|Mother Teresa with an armless baby|
When man is conceived, when a human nature comes into being as an individual, concrete, subsisting thing, a life, a person, then God's image is minted into the world. A free, vital, self-moving entity, a spirit informing flesh, a complex of energies ready to be set into fruitful motion begins to flame with potential light and understanding and virtue, begins to flame with love, without which no spirit can exist. It is ready to realize no one knows what grandeurs.--Thomas Merton
The March for Life is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was completely different than I expected and afterward I felt so intensely joyful! I hope to post about the event soon, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve been typing up general thoughts and figured I’d share them here.
For years I felt that it was obvious that a woman should not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term if she does not want a baby—even if the only alternative is abortion (admittedly, those mangled fetus pictures are super creepy). No matter what caused this looming threat of biological motherhood (e.g. missed birth control pills, broken condoms, one night stands, etc), I felt that so long as the pregnancy was terminated early enough there was nothing to get upset about. (I did conveniently avoid thinking about abortions beyond the embryo stage.) A zygote isn’t a baby, I reasoned; it can’t survive outside of the womb, it can’t feel pain, it has no consciousness. It’s just a couple of cells, for cripes sake!, put it in a test tube and diddle around with it, it doesn’t matter. The baby that would have been born will never know what it’s missing. Better never to have been born than to live knowing that his mother didn’t want him. The baby that would have been born has not been realized yet.
…however, that last thought was the downfall of my old way of thinking.
The human life that would have come into existence has not been realized yet, BUT the full potential is there upon conception.
Groups such as the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League and Pro-Life Nonbelievers point out that if life is all there is, it should be treasured and protected. Just think of all the parameters left to chance and yet, at this particular moment, one very specific combination of DNA will produce a particular person who would not exist under any other circumstances! Hence, a miracle of chance occurs. Maybe the barometric pressure is just right and a butterfly flaps its wings in Southeast Asia, Chandra and Bob drink a little too much and go to bed together--a new life is conceived. The concept is there and has begun to be realized. There is something special about this zygote. It’s different from any zygote conceived later under more convenient circumstances. It is unique. And to choose abortion is to ensure that the person who is fully conceived in this zygote will be deprived of the chance to live.
To think of pregnancy only in terms of its effect on a woman's body is silly. Time and again I've heard happily pregnant friends say things like "Now the baby is the size of a pea!" and "It's amazing, you can already see the baby's heart beat!" Maybe I’m wrong, but they don’t seem to see it as just an inanimate lump of cells that will at some uncertain future date morph into a human baby (should the mother deem it convenient to allow the lump to do so). If you are pregnant and considering an abortion, the whole concern is that if you don't tamper with yourself then (barring unforeseen complications) nine months from now you'll have a baby. In the words of my buddy Matthew (on the morning after pill): "You get pregnant and it gets rid of the baby." It doesn’t matter when a baby becomes a baby, when it becomes viable, when it starts to feel pain, etc. A baby would have been born had you not chosen abortion, but now it will never live. A life has been deemed disposable. A life has been quenched. Mother Teresa said, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” I would paraphrase Mother Teresa for the modern crowd and say, “It is a poverty to decide that a person who would have lived will never live so that you may live as you wish.”
The “woman’s body, her choice” claim begs the question of whether or not she should have chosen to be sexually active knowing that 1.) no contraceptive method is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy, and yet 2.) she is unwilling to carry a pregnancy to term. To be sexually active under these conditions, as a large percentage of the population seems to be, is to accept abortion as a means of birth control. [Ignoring, for now, the issue of voluntary sterilization.]
There are countless examples, including gospel singer Fred Hammond, of ‘abortion survivors’ after botched abortions failed to ‘terminate’ the pregnancy. And to deem abortion as a termination of pregnancy is horribly misleading in cases of ‘live birth abortion’. Much safer for the mother (I suppose pro-abortion advocates would prefer the term ‘patient’?), in live birth abortions labor is induced pre-maturely and the preemie is left to die from exposure. (Can someone explain to me how this is not infanticide? We know that immense efforts would be exerted to save the life of a preemie resulting from a planned pregnancy.) These abortion survivors would not be alive today if the world had its way.
