On a sunny, seemingly benign afternoon, I sat with my mother, who had summoned me home from college for a talk. My mother was motionless, attentive the way blind people are when navigating their inner world by some sonar.


New Age Journal
September/October 1993

SISTER AGAINST SISTER by
Brenda Peterson
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

On a sunny, seemingly benign afternoon, I sat with my mother, who had 
summoned me home from college for a talk. My mother was motionless, 
attentive the way blind people are when navigating their inner world by some 
sonar.

"I'm forty-one years old," my mother began quietly, "raised all four of you 
kids. I can't start making babies all over again."

It was 1970; Roe v. Wade was three years away. And my mother was telling 
me that she was again pregnant. We both knew that her fundamentalist 
southern Baptist religion and our state rigorously forbade abortion, that 
another child was not only unwise in a family of four teen-agers but unhealthy 
for my mother, both physically and psychologically.

"I never wanted this many," my mother breathed, as if talking to herself, as if 
I were not there, the first of her unwanted.

"I know," was what I said, wavering between old rage and newfound 
understanding. My rage was rooted in the knowledge that my own birth had 
been something of a crisis for my mother. My birth had meant the end of her 
education, her independence, and the beginning of decades of a maternal role 
for which she was ill-suited. But six months earlier I too had gained a 
personal understanding of pregnancy as crisis, before my miscarriage made 
the choice for me. The irony of having found myself pregnant at twenty -- 
the exact age my mother got pregnant with me -- didn't escape me now. Here 
we sat together, mother and first-born, twenty years after my conception, 
debating the fate of another "child."

Time was turning back on itself, as if we two had become all women in some 
secret society, talking quietly about birth and death matters that belonged to 
us, body and soul. But now there were the laws, the sins, the crimes that we 
had to consider.

"Do you -- " Mother began, trembling. "You must know someone -- one of 
those radical friends who's against the Vietnam war?"

"I don't know how to get an abortion, Mother, if that's what you're asking. 
But I can ask around."

Mother laughed, a hoarse sound more like a cry. "Nowadays mothers have to 
ask daughters about these things. Used to be a time, my grandmother once 
told me, when there were herbs a woman could use. Potions. A woman knew 
about them because her mother taught her secretly." Then she laughed again, 
and it was a scary sound, like coughing. It reminded me that during all my 
childhood my mother had frightened me with her dark moods. She'd also 
fascinated me, because alternating with her furies was an exuberance so bright 
she eclipsed most of my friends' mothers.

"I did try some of those old wives' ways," Mother told me, her face pale, "but 
I couldn't remember how . . ." My hands began shaking, as if I already knew 
what she would say next. "I tried them on you. Of course, I didn't know it 
was you inside, and now that I know you I'm glad it didn't work."

I caught my breath and managed to say, "I might have done that, too, 
Mother." But my heart was racing.

"Well, 'didn't work' isn't exactly right." She wasn't looking at me. And then 
she told the story: how she had tried everything until at last, in 
desperation -- 
because she'd gotten pregnant on her honeymoon, because she and my father 
were too young, too poor -- she had inflicted upon herself an abortion at 
almost five months along in her pregnancy. All night she had crouched in a 
bathtub full of lukewarm, bloody water, sobbing. How solitary was her 
suffering.

"After I punctured myself," she said, her words ragged, breathless, "out came 
this little bloody thing -- I think it was a boy. 

"I couldn't see him well for all the tears. I was so scared. I couldn't
stop crying. I wanted someone with me. Anyone. Even your father. He never 
knew . . . he still doesn't."

In the bright light of that spring afternoon, my mother looked small, exposed. 
She held her belly and wept. I sat stunned, torn between my sorrow for her 
and a grief coiling like nausea in my own stomach. Then I remembered my 
recurring childhood nightmare: I am curled around another body in perfect 
embrace; we are weightless, floating together belly-to-back, tiny legs tucked. 
We breathe together, warm water easing in and out as if our lungs are simple 
gills. In this deep darkness we hear a big bass heart beating above in 
counterpoint to our own rapid treble heart throbs. Our twin hearts drum in 
sync.

