to terminate her pregnancy was committing a sin that, in turn, should be a classified as a crime.
Let’s preface this by saying that no, you aren’t against Catholicism or any religion for that matter. It is important to believe in a higher power and to know we are living with purpose. The true teachings of religion are beautiful. Love yourself, love your neighbor; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The lessons you learned about morality were important and still stick with you today. You grew up a better person for attending Catholic school and learning right from wrong. You were lucky to attend Catholic school and receive an excellent education, but some things in that education were severely lacking. We are taught to love and support each other, but how can we say that when our religion teaches us to judge a woman and tell her she is wrong for making choices about her body?
From what you learned in school and at those marches, it was important to let these sinners know what they did was wrong and to condemn anyone who dare kill a baby. Instead of trying to understand, you were taught to judge. You’ll learn later that a huge theme in religious teachings is fear. The fear of disappointing God, the fear of doing wrong, the fear of sinning. Pass judgment onto the people who do things or live lives that you believe are sinful. Tell them you are “praying for them” in what is typically a condescending tone. Try to scare anyone out of doing anything your religion doesn’t agree with and classify it as a sin. Don’t think that people do that? Look at the protestors outside of abortion clinics, outside of Planned Parenthood or gay marriages. Look at the people who believe being gay is a sin and something that can be corrected. The majority of religious people aren’t like that, but don’t you dare forget the ones that are. Want to get into heaven and live a lovely afterlife? Then you’d better not sin. Even if that “sin” is just living your life, true to yourself as God created you, but you happen to be a woman that loves a woman or a man that loves a man.
They will have priests come into your religion class to talk about abortion. You’ll listen attentively as the priest talks about what a sin abortion is, how life begins at conception, how there are no excuses for terminating a fetus, how each child is chosen and sent by God. You’ll hear the classic “What if Jesus was aborted?” argument. They’ll tell you scary stories about what the babies experience during abortions, the pain they feel and how abortion hurts them before ending their lives. One thing that will really stick out in your mind is the stories the priest will tell about counseling girls that received abortions. How they felt so guilty about murdering one of God’s children they wanted to end their life, and in your mind you’ll agree and think, “How dare those women kill an innocent child.” You won’t understand that the priests and teachers were using that guilt and fear to make you blindly believe in what they were preaching, and I’m sorry it took this long to get that.
They won’t talk to you about the number of women who terminate pregnancies because of health risks to both mom and baby. The ones who terminate pregnancies because they were raped. They won’t tell you about the women who can’t afford a baby and know that they can’t give the child the life they deserve. They loved phrases like, “This baby could have cured cancer.” But what if the mother of that child could have gone on to cure cancer and because she was forced to have a child, her path in life changed?
You’ll struggle to come up with a valid reason a woman should keep her baby when your mom discusses abortion with you, when she asks, “What if the girl was raped? What if she knew she didn’t have the means to fully support a child?” At 15, you can’t answer those questions because those scenarios never crossed your mind. From stories and what you were taught in school, you think any woman that gets pregnant by accident is either a whore or sinner, and if she really doesn’t want the baby she can just give the child up for adoption. You won’t understand the emotional trauma that could put some women through because you were taught to only think of the potential baby, not the woman carrying it.
Once you leave the bubble that is Catholic school, you will understand that Pro Choice does not equal Pro Abortion, and you’ll try to help others understand that fact. You will know that although you don’t know what you would do if you were to get pregnant right now, you are thankful you have the right to choose. You will know that people can personally not agree with abortions but still be Pro Choice because they know it isn’t their place to tell another woman what to do with her body. You will be thankful when your friend that accidentally gets pregnant by a boy she didn’t want to be with had the right to access a safe, legal abortion (a choice she made about HER future). You will be happy she put herself first, thinking of her career, what she wants to accomplish at 23 and her goals for the future. And when she calls to tell you what happened, you will be happy she had the right to choose. And you’ll be happy that many strong, amazing women before you fought for her to have that right.
But when she calls, the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Pro Life Marches will flash through your mind and you’ll wonder what would have happened to her if those marches were successful. And you’ll understand, now more than ever, that you need to stand up for these rights and open the discussion so people who oppose Roe v. Wade understand the importance of that decision. Especially the 15 year olds who will be at the Pro Life March this year and not understand what they are representing because you used to be them. You’ll know that its time to scream louder and fight harder than ever before. Fight for the women who fought for you to have the right to choose, fight for women to continue to have that right, and fight for the rights of the women of the future.