Should JPII resign?

The Pope’s continued presence in office teaches us some things we don’t necessarily want to learn.

I listened to my “favorite” radio talk show the other day. It’s the same one I wrote about last year, the show whose host considers himself an “expert” on Catholicism because he converted briefly in order to marry his now ex-wife. He’s the one who called the Pope “Carl Wojciehowicz,” apparently confusing him with the dimwitted detective on the 1970’s sitcom Barney Miller.

Well, he’s at it again. He thinks the Pope should resign. Yes, our resident authority on all things Catholic believes that it’s time for the Holy Father to step down. Why? Because it’s “bad PR” – it doesn’t “look good” to have such an aging, infirm man leading an enormous institution like the Catholic Church.

Normally, I wouldn’t think twice about the rantings of such an obviously ignorant person. But I’m bothered for one simple reason – he’s not the only person I’ve heard make this suggestion. Other people -- people I consider good, faithful Catholics -- have also suggested to me that they believe it’s time for the Holy Father to hand the reigns over to someone younger. They see John Paul II -- obviously old and infirm – and wonder if he is still “up to” the task. They believe the Church would look better and more in touch with the world with someone younger and more dynamic at the helm.

Of course, everyone is entitled to his own opinion. But it occurs to me that the people calling for the Pope’s resignation don’t really understand the Papacy. And they definitely don’t understand the phenomenon that is Pope John Paul II.

It’s natural for us, as Americans, to view to Papacy as primarily a political office. And what are politics about in post-Camelot America? Perception. Popularity. Polls. It’s not about what they’re doing. It’s about what they appear to be doing. They hire stylists and publicists and “image consultants” – all so that the public perceives them in some sort of culturally acceptable way. They’re simply trying to tap into popular culture and deliver what they believe that culture wants.

And our culture wants youth. Vigor. Sex appeal.

John Paul II obviously has none of those. He is an old and very sick man. He’s clearly suffering. When we see him in public, he doesn’t like he’s doing much of anything. His face lacks expression. He can barely speak. When I saw him in the spring of 2001, I though “If I felt like he looks like he feels, I’d just want to get out of here and climb into bed.” It’s hard to imaging him running a vast and complex institution like the Catholic Church. 

But he is. Quite effectively, according to insiders close enough to know. His mind is still razor sharp. He still maintains his daily schedule. He gets up at some hideously early hour every morning, prays and celebrates Mass. He participates actively in the administration of the Church. He writes. He travels. 

But he’s doing something else as well. He’s very deliberately teaching us something. He knows that our modern culture worships youth, health and beauty. Because of that, we tend to shun the sick and the elderly. We move them into homes where we don’t have to face their weakness and infirmity. We lobby for their “right” to die and get out of our way. We see no value in their experience and wisdom, and we certainly see no value in their suffering.

John Paul II is forcing us to face that which we try to avoid. He’s old. He’s sick. He’s suffering. And yet, he refuses to go away quietly. He still has something to offer us – his holiness, his wisdom, his incredibly gifted mind. In remaining in his office – and in the public eye – he reminds us that all of the elderly, the sick and the infirm have something to offer us. They aren’t “defectives” to be hidden out of sight. They are the image and likeness of God, living among us. 

Which brings us to the deeper lesson of John Paul II. The papacy isn’t a political office. It is primarily a spiritual office. The Pope is an alter Christus. He is Christ’s presence on earth. What did Christ do? He suffered. He suffered because He loved. He gave Himself – down to the very last drop of blood – out of his all encompassing love and compassion for His people. Our redemption came, not just through His life, but through His suffering. Through Him, we find meaning in our own suffering. We can unite that suffering to His, and thus participate in His act of redemption.

That’s what John Paul II is doing. He knows there is work to be done. He wants to make the biggest difference he can, to bring as many of us to Christ as possible, before he passes on to his eternal reward. And so he continues to push himself, to spend himself down to the very last ounce of his strength – for us.

Personally, that’s the kind of guy I’d like to keep around as long as possible.

You Are the Company You Keep

If you want to be more like Christ, try “hanging out” with him more often

So I owe you another column on prayer, don’t I?

Last time, we talked about why we pray. Prayer isn’t about obligation, about “saying your prayers” and getting enough words in to earn points with God. Prayer is about relationship – about being with the One who loves us. And He does love us – madly and passionately. He delights in our company. He wants us to come to Him.

Yes, prayer is about deepening that relationship. But that’s only the beginning. Through that relationship, we change. You know that old saying “I can tell who you are by the company you keep”? Nowhere is that more true than in the spiritual life. Spending time with God makes us more like God. Spending time with Christ makes us more Christ-like.

