The back of the Anaheim Hilton ballroom was lined with news crews, but the cameras were turned off while Cathy Brown and Laurie Wideman shared the spotlight.
They weren't "the news" on this day. The American Life League was honoring Pat Buchanan and, since this was his next-to-last speech before the Republican National Convention, reporters were dispatched to see if he would endorse, or attack, Bob Dole.
So this was a Religious Right rally, with all the trimmings. Singers belted out gospel and patriotic anthems, backed by cassette-tape orchestras. Talk-show hosts strafed the White House. Buchanan joked about this being a non-political gathering.
All Brown and Wideman did was talk about realities that lurk behind the politics of sex, abortion and single mothers. Their words last month may not have been big news, but they spoke volumes about life in millions of homes and churches. Their message: Parents still don't want to talk about sex. Thus, many respond poorly when a crisis pregnancy forces candor.
Brown said she was fortunate. She feared that her conservative Christian parents would reject her, since sex outside of marriage clashed with everything she had been taught. Still, part of her was excited about being pregnant.
"My mom didn't cry out `Congratulations!' But she didn't scream and yell, either," said Brown. "She gave me a big hug and said we'd get through this somehow. ... Then -- and this is what I'll never forget -- she started talking about the baby. We both started talking about the baby."
Today, Brown has a 3-year-old son.
Things were different for Wideman. Her mistake had botched everyone's plans and they told her so. Still, she decided not to have an abortion, after struggling with the decision. Her parents took her to the clinic, anyway. When she insisted that she didn't want to go through with the procedure, Wideman said the abortionist slapped her and said: "You spoiled little brat. Don't you know that your mother is only trying to give you a future?"
Today, Wideman is married and has two children. Her aborted daughter, who she named Sonya, would have been 22 this year.
Both women admitted that it's a challenge for churches and parents to deliver two messages, simultaneously. No. 1: Premarital sex is sinful. No. 2: Pregnancy is not. What can people do, when asked to walk their talk?
- Be positive, yet realistic. A surprising number of parents angrily vow to force the young woman out of the house. Others act as if the pregnancy is a bad dream, caused by the mother-to-be. Others simply cannot hide their sadness. "Don't be sad," said Brown. "To feel sad means something is wrong. ... Kill a young mother's joy and you may kill that baby."
- Traditionalists know that young people have been baptized in mixed messages about sex outside of marriage. Thus, many fear that embracing those who become pregnant will only add to the confusion. It is impossible to hide this moral issue. "There will be a time and a place to talk about that," said Wideman. "But when someone tells you they are pregnant, that isn't the time and the place."
- While Brown is single, she still has an intact extended family. Instead of "single mothers," many others could more accurately be called "solo mothers." Churches must help fill this gap, providing both emotional and practical support.
- Remember that most young women who consider abortions are not selfish, evil or self-centered. Usually, they are scared and feel coerced. Often, they have been manipulated by an older male. "Remember," said Brown, "they're more afraid of not being loved than they are of being pregnant."
- Above all, pay close attention to what is said, because words inspire actions. Mere words -- such as "mistake" -- can "delegitimatize" unborn children, said Brown.
"We can say that premarital sex and single-parenting are not part of God's plan," she said. "But that doesn't mean that God considers my baby a mistake. ... My baby wasn't a mistake. For me, he was a wake up call. He was a wonderful surprise."