In 1967, while working on the police beating of the Kansas City Star, I picked up a curious story. A man had brought a 3-year-old boy to the police station and placed him on the counter. “Can you please keep an eye on her for a minute?” he said she and walked away.
He didn’t come back. Her sister had parked the child with him and refused for several weeks to retrieve her. Police accused the uncle of abandoning a child. As reported by my story on Star, she got off lightly. The girl was returned to her mother.
The next time I saw that story, the newsprint had been pasted into the Hammer file folder left open on a courthouse desk at a Jackson County adoption agency. My wife, Lenore and I – hitherto barren as prospective parents – were looking to adopt a child. We won, I think, in small part because my Star Police joke narrative made us seem sympathetic to the kids.
We soon picked up 12-day-old baby Julie at Willows Maternity Sanitarium, 2929 Main St. in Kansas City. The institution, legendary as the “Ritz Carlton” of maternity homes, was founded in 1905 as an expensive refuge for pregnant unmarried white girls with wealthy parents.
It is the subject of “Mansion on a Hill: The Story of The Willows Maternity Sanitarium and the Adoption Hub of America,” by KelLee Parr. Families across the country sent their daughters for the duration of their pregnancy, gave the baby up for adoption, and the young women and families went home with their safe secret.
Nine months later, with our toddler tucked into the car seat, we were driving when Lenore quietly announced, “I’ve lost a period.” Heading into the final adoption hearing, with Lenore’s pregnancy still not obvious, we asked our attorney, Courtney Perkins, if we should disclose this new fact.
“Oh,” she said with a sigh, “let’s not do that.”
This is how we had our first daughter, Julie, with Amy Nan already on the way. The girls were raised in our Shawnee home, where much later Julie introduced us to her birth mother. We enjoyed a warm 35-year friendship with that mother of hers before Lenore passed away in 2017.
This story may seem to foreshadow praise for that bygone world where abortion was outlawed and maternity homes like the Willows flourished for girls who delivered perfect babies for adoption. But I don’t want any new version of that America, where the state and the church have dictated what goes on in women’s wombs, the very private center of their bodies.
By church I first mean the Catholic one, which today would ban all procedures that abort a zygote (two cells), a blastocyst (16 cells), an embryo or – nine weeks after conception – a fetus. No compromises are allowed, no decisions allowed after the second quarter, and not even the first. The church finds compromise superfluous, since it can mobilize the state to impose its will.
By state, of course, I mean the Republican Party, fiercely concerned about zygotes and fetuses but much less about the children born into the world. These Republicans are demanding full access to virtually all weapons, including Adam Lanza’s two handguns and the Bushmaster assault rifle he fired in his Sandy Hook school massacre. Republican freedom of guns gave Lanza the power to slaughter 20 children, six staff members and himself.
These new Republicans, busy with prepartum life in states like Mississippi and Kansas, lose focus after the baby arrives, refusing to pass a living minimum wage or expand Medicaid assistance for poor working families. Without a doubt, giving women control over their bodies is liberal. But the power of the state and the church over those bodies is far from “conservative,” not according to the stated principles of small-government Republicans.
I suggest instead that they work as some religions do: through persuasion rather than coercion. Provide information, education, birth control. Provide choice without shame. It treats women decently, as Kansas City’s Willows Maternity Sanitarium often (but not always) did long ago, when Lenore and I were granted a lovely daughter.
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