Suddenly that big heart pounds fast; there is a terrible rush in our bodies, an 
electric surge along our new nerves and skin. We are turning round and round 
in an undertow. There is a tearing away, a big whooshing sound as we are 
pulled and pushed by a wave of blood. But my head hits bone and I stop, turning 
over myself in a spinning terror. And only then do I know -- I am all by 
myself. There is no twin body embracing mine, only this big, frightened body 
bending double over me.

"There was someone with you that day," I told Mother, though my voice 
shook with fear and something else -- pity. Pity for us both.

A visible tremor ran through her, and she lifted her face from her hands. 
"Yes," she murmured, her voice full of wonder. "There you still were. But I 
didn't realize it then." She paused, and her words spilled out. "I buried the 
fetus beneath a big cedar tree. I said prayers. I have never felt so alone in my
life." She hesitated and then looked directly at me, her gray eyes brimming. 
"But I wasn't alone. Can you imagine the shock sometime later when I felt 
you kicking inside?"

"Maybe I wanted out, Mother," I whispered, my own tears finally falling.

She was quiet a moment, then said softly, "I'm sure you did. When you were 
born I had only half an hour of labor. We barely got down the mountain 
before you burst on the scene."

I did not weep any more that sunny day as my mother did. I felt physical 
shock, repulsion, and a familiar longing.

"Can you ever forgive me?" my mother asked as she held her belly.

Two weeks later Mother called me at school to report in a subdued voice that, 
after all, she had been wrong. False alarm; she was not pregnant. Everything 
was fine; forget what she'd told me.

Today my mother will not answer any of my questions about that story she 
offered me twenty years ago, except to say, "Honey, we always wanted you." I 
do not know if she will ever discuss it with me again. I do know that abortion 
among the women in my family continues to be a deep wound that we all, in 
our different and drastically opposing ways, seek to heal.


A decade after my mother and I talked about finding her an illegal abortion, I 
sat with my youngest sister in an East Coast abortion clinic gazing at an 
obscure black-and-white photo of her unborn child. In the ultrasound, her 
baby was the size of a tadpole.

"Do you know," said my sister, who is an intensive care nurse, "that the fetus 
goes through every step of an evolutionary process, from fish to reptile -- 
with a tail and everything -- to mammal?" She stopped, her eyes brimming. "It's 
amazing."

"Yes," I echoed softly, "amazing."

We didn't say another word; we'd already gone round for days -- boyfriend 
deserted, my sister at twenty-six barely supporting herself. At last my sister 
sighed, "I just can't do it . . . not again."

"Again" would have been her second abortion. When my sister was eighteen 
and living in Georgia, dividing her time between nursing school and Bible 
studies, she'd aborted her first pregnancy. Now, as she faced a possible second 
abortion, my sister wept on my shoulder. "Even Mom and Dad want me to 
get an abortion, can you believe that?" She shook her head. "But I wouldn't be 
able to forgive myself." And she chose to have her child.

For three years my sister and her son lived with my parents in the South. To 
be an unwed mother in a fundamentalist family and community was a source 
of shame for my sister. She returned to attending church with my parents. 
Then the father of her child came back into the picture and became a born-
again Christian. They married and are settled in Virginia with two more sons. 
During my sister's fervent return to fundamentalism she was swept up in the 
antiabortion movement, and for the past several years she's worked as an anti-
choice lobbyist in Washington. For pro-life marches and protests, she dons her 
white nurse's uniform and is often dragged off to jail, clutching her sign 
JESUS HEARS THEIR TINY SCREAMS.

Both my youngest sister and I are haunted by abortion: I as a survivor of 
abortion who still strongly believes it is every woman's right to choose to end 
a pregnancy; and my sister, who, once having exercised her abortion rights, now 
cannot find it in her religion to forgive herself or others. The war over 
abortion among the women in my own family mirrors the larger world's 
tortured debate over an issue that in the past twenty years has evoked division 
instead of dialogue and polarization instead of compassion. It's an issue that 
has left a lot of victims in its wake.

According to the World Health Organization, an average of 200,000 women 
worldwide die annually of clandestine abortions either from lack of access to 
good medicine or because abortion is not funded in that country. The world 
family of women is haunted by abortion, and we have made war on our sisters 
and ourselves in struggling to come to terms with this one act -- to give or 
deny birth. In my family we often make the dark joke that all through our 
southern childhood we girls played Civil War, reenacting Confederate vs. 
Union brother-against-brother battles; now we spend our adulthood engaged 
in a civil war that separates us as sisters.