How does that work? Several ways. First of all, there’s the time we spend prayerfully meditating on His Word in Scripture. The goal of any relationship is to get to know the other better, right? But that’s a little tricky with God, since we can’t just go out for coffee with Him and chat about every little thing. Oh, He comes along whenever we go out for coffee. And He listens when we chat about every little thing. But the two-way communication gets a little tricky, what with God being primarily spirit and all. It’s hard to hear Him when He talks back.

That’s why, to learn about Him, we need to study is revelation to us – the Scriptures. He wants us to know Him – enough that He revealed Himself to His chosen people, and later came down to earth to introduce Himself in person and save us from the mess we’d gotten ourselves into. And, so that people of all generations could know Him, he gave us a divinely inspired record of His revelation – the Sacred Scriptures.

So reading the Scriptures is kind of like chatting with God at the coffee shop. It’s the best way to get to know Him as He really is. It’s the best assurance we have that the God we know and understand in our heads is the real God, and not just someone we’ve made up in our heads and we’re calling “God.”

Thus the importance of reading Scripture prayerfully. When we sit in His presence and ask for His grace, He speaks to us through His Word. And that helps us to know Him better.

Prayer also changes our will. Most of us pray when we want something. We beg and plead and grovel and make all kinds of promises if God will just give us this one tiny little request. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. God wants us to come to Him with our needs. Jesus told all kinds of parables about people knocking and nagging.

But prayer is much more than a 1-800-CALL GOD request line. He doesn’t always give us what we want. But He gives us what we need – and He knows much better than we do what that is.

So implicit in any prayer is asking God to bend our will to His. We want what we want because we want it. He sees the big picture, and knows what is really best for us. That may not be what we want at the moment. But given how much He loves us, we can be sure that what we really should want is what He wants for us.

So prayer builds our relationship with God. It helps us to get to know Him, and it makes us more like Him. Essentially, in prayer, God gives us gifts. Graces. And that’s good.

All of which leads to the question: how should we pray?

This is the part I always struggled with. What am I supposed to be doing while I’m praying? How do I keep my mind from wandering? What is supposed to be happening? Am I supposed to be having some kind of ecstatic mystical experience like the saints were always having?

This is one area where spiritual direction has really helped me. First of all, my primary prayer time doesn’t happen at home any more. It happens in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. As my spiritual director told me, “The wall doesn’t become Jesus.” The Blessed Sacrament does. I’m physically with Him.

What do you do when you’re there? It almost doesn’t matter. Sit in His presence. Talk to Him – about what you’re feeling, what you’re struggling with, what’s going on in your life. Tell him about your loved ones. Sit in silence and listen to Him. Say prayers that help you focus on Him. Read Scripture. Read the works of the saints. Write in a prayer journal.

Most importantly, don’t worry too much about it. Just show up. Try to go every day if you can. Stay long enough (at least 15 minutes) to let your mind slow down and focus on Him. Don’t go looking for great spiritual experiences. Just ask Him to take the lead. 

And whether anything “happens” or not, know that you spent time with the One you love -- the One who loves you.

Older Women/Younger Men?

It's a hot new trend. But do either of them understand what relationships are really about?

So is it a bad sign when the AARP starts talking about your dating life?
The AARP, for the young and unenlightened, is the American Association of Retired Persons. They really have no relevance to me on any level except the fact that I’m American and a person. As much as I love the concept of retirement, I’m nowhere remotely near the age where anyone would expect me to retire, or even to seriously plan for retirement. (Okay, I’m sort of doing that. But my current retirement savings wouldn’t keep me in peanut butter and jelly for a year.)
And yet, they recently released a study on dating that lumped people my age together with people their age. Maybe they’re trying to appeal to a younger audience, or to get people used to saying “dating” and “AARP” in the same sentence.

The article was about how older women are dating younger men. It created an interesting picture in my head. It seemed to me that any woman the AARP would refer to as “older” would be one very elderly broad. I imagined a young, muscled stud pushing her wheelchair with one hand while holding her oxygen tank with the other.

Not quite. They featured a picture of Hollywood’s new “it” couple – 40 year old Demi Moore and 25 year old Ashton Kutcher.


But Demi and Ashton have obviously started some kind of trend, because the next day in the grocery store I saw a headline on the cover of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine: “Younger Men! Enjoy One Today.” 

What an appealing headline. Younger men are now apparently the dating equivalent of an ice-cold Coke.

This article summed up the mentality of the older women/younger men trend quite nicely. It was written by a 45 year old woman married to a 31 year old man. She’s quite enthused about the “benefits” of younger men. They lack “emotional baggage” because they haven’t lived on the planet long enough to acquire an ex-wife or a string of ex-girlfriends. Nor have they been here long enough to acquire bad backs or stiff joints. They can fix your computer because they grew up playing at the keyboard. And, best of all, because they didn’t grow up with stay-at-home mothers, they don’t mind marrying a woman who expects to have a career.

