My family has a generation-spanning commitment to social justice. My grandmother was a leader of the American Civil Rights Congress and an early champion of the rights of Black Americans. Her friend, Paul Robeson, toured on behalf of the Congress in 1949, the occasion for the infamous Peekskill riots.
As a committed Catholic girl opposed to violence, I joined the War Resisters League at the age of twelve. As a teen, I spoke at nuclear disarmament rallies. At the same age, I began exploring the gift of my singing voice, which would lead me to an international performing career, and ultimately to the D.M.A. program in Voice at the Graduate Center.
Steeped in the spirit of progressive activism, and convinced that abortion rights were the cornerstone of women’s rights, when faced with a crisis pregnancy in my twenties I chose to abort. I believed it was my body, my choice; that abortion was my only viable option without a committed partner; and that it was a grim but necessary reality in our times, when compromise with evil seemed an unavoidable mark of maturity. I believed that once it was over, I would go on with my life, perhaps somewhat diminished but essentially the same.
I didn’t realize how devastating the choice to abort would be, nor the effect it would have on my life. The women’s movement did not speak to the issues attending abortion; issues of profound loss and grief regardless of where a woman stands on abortion politics. Young women were expected to be grateful to our foremothers, who strove for our right to legal abortion. But now that the right had been won, abortion’s human consequences were forgotten. I began to question the idea that abortion rights and women’s rights were synonymous. I was a member of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, and some of my acquaintances in the abolition movement accepted abortion as a necessary evil. I wondered how we, who decried violence, could condone the violence of abortion. True feminism, I believed, would not sanction violence as a means of problem solving. The early feminists agreed: Sarah Norton, the first woman to attend Cornell University, wrote in 1870 of her hope for a day when an unmarried mother will not be despised and the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with. Elizabeth Cady Stanton concurred: “When we consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading, that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”
Informed by my deepening Catholic faith, I now base my social commitment on the commitment to life, the true foundation of human rights. I was fortunate to find the group Feminists for Life, a strong advocate for women and children. I have received healing from my own loss through the Sisters of Life, an order of nuns founded by Cardinal O’Connor, and Theresa Bonopartis who works with them in their “Entering Canaan” ministry for post abortive women and men. I am also working with Therese Schroeder-Sheker, the renowned pioneer of Music-Thanatology, on the use of music in post-abortion healing. While my work as a singer cannot engage the political debate surrounding abortion, my cherished desire is use my singing to bring hope and healing to other women. For my pain, I have received great healing, and from my sorrow, great hope; I now want to share these gifts with others.