The skirmishes can be daily or weekly. Every morning when I peruse my New 
York Times I risk falling into a rage when I read items like the recent story 
about the Virginia state Republican convention whose delegates, led by 
Christian conservatives, just passed one of the country's most far-right 
platforms to restrict abortion, limit homosexual rights, and defeat gun-control 
measures. My rage turned to outrage when I remembered that, just days 
before, my sister had casually mentioned "schmoozing with my friends in 
hospitality suites" at this same convention, as if it were a high school reunion.

By the same token, when I tell my little sister I've just given a reading from 
my latest book at a pro-choice rally, I can almost hear her grinding her teeth 
over the phone. Our tense coiled energy reaches cross-continent as we quietly 
register our enemy camps.

But as much as I struggle with my fundamentalist sister, I can never dismiss or 
demean her as somehow less human or less intelligent than me. It hurts me 
when my liberal friends imagine my sister as just another right-to-life 
caricature, a fool or fanatic. It also saddens me when my little sister refers 
to my friends -- and even to herself -- as "babykillers."

In my own life, the terrible loss of my twin to an abortion has made me 
question and deeply ponder this act from both the unborn child's and the 
pregnant woman's point of view. Looking at both sides of the issue convinces 
me that abortion has a very grave, often tragic effect on a woman's life, 
especially if it is an unreflected act, stripped of spiritual depth and close, 
conscious community. It is also a tragedy for a child to be born into the world 
unwelcome because the mother doesn't have a way to support that new life. 
While I do believe that a woman has a right and responsibility to choose 
when and whether she can welcome a child into her life, I have never been 
able to see abortion as a simple medical practice or convenient form of birth 
control. And I know many other feminists whose own abortions still haunt 
them -- not because they believe they did wrong, but because they full well 
understand they've made a grave decision about life and death. And they made 
this choice in a society that for so many centuries has denied women the 
authority to make such vital decisions.

But as a feminist and a longtime pro-choice advocate, I see something missing 
from our highly politicized camp: a conscious acknowledgment that abortion, 
for any woman, no matter her political rights, is a painful passage that 
deserves spiritual succor and healing. Perhaps we who hold that it is a woman's 
right to give or deny birth have been too caught up in the battle to keep those 
threatened rights and not brave enough to talk about how deeply abortion has 
affected our lives. By letting the anti-choice fundamentalist groups claim the 
religious side of the argument, feminists have missed the opportunity to add a 
spiritual dimension to the political battle.

Taking the discussion of abortion deeper is particularly important as we enter 
a new era of abortion rights -- an era in which for the first time in twelve 
years the White House administration is pro-choice and the Supreme Court may be 
more moderate than expected on abortion rights. Perhaps even more 
significant is the imminent production of RU 486, the abortion pill developed 
in Europe. Though my sister, true to her fundamentalist beliefs, promises to 
boycott the abortion pill's American manufacturer and to track down doctors 
who prescribe the new pill by sending female spies into suspected clinics, there 
is the distinct possibility that the adoption of the pill in the United States 
will eventually make abortion clinics obsolete and the act of abortion as 
private as taking any prescription medicine. But while the technology and 
politics of abortion may fully guarantee us the access to abortion, our 
emotions and philosophies will remain unreconciled and confused unless the 
spiritual dimension of abortion becomes part of the dialogue for all of us.



If pro-choice women were to engage our pro-life sisters in a discussion of 
abortion from a spiritual perspective, might we advance the conversation? This 
is what has begun to happen between my sister and myself. Instead of a 
dialogue in which she quotes Bible verses and I respond with talk of civil 
liberties and equality of women, we are now deeply involved in a discussion 
of whether women have the spiritual authority to decide to give or take life. 
While this dialogue hasn't changed either of our minds about abortion, it has 
deepened our intimacy. For me it has triggered a spiritual search to help heal 
the wounds of my fundamentalist childhood; for my sister it has deepened her 
own faith -- a faith that I abandoned as a teenager. Because of our shared 
fundamentalist upbringing, I can understand the fears that the abortion issue 
stirs up in my born-again sister and that are still part of my own shadow.

