My last post on the recently deceased Maya Angelou produced some interesting feedback, and I’d like to address it. Despite Angelou’s personal pro-life story, a lot of the eulogizing over her can seem unsettling because she lent her voice to fundraising for Planned Parenthood, the biggest abortion promoter out there. Even though I was aware of Angelou’s political leanings, I was not tuned into her support for Planned Parenthood, and certainly not the extent of it.
But Angelou’s personal story of a crisis pregnancy and the nurturing of her child still captures my imagination. And I think it ought to be better known publicly, especially in light of this irony.
I was also drawn to Angelou’s story because it connects two underlying themes of my blog: Relationships and Influence.
Angelou’s joyful relationship with the son she may never have known had an enormous and positive impact on the trajectory of her life – and therefore also on the lives and relationships of all those around her. It’s a shame that she didn’t preach more about what she practiced then – about her openness to the humanity of the unborn and our innate relationship with them. Given her influence, doing so could have spared the lives of many children and prevented the brokenness of many would-be mothers. As a supporter for Planned Parenthood, she, sadly encouraged the opposite.
Influence has many facets. Whether we have influence ourselves, or whether we cede influence to someone, what we do with influence is a huge responsibility. It’s a shame that Maya Angelou chose to lend her influence and her name to an organization that stood against all of her best instincts. After all, she told Family Circle Magazine that she kept her baby because “I knew there was somebody inside me.” Somebody.
The fact is that support for abortion was de rigueur in Angelou’s political sphere. The tragedy is if there was room for different views there, she very well may have kept to her instincts and promoted life instead.
So, one can only wonder: Why? Why did she go on to support an organization that certainly would not have recognized her unborn son as “somebody?” And if she had been a pregnant teen under the circumstances today, would she have kept her baby?
I don’t know the answers, but I think it lies somewhere in the intersection of relationships and power. Was she pressured? Was she simply asked to headline PP fundraisers? Would she have ever initiated such a thing on her own? Or, is it possible that in the end, she simply lent her influence in order to preserve her influence and to avoid alienating those around her? I can’t help but suspect it’s the latter. The effects of influence coupled with the innate human fear of isolation — being cast out — cause people to morph all the time.
I think paying close attention to these dynamics in ourselves and others is the key to helping turn things around for a more open and life-affirming society.