Sister against sister by Brenda Peterson

New Age Journal
September/October 1993

Brenda Peterson

On a sunny, seemingly benign afternoon, I sat with my mother, who had summoned me home from college for a talk. My mother was motionless, attentive the way blind people are when navigating their inner world by some sonar.

"I'm forty-one years old," my mother began quietly, "raised all four of you kids. I can't start making babies all over again."

It was 1970; Roe v. Wade was three years away. And my mother was telling me that she was again pregnant. We both knew that her fundamentalist southern Baptist religion and our state rigorously forbade abortion, that another child was not only unwise in a family of four teen-agers but unhealthy for my mother, both physically and psychologically.

"I never wanted this many," my mother breathed, as if talking to herself, as if I were not there, the first of her unwanted.

"I know," was what I said, wavering between old rage and newfound understanding. My rage was rooted in the knowledge that my own birth had been something of a crisis for my mother. My birth had meant the end of her education, her independence, and the beginning of decades of a maternal role for which she was ill-suited. But six months earlier I too had gained a personal understanding of pregnancy as crisis, before my miscarriage made the choice for me. The irony of having found myself pregnant at twenty -- the exact age my mother got pregnant with me -- didn't escape me now. Here we sat together, mother and first-born, twenty years after my conception, debating the fate of another child.

Time was turning back on itself, as if we two had become all women in some secret society, talking quietly about birth and death matters that belonged to us, body and soul. But now there were the laws, the sins, the crimes that we had to consider.

"Do you -- " Mother began, trembling. "You must know someone -- one of those radical friends who's against the Vietnam war?"

"I don't know how to get an abortion, Mother, if that's what you're asking. But I can ask around."

Mother laughed, a hoarse sound more like a cry. "Nowadays mothers have to ask daughters about these things. Used to be a time, my grandmother once told me, when there were herbs a woman could use. Potions. A woman knew about them because her mother taught her secretly." Then she laughed again, and it was a scary sound, like coughing. It reminded me that during all my childhood my mother had frightened me with her dark moods. She'd also fascinated me, because alternating with her furies was an exuberance so bright she eclipsed most of my friends' mothers.

"I did try some of those old wives' ways," Mother told me, her face pale, "but I couldn't remember how . . ." My hands began shaking, as if I already knew what she would say next. "I tried them on you. Of course, I didn't know it was you inside, and now that I know you I'm glad it didn't work."

I caught my breath and managed to say, "I might have done that, too, Mother." But my heart was racing.

"Well, 'didn't work' isn't exactly right." She wasn't looking at me. And then she told the story: how she had tried everything until at last, in desperation -- because she'd gotten pregnant on her honeymoon, because she and my father were too young, too poor -- she had inflicted upon herself an abortion at almost five months along in her pregnancy. All night she had crouched in a bathtub full of lukewarm, bloody water, sobbing. How solitary was her suffering.

"After I punctured myself," she said, her words ragged, breathless, "out came this little bloody thing -- I think it was a boy.

I couldn't see him well for all the tears. I was so scared. I couldn't stop crying. I wanted someone with me. Anyone. Even your father. He never knew . . . he still doesn't."

In the bright light of that spring afternoon, my mother looked small, exposed. She held her belly and wept. I sat stunned, torn between my sorrow for her and a grief coiling like nausea in my own stomach. Then I remembered my recurring childhood nightmare: I am curled around another body in perfect embrace; we are weightless, floating together belly-to-back, tiny legs tucked. We breathe together, warm water easing in and out as if our lungs are simple gills. In this deep darkness we hear a big bass heart beating above in counterpoint to our own rapid treble heart throbs. Our twin hearts drum in sync.

Suddenly that big heart pounds fast; there is a terrible rush in our bodies, an electric surge along our new nerves and skin. We are turning round and round in an undertow. There is a tearing away, a big whooshing sound as we are pulled and pushed by a wave of blood. But my head hits bone and I stop, turning over myself in a spinning terror. And only then do I know -- I am all by myself. There is no twin body embracing mine, only this big, frightened body bending double over me.