"Don't you understand that God has His eye on me?" my little sister pleaded 
with me in a recent discussion. "And He has found me sorely lacking."

I was startled by the term she used --  "sorely lacking" -- because it belongs 
to the southern Baptist ministers who still stalk my nightmares. I was suddenly 
reminded of a scene from childhood: we three stairstep sisters, two years apart 
in age, legs dangling in a pew, our shoulders hunched over in fear, as if 
awaiting a blow. The preacher shouts: "It was Eve who ate that apple from the 
Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And in going against God's will, in 
eating the fruit poisoned with mortality, that woman condemned us all to 
exile from God's Garden. She listened to the snake and her own sinful self, 
instead of her sweet Lord!" We shuddered, we three terrified sisters, little 
descendants of Eve.

It was 1958, and we three little sinners were living in Montana -- one of many 
cross-country moves in our transient childhood. In the shadow of glacial 
ranges and yawning green wilderness, we sisters spent most of our days 
running through the woods playing in primitive tribes. We were wild horses 
with an elaborate caste system that sometimes included small stallions. At 
Sunday School, our teacher, as if sensing the unbroken, fine horse flesh of 
such highstrung fillies, would glare at us girls as if her lectures were lassos. 
"Little women have to work especially hard for our Lord's redemption. We 
were the first in all creation to go against His divine will."

Sometimes it seemed hopeless to a nine- year-old. As the eldest sister, I was 
often utterly bewildered when the younger ones asked me to explain these 
"sermonettes," as our teacher modestly called them.

"Do you think God will ever forgive us for eating that stupid apple?" my 
middle sister once asked me as we loped along the open range.

"Nope," I said, and suddenly felt a strange happiness within. At that moment 
I knew that, no matter what I did, as long as I was female I would always be 
Eve's daughter. I somehow intuited that being forgiven by this angry Father 
God might be the same as being broken -- the sharp bit of blame always 
turning me this way and that. Better to be a wild filly with no righteous rider.

That day, when I felt the happy hopelessness of an unforgiven female, I 
wondered if this feeling was an echo of the "still, small voice" the preacher 
was always talking about. But when I asked my Sunday School teacher whether 
my still, small voice belonged to me or to God, she corrected me soundly. 
"Nothing about you belongs to you," she pronounced. "Except for your sin."

After that I kept my voice quiet, except with my sisters. The only time we 
opened our mouths in church was to sing the prescribed songs. One song stays 
with me:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?

There's power in the blood,

Power in the blood!



These three decades later my little sister still sings this song in church and 
as she marches in picket lines carrying a plastic baby doll strung up on a coat-
hanger cross, its body splashed with painted blood. How, I wonder, did the 
fetus come to replace Christ on the cross? And how come there are no women 
crucified on that cross, to symbolize those millions of women who've died 
from illegal abortions?

When I asked my youngest sister what those crucified babydoll fetuses 
represent, she declared, "They're God's children, of course. They don't belong 
to women." I could sense my sister's fear as she talked about facing a God who 
may find her fetus more important to Him than she is. "I've got so much to 
repent," she said remorsefully. "I sacrificed God's divine seed, just to take 
care of myself." Consumed by her remorse, my sister hardly stirred when I tried 
to allay her fears by reminding her that the root of the word sacrifice means 
"to make sacred."

I tried to assure her that she was more than merely a vessel for God's seed and 
that she had her share of divine spark all her own. I told her that throughout 
the Middle Ages into the Renaissance, science believed that every drop of male 
semen contained a miniature, unseen fetus, called a homunculus; not until 
1827, with the discovery of the ovum in mammals, did this myth of male seed 
as source of all life yield equal share of biological credit to the female body.

"So your body is sacred with or without God's divine seed," I argued. "You're 
just as holy, honey, when you ain't pregnant."

She laughed. "I'll have to tell my husband to save all those little homunculuses 
inside his semen just like all your woo-woo feminists save menstrual blood to 
make paintings. Yuck!"

I grinned. "That blood is also great for nourishing plants."

