You may have seen the news. An Idaho senator made some comments in defending his mandatory ultrasound before abortion bill that infuriated people and went viral. Here’s his quote:
“Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this,” Winder said on the Senate floor. “I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”
A number of my friends commented on the article, posted the link to Huffington Post on their facebook pages, and were upset about the comment.
I was upset too.
But I know Senator Winder. I don’t know him well. But he is a Presbyterian Elder who has served as the moderator of the Presbytery where I serve. I disagree with him completely on this. Let’s be clear about it. But I also know he is not a monster. I was certain that he couldn’t possibly mean what I heard in his comment. So I emailed him.
> Dear Chuck,
> I was wondering if you meant your comments about women and their doctors
> to sound the way they did? Do you really mean to suggest that women would
> be unclear about whether or not they were raped? I read your comments on
> huff post, as did many of my friends across the country. They don’t know
> you, but my suspicion is that you surely didn’t mean to be so insensitive
> to women? Any clarification would be appreciated. I am deeply opposed to
> this legislation. While I do not like abortion or think it is a good
> solution, I strongly believe it should be legal until we can make it
> unnecessary. Once we start treating the lives that are already here with
> the same respect you want to extend to fetuses, then it is a different
> conversation. And people who are opposed to abortion should be shouting
> loudly to protect womens’ access to contraception. Any clarification
> would be appreciated. I have told my friends that I am sure you misspoke.
> I hope I am right. Blessings, Marci Glass
I was hoping that he meant that doctors, not legislators, would be determining if a woman had been raped. I was hoping for a typo. Anything other than that suggestion that a woman would need a medical professional to help her determine if the sex she’d had was consensual or not.
He replied. I am appreciative that someone in the midst of a legislative session would reply so quickly. Here’s his response.
Marci, of course not. I was just saying that the attending physician would hopefully counsel the victim to determine if she was pregnant from a consensual relationship vs a pregnancy caused by the rape. The thought being that knowing the pregnancy was not caused by the rape she may well not want to terminate the pregnancy.
This was not the answer I was hoping for.
(author’s note: In the comments, people pointed out that I misunderstood his reply. I acknowledged that in the comments, but to be clear, I want to acknowledge it here too. He is apparently saying that he’s hoping a doctor could help a woman determine if her pregnancy was caused by the rape or by consensual sex. That said, I wonder if I didn’t understand him because it still seems a startling comment. Does he think a woman needs legislation to help her determine whether or not she should be figuring such things out? There are many problems with this idea, many of which are helpfully pointed out in the comments below. But I wanted to make sure you knew that I had caught that error of mine without having to send you to the comments. as you were….)
Here’s my reply to him:
Thank you for your reply. As a woman who faced an unplanned pregnancy, I have to say that I never needed anyone to help me determine if the sex had been consensual or not. I chose to place my child for adoption, and I get to go see him graduate from college in May. So I know what I am talking about.
When I was facing that choice, I went to Planned Parenthood for the pregnancy test. Never once did they encourage me to get an abortion. They never even brought it up.
The only reason I even considered an abortion– for a second– was so people at my church wouldn’t judge me and so my parents wouldn’t be disappointed in me. I chose to go through public shame to bring my child to the world, but I was thankful that it was MY choice. I knew my parents wouldn’t kick me out. And I decided I was willing to lose my faith, if needed.
And never, ever, ever did I need a physician or any other person to counsel me as you are suggesting be done. I would encourage you to walk back your words and reconsider.
As a woman who faced this situation after the first time I had sex, who felt bad that she had let her family and her church down, I can tell you that your comments would have hurt me to the core. Shame was one thing I did not need help with. And it is patronizing beyond belief for a man, even a nice man such as yourself, to suggest that I would have needed a doctor to help determine if the sex had been consensual or not.
I know you are approaching this legislation out of the depth of your faith, but I pray you would consider that in the aim of saving life, you might be ruining life. Your comments, though I am sure you would not intend them this way, are inflammatory and painful for me, and for any woman facing an unplanned pregnancy.
Thank you for your time.
If you don’t know my adoption story, you can read a sermon about my experience here. But let’s be clear. THE most compelling reason for me to consider an abortion was to avoid the shame that conservative Christians offer to unmarried pregnant teenagers.
Did you hear me?
The only reason I considered an abortion was so other Christians wouldn’t judge me.
I am thankful, to the bottom of my heart, that the only judging that came my way was from people who didn’t know me and who had marginal voices in my life. The people who knew me loved me, supported me, and carried me through the entire experience. Friends, family, professors, pastors, university administrators, and little old ladies at church all gave me love and care. The church I was attending offered me grace and acceptance. This issue is probably the biggest reason I became a pastor, truth be told.
So, for people who I know to be Christians who love Jesus to have made abortion THE defining issue of the faith, I pray that they will reconsider.
I didn’t need help understanding shame.
I needed help understanding grace.
Where is grace in the conversation about criminalizing contraception? (And how can people who are opposed to abortion also be opposed to contraception?)
Where is grace in the conversation about abortion? How can we possibly be discussing that women should be subjected, against their will, to transvaginal ultrasounds?
How about this.
Let’s not make abortion illegal. Let’s make it unnecessary. Let’s provide access to contraception. Let’s continue to work at health care reform so that money isn’t the reason people consider abortion. Let’s support single women who find themselves pregnant and give them help so that they can raise their children.
Let’s stop with the shame already.
Yes, I value life. I would even call myself “pro-life” as I also call for legal abortion. But the way I show that is in caring for and advocating for the lives that already on this earth. Life may begin at conception, but our concern for life certainly shouldn’t end at birth.
If Senator Winder replies to my other email, I’ll share it here.
Thanks for your time. Now go out and, as author Marilynne Robinson has said, “participate in the grace that has saved” us.