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'Back from the Brink'

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of Citizen magazine.

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Two unmarried women face unplanned, unwanted pregnancies—one in 1962, one in 1976.  Sheer miles prevent them from killing their babies. Today, the sons of both women are members of Congress with firm pro-life convictions. These are their stories.

Where do babies come from? They come from nuns! At least, that’s what David Schweikert thought when he was little.

You see, David and his two younger siblings were adopted. Both times he got a new little brother or sister, he went downtown with his family to Holy Family Adoption Services in Los Angeles. 

back-from-the-brink-citizen-jan-2014 They walked down the hall and turned into a room with a big bassinette in the center. Then a woman, “dressed like a penguin” he recalls with a smile, reached in and handed him his new sibling.  

So the idea that babies came from nuns persisted for the first eight or nine years of his life. “But one day I said that out loud and got set straight,” he tells Citizen. “Nobody has let me forget it since!”

Today, he can laugh about his childish embarrassment: U.S. Rep. David Schweikert has been representing the 6th District of Arizona since 2011. 

Forty Miles for Life

Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana has a slightly different story.

He knew growing up that his mother, Sarah, was 17 years old when she got married, and that she had dropped out of high school to marry his dad, Albert, who was 19. It always had been sort of a family joke that he had arrived early.

He knew his mom had grown up in a Christian home, the daughter of a bivocational minister, and that his dad also had a Christian upbringing. When Stutzman was young, his father even served as an assistant pastor for several years, and his parents took in several foster children. They taught him to be pro-life.

So it never occurred to him that his mother would even have considered having an abortion.

While the horrors of Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion clinic were making front-page news over the last few years (see “Shocked Into Action,” May 2013 Citizen), Stutzman began trying to understand the emotions that would drive a woman to abort her child. So as he was driving home from Capitol Hill one evening, he called his mother.

Nothing had prepared him for what happened when he casually asked, “Did you ever think about an abortion?” 

All of a sudden, his mother burst into tears.

Sarah had, indeed, considered an abortion in 1976, she told him. She was a pastor’s daughter, after all. She had a reputation to uphold. If her out-of-wedlock pregnancy became known, she would be ruined. What could she do? She knew her parents would be furious.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Sarah had just learned she was pregnant when fire destroyed the house where her multi-generational family of nine was living  in Centerville, Mich. It burned to the ground, taking with it all the family’s possessions, including the hope chest full of things she wanted to take to her own home someday.

The next night, she slept on the floor of a neighbor’s house—but she didn’t rest. She cried. Hysterically. So loudly that her grandfather heard her from a different room. “Who’s crying?” she heard him ask.

The close quarters and the large family may have been a blessing, because when Sarah heard her grandpa wake up, she knew she had to get hold of herself. She realized that her plan to go to Kalamazoo, Mich., for an abortion would not work—it was 40 miles away and she had no car.

So shortly thereafter, she told her mother about the pregnancy. To her immense relief, her parents did not react in anger. They were disappointed, but they still loved her. They did not throw her out of the house, as she had feared.

Strengthened by her parents’ love, she told Albert the news. 

“Thank God for my dad,” Stutzman tells Citizen. “He never hesitated. ‘I’m going to take care of you,’ he said (to Sarah). ‘We’re getting married.’ ”  

Road Trip to Nowhere

Fifteen years ago, David Schweikert was in his mid-30s, hard at work in his financial management firm’s office, when he received an email from a stranger. “You don’t know me,” it read, “but your birth mother’s name is Mary Lynn. Here’s her address.”  

In his family, the understanding had always been:  “You honor your birth mother, but Mother is the one who changes your diapers.” Still, the email piqued his curiosity. It also presented a moral dilemma. 

“What were my ethical guidelines?” he recalls wondering. “That email had been sent to me by somebody who didn’t know me or her. What if my birth mother had never told her family? What if she didn’t want to hear from me? I had been adopted by a great family, I had worked hard and I had a pretty wonderful life. I certainly didn’t want to cause any damage to the person to whom I owe my life.”  

To help him decide, he held a family conference. His mother made it clear that he shouldn’t be afraid to make the contact on her account. “This might not be the right course for every family,” he tells Citizen, “but it was for our family.”

So he sent a handwritten note to Mary Lynn, so formal that an outsider might think it came from a former classmate: “Thirty-six years ago we may have shared something in common,” he wrote. “… Don’t know if I have the right person ... Here’s my phone number if you’d like to call me.”   

Weeks went by after he mailed it. Then came a call from a gruff, deep-voiced man saying, “What’s this all about?” 

Immediately, Schweikert thought, Oh no, I got her in trouble, it’s her husband calling.  So he backpedaled. “I am so sorry, sir,” he said. “I’m not sure I even wrote the right person—”

“Hold on,” the caller interrupted him. And then handed the phone to Mary Lynn.