"So, that's how your garden grows?" she deadpanned.

My middle sister and I agree that our little sister has the best and blackest 
sense of humor among us. Unlike the image of the grim antiabortionist in 
protest lines we see in the media, my sister is fun and funny and very much a 
trickster. Just two years ago, after my granddaddy's funeral, we three met mid-
country without all the kids. We decided to drive together through the South, 
from the Ozarks to southern Florida.

"We'll put the fun back in funeral!" my little sister announced as we 
clambered into her van and fell into three part harmony, singing hymns en 
route to Graceland. But as we barreled along the back roads, I began to notice 
that other motorists were waving at us, some shaking their heads, others 
flashing the raised-fist, right-on sign. Few cars passed us without comment. 
Some drove by grimly avoiding eye contact, and some honked as if we were all 
in the same wedding party. "Hey, what's going on?" I asked my little sister.

"You'll see," she said slyly and smiled.

At the next service stop, I took the notion to check my sister's bumper 
stickers. There emblazoned in neon letters was the sign IF YOU CAN READ 
THIS -- THANK THE DOCTOR WHO DIDN'T ABORT YOU! I stood 
there silently, feeling both shocked and bemused. It was disorienting and 
oddly comical to be driving around inside my sister's opinions.

"Kind of like getting stuck inside my mind, isn't it?" my little sister laughed. 
"Enemy territory."

"But we're not enemies," interjected my middle sister, always the peacemaker, 
the Great Communicator, as we call her. "Enemies can't sing perfect three-
part harmony."

"Or play on the same baseball team," I said, referring to our years in Virginia 
when we kids played baseball on our own homemade field, complete with 
dugout, wooden bases, and even an announcer's stand atop our tree fort.

"I never played on your team!" my little sister said sadly. "Don't you 
remember? You two and the neighbor boys wouldn't let me play. You said I 
wasn't old enough or good enough to hit or throw the ball. You made me sit 
in the announcer's stand and call the games."

My middle sister and I were aghast. We didn't remember excluding her from 
our play. How else had we unthinkingly excluded her?

"It's all right," my little sister shrugged. "I know I'm the lost child."

She said it so matter-of-factly it broke my heart. Even though she was only 
four years younger, she seemed a world away --  and I had lost her somehow. I 
thought back to my little sister's abortion. When she left the clinic, there was
no group of sympathetic sisters ready to take her into their arms and welcome 
her into the hard feminine mysteries of life and death. Instead she was greeted 
by a tight circle of true believers shouting at her that she was a murderer. I 
sometimes wonder if my sister chose the only sisterhood that was speaking a 
spiritual language -- the religious far-right. I was a continent away, a 
feminist quietly affirming my sister's choice as her right. But we were both 
also worlds away from any spiritual tradition in which the feminine had much 
power or sway. Not only did we have no wise women elders to teach us feminine 
medical mysteries, we had no women spiritual leaders to balance two thousand 
years of male-dominated Christianity.

Several years later, after witnessing my sister's surrender to her God's angry 
judgment of her abortion, I began searching for a God the Mother to heal my 
childhood religious experience. I delved into studying pre-Christian 
spirituality, particularly the old pagan, Earth-centered goddess religions that 
flourished for centuries before the Church. In these traditions the feminine 
was divine, Her power bestowed on women and men alike. During this 
matriarchal time, the power to give and deny birth belonged to the Goddess 
and to women. Men considered these birth mysteries to be a woman's holy 
territory. Later, in the Greek traditions there were gods and goddesses, such 
as Artemis, symbol of wisdom, the hunt, the moon, and childbirth. In her book 
Pagan Meditations, Ginette Paris describes abortion as an essentially religious 
act, a sacred sacrifice to Artemis. "One aborts an impossible love," she writes, 
"not a hatred." In her new book, The Sacrament of Abortion, Paris explains 
further that if we saw abortion as a sacred ritual, it would restore to the act 
a sense of the sanctity of life. 

