PORT-AU-PRINCE – I was in an airplane, flying to Haiti, when the Supreme Court released its decision overturning Roe v. Wade. It had such a seismic effect, I’m surprised I didn’t feel a rumble rising from the earth below.
The decision roiled our nation. It has everybody talking. And I have been thinking about it a great deal, especially here in Haiti, where abortion is illegal, and mothers give birth regularly to children whom they cannot afford to feed or take care of.
It so happens Saturday was the graduation ceremony for our school at the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage, which I’ve been operating since 2010. Four seniors donned caps and gowns in 93-degree heat and walked across a muddy yard to receive their diplomas. They each made a speech, and the teachers, staff and 50 other kids clapped and yelled their approval. All four grads will be coming to Michigan to attend Hope College this fall.
So how does this connect to abortion? Well. As with any milestone involving children, you find yourself recalling when they were younger. In the case of our graduates, that meant remembering when they first arrived at the orphanage gates.
One kid’s story stands out. His name is Kiki. When he was 9 years old, his mother came and begged us to take him in. She had no money, no place to live and seven other mouths to feed. When we told her we did not take kids that old, she pleaded with us to at least take him into our school.
“I will bring him every morning, wait outside the gate, and take him home every afternoon,” she promised. “Just let him learn.”
She was so passionate that we relented and allowed Kiki and his younger brother into school for a few months. On their first day, I saw holes in the rears of their pants and bare skin beneath it, because they had no underwear.
Yet before long, it was evident these were two special kids. Bright. Personable. We broke with policy and admitted both full time. Kiki blossomed into a natural leader, a top athlete, an amazing musician, and the kind of deep thinker who once asked me, “Mr. Mitch, if you contemplate doing a bad thing, even if you don’t do it, have you committed a sin?”
He graduated Saturday, donning a blue gown, cap and mortar board. He made a beautiful speech in English. And at the end, he thanked his mother, even though she had brought him to an orphanage 11 years earlier. He called her the “most special princess on the Earth.”
She sat in the front row, tearing up.
Would it be an option for you?
Now, my first thought when it to comes to abortion is that it’s not for me to say. I am a man, and therefore have never and will never face the bodily issue of pregnancy.
But I realize, as the founder of an orphanage, I constantly take in children who are sometimes unwanted. Perhaps I am more connected to this issue than I thought.
So I pulled Kiki’s mother aside after the graduation ceremony and asked if I could pose a few personal questions. She said yes. Her name is Meprilia Jean Louis and she is 53 years old.
The first question was if any of her eight children were unexpected pregnancies. She said more than half were. The next question was, “Would it have been easier for you, financially and otherwise, if you hadn’t gotten pregnant those times?”
She admitted it would have been.
Then I asked, if abortion had been legal in Haiti, would she have contemplated it?
She shook her head no. She put her hands on her belly. “Once a child is inside you, there is an attachment. I could never think of getting rid of it.”
But, I said, having those children left you so poor you couldn’t take care of them.
She nodded, then said, “I would rather beg in the street to take care of them than not have my children.”
Is there a right or wrong here?
Now, this proves nothing, settles nothing, means nothing, beyond being one woman’s story in a place where abortion rules are far tighter than our own. It doesn’t change the fact that today across America, it feels like a civil war. Celebrations took place in some cities, while tear gas was needed to break up protests in others. The South Dakota governor called it a “wonderful day.” The Congressional Black Caucus asked President Joe Biden to declare “a national emergency.”
The New York Times opinion headlines read like a eulogy: “Requiem for the Supreme Court” and “The End of Roe is Just The Beginning.” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal titled an op-ed “The Supreme Court Reclaims its Legitimacy.”
And while the actual number of abortions in the U.S. remains well under a million a year, and the Supreme Court decision doesn’t outlaw abortion outright, it just returns the decision to the states, still, half the country forbidding one thing and half allowing it is not a recipe for national unity. We grip our hands and wonder, “What kind of nation will we become?”
Here in Haiti, a different nation, a mother who could not afford to take care of her baby chose to bring him into the world anyhow and on Saturday watched him graduate high school and thank her.
What’s the lesson of that moment? That she should have had the choice, that her life could have been better, freer, more fair to her if abortion had been a legal option? Or that aborting a fetus seems unthinkable when you see the child who ultimately resulted find a way to grow, thrive and bring tears to his mother’s eyes?
It’s not for me to say. It’s simply for all of us to ponder, as we navigate this new chapter in the long and complex story of the United States of America.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.