I was struck on a couple of levels. The whole article was about what he (younger man) could do for you (older woman.) In fact, it struck me that most of the complaints she had about older men (read: men her own age) were the same complaints these younger men would probably have about her. Aging body, emotional baggage – are women suddenly immune? Estee Lauder can only do so much to help. In the end, Mother Nature wins every time.

I’ve always told teenagers that the main problem with young girls dating much older men is that men like that don’t want a woman, they want a child. And when the child inevitably becomes a woman, they’re no longer interested in her. The same works here. These healthy young studs will age. I don’t know, maybe these older women are just assuming they’ll be dead by then. Heaven help these men if the old broads are still around.

And these men don’t “expect” their wives to stay at home? First of all, the problem with this scenario is that these same men actually expect their wives to work. They don’t expect to have to support a family. They were raised believing that a wife has to “carry her own weight” financially. They see no value to the stay-at-home mother role.

Of course, it all seems moot to me anyway, since a majority of these well-past-forty women couldn’t give these younger men children without donor eggs and rental wombs anyway.

It was the perfect summary of what’s wrong with dating today. It’s all about the consumer mentality. What can you do for me? How could you bring me pleasure right now? I don’t see a whole lot of interest in the future. Even marriage is simply “taking the next step” -- moving the benefits into the house for convenience.

Marriage, as I understand it, isn’t about “what can you do for me?” It’s about total self-donation. It’s about the dignity and well-being of the other person. It’s about dying to self for the sake of the other, and for the family that comes from that union.

Age-wise, I honestly don’t care who marries whom. Yes, big age-gaps look weird – regardless of who is “May” and who is “December.” But I’m much more interested in their attitude towards each other. Do they see marriage as self-donation – as dying to self for the sake of the other person? Do they truly see themselves as linked to the other, for better or for worse, for life?

Or are they just looking to “enjoy each other” today?

Called to Singlehood?

A single girl questions the existence of the single “vocation.”

I’m taking a class on John Paul II’s apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Vocation and Dignity of Women). And it’s been fascinating.

This class is, as one would expect, comprised entirely of women. (What is it about men that they don’t want to sit around a classroom on a weekday afternoon, gabbing about the nature of womanhood?) Yesterday, we were discussing chapter six, which is entitled “Motherhood – Virginity: Two Dimensions of Women’s Vocation.” As we read along, it became clear that the Holy Father wasn’t referring to virginity simply as “the state of never having had sex,” but rather in the context of consecrated virginity – a woman who consecrates herself completely to Christ as a spouse.

The chapter opens with this statement. “We must now focus our meditation on virginity and motherhood as two particular dimensions of the fulfillment of the female personality.” That same paragraph closes by referring to “these two paths in the vocation of women.”

Hands immediately began shooting up. “Well, those are only two of the three vocations. What about the vocation to the single life?” They have, as I have, been seeing more and more references in spiritual literature to the “vocation” to the single life. Entire books are being written about it. Discussion groups are dissecting it. Unmarried men and women are immersing themselves deeply in prayer, trying to discern it. 

But there’s one problem. As far as Church teaching is concerned, it doesn’t exist.

Hold on! Are you saying God doesn’t want anybody to remain unmarried unless they’re priests or nuns?

Of course I’m not. There may be specific individuals whom God, In His infinite wisdom, wishes to remain single but unconsecrated. Many others will remain single for reasons beyond their control. If they turn that singleness over to God, He will no doubt bring tremendous good out of it. A particular single person may be infinitely happier or holier than a particular married person.

But none of that raises unconsecrated singleness to the level of a “vocation.”
Why not? Traditionally, “vocation” has been understood to indicate a call from God – and a subsequent public vow -- to completely give oneself and one’s life to someone (or Someone, as the case may be.) As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes says, man finds himself only in a sincere gift of himself. And just plain old singleness doesn’t do that. Not that single people can’t be giving people. In fact, unmarried people are often among the most giving, generous people I know. But we haven’t taken a vow or formally given our lives to someone – and that, in the strictest sense, is the definition of a vocation.

What about teachers, youth ministers and others who consider that type of work a “vocation”? It may be, in the sense of being work God has called them to. Some may even forego marriage in order to give themselves completely to their students. But it’s still not a vow, not a complete self-gift. A teacher or youth minister can quit, or retire, or be promoted. It’s not a “life sentence.”

Nevertheless, several people in the class were righteously indignant. Interestingly, it was the married people who were upset on behalf of us single folk. The unmarried women there, like single people I’ve met elsewhere, were nodding and saying, ”This makes sense. My life doesn’t feel like a vocation in this way.” 

In the document, John Paul II refers to the “naturally spousal predisposition on women.” I’ve experienced this, and so have the other women in the class. We want to give ourselves. We want to belong to someone – not in the sense of property, but in the sense of mutual self-gift. The Holy Father says that consecrated virginity, like marriage, fulfills that spousal predisposition. 

