It's a baby, stupid: Why personhood is moot in the abortion debate

Time for another reprint from the ETC–yes, and I know, time for some NEW life issues writing; I have ideas, and I promise a new one is germinating.  This column appeared, I believe, in 2007.
Anyone who has been really involved in the abortion debate for a long time has got to have realized that the arguments have changed. Back in the day, pro-lifers said, “It’s a baby!” Pro-choicers responded, “It’s a clump of cells.” It was as simple as that.

Enter ultrasound, fetal surgery, survival of micro-premies. It’s hard to argue that those human-looking although tiny little creatures sucking their thumbs aren’t babies. Or what about the widely-disseminated photo of the tiny hand slipping out of the womb and touching the surgeon operating on him? And how about those miracle babies born just barely halfway through the length of a normal pregnancy who with the help of technology manage to make it?
It’s a baby, stupid!” At one time I, and I suspect most other pro-lifers, thought it was going to be just that easy: once the pro-abortion forces saw it really was a baby, of course they weren’t going to say it was okay to kill it anymore. Finally pro-choice women could relax, and admit the tension involved in saying “fetus” when you want to abort it, but “my baby,” when you’ve planned to keep it.
But it hasn’t been that easy. They call it spin: changing the rules of engagement when the facts go against your original position. Yes, there are still people out there on both sides waging the “is it life or isn’t it” argument” but anyone seriously involved in this debate knows that’s a moot point. We’ve moved into a new world, less brave than twisted.
In this new world we have abortion clinics (sponsored by a group called “The November Gang,”) with pink hearts all over the walls, where parents there to abort their babies write apologies and explanations, justifying their choice by saying it’s for the good of the child, promising that they’ll meet again in heaven one day.
In this new world we have an uproar at a hospital in England, where the fact that aborted babies are disposed of in the hospital incinerator with other “medical waste” recently came to light. Said one woman in an online article in the Daily Mail: “I am furious . . . imagine my horror when I discovered my baby was incinerated in the same furnace as the hospital rubbish.” To add to the insanity, the hospital that performs abortions (and ought to, therefore, believe there is nothing wrong in so doing) burns the fetal remains alone, with a white sheet in front of the incinerator, and two witnesses from bereavement care staff.
In this new world, a woman can publish an article in Salon proclaiming, “I had a second-trimester abortion . . . This was . . . not a “clump of cells” . . . He was my baby, and I chose to end his life.” She goes on to say, “Everyone knows now how early a fetus becomes a baby . . . there is a terrible truth to those horrific pictures the anti-choice fanatics hold up in front of abortion clinics . . . my doctor told me that he would make sure my baby felt no pain . . . contemporary women know the truth about abortion.”
They know the truth. They know the truth. And yet they choose to kill.
Once upon a time we thought that knowing the truth–that an unborn baby is a life–would be enough. It turns out it’s not. The problem, you see, is our new world, our fear-filled new world that values perfection (“I wanted a genetically perfect baby, and because that was something I could control, I chose to end his life,” says the author in Salon.), that champions the illusions of choice and control, that craves instant gratification and repudiates the possibility of transformation through suffering, that equates success in life with the acquisition of material things.
We thought there was an easy answer, but it turns out that to end abortion we have to transform the world. “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). Only when the hearts of those who would seek abortions or coerce others into seeking them are changed by love will abortion end. How do we do this? You won’t get an easy answer from me. But we have to keep trying.

 

No Responses

  1. Joshua says:

    It’s the true pro-life/pro-choice distinction. Which right matters more – the right to life, or the right to control your own body.
    There are many pro-choicers who think the right to control your body matters more than any life. I am one of them.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Which proves the point I was making. We pro-life supporters have to frame new arguments to explain what we find wrong with your position. Thanks for reading and for your willingness to comment.

  2. Leah says:

    I’m pro-choice. I agree with you that the unborn child is a baby. Abortion is killing. It stops a beating heart. I agree with all of that. But there are many women who become pregnant under far from ideal circumstances. There are so many unwanted children out there. It’s awful, but adoption really can’t handle all of them. I have two foster siblings. They went through hell in the system we have and it has really hurt them permanently. Meanwhile their mother has since had four other children with various men. None of the fathers are in the picture. All but the youngest is in foster care. She won’t allow them to be adopted. Someday she thinks she’s going to really take care of them. (Her eldest, my brother, is now ten. She’s no longer a teenager.) I don’t hear enough from the pro-lifers about what happens after a baby is born to a woman who does not have the means to take care of the child where maybe the father is an irresponsible jerk who’s already not in the picture. The pictures of unborn babies sucking on their thumbs is the easy part. What happens later?