As I studied more feminine spirituality I read of the Egyptian Isis and 
Babylonian Ishtar/Inanna, who make sacred journeys, and of the Chinese 
Buddhist Kuan Yin and Tibetan Green Tara, whose feminine compassion is 
mirrored in the Catholic Mary and Black Madonnas. In her comprehensive 
book Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom: The Divine Feminine from Black Goddess 
to World-Soul, Caitl^Rn Matthews follows the spiritual tradition of feminine 
wisdom and power across cultures and concludes that "wisdom -- whether as 
Black Goddess or Sophia -- is a wise mediator who can be approached, 
without fear, by both sexes." When I first read that, I could feel the fear 
from my fundamentalist childhood begin to ease and open, like a fist 
unclenching.

Perhaps the richest discovery of my search came when, in tracing my family's 
Native American roots, I encountered the elder societies of wise women and 
the tradition of the female moon lodges. This forerunner of the male sweat 
lodges was a shelter for female cleansing and meditation to celebrate the 
woman's menstruation, called "moontime," which was considered a 
heightened period of spiritual insight and power. In this native tradition, 
women were not being cast out for being impure; they were in communion. 
They were not unclean; they were sanctified.

Six summers ago, while my little sister was beginning her activist work against 
fetal tissue research, I spent my first solstice night in a women's moon lodge, 
near my birthplace in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Several of the women 
gathered there were midwives; one was grieving a recent abortion. It was in 
this moon lodge that I was finally given, at the age of thirty-eight, the kind 
of initiation into feminine mysteries that centuries ago were given to all 
young females, and I discovered there a new way of making sacred the sacrifice 
of abortion.

We made our wide womb of a lodge with bowed willow, red cloth, and earth, 
and we entered crawling on our hands and knees. Inside, lit by candles, the 
moon lodge was a luminous embrace of silken, scarlet membrane. It was small, 
but spacious. We five women sat cross-legged and sang and told stories all 
night. 

A midwife and teacher, mother of four, told us the history of women's 
mysteries. "Women's blood has always held power. It's the first way we told 
time -- by women's cycles. Twenty-eight days between menstruations, twenty-
eight days of the moon's cycle. Our ancestors believed the moon herself was 
menstruating as she waxed and waned. Time in those days was not linear, 
unrelated, but in relationship to the circle, the whole. And in the center of 
this cycle were the Great Mother deities in sync with the Earth's seasons."

"There was power in the blood," I said, and we all laughed in the candlelit 
hut. Above us, through the tepeelike opening, shone a full June moon. There 
was the sweet smell of honeysuckle mixed with medicinal scents of mugwort 
and other herbs we used for pain, for cleansing, for perfume.

The midwife went on to tell us that the original blood rites were powerful 
transformation mysteries. "The root meaning of the word ritual is 'ritu,' and 
'ritu' means menstruation," she explained. "Crossing the threshold from 
girlhood to womanhood was a holy ritual, and women's menstrual blood was 
used in the most sacred ceremonies."

"So how did the women's sacred blood become the Biblical 'curse' we're 
taught about today?" a teen-aged girl asked. She knew all about blood and the 
Bible; she was a devout Catholic who had gone against her church's teachings 
to have an abortion two weeks before our moon hut. "It was awful," she said, 
"protesters screaming at me when I was already brokenhearted about giving 
up my illegitimate baby. There were two nuns there who turned their backs 
on me with such . . . such contempt." The girl covered her face, weeping.

Two women on either side of the teenager, both of them mothers, reached 
out to rock her between them as if she were their own daughter. I wondered 
what might have happened if my sisters and I had been blessed with a Sunday 
School teacher who rocked us in her strong arms, mothering our minds and 
our souls, telling us stories of women in the Bible who were not harlots or 
temptresses or slaves, but rather visionaries and priestesses. I thought of my 
belly-dancer friend Delilah who led a performance workshop called 
"Reclaiming the Women in the Bible." When the women danced Eve or Lot's 
wife or Mary Magdalene, they looked radiant, she said, as if receiving divine 
love at last.

On that balmy night in the moon hut I told the women about the abortion 
histories in my family. I lit a candle to include my mother and my little 
sister in our gathering. Telling my story to witnesses in this traditional red 
hut marked the beginning of my coming to peace with and healing the wound of 
abortion in my life. All night long we told stories and lit candles for all our 
sisters until the hut gleamed from within like a bright lantern on the forest 
floor. How I longed to have my own sisters there with me -- especially the one 
whose punishment of herself and others goes on outside abortion clinics across 
the country. I wished that she could share with me the healing of this red hut 
of women.