"There was someone with you that day," I told Mother, though my voice shook with fear and something else -- pity. Pity for us both.

A visible tremor ran through her, and she lifted her face from her hands. "Yes," she murmured, her voice full of wonder. "There you still were. But I didn't realize it then." She paused, and her words spilled out. "I buried the fetus beneath a big cedar tree. I said prayers. I have never felt so alone in my life." She hesitated and then looked directly at me, her gray eyes brimming. "But I wasn't alone. Can you imagine the shock sometime later when I felt you kicking inside?"

"Maybe I wanted out, Mother," I whispered, my own tears finally falling.

She was quiet a moment, then said softly, "I'm sure you did. When you were born I had only half an hour of labor. We barely got down the mountain before you burst on the scene."

I did not weep any more that sunny day as my mother did. I felt physical shock, repulsion, and a familiar longing.

"Can you ever forgive me?" my mother asked as she held her belly.

Two weeks later Mother called me at school to report in a subdued voice that, after all, she had been wrong. False alarm; she was not pregnant. Everything was fine; forget what she'd told me.

Today my mother will not answer any of my questions about that story she offered me twenty years ago, except to say, "Honey, we always wanted you." I do not know if she will ever discuss it with me again. I do know that abortion among the women in my family continues to be a deep wound that we all, in our different and drastically opposing ways, seek to heal.

A decade after my mother and I talked about finding her an illegal abortion, I sat with my youngest sister in an East Coast abortion clinic gazing at an obscure black-and-white photo of her unborn child. In the ultrasound, her baby was the size of a tadpole.

"Do you know," said my sister, who is an intensive care nurse, "that the fetus goes through every step of an evolutionary process, from fish to reptile -- with a tail and everything -- to mammal?" She stopped, her eyes brimming. "It's amazing."

"Yes," I echoed softly, "amazing."

We didn't say another word; we'd already gone round for days -- boyfriend deserted, my sister at twenty-six barely supporting herself. At last my sister sighed, "I just can't do it . . . not again."

"Again" would have been her second abortion. When my sister was eighteen and living in Georgia, dividing her time between nursing school and Bible studies, she'd aborted her first pregnancy. Now, as she faced a possible second abortion, my sister wept on my shoulder. "Even Mom and Dad want me to get an abortion, can you believe that?" She shook her head. "But I wouldn't be able to forgive myself." And she chose to have her child.

For three years my sister and her son lived with my parents in the South. To be an unwed mother in a fundamentalist family and community was a source of shame for my sister. She returned to attending church with my parents. Then the father of her child came back into the picture and became a born- again Christian. They married and are settled in Virginia with two more sons. During my sister's fervent return to fundamentalism she was swept up in the antiabortion movement, and for the past several years she's worked as an anti- choice lobbyist in Washington. For pro-life marches and protests, she dons her white nurse's uniform and is often dragged off to jail, clutching her sign JESUS HEARS THEIR TINY SCREAMS.

Both my youngest sister and I are haunted by abortion: I as a survivor of abortion who still strongly believes it is every woman's right to choose to end a pregnancy; and my sister, who, once having exercised her abortion rights, now cannot find it in her religion to forgive herself or others. The war over abortion among the women in my own family mirrors the larger world's tortured debate over an issue that in the past twenty years has evoked division instead of dialogue and polarization instead of compassion. It's an issue that has left a lot of victims in its wake.

According to the World Health Organization, an average of 200,000 women worldwide die annually of clandestine abortions either from lack of access to good medicine or because abortion is not funded in that country. The world family of women is haunted by abortion, and we have made war on our sisters and ourselves in struggling to come to terms with this one act -- to give or deny birth. In my family we often make the dark joke that all through our southern childhood we girls played Civil War, reenacting Confederate vs. Union brother-against-brother battles; now we spend our adulthood engaged in a civil war that separates us as sisters.

