Earlier today, Deacon Greg Kandra posted a kind and gracious post on his blog about the passing of Betty Ford, and was excoriated by many, as Mrs. Ford was pro-choice. That was most unfortunate, and I would like to throw my hat into the ring.
I was a teenager in the 1970’s and remember that time all too well. I remember Betty Ford being an outspoken proponent of feminism, ERA, and abortion. Truth be told, I’d forgotten her pro-choice proclivities until the discussion over at The Deacon’s Bench. That forgetfulness may well be a harbinger of a slide into early senescence, but I suspect it has more to do with Mrs. Ford’s growth as a human being. She occupied herself with pro-life endeavors for the past thirty-some-odd years.
In the America of my childhood, teen, and young adult years, cancer was a disease that was considered shameful. One didn’t discuss it. When it was discussed, many couldn’t bring themselves to say the word. It was commonly referred to as, “The big C.” That began to change when Mrs. Ford used her outspokenness and her platform to openly discuss her breast cancer and treatment, which happened shortly after Mr. Ford became President. Mrs. Ford’s outspokenness helped to destigmatize cancer in general and breast cancer in particular. We in the pro-life movement discuss the abortion/breast cancer link in an atmosphere of openness that was created by Betty Ford, and we should never forget that.
Yes, she advocated the abortions that cause the cancer, but hers was a minor and not very influential voice in the drive toward abortion. She was to Dr. Bernard Nathanson what a little league baseball player is to Babe Ruth, and that bears remembrance in order to maintain a decent and accurate perspective on her role in abortion.
Then came Mrs. Ford’s admission that she was addicted to painkillers and alcohol. Another great taboo was broached, and the walls came tumbling down. She established the Betty Ford Center and was its first Chairman from 1982-2005, stepping down at age 87. I have many family, friends, and neighbors who beat their drug and alcohol addictions because of the environment, created by Mrs. Ford, of openness in discussing and dealing with these horrors.
That she reaffirmed her pro-choice stance in 2004 is certainly tragic, but then, I bear in mind that her Episcopal Church was the first to break ranks with all of Christendom at the Lambeth Conference of 1930 by promoting contraception. Most of Protestantism quickly followed suit thereafter. Her Church embraced abortion.
This is where she was raised and fed. Her bishops and priests have much to answer for. In truth, the pro-life movement was overwhelmingly populated and led by Roman Catholics until roughly fifteen years ago when our Evangelical brethren joined us in great force.
Had Betty Ford been anti-abortion, she would be lionized by the pro-life community this morning. I wish she had changed her stance on the issue. However, she was pro-life in other arenas, and through her life’s work countless lives have been saved, salvaged, healed, and restored. No one can ever take that from her, nor do I believe that pro-lifers should begrudge her the heaping praise owed her for her good works. Again, she was no Bernard Nathanson in her influence over abortion rights.
If it is true that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God, it is equally true that we are marvelously and wondrously inconsistent creatures.
“The good that I would do, I do not, and the evil that I would not do, I do, wretched man that I am,” as no less a giant as St. Paul stated.
He spoke for me too.
Opposition to abortion is something to which I have dedicated the rest of my life. But I am also dedicated to being pro-life in other arenas as well, including euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Betty Ford has had a greater impact for good on this society, orders or magnitude greater, than I will ever have if I live and work until age 93. She was a giant, and the bigger they are, the more noticeable their flaws. Of this much, I am certain:
Our God, a Loving Father of infinite wisdom, mercy, and forgiveness has balanced her merits and her shortcomings, has considered how badly she was led astray by the bishops who betrayed their flock, has taken the ocean of good that has come from her great life’s work in a period of 35 years when most others are entering retirement, and judged her with far more mercy and compassion than those in the blogosphere.
Thank you, Betty Ford, for your pioneering healing work.
Eternal Rest grant unto her, O Lord.
And Let Perpetual Light shine upon her.