So what about those of us who remain in this “no man’s land” – consecrated neither to God nor spouse? Some may be called to marriage, but due to the rampant immorality of today’s world have been either temporarily or permanently unable to find a suitable spouse. Others may desire marriage but experience personal problems that render them unable to enter into sacramental marriage. Still others may be called to consecrated celibacy, but haven’t heard or responded to the call.

Regardless, I know that all human persons find fulfillment through a sincere gift of self. For those of us who are unmarried, opportunities for that gift of self may not present themselves as often. But they’re the key to our happiness for the time we remain unmarried. We can – and must --participate in vocation analogously. We will find real fulfillment only by giving generously of ourselves -- to our families, our friends, to those we encounter in ministry, and to God. 

God loves every person deeply and personally. That goes for those who have resolved their life’s vocation, as well as those of us who haven’t. Single people are not second-class citizens of the Church. We just, for whatever reason, haven’t settled into a vocation.

I see no need, therefore, to condescend to us and make up a “new” vocation for us. We prefer to deal with the truth.

In Defense of the Sabbath

We honor God when we make the Mass a non-negotiable part of our Sunday.

A few Sundays ago, I was tired. Really tired.

Normally it wouldn’t be a big deal. After all, Sunday is a good day to be tired, isn’t it? It’s a “day of rest.” But I had made a crucial mistake for a tired girl.

I had delayed going to Mass. I frequently attend the Sunday evening Mass here at the Cathedral in Denver. The Archbishop presides, and it’s always very beautiful.

But when the afternoon sleepies hit me, I always regret not having gone in the morning. 

I desperately wanted to crawl into bed and stay there.

There had to be a way. A brief, early afternoon Mass somewhere in town? None. A dispensation? “Father, I’m really tired. Could I skip Mass today?” Highly doubtful.

So I went. It turned out fine. I caught a second wind, participated nicely, and even went out with friends after it was over.

But the whole episode got me thinking. I constantly run into people – people who consider themselves “good Catholics” – who would see fatigue as a perfectly valid reason to skip Mass. In fact, they don’t seem to have much of a problem with skipping Mass for a wide variety of reasons – skiing, travel, football, even sleeping. As long as they go “fairly regularly” they figure they’re in the clear.
They’re not.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” (CCC 2180) The Catechism goes on to say, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” (CCC 2181)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Why is this such a serious matter? Why is the rule so inflexible? Does it really have to be Sunday? If we’re busy on Sunday, can’t we just move our own personal Sabbath, and attend Mass on Tuesday? We’re still going to Mass, aren’t we?

The way I see it, the answer lies not just in the third commandment (“Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath.”) but also in the first commandment.

The first commandment says “I am the Lord, thy God. Thou shalt not have false gods before me.” Of course, we all think of “false gods” as Athena and Zeus and those little melted-earring calves the ancient Israelites worshipped whenever they thought Yahweh wasn’t looking. But we have our own “false gods” in 21st century America. The pursuit of wealth or power or pleasure can become a god. A hobby can become a god. A relationship can become a god. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a hobby, or a relationship, or even the pursuit of wealth, power or pleasure, provided it is licit and pursued ethically. But when it comes before God, it becomes a problem.

To me, the big question was always “How do I know it’s coming before God?” Where is the line? Should I always choose God over anything else? If I’m engaged in this pursuit and there’s a daily Mass going on somewhere, shouldn’t I be at the daily Mass instead?

Obviously, that kind of thinking could drive a person crazy. But God gave us a bit of a “litmus test” – the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is our opportunity to “put God first.” He has specifically requested that we give that day to Him. If we move the Sabbath around, if we skip Mass whenever we have something we consider “more important” to do, we’re putting that “more important” thing before God. We’re fitting Him in around the rest of our lives. God wants us to build our lives the other way around. He wants us to put Him first, and to fit everything else in around Him. Sunday is our opportunity to do that. It’s where the “rubber meets the road” -- where we have to decide what’s really important to us.

What does He ask us to do on Sunday? He asks us to worship Him in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, to hear His word, to receive His sacred Body and Blood. It only takes about an hour. And we have a ridiculously wide variety of options through which to fulfill His request. Masses are available in virtually every town in the civilized world. There are morning Masses, afternoon masses, evening masses. You can even go on Saturday evening and leave your entire Sunday free.

Think about it for a minute. Where does your life come from -- your family, your loved ones, your career, your hobbies, your health, the ability to breathe in and out? It all comes from God. Without Him you would have none of it. He gave it all to you because He loves you -- immensely and tenderly and completely.

And you can show Him your gratitude by making the Mass a non-negotiable part of your Sunday.

Setting the Record Straight

You know you’ve really arrived when you find strangers on the internet discussing your sex life.