The skirmishes can be daily or weekly. Every morning when I peruse my New York Times I risk falling into a rage when I read items like the recent story about the Virginia state Republican convention whose delegates, led by Christian conservatives, just passed one of the country's most far-right platforms to restrict abortion, limit homosexual rights, and defeat gun-control measures. My rage turned to outrage when I remembered that, just days before, my sister had casually mentioned "schmoozing with my friends in hospitality suites" at this same convention, as if it were a high school reunion.

By the same token, when I tell my little sister I've just given a reading from my latest book at a pro-choice rally, I can almost hear her grinding her teeth over the phone. Our tense coiled energy reaches cross-continent as we quietly register our enemy camps.

But as much as I struggle with my fundamentalist sister, I can never dismiss or demean her as somehow less human or less intelligent than me. It hurts me when my liberal friends imagine my sister as just another right-to-life caricature, a fool or fanatic. It also saddens me when my little sister refers to my friends -- and even to herself -- as "babykillers."

In my own life, the terrible loss of my twin to an abortion has made me question and deeply ponder this act from both the unborn child's and the pregnant woman's point of view. Looking at both sides of the issue convinces me that abortion has a very grave, often tragic effect on a woman's life, especially if it is an unreflected act, stripped of spiritual depth and close, conscious community. It is also a tragedy for a child to be born into the world unwelcome because the mother doesn't have a way to support that new life. While I do believe that a woman has a right and responsibility to choose when and whether she can welcome a child into her life, I have never been able to see abortion as a simple medical practice or convenient form of birth control. And I know many other feminists whose own abortions still haunt them -- not because they believe they did wrong, but because they full well understand they've made a grave decision about life and death. And they made this choice in a society that for so many centuries has denied women the authority to make such vital decisions.

But as a feminist and a longtime pro-choice advocate, I see something missing from our highly politicized camp: a conscious acknowledgment that abortion, for any woman, no matter her political rights, is a painful passage that deserves spiritual succor and healing. Perhaps we who hold that it is a woman's right to give or deny birth have been too caught up in the battle to keep those threatened rights and not brave enough to talk about how deeply abortion has affected our lives. By letting the anti-choice fundamentalist groups claim the religious side of the argument, feminists have missed the opportunity to add a spiritual dimension to the political battle.

Taking the discussion of abortion deeper is particularly important as we enter a new era of abortion rights -- an era in which for the first time in twelve years the White House administration is pro-choice and the Supreme Court may be more moderate than expected on abortion rights. Perhaps even more significant is the imminent production of RU 486, the abortion pill developed in Europe. Though my sister, true to her fundamentalist beliefs, promises to boycott the abortion pill's American manufacturer and to track down doctors who prescribe the new pill by sending female spies into suspected clinics, there is the distinct possibility that the adoption of the pill in the United States will eventually make abortion clinics obsolete and the act of abortion as private as taking any prescription medicine. But while the technology and politics of abortion may fully guarantee us the access to abortion, our emotions and philosophies will remain unreconciled and confused unless the spiritual dimension of abortion becomes part of the dialogue for all of us.

If pro-choice women were to engage our pro-life sisters in a discussion of abortion from a spiritual perspective, might we advance the conversation? This is what has begun to happen between my sister and myself. Instead of a dialogue in which she quotes Bible verses and I respond with talk of civil liberties and equality of women, we are now deeply involved in a discussion of whether women have the spiritual authority to decide to give or take life. While this dialogue hasn't changed either of our minds about abortion, it has deepened our intimacy. For me it has triggered a spiritual search to help heal the wounds of my fundamentalist childhood; for my sister it has deepened her own faith -- a faith that I abandoned as a teenager. Because of our shared fundamentalist upbringing, I can understand the fears that the abortion issue stirs up in my born-again sister and that are still part of my own shadow.