By demanding the ‘choice’ of circumstances under which my baby will be born, I treat human lives as interchangeable. This is true of all such ‘planning’ of parenthood but is especially true in the case of disabilities. As moral philosopher Peter Singer points out: “neither hemophilia nor Down's syndrome is so crippling as to make life not worth living from the inner perspective of the person with the condition. To abort a fetus with one of these disabilities, intending to have another child who will not be disabled, is to treat fetuses as interchangeable or replaceable. If the mother has previously decided to have a certain number of children, say two, then what she is doing, in effect, is rejecting one potential child in favor of another. She could, in defense of her actions, say: the loss of life of the aborted fetus is outweighed by the gain of a better life for the normal child who will be conceived only if the disabled one dies.” However, the presence of a group of Hemophiliacs for Life at the March for Life implies that at least some disabled persons deem their lives worth living (we act like this is a surprise!)—and so how do we expect to know, before the baby is a baby, whether or not this particular individual would choose to quench his chance at life if given the choice?
And so the decision is ultimately more in line with the thinking of Claire Rayner, who says, ‘The hard facts are that it is costly in terms of human effort, compassion, energy, and finite resources such as money, to care for individuals with handicaps... People who are not yet parents should ask themselves if they have the right to inflict such burdens on others, however willing they are themselves to take their share of the burden in the beginning.’ Wait, that’s worse than I remembered! Did I read that correctly?? According to Claire, not only is a handicapped life not worth living and no parent should want to be responsible for that, but even with regard to the way disabilities affect society in general, parents should not have the right to give birth to a handicapped baby, even if they are themselves willing to accept the burden, due to the burden it imposes on others?
Note that roughly 90% of Down’s Syndrome pregnancies in the United States are terminated. Well, according to Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s explanation to New York Times Magazine, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.” So abortion not only ‘solves’ the problem of disabilities but a host of other problems. Reduce the number of poor people and reduce crime rates, that’s great! I hate to be a buzzkill, but this is eugenics (a science that was near and dear to the heart of Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger). Funny, most of the people I know who seem to be from Ginsberg's "populations that we don’t want to have too many of" feel that abortion is wrong, even if they have had the misfortune of going through with it.
There were people at the March for Life conceived by rape, thankful for the their very existence on this Earth. The documentary Gift of Life introduces a beautiful and successful business woman, probably in her late thirties, who grew up in a wonderfully loving adopted family. As a young adult she became interested in meeting her birth parents. The adoption agency was able to provide plenty of information about her mother, but the information on her father was very limited and sounded like a police report. Her birth mother agreed to meet her and confirmed that she was the product of rape. The mother also admitted that she would have chosen abortion if it had been available at the time. Of course, rape is one of the ‘big three’ (also incest and threat to a mother’s health) that are often cited as irrefutable grounds for abortion. So this beautiful woman knows that, under the circumstances, almost nobody believes she had a right to be born. However, she and her birth mother have grown close. And her mother has received mental and emotional healing, knowing that something good resulted from all that evil.
We understand why women choose abortion, and our empathy is good. But we should also look at the aftereffects that nobody wants to talk about. The March for Life had many women testifying as to why they regret their abortions. So many women turn to drugs and alcohol and promiscuity, hating themselves for their abortions but unable to mourn and be healed because society won’t let them admit that they’ve done something wrong. Feeling that they’ve committed one horrible atrocity they feel capable of any evil. One abortion often leads to many. They settle down and welcome children but some find themselves infertile after so many abortions. FrC says that he has begged many women not to have an abortion. “They always come back. Not always right away. Some after 30 years. But they always come back. And they’re devastated.” Those who have children are reminded every day of the one they did not want, wondering what he would have looked like, and haunted by the possibilities… the protesters were right. Women are too good for abortion.
Is it difficult to raise a handicapped child? Yes! Is it a kind of Hell to endure the pitying glances of well meaning friends, to accept the congratulations and excitement of strangers, to feel a child developing in your womb when you were impregnated through rape or incest? I would think so. Would the choice of carrying a pregnancy to term when my life is at risk and I may lose the baby anyway fill me with fear and doubt? Of course. Would I feel a sense of panic when facing the prospect of another mouth to feed, when I already have children and I’m struggling to put food on the table as it is? Certainly. Would I rather not face the judgment and condescension of others, in order to give a baby for adoption? Sure. Does it seem like this child would endure so much suffering that his/her life is not worth living? Maybe. But what about all the inspirational people, like Nick Vujicic, who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve great things?
We are called to live lives of heroic virtue. Love your neighbor as yourself. Maybe we don’t love ourselves enough. What would Jesus do? He was willing to be scourged and humiliated, stripped naked and crucified, hated and abandoned by people he loves, to give life to those dwelling in the shadow of death.
Oh my Jesus, please never let me make a choice because the alternative is too “costly in terms of human effort, compassion, energy, and finite resources such as money” or any other selfish reason. Please never allow me to choose evil out of fear or convenience or unwillingness to take responsibility for my actions. Please give me the grace to sacrifice myself for the sake of others, rather than sacrificing others for my own sake.
St.Gianna Molla, pray for us.