What Happens When A Preacher’s Daughter Gets an Abortion

Aycock, Medium, Jun 11, 2018

We all
think we know what decision we’d make — then reality intervenes
“A small
white church surrounded by trees” by Aaron Burden
on Unsplash

There are
two stereotypes of preachers’ kids. One is that we’re goody-goodies. The other
is that we’re dissolute.
If you
read my essay on why I’ve
never tasted alcohol (and never will
), you might assume I was a
goody-goody. (For the record, I’ve been married three times
one of them was to a woman I once
so don’t nominate me for sainthood
just yet.) Either way, I was awkward and uninteresting growing up. Still am, at
My sister
was different. By age fourteen, she was already gorgeous: six feet tall,
syrup-dark skin, hair like a runway model’s, walnut eyes, dazzling smile,
effortless laugh. She was popular, too, which was a mixed blessing. At parties,
if a friend drank one beer, she drank two. If the friend smoked two joints, she
smoked three. Later on, there was heroin. Cocaine. Oxycontin. Crystal meth.
Being a
preacher’s daughter “did and didn’t bother me,” she reflects. “I did the things
that I did, not caring at the time who it hurt. Dad was actually wonderful
through everything. He never ‘preached’ to me. I hated being forced to go to
church and I hated the times that he would say ‘How can I lead a church if I
can’t even lead my own family?’ But at the time I was trying to prove that I
was different and that I was going to be my own person.”
What she
did instead was get pregnant. The father was a kid named Ian, a drug user and
dealer. Seeing that my sister was listless and nauseated all the time, my
mother asked if she was pregnant. “Why would you ask that?” my sister exploded.
“Do you think I’m a slut?” Meanwhile, she tried to force her own miscarriage.
She slammed into door knobs and punched herself in the stomach. On a youth
mission trip, she drank a capful of bleach. The truth finally came out one
Sunday morning when, dressed for church, my sister stopped in front of the
kitchen sink and began to throw up again and again, the bile splashing her
sallow face.
“I never
accepted it myself,” my sister says. “I thought it would go away, like a
hangover.” (I’ll have to take her word for this.) She stayed home from church
that day. Imagine our father’s distraction in the pulpit! How did he read the
scripture? Pray without stuttering? Keep from saying “Moses and the Ark” or
putting Jacob in the belly of the fish? After church, he brought home a
pregnancy test, and when the test was positive, abortion
that bête noire of
Southern Baptists
became an option, for health
reasons. Ian, the father, was a drug user, and my sister was on Zoloft.
According to her doctor, the baby might have birth defects. Worse, my sister
could die during the delivery.
I was not
living at home at this time, and my family is curiously uncommunicative about
major health issues (I expect to find out when my first parent dies by reading
the obituary online). So I didn’t participate in the decision. My sister’s
abortion was done in a clinic 45 minutes away at a cost of $300. Cash.
mother rode in the backseat with my sister, holding a cool rag to her head.
Protesters surrounded the clinic. They waved signs covered in Bible verses and
pictures of charred fetuses. The staff at the clinic was cold, indifferent. No
one told my sister, “This is what to expect” or “Don’t worry. Things will be
fine.” They referred to her by number. She wore her previous year’s plain blue
Easter dress and some black flip flops. A nurse took her to the surgery area,
laid her on a table, and jammed in an IV, which, in her words, “burned like hell.”
She woke standing up. The nurse reached under the gown, wiped her crotch, and
showed her the bright red blood. After she sat on a chair and ate some
crackers, she was allowed to leave.
Once she
had recovered and was able to start going out again, our parents’ orders were
unambiguous: no Ian. She saw him anyway. One night, when her friend Nick snuck
her to Ian’s house, she arrived to find him on the floor, his father leaning
over him. Ian was blue; he had OD’d on heroin.
My sister
tried to revive him. Nick was terror-stricken. At one point, my sister barked
at him, “If you’re a chicken shit, call the paramedics and get the fuck out of
here!” The paramedics arrived and gave Ian an adrenaline shot to the heart. My
sister called our father from the hospital, asking him to come get her. “I’m
here with Ian,” she said. “I found him dead.”
you are the pastor of a church. Your daughter tells you she snuck out to see a
guy, and now they are at the hospital. It is the latest brick in a wall of
suffering. Remember the time you got a call from a friend of hers, who told you
Ian had shown up at his house, high as a weather balloon, and forced her into
somebody’s truck? Remember what you said to Ian when you found them, hours
later? As the little bastard opened his door and stepped out, silver-tongued,
talking about some misunderstanding or whatnot, you told him, calm as a
benediction, “If you ever go near my daughter again, I’ll break your legs.”
You drive
to the hospital thinking, the little bastard is getting what he deserves. Not a
charitable thought, but you are human. If he dies, though, it will ruin your
daughter. You don’t want that, so you take her to see him a few days later.
Standing outside the hospital room, you say, “Go on in there. You have five
minutes. And keep the door open.”
It is the
best you can do. And it will be the reason she tells everybody for the rest of
her life that you and her mother did the best you could raising her. You will
treasure that up in your heart.
is a topic that everyone thinks they have a fully formed opinion on
until it touches them. As an English teacher, I
read student essays on abortion all the time. It is without a doubt my most
popular topic, more written-about than gun control, gay rights, or Colin
Kaepernick. Most of the essays are pro-life, and they damn with the same
narrative: teens act irresponsibly; they get pregnant; they would rather party
than be a mom, so they get an abortion, which is wrong; they should give up the
child for adoption instead.
I never
challenge my students’ politics, but I do correct their facts. When they say it
is mostly teens who get abortions, I respond that the majority is actually women who
already have children
. When they blame Roe v. Wade for creating the
desire for abortions, I tell them the procedure was common, and
accepted, before the 1800s
. When they cry that all you have to do if
you don’t want your baby is place it for adoption, I point out that foster care
is the first stop, where 60% of children spend up to five
. Some of them never get out.
And when
they scoff at the idea that abortion can be safer for the mother than delivery,
I tell them about my sister, who doesn’t mind being an object lesson. She says
the choice to abort was hers, and though some might imagine my father coercing
the doctor
”Just tell her she’ll die if she
like a preacher from a Flannery
O’Connor story, I believe her. She feels neither pride nor shame at her
decision, which illustrates its complexity.
child, if it had survived, would be about 21 now. What would its future entail?
Doctor? Lawyer? CEO? This is another argument my students use: by aborting a
child, you may be destroying the person who grows up to cure cancer.
Or, I
want to answer, you may be aborting a future serial killer, in which case the abortion
saves lives. I might say that next time, if I weren’t such a goody-goody.