When I drive to class twice a week, I pass a center called “Mary’s Choice.” This center was set up right next to the Planned Parenthood center in order to promote birth over abortion and give advice about adoption for those women who weren’t able to afford or have the resources to take care of their own babies. Recently the Planned Parenthood center closed down due to the state of Iowa denying Medicaid funding to it even though no Iowa money was ever used for abortion, and even though the state lost millions of federal dollars in order to do it, and even though they promised to set up alternate women health centers, which they never did. But be that as it may, this “Mary’s Choice” center stays in my mind and has caused me to reflect a bit on what was Mary’s choice. According to the gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel, a messenger from God, appeared to Mary and announced that she was special in God’s eyes. She was of course a bit surprised by this. So Gabriel explained that the Holy Spirit was going to overshadow her and as a result she was to conceive a son as follows:
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
I think it is important to pay attention to this. Gabe wasn’t really asking for Mary’s consent to this deal. He told her it was going to happen. He then sweetened the deal by telling Mary that not only would her son be King of Israel, he would also be a son of God. He then announced that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was already pregnant due to God’s doing.
So, she did give her consent with the famous words:
Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.
What options did Mary really have? I was taught in Catholic school that her consent was a brave thing, that it was due to her strong devotion to God, that she undertook this difficult task because of how much she loved God. However the text, I do not think, supports this view. Gabe didn’t really ask for her permission. He announced it was going to happen. He didn’t provide any of the risks involved. He didn’t mention that she might be rejected by Joseph and have to bear the child alone in poverty shunned by her community. He didn’t remind her that she could be stoned for getting pregnant prior to being married, although Mary was of course aware of all these things. However in the shock of talking to an angel, and of being praised and promised that she would be the mother of a king and of a son of God, she might not have thought of all these consequences.Of course these things did not happen. However, other things did happen including having to travel to Bethlehem while pregnant and give birth in a stable, having to watch her son become a vagabond, and finally having him tortured and executed on a cross, with no kingdom in sight. This was not really quite what ol’ Gabe promised.
To top it all off, she had no way of knowing whether she had the right to say no, and abortion was not really on the table as a viable option. My conclusion, there was no informed consent. “Mary’s choice” was no choice at all. Gabe wasn’t asking. He was telling.
Perhaps then, “Mary’s Choice” is in fact a good name for those who would deny abortion as a choice for desperate women. Perhaps they want women to be handmaids. Sounds like a good title for a TV series.