I’m constantly amazed at how many people I meet who want to “be” me – or at least to do what I do. “It must be so fun and so glamorous, being famous and traveling and giving those big talks,” they say, their eyes glazing over slightly.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being me, and I love doing what I do. But there’s very little “glamour” in the coach section of the plane, or in the airports where I find myself stranded between connections. And I love the schools and rallies and parishes where I speak, but glamorous they ain’t.

As for being “famous”, that just makes me laugh. People sometimes introduce me to someone by saying “This is Mary Beth. She’s famous.”

See, to me that’s just proof I’m NOT famous. Famous, by definition, means never having to tell people you’re famous. They’re supposed to know.

I AM well known enough to have had a stalker. (Gee, what a lovely perk.) And, because I’m known for chastity, I’ve apparently been the topic of some pretty bizarre conversations among people who are complete strangers to me.

For instance, imagine surfing the internet and discovering a group of people you’ve never met, holding a rather spirited on-line discussion about, among other things, your own personal sex drive.

Still want to be me?

Yes, it really happened. In the midst of a search, I ran across a chastity discussion group. It consisted largely of people who were rationalizing their decision not to live chastity, and a few brave souls trying to preach the Good News to them.

Apparently, at some point in the discussion, my name came up. One of apparently-not-living-chastity people wrote that she had a theory about me. She said that I, and other people like me, “simply like being single, don't wish to marry, have a low sex drive -- and since they don't want to look weird in our Noah's Ark culture, they have to say ‘I'm waiting till marriage.’”

I honestly don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.

You can see it for yourself if you’d like. Just do a Google search on “Mary Beth Bonacci” and “low sex drive.” The quote will pop right up.

I actually thought about joining the group, just to chime in and freak them all out. I still may, but it looks like nobody has posted to the group since April, so I’d probably be talking to myself.

So I’m here instead, in a nationally syndicated column, to announce to the world that
a) yes, I live chastity;
b) while I believe that God wants me single right now, and there are aspects of my single life that I enjoy very much, I don’t “love” being single, and I would be highly in favor of becoming happily married at some point; and
c) I most definitely do not have a low sex drive.

So there you have it.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. Basically, it’s that we live in a very strange society. I can’t tell you the number of talk shows I’ve been invited to appear on, where the focus wouldn’t be on chastity the virtue, but on me personally and my bizarre, no-sex lifestyle. (“Do you have a boyfriend? Can we get a shot of you two riding bikes together?” I could just picture it. “Here’s a virgin riding a bike. Here’s a virgin cooking dinner.” And I’m going to drag someone I’m dating into a freak show like that?) To me, there’s something a little weird about going on national television to discuss your sex life – even if you don’t have one.

In this strange society, the assumption is that nobody does anything that requires sacrifice or (God forbid) renouncing pleasure. If you’re in good shape, it’s because you’re “lucky.” (“Oh, you can have a piece of cake. You don’t have to worry, you’re thin.”) And if you advocate chastity, it’s obviously because you aren’t interested in sex.

I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. People who live chastity do so not because they’re repulsed by sex, but because they’re in awe of sex. They hold it in much higher esteem than anyone in the apparently-not-living-chastity crowd. They believe that it speaks the language of permanent self-donation. They believe that, no matter how good it would feel to speak that language outside the context of permanent commitment, to do so would cause damage. And so they chose not to.

It’s not an easy choice to make. It requires a lot of prayer. It requires a lot of pleasure-renouncing. But the rewards are worth it -- peace with God, healthier dating, better marriage decisions. 

And, if they’re really lucky, they can read about theselves on the internet.

Abortion is a “poor choice”

New website reaches through the rhetoric, reaches out to women.

I’ve been writing a lot about abortion lately.

Maybe it’s because this year is the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, or because the Supreme Court recently rejected Norma McCorvey’s request to review that decision. Maybe it’s because I’ve become very interested in women’s issues, and several studies have come out recently showing how badly abortion hurts women.

Whatever the reason, it occurs to me that whenever I write a series like this, it must be very difficult for women who have had abortions -- to open the paper and see the issue they’re trying to forget staring them in the face yet again. Some of them, I’m sure, have come to grips with the enormity of that “choice”, and have forgiven themselves and moved on. Others may still be grappling with it – or trying not to grapple with it. I know there are millions of women out there who are trying to justify their decision by self-identifying as “pro-choice”, trying to keep the pain at arms length, and trying desperately to keep themselves together. I realize that women like this take the abortion debate very personally. Accusations, mud slinging, name-calling – this debate isn’t often pretty. We’re angry, and much of our anger is justified. But we forget that we’re fighting this battle right in the midst of millions of women who have experienced abortion personally, and who still bear the scars. In our frustration over the issue, many of us say (or write) things that we don’t intend to be hurtful, but wind up stinging anyway.

I also realize that many of these women read Catholic newspapers.

