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January 7, 2014

BEAM: Despite the odds

— Against the odds, Rachel Eldridge sits across the table from me. It’s hard to imagine this tall, strong 21-year-old ever fitting in the palm of your hand. But, at one time, she did.

Born at 23 1/2 weeks, Rachel weighed just 1.3 pounds at delivery. Babies like these have special names. Micro preemies. Like a kitten, her eyes were still clamped shut upon her arrival, and would remain that way for two weeks more. Delicate and small, her hands were the size of an adult thumbnail. For months, tubes and wires jetted out from the tiny girl who, at the time of her birth, was given only 15 percent shot at survival. Doctors warned that 95 percent of the time children born this early would never live normal lives.

Yet here’s Rachel. Speaking and laughing and living a perfectly ordinary life as a college student. No physical or mental impairments ever resulted from her early birth. What was impacted was her mission.

You see, Rachel wants to end abortion.

Go ahead, if you must, and scowl. She’s used to it, as well as any stereotype you might possibly throw at her.

“You get a lot of odd looks,” Rachel said when discussing some other students’ reactions to her stance. “A lot of times I tell people I’m pro-life, they might think I’m judging them or being a mean person who is forcing their view. I just try and let people know I’m not judging you. Nothing I say is meant to judge you.”

Activism wasn’t always something to which Rachel aspired. A Right to Life essay contest she entered as a high school freshman changed that.

While researching the piece, the New Albany resident came upon a photo of a 24-week-old aborted fetus. Among the contorted mass, she could still make out the shape of a baby, one that looked so much like she did when she was born.

“At the same time my parents and my doctors were doing everything they could to save me, someone else in a different situation was trying to do whatever they could to end that pregnancy,” Rachel said. “That picture is what I always think back to. I realized we were the same.”

After studying the issue further, Rachel decided to do more than just write essays. As a senior, she helped form a local Teens for Life chapter here in Floyd County. The opportunity also gave her the experience needed to start the Students for Life organization at Indiana Wesleyan, the college she attends.

Her activism has gained national attention as well. This year she’s one of 12 college students nationwide who received the Wilberforce Leadership Fellowship, a program that gives those interested in pursuing careers in the anti-abortion movement hands-on experience.

Not everyone gets Rachel’s passion, which she understands. It’s a complex topic, one that elicits raw emotion. Like anything, our own histories dictate how we respond. For example, while in Texas this summer to support anti-abortion legislation, opponents called her, among other things, a terrorist. Rachel shrugged it off, saying she didn’t know what others had gone through in their own lives, so who is she to judge.

“People don’t understand everything. There’s a lot of anger,” she said. “You never know (the situation).”

Through it all, Rachel refuses to be labeled for her beliefs. Nor should she be. For too long a vocal minority has defined what constitutes a feminist. Did you grimace at that word? The term has become unfairly corrupted, dirty almost, and tied to certain criteria that, to some, should be met to adequately qualify for the title.

Dismissing the litmus test, Rachel considers herself a feminist. In her mind, ending abortion leads to greater equality. The act, she said, degrades and silences women instead of enabling them.

“To me, being a feminist means I am pro-life. When I think about women who are in situations where they do have to choose abortion, a lot of times they feel forced and a lot of times it’s because they don’t have opportunities,” she said. “It’s really motivated more about how can we make the world better as a whole for women, for children, and for families.”

Against the odds, Rachel sits across the table from me. Her lungs are strong, and her passion great. Whether you agree with her or not, one thing is for certain. Never again will she be in the palm of anyone’s hand.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com

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