"Don't you understand that God has His eye on me?" my little sister pleaded with me in a recent discussion. "And He has found me sorely lacking."

I was startled by the term she used -- "sorely lacking" -- because it belongs to the southern Baptist ministers who still stalk my nightmares. I was suddenly reminded of a scene from childhood: we three stairstep sisters, two years apart in age, legs dangling in a pew, our shoulders hunched over in fear, as if awaiting a blow. The preacher shouts: "It was Eve who ate that apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And in going against God's will, in eating the fruit poisoned with mortality, that woman condemned us all to exile from God's Garden. She listened to the snake and her own sinful self, instead of her sweet Lord!" We shuddered, we three terrified sisters, little descendants of Eve.

It was 1958, and we three little sinners were living in Montana -- one of many cross-country moves in our transient childhood. In the shadow of glacial ranges and yawning green wilderness, we sisters spent most of our days running through the woods playing in primitive tribes. We were wild horses with an elaborate caste system that sometimes included small stallions. At Sunday School, our teacher, as if sensing the unbroken, fine horse flesh of such highstrung fillies, would glare at us girls as if her lectures were lassos. "Little women have to work especially hard for our Lord's redemption. We were the first in all creation to go against His divine will."

Sometimes it seemed hopeless to a nine- year-old. As the eldest sister, I was often utterly bewildered when the younger ones asked me to explain these "sermonettes," as our teacher modestly called them.

"Do you think God will ever forgive us for eating that stupid apple?" my middle sister once asked me as we loped along the open range.

"Nope," I said, and suddenly felt a strange happiness within. At that moment I knew that, no matter what I did, as long as I was female I would always be Eve's daughter. I somehow intuited that being forgiven by this angry Father God might be the same as being broken -- the sharp bit of blame always turning me this way and that. Better to be a wild filly with no righteous rider.

That day, when I felt the happy hopelessness of an unforgiven female, I wondered if this feeling was an echo of the "still, small voice" the preacher was always talking about. But when I asked my Sunday School teacher whether my still, small voice belonged to me or to God, she corrected me soundly. "Nothing about you belongs to you," she pronounced. "Except for your sin."

After that I kept my voice quiet, except with my sisters. The only time we opened our mouths in church was to sing the prescribed songs. One song stays with me:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?

There's power in the blood,

Power in the blood!

These three decades later my little sister still sings this song in church and as she marches in picket lines carrying a plastic baby doll strung up on a coat- hanger cross, its body splashed with painted blood. How, I wonder, did the fetus come to replace Christ on the cross? And how come there are no women crucified on that cross, to symbolize those millions of women who've died from illegal abortions?

When I asked my youngest sister what those crucified babydoll fetuses represent, she declared, "They're God's children, of course. They don't belong to women." I could sense my sister's fear as she talked about facing a God who may find her fetus more important to Him than she is. "I've got so much to repent," she said remorsefully. "I sacrificed God's divine seed, just to take care of myself." Consumed by her remorse, my sister hardly stirred when I tried to allay her fears by reminding her that the root of the word sacrifice means "to make sacred."

I tried to assure her that she was more than merely a vessel for God's seed and that she had her share of divine spark all her own. I told her that throughout the Middle Ages into the Renaissance, science believed that every drop of male semen contained a miniature, unseen fetus, called a homunculus; not until 1827, with the discovery of the ovum in mammals, did this myth of male seed as source of all life yield equal share of biological credit to the female body.

"So your body is sacred with or without God's divine seed," I argued. "You're just as holy, honey, when you ain't pregnant."

She laughed. "I'll have to tell my husband to save all those little homunculuses inside his semen just like all your woo-woo feminists save menstrual blood to make paintings. Yuck!"

I grinned. "That blood is also great for nourishing plants."

"So, that's how your garden grows?" she deadpanned.