And no, I didn’t receive a lot of letters – or even one letter – from post-abortive women or anyone else telling me this. These women don’t tend to speak up. They keep it all inside. 

This is why I’m so enthralled with the work of Dr. David Reardon. Dr. Reardon is director of the Elliot Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching the effects of abortion on women and society. In the midst of a world where the rights of unborn children are pitted against the “rights” of their mothers, Dr. Reardon goes to the heart of the matter and addresses the real devastation mothers experience when they exercise their so-called “right to choose.”

This is a man who cares deeply about the welfare of women.

In my last columns, I wrote about the studies Dr. Reardon has released on the harm abortion inflicts on women. In this column, I want to tell you what he’s doing about it.

Dr. Reardon has just unveiled his new web site, On that site, he documents what abortion does to women – emotionally and physically. He offers resources for healing, and in-depth discussion of the politics and the rhetoric of the pro-abortion movement.

Personally, I think this whole idea is a stroke of brilliance. It has been the (very successful) strategy of those promoting abortion to avert attention from abortion itself and to instead focus on “choice.” The abortion procedure is messy and distasteful to even the most avid advocate. They knew they could never win over the average American by focusing on that. So they coined the vague term “pro-choice.” That way the emphasis is on freedom and self-determination and all of those American virtues we love so much. And we don’t have to look at what’s being chosen.

Until now.

Studies show that most Americans, even those who support abortion, don’t likeabortion, but accept it as a “necessary evil” because it helps women. Focusing on the “choice” element allows them to avoid the reality of abortion while still remaining politically correct. They don’t have to think too deeply. 

But when we start to talk about a poor choice, we subtly shift the debate. We’ve met them where they are – in the realm of “choice.” But we begin to examine that which is being chosen. Does abortion really help women? Does killing their children inside their bodies really advance their lives in any meaningful way? Are there better, more compassionate choices available to women?

And the real beauty of this concept is that “poor choice” is so close, linguistically, to “pro-choice.” Once we start to use this terminology, the two will become intermingled in the mind. Even those who are adamantly “pro-choice” will at times get confused and use the term “poor choice” instead. It’ll be impossible to think about one without thinking about the other – and thinking about the welfare of the women who are doing the “choosing.”

So I want to encourage you all to check out Dr. Reardon’s web site at Read it. Learn about what he’s up to.

And then start using the terminology. Talk about “poor choice” whenever abortion is discussed. Implant the notion into people’s brains.

I really think it’ll make a difference – to unborn children, to their mothers, and to those women still haunted by the memory of their “choices.”

Abortion Hurts Women

New studies show that abortion inflicts emotional damage -- worse than anyone ever imagined.

This always happens to me.
I wrote my last column about a recently passed Colorado law requiring that the parents of minor children be notified before that child can obtain an abortion. (Sounds awful, doesn’t it? That a “child” would ever obtain an abortion at all is horrifying.) I pointed out that this type of legislation is an important step in the right direction, given the fact that that it significantly reduces teen abortion rates in every state where it is enacted. Ironically, on the same day, a study came out showing that women who have abortions show a dramatic increase in the likelihood of clinical depression. So I wrote that these types of laws are saving a lot of young women from a lot of pain.

Only I didn’t know how much pain. 

Apparently that study was only the tip of the iceberg. I turned in the column, and the very next day a whole flurry of new information came out on the actual damage abortion does to women. And it was really good stuff.

I debated. Should I write additional paragraphs and see if editors could still add them? Write a whole new column?

Or should I just write a follow-up?

In the initial article, I reported that a study had revealed that women who have had abortions experience a 65% higher rate of clinical depression than women who give birth, and that this increased likelihood was still present eight years after the abortion. It occurred to me later that the word “depression” might give readers the idea that these women were just feeling a little blue over the whole affair. A little depression would be understandable, since things didn’t work out as they’d wanted, but not particularly serious.

But then the next study came out.

It appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and it reviewed medical records of 56.741 California Medicaid patients. Apparently, compared to women who had given birth, women who’d had abortions were 160% more likely to have been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment in the first 90 days following the abortion or delivery. Rates of psychiatric treatment remained significantly higher for at least four years. Depressive psychosis was the most common diagnosis. 
This is a lot more serious than a little case of “the blues.” A woman has to be pretty seriously traumatized to be placed in a psychiatric hospital.

So why didn’t we know about this sooner? According to the study’s author, David Reardon (who also authored the other study – more about that in a minute), no one saw the problem because no one cared to look. A common complaint among women in post-abortion recovery programs is that, when they have mentioned their abortions to their therapists, abortion has been dismissed as irrelevant. According to Reardon, "Therapists who fixate on the 'abortion is benign' theory, either out of ignorance or allegiance to defensive political views on abortion, are doing a great disservice to women who need understanding and support. This study, based on objective medical records, validates the claims of tens of thousands of women in post-abortion recovery programs." 

