The Dilemma

By Tom Kelly

I had no idea my life had been touched by abortion until I was 17 years old and my mother made what might be called a "clerical error." My father was taking us to Austria for a holiday and we needed passports, for which I needed my birth certificate. When my mother gave it to me, she pointed to the number 3 in the right hand column. I was confused at first, since I only had one sister. This number actually meant that I happen to be the third baby registered on that date, but my mother assumed it counted me as her third child. It was time to tell me a sad truth.

Her first child was a girl my parents called Lorna, born around 1938. My mother had spent the first ten years of her life in the Falkland Islands, off the tip of South America, where constant overcast skies rob people of vitamin D. As a result, my mother had rickets, an inadequate formation of the bones, which affected her pelvic girdle. So when little Lorna was born, she was injured struggling to get through my mother's restricted birth canal and within two days, she died.

The doctors warned my mother that any further child would have to be delivered by Caesarean section… they emphasized child, not children.

In late 1939, my mother conceived again and a healthy baby was delivered by C-section on July 23rd, 1940. Just over a year later, my mother conceived a third time. She had been experiencing bleeding and had no idea she was pregnant until a visit to her doctor showed she was not only pregnant but into her third month, maybe later. The doctor was alarmed. A second caesarean would be dangerous to her health so he recommended termination.

My mother had a strong and simple faith. She regarded abortion and anything to do with sex that sat outside the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, to be "taboo". But she was also afraid. I was told much later by my wife, to whom my mother opened her heart one day, that my father had said she should do what the doctors said. He had great respect for the medical profession and trusted their advice. So arrangements were made with a private nursing home, where the abortion would take place and officially be certified as a miscarriage.

These were not normal times. There was much to fear in those days. My parents lived in the city of Plymouth, England where heavy bombing occurred during the Second World War. Many of the bombs fell directly on the city and my mother was so afraid that if she even heard a plane on a sunny day she would hide in a bomb shelter in case the aircraft was an enemy bomber.

The war often pulled my father away. My mother had one child to care for, mostly on her own, and she faced a terrible dilemma: risk her life or violate the taboos of her faith. Unsure of what to do, she visited a convent for help. There, one of the nuns counselled and prayed with her in the chapel and helped her find the great courage she needed to carry her baby to term.

My mother has said that my father was pleased with her decision but knowing my mother as well as I do her choice of words and gestures told me his pleasure was muted. And why not?! He could have lost his beloved wife and been left alone to raise their one-year-old child during a time of war. He too was afraid.

On April 30th, 1942, she went to the nursing home where she was greeted by the head nurse whose first words were, "you were supposed to be here for an abortion." Instead, she had her second C-section birth, and I came into the world, unharmed and my mother in good health.

The memory of this and what happened after has shaped my pro-life conviction.

I have often wondered if my father ever reflected on his advice to obey the doctors and have an abortion. He was a staunch and faithful Roman Catholic, from whom I learned honesty, service, charity and discipline in prayer. He would have known that the Church condemned abortion. I wondered if he ever felt he had fallen short of his strict obedience to the Church, if he felt he had failed in helping my mother in her difficult decision. We never discussed my mother's pregnancy or the dilemma she faced at all. My mother and I never explored the deep emotions beneath it. We spoke only on the surface.

If he did feel he failed, I hope he found forgiveness, because if my mother had followed his advice and had the abortion, I would have forgiven them -- it sounds silly because I wouldn't have been here, but I understand their fear and the trust they had in the doctors' conscientious, professional belief that termination was the best option, even though their knowledge was limited.

There has been much advancement in the medical profession since the 1940s and I have since learned that doctors now realize the unborn child feels any fear and anxiety felt by the mother. Looking back on my life, I sense that I came into the world with some fear and basic awareness that my life had been threatened. That sense and the unspoken emotions, led me to seek counselling from a psychiatrist, which resulted in my embrace of atheism. But something still tugged at me and I could not accept abortion.

I couldn't escape the thought that thousands and thousands of babies were being aborted because there was no one to stand up for them. Their mothers didn't have the support or wisdom and faith of the nun who aided my mother. What right did I have not to defend their lives?! I determined I was an atheist but still pro-life. At that time we were living in Ontario where I used to hear the reverend Ken Campbell, a Baptist pastor, being interviewed on the radio and speaking out for pro-life. This challenged my thinking and drew me back to read the Gospel where I rediscovered my faith and returned to the Church.

I have learned some significant lessons from my experience around abortion. One is that even the offer of abortion, much like the offer of "assisted suicide," presents a dilemma that no one should have to face, especially when with today's medically advanced technology, a pregnant woman hardly faces the kind of risk to her health that my mother faced. Every year in Canada, 100,000 women make the decision to abort their child, even though 99,000 or more have no risk to their lives and most are not made aware that abortion is not their only option but that help is available.

Another lesson is that many women in crisis pregnancies experience fear as real as my mother did in those war-time days of danger. To help them, we must assuage their fears, offer them resources, help them find the same courage my mother had, and promote a culture where parents, husbands, boyfriends, bosses, teachers and friends are not judgemental or angry but compassionate and loving. That is the work I see happening at Halton Alive.

A third lesson is that abortion extinguishes the hopes of future generations. Had my mother followed the doctors' advice, I would not have been here to marry my wife, and the world would have lost our four precious children, three daughters and a son -- an artist, a teacher, a social worker, a stay-at-home dad and writer -- and two precious grandchildren whose potential for good is beyond estimation.

Tom Kelly has worked for both Halton Pro-Life and Hamilton Right to Life.

Tom Kelly