By Salley Gibney
I am sharing my own personal experience without judgment, with the hope that it may offer some insights into the broader picture of a most volatile dilemma we are facing. I do not in any way think that I have any answers. But I feel an urgency to share my feelings, experiences and dilemma with anyone who is willing to listen. I am hoping that you will read this to the end.
I have always been an advocate of finding common ground. Some people may feel that common ground is a cop-out. I believe it is the only place to start if we hope to preserve what our country is really meant to be – a country of many people with different beliefs coming together for the better good of all. Today we are facing the volatile issue of abortion. We have faced many serious obstacles in the past and somehow common ground has been found. Have we now met one that will tear us apart?
What is common ground? It is a place where we find a tiny thread of something we have in common. I believe it is the place where we respect the life and dignity of each one of us no matter how big or how small. I am a mother, a Grammy with 80 years of experience, some of which I am sharing here in the hopes that it may be a starting place for common ground.
Today we face the incredibly volatile issue of abortion. With feelings so strong on both sides, can we ever find common ground?
I am in a unique position. I was adopted and my two children were adopted. I cannot express the gratitude I have for these very brave women who gave us life. Not only did they give us life but they have given life to our grandchildren and generations to come. I am certain it was not an easy decision for them to go through nine months of a pregnancy and then to give us away. I personally witnessed this agony when mothers considering surrendering their babies for adoption came to speak with me as someone who was adopted and also someone who was an adoptive parent. Their anguish was palpable. And it remains with them throughout their lives.
On the other side of the coin, I was an emergency room nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City for 6 1/2 years during the 1960s, a time when abortion was illegal. Desperate women and girls who were pregnant, some due to incest and rape, some who suffered with medical conditions, and some who felt they had no other option would come to Greenwich Village where “butchers” would initiate the abortion and then send them to St. Vincent’s to complete their abortion. Mind you, I was in my twenties as were the other ER nurses at that time. What we witnessed will forever remain in our minds and hearts. I shiver to remember the agony these women were going through. I also shiver to remember what we nurses witnessed. There were times when we could distinguish that this was a very little but not yet viable baby. As a Catholic hospital, we respected this life and would wrap the fetus and bring it to the morgue.
Three particular women remain with me to this day.
The first was a young girl who had been raped and couldn’t deal with the rape let alone continue with her pregnancy. Not only was her pregnancy aborted but the faulty surgery left her unable to ever conceive again. A second was a mother with two disabled children requiring overwhelming medical care and services. They had just been told that their third child had the same condition. When someone inquired why she hadn’t used some kind of birth control, she replied, “I’m a Catholic; birth control is a sin.” She was then arrested and taken from the emergency room in handcuffs in front of her husband and two children. The third young woman never survived the abortion. There were so many more stories.
Someone once told me several years ago that life is not black and white, that life is mostly gray. I think that’s true. There is so much to consider as we contemplate this issue. If, as a society, we prohibit choice, we need to make sure mothers and babies have what they need to thrive. Are we willing to do that?
So is there common ground to be found with the issue of abortion? There are no simple answers. This isn’t about good people and bad people. It’s about people who have very strong feelings about this very complicated issue. Perhaps, we start by respecting the dignity of each other; by not only listening to each other but also hearing where others are coming from. Then, we can find some common ground as a place to start. And then take it from there . . . one step at a time.
Salley Gibney is a mother, “Grammy,” retired RN, community volunteer and host of a cable TV Show in Manchester, Vt., and here in Providence, R.I. Check out www.thecaringcoins.com.