    • lesliesholly says:

      Thank you for taking the time to make a thoughtful comment. I’m glad we can agree that an unborn child is a baby and that abortion kills it. Pro-choicers frequently link the problems faced by children born into difficult circumstances to a percieved necessity for abortion. But think about it: abortion was legal when your foster siblings were born. Their mother had a choice and chose not to abort them, so how is that situation even pertinent? Maybe you could use it as an argument for forced sterilization (not that I would agree with you!).
      Plus, if it is legal to kill unborn babies, who not born babies who are “defective” or in bad situations?
      Finally, regarding what happens to “unwanted” babies post-birth, you may not hear a lot about it, because most pro-lifers are very busy talking about putting an end to abortion. And of course the pro-life movement has become identified to an extent with conservative Republicans and policies which many feel don’t support women who will have difficulties supporting their children. Now, I think it’s okay to believe and to say that something is wrong even if I don’t have a solution for whatever problem that “something” purports to solve. We do it all the time and it seems like it’s only pro-life people who are called to back up their positions with actions. That being said, I think you might find the following statistics interesting. It’s probably safe to say that the Catholic Church is the institution most strongly identified with the pro-life position. It operates Catholic Charities, USA:
      More than 1,688 local Catholic Charities agencies and institutions provided services to 8,522,997 unduplicated individuals in need of help in 2004.
      Provided Services that Build Strong Communities to 3,646,222 people
      Social support services 1,837,964
      Education and enrichment 775,968
      Socialization and neighborhood services 359,574
      Health-related services 276,400
      Services to at-risk populations 396,316
      Provided Food Services to 6,287,891 people
      Food banks and food pantries 2,984,089
      Soup kitchens 1,247,290
      Congregate dining 1,291,982
      Home delivered meals 274,253
      Other food services 490,277
      Provided Services that Strengthen Families to 1,071,463 people
      Counseling and mental health services 387,856
      Immigration services 350,164
      Addiction services 94,027
      Refugee services 92,034
      Pregnancy services 98,064
      Adoption services 49,318
      Provided Housing Related Services to 598,953 people
      Counseling and Assistance 203,063
      Temporary shelter 251,671
      Supervised living 70,121
      Permanent housing 52,384
      Transitional housing 21,715
      Provided Other Basic Needs Services to 1,741844 people
      Financial Assistance (not rent, mortgage, etc.) 176,304
      Clothing Assistance 592,899
      Utilities Assistance 330,721
      Assistance with Purchase of Prescriptions 47,484
      Additional Other Basic Needs Assistance 594,436
      Provided Disaster Services to 331,727 people

    • Crystal says:

      Then we should just murder your siblings. That is the obvious answer. If murdering unwanted burdensome humans is okay, then we should just murder alk the kids with less than ideal lives. That is the logical conclusion of your argument.
      I, however, am pro-life so I don’t believe we should murder them before or after!
      I think there needs to be a fast-track for severing the parental rights for children under a year old before they have bonded with the birth mother.

