Jennifer Nelson:Roe vs. Wade: 30 years of adversity, faith

I don’t have to close my eyes to recall the day I lost faith in humankind. It was my junior year at Oregon State University, and I was walking from class to my job at the student newspaper, The Daily Barometer.

It wasn’t warm, but the sun was so bright it hurt. Maybe it was spring and my eyes were still tired from the gray of winter. Or maybe it was one of those freakishly pleasant winter days that trick us here in the Pacific Northwest into thinking that just once the rain will pass us over. It doesn’t matter.

I look back now on that day, on that sun, and I think, “At least people saw it. At the very least, the sun came out so students would go to class, shortcut through the Memorial Union Quad at the heart of the school’s campus and see.”

It wasn’t the larger-than-life posters of aborted fetuses that brought tears to my eyes. Nor was it the equally disturbing photographs of Holocaust victims and lynched slaves. It was the comparisons between them. That’s the claim of the Genocide Awareness Project: Abortion is genocide, just like the Holocaust, just like slavery.

Before that day, I thought I had heard every pro-life argument in the book. But this … this was tough for my 20-year-old heart to grasp.

And like a 20-year-old, I responded emotionally. I was angry. I denounced the Christian student organizations that sponsored the weeklong event. I argued with project volunteers, and when I was not able to sway them, I vowed to boycott the display.

“They have their rights,” I remember thinking, “and I have mine.”

Thankfully, others realized this, too, and instead of boycotting the Genocide Awareness Project they erected a wall of blankets and sheets around it in protest. They didn’t argue, and they didn’t fight. For a week they simply stood alongside members of an organization that threatened their right to choose, and in doing so, they restored my faith.

Faith, however, is not always unwavering.

It’s been 30 years since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in the historic Roe vs. Wade, and abortion is still at the forefront of American politics. President Bush on Sunday declared Jan. 19 a National Sanctity of Human Life Day. Democrats will counter that move today, the anniversary of the decision, with a first-ever joint appearance by all major Democratic presidential candidates at a fund-raising dinner for NARAL Pro-Choice America, the country’s top reproductive rights advocacy group.

I met Sarah Weddington, the Austin, Texas attorney who argued the case for a woman’s right to have an abortion, in the winter of 1998. At the time, I was a sophomore at OSU and a member of the Women’s Leadership Conference Committee. Weddington was our keynote speaker.

When our committee chair announced with great enthusiasm that Weddington had agreed to speak, I remember thinking, “Sarah who?” Little did I know …

When I met her several months later, I found Weddington to be a gentle woman, proud and tall and wise. I thought then that she must be one of the strongest women in the world. And she might be.

Because when I look at the war being fought over abortion, when I listen to Bush preach about the rights of a body he does not have and see Christians act out of hatred and not compassion and remember the Genocide Awareness Project, that is when I think that people who have faith in their convictions, who have passion, who stand proud in the face of adversity, these people shine like the sun.

The battle over abortion will surely continue.

And taking my inspiration from that day in Corvallis, I will stand strong. Because I believe in the right to choose, whatever that choice may be.