With this latest study, the CMAJ published commentary from a Dr. Brenda Major, who suggested that perhaps it was marital status or previous psychiatric illness instead of abortion that pushed these women “over the edge.” I’m assuming that “marital status” in this case means “single,” since most women who obtain abortions are unmarried. And, as a single woman, I have to say that I’m a little offended at the implication. (I may at times complain that being single is driving me crazy, but I don’t mean it literally.) I’m also offended that anyone, particularly a woman, could dismiss these results so easily. And ironically, Dr. Major, in her commentary, neglected to mention her own recently published study which found that 1.4 percent of post-abortive women suffer from full-blown Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, directly attributable to the abortion. Dr. Reardon believes that this number is very low, but points out that even if it were true, 1.4 percent of 1.3 million annual abortions result in 18,200 new cases of PTSD every year, or half a million since 1973. That’s a lot of suffering women. 

As I said, Dr. Reardon published both of these studies. What’s more he and his colleagues were responsible for five others as well, all in the last 18 months. Those studies found, among other things, that post-abortive women have higher rates of substance abuse and suicide.

Abortion is not good for women. It is, in fact, very very bad for them. And women who have had abortions instinctively know that – even if no one else will acknowledge it.

Dr. David Reardon is daring to look where the medical establishment has failed to look. And in doing so, he has become the best friend post-abortive women have.

I’ll tell you more about him next time.

Parents, Do You Know Where Your Daughters Are?

Parental notification laws save lives – born and unborn.

It’s been a big week for abortion news.

First of all, on May 7th, the Colorado state legislature passed a parental notification law. This is a big deal for a couple of reasons. One, it is the first time in Colorado history that any law has been passed restricting abortion. Since we have the dubious distinction of being among the first states to legalize abortion, I think it’s about time we did something to put the genie back into the bottle.

Second, parental notification laws save lives. Every state that has enacted such laws has reported a decline, not only in the number of teen abortions performed, but in the total number of teen pregnancies. Apparently teenagers think twice about sexual activity when they realize that their parents could find out about it.
Third, this law is a big deal because it reflects the will of the people of Colorado. In 1998, the voters here passed a parental notification law, which was then struck down by the courts. I shudder to think of the abortions performed and the young lives ruined while the lawyers and special interest groups sued and counter-sued.

The other big abortion news came out just today. A study, published in the latest issue of the Medical Science Monitor, showed that women who undergo abortions are 65% more likely to experience clinical depression than women who give birth. And this isn’t just an “oh, darn, I just had an abortion last week” kind of depression. The increased propensity to depression was still found an average of eight years after the actual abortion. And study author David Reardon says that this may be only the tip of the iceberg. "Only 40 percent of the abortions that we would expect to find among a sample this size are reported [here]." he said. "This means many women who actually had an abortion were misclassified as only having had births, which would tend to dilute the results." He added, "The women who conceal their abortions very probably have higher rates of depression than those who more readily reveal their abortion history. Given the 60 percent concealment rate in this data set, the fact that we still found significantly higher depression scores among those admitting a history of abortion suggests that the effect must be quite strong."

Is it just me, or does anyone else see a connection between these two news items?

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, predictably, fought the parental notification bill tooth and nail. In fact, they never used the term “parental notification” without the adjective “dangerous” in front of it – so their press releases all referred to the “dangerous parental notification bill.” One gets the impression that they thought that was the name of the bill.

When the original law was struck down by the courts, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Elaine Brilliant (who is, to my mind, most assuredly not so), said “We are relieved that the court understood the danger that this law poses for many young women in Colorado. . . . The law should not endanger the health of those teens who cannot turn to their parents.”

But is it really parental notification that is dangerous, or is it the lack of such notification that puts our teens at risk? It seems to me that today’s study is just one more in a long list of reasons why abortion is dangerous – physically, emotionally and spiritually -- to our teenagers.

Teenagers are notoriously poor at evaluating risk. Recent evidence even shows that the part of the brain that regulates risk-taking is not fully developed until the late teens to early twenties. Thus, teenagers tend to think exclusively about the here and now. If they have a problem, they want the problem to go away, and they’ll jump at any solution that will work. They don’t often grasp the long-term consequences of those solutions. Pregnancy is, of course, one of the biggest problems in the teenage universe. Not so much for the obvious reasons – a child brought into an unstable situation, a lifetime of responsibility, etc. For them it’s about the more immediate problems, primarily “my parents are going to find out I’m having sex.” Abortion gets rid of the pregnancy. Problem solved. The long term will take care of itself.

This, my friends, is why teenagers were endowed by God with parents. It is the parents’ responsibility to evaluate the risks their children face. It is the parents’ responsibility to make decisions that will affect the long-term welfare of their children. It is the parents’ responsibility to protect their children – and, in these cases, their children’s children.