My middle sister and I agree that our little sister has the best and blackest sense of humor among us. Unlike the image of the grim antiabortionist in protest lines we see in the media, my sister is fun and funny and very much a trickster. Just two years ago, after my granddaddy's funeral, we three met mid- country without all the kids. We decided to drive together through the South, from the Ozarks to southern Florida.

"We'll put the fun back in funeral!" my little sister announced as we clambered into her van and fell into three part harmony, singing hymns en route to Graceland. But as we barreled along the back roads, I began to notice that other motorists were waving at us, some shaking their heads, others flashing the raised-fist, right-on sign. Few cars passed us without comment. Some drove by grimly avoiding eye contact, and some honked as if we were all in the same wedding party. "Hey, what's going on?" I asked my little sister.

"You'll see," she said slyly and smiled.

At the next service stop, I took the notion to check my sister's bumper stickers. There emblazoned in neon letters was the sign IF YOU CAN READ THIS -- THANK THE DOCTOR WHO DIDN'T ABORT YOU! I stood there silently, feeling both shocked and bemused. It was disorienting and oddly comical to be driving around inside my sister's opinions.

"Kind of like getting stuck inside my mind, isn't it?" my little sister laughed. "Enemy territory."

"But we're not enemies," interjected my middle sister, always the peacemaker, the Great Communicator, as we call her. "Enemies can't sing perfect three- part harmony."

"Or play on the same baseball team," I said, referring to our years in Virginia when we kids played baseball on our own homemade field, complete with dugout, wooden bases, and even an announcer's stand atop our tree fort.

"I never played on your team!" my little sister said sadly. "Don't you remember? You two and the neighbor boys wouldn't let me play. You said I wasn't old enough or good enough to hit or throw the ball. You made me sit in the announcer's stand and call the games."

My middle sister and I were aghast. We didn't remember excluding her from our play. How else had we unthinkingly excluded her?

"It's all right," my little sister shrugged. "I know I'm the lost child."

She said it so matter-of-factly it broke my heart. Even though she was only four years younger, she seemed a world away -- and I had lost her somehow. I thought back to my little sister's abortion. When she left the clinic, there was no group of sympathetic sisters ready to take her into their arms and welcome her into the hard feminine mysteries of life and death. Instead she was greeted by a tight circle of true believers shouting at her that she was a murderer. I sometimes wonder if my sister chose the only sisterhood that was speaking a spiritual language -- the religious far-right. I was a continent away, a feminist quietly affirming my sister's choice as her right. But we were both also worlds away from any spiritual tradition in which the feminine had much power or sway. Not only did we have no wise women elders to teach us feminine medical mysteries, we had no women spiritual leaders to balance two thousand years of male-dominated Christianity.

Several years later, after witnessing my sister's surrender to her God's angry judgment of her abortion, I began searching for a God the Mother to heal my childhood religious experience. I delved into studying pre-Christian spirituality, particularly the old pagan, Earth-centered goddess religions that flourished for centuries before the Church. In these traditions the feminine was divine, Her power bestowed on women and men alike. During this matriarchal time, the power to give and deny birth belonged to the Goddess and to women. Men considered these birth mysteries to be a woman's holy territory. Later, in the Greek traditions there were gods and goddesses, such as Artemis, symbol of wisdom, the hunt, the moon, and childbirth. In her book Pagan Meditations, Ginette Paris describes abortion as an essentially religious act, a sacred sacrifice to Artemis. "One aborts an impossible love," she writes, "not a hatred." In her new book, The Sacrament of Abortion, Paris explains further that if we saw abortion as a sacred ritual, it would restore to the act a sense of the sanctity of life.