Years later, during the road trip my sisters and I took after my granddaddy's 
funeral, I once again felt the power and intimacy of that first moon lodge as I 
sat with my sisters in a fancy Atlanta restaurant. We sipped elegant cocktails, 
toasting each other in our sisters' reunion. "Did you ever think we'd all turn 
out to be, well, like we are?" my middle sister marveled. "Each so different, I 
mean."

"You mean two sinners and one saint?" my little sister said with a laugh.

Her joking remark brought back a memory from our youth: how my middle 
sister and I were always afraid that our youngest sister was indeed a heavenly 
being. "Hey, do you remember when we thought you were an angel 
unaware?" I asked my little sister. "You were so sweet, so kind, so perfect 
that we two really looked like village of the damned. We were always top ten on 
the Sunday School prayer list, but the teachers loved you."

Our little sister fell ominously silent and bowed her head. At last she sighed, 
seeming on the verge of tears. "I'm not an angel," she said quietly. "Not after 
what I did."

I leaned forward and took her hand. "Forgive yourself, love."

She looked up at my middle sister and me in wonderment. "How?" she asked 
brokenly. "I'm a murderer, can't you see?"

"All I see is a young girl who once saved a child from a life of poverty and 
rejection," my middle sister said. "You made a compassionate, responsible 
decision. You did good, honey."

"That's not what my religion tells me," my little sister murmured, wiping her 
mascara-streaked face with her napkin. At that moment she looked very 
young, all of eighteen even though she was in her thirties and the mother of 
three.

"Well, that is what your sisters tell you," I said, holding her hand as she 
bowed her head, tears falling freely. The three of us sisters sat there huddled 
together, a candle's glow illuminating our faces -- these family faces that 
share the same eyes, slope of cheekbone, and strong jaw. I felt as though we 
were in our own ancient temple, a place of women's mysteries and their griefs, 
and their wisdom.

Since that night I have decided to make my own moon lodge once each 
summer, and when it's their first moontime I'll invite my nieces to join in. I 
propose to pitch my red hut a distance from the fray, disengaging from the 
feminist vs. fundamentalist battles. We'll attend not to politics but to 
spiritual healing. For those sisters who have chosen the "sacrament" of 
abortion, we will make sacred the sacrifice. For those who are suffering from 
unhealed abortions, we will witness and comfort and confirm. And for those women
who are simply healing from the negative self-image of being born a woman in 
a society or religion that has long devalued our gender, we will listen to old 
and new stories of our feminine spiritual authority. Most of all, we'll initiate
our daughters into the women's mysteries, such as charting our reproductive 
rhythms, remembering the midwives' herbs and potions; and perhaps with 
spiritual dignity we'll ritualize the RU 486 pill with prayers to Artemis or the 
Divine Mother, She who gives and takes life.

It is no small irony that if my own mother had remembered what her great-
grandmother knew of the midwife herbs, I might not have been born. I think 
about how many years it has taken me to contemplate and remember and 
finally forgive my mother for her decision to take my twin. I feel in my body 
my mother's despair, and I understand my own grief: My mother is every 
woman who, no matter the laws, will make this soul-searching, mortal choice; 
and I am every child, waiting to be truly welcomed into the world.

When I think about abortion not from just a political perspective but from 
this deeply personal and spiritual viewpoint, I can better understand my little 
sister's grief and her search for forgiveness. In a culture that forsakes the 
feminine, I am grateful to be learning how not to forsake myself, how not to 
sacrifice myself on the altar of a religion that would damn my gender. As 
sisters, as mothers, as women, we also must not forsake those women among 
us who cannot bring themselves to make a decision that they believe damns 
them in the eyes of their God. This does not mean that those of us who 
believe in a woman's choice should stop working to pass legislation to ensure 
abortion's legality. It does mean creating honest dialogue with our sisters, 
not dismissing their fears or our own healing. Gazing at one another 
nonviolently across the picket lines, we can seek compassion and understanding 
between the warring sides. How can I declare war on my sister? She is my blood -
and blood is sacred.                      

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