According to Planned Parenthood’s web site, 43 states have parental consent or notification laws on the books. But nine of these states’ laws aren’t in effect because they’re tied up in court. Seven other states and the District of Columbia have no laws regarding parental notification or consent. Which means, according to my math, that there are 16 states plus a District where teenagers can obtain abortions without their parents’ knowledge or consent. If you live in such a place, get busy -- now. 

Parental notification laws save lives.

I Was Chastity When Chastity Wasn’t Cool

An old video demonstrates that the times really have changed. For the better.

We took an interesting little stroll down memory lane at my house Easter Sunday.
A few of my friends dropped by that evening with a request. They wanted to see the videotape of my first TV appearance. That show, A.M. San Francisco, aired in October of 1987, and featured a very young, enthusiastic, fresh-faced chastity speaker named Mary Beth Bonacci debating a very world-weary “sexologist.”
It has become a camp classic.

Honestly, it’s a little embarrassing to watch now. I wasn’t exactly media savvy. My wardrobe, makeup and big hair all screamed “80’s Fashion Disaster.” I said “you know” at least 27 times during the first segment. At several points during the show I could be seen staring off into space while the other guests conversed. The show was airing “live” on monitors all over the studio, and apparently I was watching the action on those monitors instead of on the stage. But, despite all of that, my friends concluded that it was a good performance. I walked in at a tremendous disadvantage – a kid fresh out of college up against a “professional” expert, and yet in the end I got the best of her. I recall watching her storm off the stage after the final credits rolled. She was not a happy sexologist.

It wasn’t hard, of course. These 1980’s sex-ed-establishment types were long on opinions and short on facts. This woman didn’t want to accept that the ‘60’s were over and that free love came with a price tag. She all but ignored teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. She kept droning on about how sex was ignored in the schools and teenagers were left ignorant. I remember thinking that she must’ve seen a lot of poodle skirts and greased hair the last time she darkened the door of a public high school. She certainly wasn’t describing any schools I’d seen in my lifetime.

In fact, the most difficult aspect of the whole experience was the sheer ludicrousness of her arguments. In the face of twin epidemics – AIDS and teen pregnancy -- the problem that concerned her most was the fact that teenagers “don’t see their parents as sexual.” It disturbed her greatly that sex wasn’t treated as a “legitimate academic subject” within families. She believed that any person – of any age – should engage in sexual activity as long as they have “encountered their sensation of readiness.”

Let me tell you – arguing with someone like that is like trying to fight smog with a crowbar. There’s nothing to grab onto. 

Looking back, what strikes me about the show is the demographics. I was 24. I brought two college-student friends to appear with me (both were guys, and both were consistently identified on the show as “virgins.”) The audience was full of college students, all of whom were enthusiastically supportive of our position. The “sexologist” was obviously middle-aged – and years had most decidedly not been good to her. The show’s hosts were likewise older, and obviously sympathetic to the sexologist’s point of view. (The male host, in particular, was concerned that by not having frequent sex, we would be “missing out on an important part of [our] development.”) The callers likewise fell in line. The young callers were all pro-chastity. The older callers were all “pro-promiscuity.”

I considered that day to be a good learning experience, but not an effective forum for my message. The producers weren’t interested in making a point. They were interested in generating a fight. I had no time to make my case. I could speak only in “sound bites” before I was interrupted. They brought us on because they considered us freaks.

In the years following that show, I received a lot of invitations to appear on other talk shows. I think I probably received invitations from most of the major daytime talk shows of the era. And I turned them all down. I remember watching how those shows dealt with the chastity issue. It was all the same. We were freaks to put on alongside the lesbian stripper accountants. I remember watching Oprah Winfrey actually berate a young girl appearing on her show to promote chastity.
But times change.

I don’t know where that sexologist or those talk show hosts are today. But now I’m middle-aged (well, sort of), and the generation of students that filled the audience that day is the generation of adults running the country.

Yes, there is still a Planned Parenthood, and there is still a sex education establishment. But they’re under a lot more scrutiny than they were 15 years ago. There are still questionable daytime talk shows, but they’re much more marginalized than they used to be. 

And the pro-chastity advocates no longer considered freaks. Dr. Laura Schlessinger reaches over 22 million listeners every day with her unapologetically pro-abstinence message. One of the most popular daytime talk shows in history, Dr. Phil, has featured not one but a series of segments on the dangers of teen sex and the importance of abstinence. Abstinence education programs are gaining ground in school districts throughout the nation. Teens proudly carry pledge cards and wear T-shirts proclaiming their commitment to chastity. Teen pregnancy rates and teen sexual activity rates are actually declining across the U.S.

Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of the fray, we don’t see the progress we’ve made. But that little Easter stroll down memory lane reminded me how far I’ve come – and, more importantly, how far the pro-chastity movement has come. It encouraged me.

I hope it encouraged you, too.