As I studied more feminine spirituality I read of the Egyptian Isis and Babylonian Ishtar/Inanna, who make sacred journeys, and of the Chinese Buddhist Kuan Yin and Tibetan Green Tara, whose feminine compassion is mirrored in the Catholic Mary and Black Madonnas. In her comprehensive book Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom: The Divine Feminine from Black Goddess to World-Soul, Caitl^Rn Matthews follows the spiritual tradition of feminine wisdom and power across cultures and concludes that "wisdom -- whether as Black Goddess or Sophia -- is a wise mediator who can be approached, without fear, by both sexes." When I first read that, I could feel the fear from my fundamentalist childhood begin to ease and open, like a fist unclenching.

Perhaps the richest discovery of my search came when, in tracing my family's Native American roots, I encountered the elder societies of wise women and the tradition of the female moon lodges. This forerunner of the male sweat lodges was a shelter for female cleansing and meditation to celebrate the woman's menstruation, called "moontime," which was considered a heightened period of spiritual insight and power. In this native tradition, women were not being cast out for being impure; they were in communion. They were not unclean; they were sanctified.

Six summers ago, while my little sister was beginning her activist work against fetal tissue research, I spent my first solstice night in a women's moon lodge, near my birthplace in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Several of the women gathered there were midwives; one was grieving a recent abortion. It was in this moon lodge that I was finally given, at the age of thirty-eight, the kind of initiation into feminine mysteries that centuries ago were given to all young females, and I discovered there a new way of making sacred the sacrifice of abortion.

We made our wide womb of a lodge with bowed willow, red cloth, and earth, and we entered crawling on our hands and knees. Inside, lit by candles, the moon lodge was a luminous embrace of silken, scarlet membrane. It was small, but spacious. We five women sat cross-legged and sang and told stories all night.

A midwife and teacher, mother of four, told us the history of women's mysteries. "Women's blood has always held power. It's the first way we told time -- by women's cycles. Twenty-eight days between menstruations, twenty- eight days of the moon's cycle. Our ancestors believed the moon herself was menstruating as she waxed and waned. Time in those days was not linear, unrelated, but in relationship to the circle, the whole. And in the center of this cycle were the Great Mother deities in sync with the Earth's seasons."

"There was power in the blood," I said, and we all laughed in the candlelit hut. Above us, through the tepeelike opening, shone a full June moon. There was the sweet smell of honeysuckle mixed with medicinal scents of mugwort and other herbs we used for pain, for cleansing, for perfume.

The midwife went on to tell us that the original blood rites were powerful transformation mysteries. "The root meaning of the word ritual is 'ritu,' and 'ritu' means menstruation," she explained. "Crossing the threshold from girlhood to womanhood was a holy ritual, and women's menstrual blood was used in the most sacred ceremonies."

"So how did the women's sacred blood become the Biblical 'curse' we're taught about today?" a teen-aged girl asked. She knew all about blood and the Bible; she was a devout Catholic who had gone against her church's teachings to have an abortion two weeks before our moon hut. "It was awful," she said, "protesters screaming at me when I was already brokenhearted about giving up my illegitimate baby. There were two nuns there who turned their backs on me with such . . . such contempt." The girl covered her face, weeping.

Two women on either side of the teenager, both of them mothers, reached out to rock her between them as if she were their own daughter. I wondered what might have happened if my sisters and I had been blessed with a Sunday School teacher who rocked us in her strong arms, mothering our minds and our souls, telling us stories of women in the Bible who were not harlots or temptresses or slaves, but rather visionaries and priestesses. I thought of my belly-dancer friend Delilah who led a performance workshop called "Reclaiming the Women in the Bible." When the women danced Eve or Lot's wife or Mary Magdalene, they looked radiant, she said, as if receiving divine love at last.

On that balmy night in the moon hut I told the women about the abortion histories in my family. I lit a candle to include my mother and my little sister in our gathering. Telling my story to witnesses in this traditional red hut marked the beginning of my coming to peace with and healing the wound of abortion in my life. All night long we told stories and lit candles for all our sisters until the hut gleamed from within like a bright lantern on the forest floor. How I longed to have my own sisters there with me -- especially the one whose punishment of herself and others goes on outside abortion clinics across the country. I wished that she could share with me the healing of this red hut of women.

