Her name was Janet. * I haven’t seen her in nearly 40 years but I remember her exactly as she looked in the Hardscrabble, our high school yearbook: hair the color of cornstalks and eyes like the Illinois sky on a hot summer day. A pale, pretty girl. A good student but not great. A really nice girl, my friend Janet.
She called one night a few months before we were due to graduate and said she had something to tell me, something she couldn’t talk to anyone about. Could she come over?
15 minutes later tires crunched on the gravel outside our farmhouse. Streator was 11 miles away and Janet lived on the far side of town – how did she get there so quickly?
Up in my bedroom we sat cross-legged and I looked at her anxiously. Jan’s eyes were rimmed with red, and she buried her face in her hands as her body began to rock. In between sobs she choked out a few words. Pregnant. The older, controlling boyfriend none of us ever liked. Abortion. He forced her to go. She was afraid of what he would do to her if she refused. It was already over. Her baby was dead.
And Jan was dying inside.
I don’t know what I said but it was too little, too late. I wrapped my arms around her shaking shoulders and prayed. We were just two 17-year-olds – one who had never had a boyfriend and one whose first and only love had pressured her to have sex and then end the life of the child who was conceived.
Abortion. The word was ugly then and the 1972 law legalizing it has only made it fouler.
Yesterday afternoon I stood on the National Mall in Washington, D.C in honor of the 38th annual March for Life – a middle-aged woman in a gray parka holding a large black sign with four simple words. In a crowd estimated at over 200,000 I was one small drop in an ocean of humanity. The people swelling around me could not have been more diverse. Jewish rabbis and Franciscan brothers. Catholic nuns and young mothers. Families pushing their children in strollers and the disabled in wheelchairs.
And students. Tens of thousands of high school and college students who poured out of buses in a tidal wave of joyful, peace-filled, life-loving protest. “We are the Pro-Life Generation,” their signs read.
“We are Abortion Abolitionists.”
“Social Justice Begins in the Womb.”
These kids are going to change history, I thought incredulously. They understand how sacred life is, and no one is going to convince them otherwise. And as I walked in their midst towards the Supreme Court, I gripped my own sign a little tighter and held it just a little higher as I thought of the 50 million people who have had their lives ended since 1972 in the way Jan’s child did.
“Women DO Regret Abortion,” my sign said.
Jan, I did it for you.
*name has been changed