“Is it really you?” said a little woman’s voice between tears. “I go to morning Mass every single day and pray for you. I remember your birthday every year. Are you OK?  Are you healthy?”

At the other end of the line, Schweikert was almost crying too. “I have a great life, I was adopted by a wonderful family,” he assured her. “I don’t want to cause any damage to you—”   

“It’s OK,” Mary Lynn told him. “My whole family knows about you.” 

A few weeks later, Schweikert drove from Arizona to Southern California and met his biological family, welcomed by a banner outside Mary Lynn’s house. An hour later he was rummaging through the refrigerator as if it were home. And a few months later, Mary Lynn told him the whole story. 

In 1962, she was in the car heading from Southern California to the Mexican border town of Tijuana to get an abortion, two girlfriends by her side for moral support. As she got closer, Mary Lynn found she couldn’t stop crying or hyperventilating.  

Just a few miles from Mexico, the friend who was driving became so worried about her that she turned the car around. Her friends made her tell her mother that she was pregnant.

Her mother was more understanding than Mary Lynn had expected her to be. So Mary Lynn headed to the unwed mothers’ home in downtown Los Angeles, where David was born and soon adopted by the Schweikert family.   

Schweikert and Mary Lynn remained close until her death last year. At her funeral, a woman introduced herself to Schweikert.

“I’m the one who was driving the car to Tijuana,” she told him. She was the friend who turned his mother back from the brink of abortion and saved his life.

Desperate Choices

Clearly, Mary Lynn was desperate; she knew abortion was not the right thing to do even as she pursued her plan to have one.

As her son sees it, Someone reached out to her in that crisis. “Prayer is not an instant process,” he tells Citizen, “it’s a process in time. Having to sit in the car for a couple hours may have been the very thing that gave her the chance to contemplate what she was considering doing.”

For his part, Marlin Stutzman is grateful that his mom did not have her own car. She was desperate—but she was also shy and timid. “I thank my father a lot, because she could have been told what to do and she would have done it,” he says now. “I have a friend whose boyfriend took her to a clinic to have an abortion. If my mother could have found her way to Kalamazoo, she would have done it without telling anyone.” 

What his mother’s story tells Stutzman is that anybody who finds herself in a very difficult situation can make a wrong decision. In light of the fact that 40 miles was the only barrier that saved his life, it bothers him that Planned Parenthood plants its facilities in walkable urban areas, which it specifically targets. “It’s shameful that our government has allowed this to happen,” he says.

And he is proud of his mother. She didn’t want to talk about her story at first, but now is sharing what she went through. “It’s pretty inspirational to people,” he says with a smile.

Reaching Beyond the ‘Life Box’

Learning that they might have been aborted has only reinforced Stutzman’s and Schweikert’s passion for the cause of life.

Schweikert was first elected to the Arizona State House of Representatives in 1990, and today is emerging as a champion of economic reform in Washington, serving on the House Financial Services Committee. 

When it comes to life issues, he is equally unabashed. “I’ll be at a financial event, and someone will come up to me and whisper, ‘I’m also pro-life.’ And I’ll say, ‘Why are you whispering?’ They’re fearful of not being invited to the best holiday parties if it’s known they’re pro-life, so they keep quiet about it.”

As he sees it, this isn’t necessary anymore. “Twenty years ago we, the pro-life people, were almost the fringe of the conservative movement,” he recalls. “But now we are the majority.”

He urges pro-life citizens to move outside their comfort zone. “Reach out beyond the ‘life box,’ ” he says. “Do you have a life license plate or bumper sticker on your car? Are you willing to talk about it at your barbecues and dinner parties, not in an aggressive way, but as a normal part of life? If you have an adopted child, are you willing to talk about how grateful you are to the mother? It needs to be woven into what you are, not just who you are at church.”

Sadly, Schweikert recognizes that church may not always be a comfort zone for pro-life folks, so he urges people to “let your pastors and deacons know it’s important. Too often clergy are scared of the topic because there’s somebody who makes money on the other side of the issue.”

‘Our Government Failed Us’

Stutzman is confident that pro-life views will prevail in the long run. “My wife and I have talked about the fact that we are post-Roe v. Wade babies,” he tells Citizen. “It should not be easy to have an abortion. If it had been easy for my mother, I could have been killed. Of the 57 million babies aborted since Roe v. Wade, how many of those could have been prevented if the mother had had a caring person around her, and didn’t have easy access to an abortion?

“I think we are winning the hearts of young people in this country for the pro-life position,” he adds. “Perhaps partly because there are thousands of young people who have similar stories to mine.” 

But to finally win the war for life, it will take more than conversations. It will take votes. “All the way up to the federal level, we have the opportunity to vote for pro-life candidates,” Stutzman says. “If everybody who is pro-life would vote that way, it would change this country.”   

 

Connie Marshner is a freelance journalist based in Virginia.

 

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