Years later, during the road trip my sisters and I took after my granddaddy's funeral, I once again felt the power and intimacy of that first moon lodge as I sat with my sisters in a fancy Atlanta restaurant. We sipped elegant cocktails, toasting each other in our sisters' reunion. "Did you ever think we'd all turn out to be, well, like we are?" my middle sister marveled. "Each so different, I mean."

"You mean two sinners and one saint?" my little sister said with a laugh.

Her joking remark brought back a memory from our youth: how my middle sister and I were always afraid that our youngest sister was indeed a heavenly being. "Hey, do you remember when we thought you were an angel unaware?" I asked my little sister. "You were so sweet, so kind, so perfect that we two really looked like village of the damned. We were always top ten on the Sunday School prayer list, but the teachers loved you."

Our little sister fell ominously silent and bowed her head. At last she sighed, seeming on the verge of tears. "I'm not an angel," she said quietly. "Not after what I did."

I leaned forward and took her hand. "Forgive yourself, love."

She looked up at my middle sister and me in wonderment. "How?" she asked brokenly. "I'm a murderer, can't you see?"

"All I see is a young girl who once saved a child from a life of poverty and rejection," my middle sister said. "You made a compassionate, responsible decision. You did good, honey."

"That's not what my religion tells me," my little sister murmured, wiping her mascara-streaked face with her napkin. At that moment she looked very young, all of eighteen even though she was in her thirties and the mother of three.

"Well, that is what your sisters tell you," I said, holding her hand as she bowed her head, tears falling freely. The three of us sisters sat there huddled together, a candle's glow illuminating our faces -- these family faces that share the same eyes, slope of cheekbone, and strong jaw. I felt as though we were in our own ancient temple, a place of women's mysteries and their griefs, and their wisdom.

Since that night I have decided to make my own moon lodge once each summer, and when it's their first moontime I'll invite my nieces to join in. I propose to pitch my red hut a distance from the fray, disengaging from the feminist vs. fundamentalist battles. We'll attend not to politics but to spiritual healing. For those sisters who have chosen the "sacrament" of abortion, we will make sacred the sacrifice. For those who are suffering from unhealed abortions, we will witness and comfort and confirm. And for those women who are simply healing from the negative self-image of being born a woman in a society or religion that has long devalued our gender, we will listen to old and new stories of our feminine spiritual authority. Most of all, we'll initiate our daughters into the women's mysteries, such as charting our reproductive rhythms, remembering the midwives' herbs and potions; and perhaps with spiritual dignity we'll ritualize the RU 486 pill with prayers to Artemis or the Divine Mother, She who gives and takes life.

It is no small irony that if my own mother had remembered what her great- grandmother knew of the midwife herbs, I might not have been born. I think about how many years it has taken me to contemplate and remember and finally forgive my mother for her decision to take my twin. I feel in my body my mother's despair, and I understand my own grief: My mother is every woman who, no matter the laws, will make this soul-searching, mortal choice; and I am every child, waiting to be truly welcomed into the world.

When I think about abortion not from just a political perspective but from this deeply personal and spiritual viewpoint, I can better understand my little sister's grief and her search for forgiveness. In a culture that forsakes the feminine, I am grateful to be learning how not to forsake myself, how not to sacrifice myself on the altar of a religion that would damn my gender. As sisters, as mothers, as women, we also must not forsake those women among us who cannot bring themselves to make a decision that they believe damns them in the eyes of their God. This does not mean that those of us who believe in a woman's choice should stop working to pass legislation to ensure abortion's legality. It does mean creating honest dialogue with our sisters, not dismissing their fears or our own healing. Gazing at one another nonviolently across the picket lines, we can seek compassion and understanding between the warring sides. How can I declare war on my sister? She is my blood - and blood is sacred.

Go Back to Shy David's Abortion Page.