If Ethel Parks had lived in modern times, would she have had an abortion? As I watched Ethel reach out to the father of her unborn baby and watch him treat her with distain and disgust, I was reminded of my own experience of being pregnant outside of marriage.
I had just graduated from high school. I did not live in Ethel's age but I did live in a small town. When I began to show I received all kinds of reactions. I had some tell me outright that I was a disgrace, or how "terrible" it was that I was a child having a child. There were some that I encountered that would scowl others that would just stare in disgust. Many would whisper as I passed and still others would refuse to shake my hand in Church or ignore me all together.
It certainly was not what Ethel Parks went through but it was bad enough. The irony was that there were several girls at mass that also were pregnant outside of marriage. The difference was I kept my baby and they aborted theirs. I had a visible sign of my scarlet letter and they had hidden theirs.
As I watched Downton Abbey, I cried. Ethel Parks did all that she could to find a way to raise her son and continued to fall deeper into despair and poverty as everyone around her cast her out. My heart ached for her as she was snubbed and even refused any legitimate work because "respectable persons" would not associate with a woman of scandal. Finally, after doing all that she could to prevent her and her child from starving to death, she turned to prostitution.
Mrs. Hughes, was her only friend (and later Mrs. Crawley). She brought her food when she could, she tried to deliver a letter to the father but nothing could elevate her suffering. I found myself screaming at the television screen when the Ethel burst into the luncheon in which the grandparents of her son, Charlie, were dining. I screamed at Mrs. Hughes for not saying that she knew that their son fathered Charlie because she walked in on them doing it! Even Lord Grantham was aware of likelihood, a man that professed to love his servants as family, yet because he could not associate with her scandal, he kept silence to this. The etiquette of the day and the need to always protect ones reputation was more important than restoring the honor of a "prostitute" or a "slut" as she was also called.
Justice says we get what we deserve. Mercy says, rather than give you what you deserve, you will get what you need and it will be done with love, kindness, gentility and it is in fact justice perfected. This is what Mrs. Crawley showed Ethel, Mercy. She took her in and loved her despite her sin and gave Ethel hope for the future.
Ethel decided to give Charlie to his grandparents. It was very heroic but more importantly it was an example of Trinitarian love. She loved her son so much; that she gave him as the gift that his life was, to another who could care for him. So many women could give their children to families who cannot conceive, yet because they lack this kind of love, or perhaps because we as a society do not value this as love, they have an abortion instead.
My guess is, although I pray that I am incorrect, I wonder if Ethel would have had an abortion if it where legal. Today women do not have to struggle to find employment because they are with child outside of marriage. They do not have to bare the weight of scandal associated with carrying a child to term without a husband. If Ethel had not had to deal with this, I wonder, would she have kept her son or would she have aborted him?
Most likely Ethel would have wanted to hide from the ridicule and ruin of pregnancy outside of marriage. Because abortion was not legal, we see her struggle play out on screen and my opinion she triumphed and transformed because of it. She went from a selfish and vain servant girl that could not take direction or think of others, to a self-sacrificing woman that thought only of others and never for herself. She truly bloomed.
Ethel, you are an inspiration to those who find themselves pregnant outside of marriage. Your courage and strength to give up your son for his better good, is a demonstration of the love of the trinity and it is what we should all strive for. In the end, Ethel Park's was pro-life and I am sure that Charlie would thank his mum for it.