For Nancy Pelosi: A Rose, a Prayer and a Letter

COMMENTARY: A former ‘pro-choice’ journalist who’s now pro-life urges the Speaker of the House to ‘go into the deepest, interior part of your being, and listen in silent solitude to your maternal heart.’

Photo illustration of a red rose and votive candle
Photo illustration of a red rose and votive candle (photo: Natallia Ustsinava / Shutterstock)

Dear Speaker Pelosi,

As a former “pro-choice” journalist who converted to Catholicism in 2003 and is now firmly pro-life, I’m writing you this letter because I’m deeply concerned that your public statements about abortion are not only creating confusion about what the Catholic Church teaches, but they’re also undermining our democracy. Having had an abortion myself in 1974 (the year after the Roe v. Wade decision), I know abortion is the worst experience a mother can endure, and the traumatic aftereffects can linger for the rest of her life. 

When I had an abortion at age 28, I was deceived into believing Planned Parenthood’s propaganda that the 6-week-old baby in my womb was “just a clump of cells.” Since the law is a teacher, I also naively trusted that because the U.S. Supreme Court had declared abortion legal, it must be morally right.

I was wrong. 

Legalized abortion has been so intensely controversial in America for the past 50 years not because men want to keep women in the kitchen, but because it transcends all mere political issues and cuts to the very heart of what it means to be human. 

For nearly 200 years in our democracy, abortion was understood to be a denial of the unborn baby’s constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. Harvard-educated attorney John Noonan (who later became a judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court in your state of California), declared in 1970 that abortion “is a loveless act offensive to the conscience of our common law tradition. Attempts to justify it on the ground that the fetus is not fully human want for logic. To pick any moment other than that of conception as the starting point of human life is artificial and arbitrary. All human life, whether fetal, infant, adolescent, mature, or aged, is in the process of becoming.” 

Having personally witnessed the horrors of World War II as a child, Noonan warned against the dangers of a society accepting abortion as a false path to freedom. In a pre-Roe v. Wade, U.S. government-funded document on Children and Youth in America, he and other influential intellectuals warned in 1970 that the “enactment of liberal abortion laws or the abolition of all laws governing abortion could be one of the worst possible social and moral ‘calamities’ for our nation.”

In the Nov. 4, 1968, issue of Modern Medicine, Dr. Irvine Page (co-discoverer of the serotonin neurotransmitter) aptly observed: “It is a lesson of history that when men become indifferent to death they become brutalized. This was the premonitory [sinister] sign of the Nazi scourge, and the same was true of Stalinist Russia. Life has a way of taking revenge on those who destroy it.” 

So how could it be, Nancy, that here you are — 53 years later — sponsoring the so-called “Women’s Health Protection Act,” a bill that does nothing to promote women’s health and is clearly indifferent to the death of the unborn child? 

Another question also puzzles me: However did you manage to convince yourself that the abortion statutes of every state should be replaced by “the conscience of the individual”? Think about it. Do you also think the almighty “conscience of the individual” should replace other laws in our land — such as perhaps those against murder, rape, embezzlement and reckless driving? 

Since the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, our consciences can be easily corrupted. We can justify any plan of action to ourselves as “loving,” “compassionate” and “good” if we only use the “right” words. One of Hitler’s last recorded remarks, on April 27, 1945, three days before he killed himself in his bunker, was: “Afterwards, you rue the fact that you’ve been so kind.” 

Am I likening your defense of legalized abortion in America to Hitler’s orders that all Jewish babies be aborted? No, of course not. You’re a caring 81-year-old mother of five, and I sincerely believe you would fight to your political death to defend what you perceive to be a fundamental human right. I’m merely pointing out that even the worst tyrants in history can convince themselves they’re pursuing a righteous course of action when in fact they’re promoting evil and death. 

You   frequently remind us you come from a family of pro-life Catholics and that   you had five children in six years. You even credit the skills you developed   while bringing up your children for making you the leader you are today. As   Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone pointed out when launching the “Roses and   Rosaries for Nancy” campaign, you obviously have a “maternal heart.” You also   care deeply for the poor. 

So why are you so intent on passing a bill that teaches other women, especially those poorer and far less powerful than yourself, that it’s a matter of social and political justice for them to kill their babies before they’re even born? Don’t poor women also deserve the chance to develop the leadership skills you learned as a mother? 

In 21st-century America, no woman should be forced to choose between her livelihood and the lives of her children. Although many people have forgotten it, that was a choice women had to make in the 1960s and early 1970s. In those days, when you and I were in our 20s and the modern women’s movement was in full swing, working women who got pregnant were regularly fired. I was fired in 1970 from my first newspaper job at the South Bay Daily Breeze in Southern California for being pregnant. When he heard I was pregnant, my managing editor scowled and told me I could work only five months into my pregnancy and after that I’d have to leave, with no promise of a job after the baby was born. 

Betty Friedan, who launched the modern women’s movement with the 1963 publication of her book The Feminine Mystique, had also been unjustly fired in the 1940s for being pregnant. Perhaps that’s one reason she was so insistent that the demand to repeal all abortion laws be inserted into the National Organization for Women’s political “Bill of Rights.” In those days, pregnancy prevented a woman not merely from earning a fair wage but from earning any wage at all.

The night she forced the “abortion right” into the feminist movement (it happened shortly before midnight on Nov. 18, 1967, at a meeting in the Chinese Room of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.), Friedan created such an uproar that approximately one-third of the ardent feminists present walked out and later resigned from NOW over the abortion vote. When the dust settled, the vote was only 57-14 in favor of repealing all abortion laws. 

Pro-life Ohio attorney Betty Boyer, who resigned from NOW after what she described as “a shouting match,” declared a baby is a “sacred trust.” And yet, the week after the meeting, the corporate media leaped on the bandwagon and proclaimed the “abortion right” far and wide as a desperately needed path to freedom every mother in America had been longing for. 

In 1974, when I got pregnant for a third time, my husband and I had two children to feed, my income helped pay the rent, and we didn't think we could afford for me to be fired again. That’s when I got the abortion. It wasn’t until 1978, with the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that it became illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant. 

But, in reality, pregnancy discrimination, which I faced, didn’t disappear at that time. It simply went underground, hidden under a verbal smokescreen that presents abortion not as the killing of a mother’s living child but as “reproductive freedom” and “her choice.” Even today, many pregnant women under economic pressure abort their babies because they feel they have no other choice.

I listened to a podcast, Nancy, in which you and Hillary Clinton described legalized abortion as fundamental to our democracy. But is this the way our democracy is supposed to work — where a mere 57 unelected people in a secret meeting in Washington, D.C., decide what’s right and best for the rest of the citizens in our nation — and then capture media attention and foist off their “abortion idea” on America? 

When Roe v. Wade imposed legalized abortion on all of America and overturned abortion laws in every state, was that true democracy in action? Or was it what U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and William Rehnquist memorably called “an exercise in raw judicial power”? When Roe v. Wade is overturned, as it may be next year, abortion won’t be illegal in the United States. The decision will simply be returned to where it originally began — to be decided democratically by the voters and legislators in every state. 

I know, Nancy, you’ve always been wealthy. According to the most reliable news reports, you and your husband are worth $100 million. So raising a child in poverty may sound to you like an insurmountable obstacle. There’s a strong tendency in our society for well-heeled elites to look with revulsion upon children suffering from poverty, abuse, genetic diseases and other problems and to conclude, “It would be better if that child had never been born.” 

And yet, far from being “a burden” to society, children who have a rougher-than-average start in life can surmount their problems. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, had to drop out of school at the age of 10 to become an indentured servant to a printmaker. Alexander Hamilton, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers and the first U.S. secretary of the treasury, grew up as an orphan (John Adams once wickedly called Hamilton “the bastard brat of a Scottish peddler”). Oprah Winfrey was born in Mississippi to a teenage single mom. Oprah has said she was sexually molested while she was a girl and became pregnant at 14. Her baby, a boy, was born prematurely and died in infancy. Oprah’s net worth is now estimated to be $3.5 billion.

We must accept the fact there are rough edges to life and tough challenges to be overcome. As St. Paul reminds us, “suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts” (Romans 5:3-5). 

Poverty is often temporary. Abortion is permanent. To attempt to solve a temporary problem in life with death is to abandon hope and surrender to fear. 

You frequently say it’s not up to you “to dictate what other people should do.” But by attempting to impose unrestricted legal abortion upon us all, you are trying to dictate what voters in Texas — and not only Texas, but in the whole nation — must do. If other people’s “consciences” don’t agree with yours, you want to override their hearts and minds by eliminating the Hyde Amendment. Why would you want to do such a thing? 

You’re 81 years old, Nancy. You’ve achieved many admirable things in your life. And yet, when it comes to abortion, you’re mentally and emotionally locked into an abortion ideology that was wrong for women during World War II, it was wrong for women in the 1960s and ’70s, and it’s still wrong for women today. 

This so-called “Women’s Health Protection Act” is a last desperate attempt to prop up a manufactured, illusory “right” that violates all our democratic principles and has never existed in our Constitution (even though Roe v. Wade, in its false retelling of legal history and misguided reasoning, claimed to have found it there). 

Having once been a “pro-choice” feminist surrounded by like-minded journalists, I know from personal experience how intoxicating it can be for friends and colleagues to applaud you for standing up so “boldly” for women. It takes courage to admit you’ve been wrong. 

But if you calmly set aside all external political distractions, go into the deepest, interior part of your being, and listen in silent solitude to your maternal heart and the teachings of your Church on the dignity of life, born and unborn, I think you will see that each one of those beautiful roses you receive — at last report more than 13,000 of them were headed your way! — is a sweet kiss from that poor little baby named Jesus, who came into this world as a one-celled embryo in Mary’s womb to save us from death and to teach us how to love God and each other. 

With a rose and many prayers,

Sue Ellen Browder