  3. Leah says:

    I just wanted to respond to your comments. I’m glad we can have a discussion.
    My siblings’ mother did choose life. I’m glad she did. Of course I would not agree with forced sterilization. I understand your comment that pro-lifers are busy trying to put an end to abortion, but I think the truth is that the problem that I mentioned (too many unwanted children who are left in a very messed up foster care system) already exists. It has existed for many, many decades. We could start tackling that problem now. If the amount of energy that is put into fighting abortion rights was put into helping to fix the system and to encouraging people to adopt and take in foster care we could have a much better world. (Although a still far from ideal world.) I think waiting until the abortion issue is “solved” is wrong. I don’t see any reason why one effort needs to precede the other. Couldn’t they go on simultaneously? I think (and I mean this as a general, not a personal, criticism) that it’s easy to romanticize unborn babies. My parents took in two children who though they were very young had been deeply scared by a very flawed system. They were angry. They were resentful. They had (and continue to have) all sorts of behavioral problems as the result of deep psychological and emotional wounds. Raising them, in many ways, I think has been harder for my parents than raising their biological children. It is no small commitment. They were no longer “pure” the way newborn babies are. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how contaminated a child’s purity can become in just the first two or three years of life. I wish the pro-life movement would post photos of all the children suffering under our current system the way they do fetuses. I really do feel as though the unwanted children of those who chose life seem to be forgotten, easily ignored. Once they grow past toddlerhood the chances that somebody will come along to adopt them drastically diminishes. Many of those children live deeply unhappy lives. I think that’s a hard truth, but I think it’s absolutely the truth. I know many pro-lifers say society has a responsibility to give people a chance at life, not to give them a happy life. I disagree for moral reasons. I also disagree because I think society as a whole is harmed by the lack of adequate love and care these children receive. I don’t know how many of them end up on the streets or behind bars, but the number is huge. We might choose to ignore them, but they have a huge influence on society. Making abortion illegal won’t change any of that. It will simply increase the numbers. Does that make abortion right? No. But we aren’t doing right by the children whose parents did choose life. I don’t see any reason to believe that that would change is abortion were to be made illegal.
    I want the number of abortions reduced. As I said, I think that abortion is killing. That said, I don’t think making abortion illegal would reduce the number of abortions. For that reason (among others) I will always vote to keep abortion legal. I think that were abortion legal women who felt desperate (and there will inevitably be such women) will use unsanitary and unsafe methods of aborting the child. The child will be killed and the mother will be permanently scared emotionally and almost certainly physically. Yet unlike a society in which abortion is legal, those women would have nowhere to turn. I strongly believe that outlawing abortion would drive it underground, not eliminate or even reduce the cases of abortion.
    Of course, I don’t think that children with special needs are unworthy of being born. But a mother who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant without the resources to take care of that child, is even more unprepared for a child with special needs. Being pregnant with a child without special needs is daunting enough if you don’t have the financial and emotional resources that mothers need to thrive.
    I don’t know what your political believes are and that’s none of my business. But I often find that the same politicians who are pro-life are also anti-sex education and anti-social welfare programs. To me, those are anti-life policies. I cringe when they claim to be “pro-life.” I think the policies they advocate result in more unwanted pregnancies and consequently more abortions. I also believe that they result in fewer women choosing life.

  4. Leah says:

    I just wanted to add something. You mentioned that my siblings’ mother choose life when she could have had an abortion and asked then how the issue of difficult circumstances is pertinent. I think it’s absolutely pertinent. I mentioned that they have four siblings who are being taken care of by the state. They have been in and out of different foster homes–a less than ideal situation. The same sort of experiences hurt my brother and sister deeply. Their siblings still do not feel as though they have a home. They do not have a loving parent, let along loving parents. And although it looks like they will gain very little from society, they will be thrown into society to survive as their own as soon as they turn 18. This is obviously a very tough reality. In other words, the fact that their mother choose life didn’t solve the difficult circumstances question. The difficult circumstances question still exists and as I mentioned in my other post is being ignored. She has left that question to the government and society to solve. Now she had a difficult life herself. I don’t want to sound as though she’s necessarily this awful person.
    My point is that she didn’t magically find the resources to raise her kids. She doesn’t have the resources and she isn’t raising them.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Leah, I hope you don’t mind that I am addressing you comments in a new blog post. I didn’t want to do a point-by-point post, so if you don’t feel like a adequately responded to what you said, please comment further. I appreciate the chance to discuss this issue and to learn (I hope) from each other.

  5. Justine Martin says:

    It has ben interesting reading this discussion. I have held both beliefs in my life. In my early 20s I met loads of kids whose parents “chose life”. At least one of the children led absolutely awful lives, nothing more than a commodity sold on the streets for the next fix. The others if not sold or bartered for drugs were at best neglected, ignored allowed to roam freely… you get the picture.
    So my belief that abortion was wrong was challenged. I came to believe that a woman has the right to choose. Years went by. I worked with adjudicated teens and learned that i was not going to undo in 6 months what mom and dad took 16 years to make. But I learned that casting seeds was ok. By this time my belief had evolved to I would never choose abortion but other women have to make their own choices.
    Then I met the woman who would consider a gender selection abortion. I had for years been frustrated by the women who really did appear to use abortion as the preferred method of contraception, but I actually met a for real in the United States person who seemed to be asking me where she could get an ultrasound to determine the sex of the child. Sex of the child would determine if the pregnancy was wanted or unwanted.
    After years of noncommital belief, I changed again to outright abortion is wrong and should be illegalized. I think that both pro choice and pro life advocates argue the wrong thing. Many women who are having abortions or not having them are not choosing life. They are choosing a social security check, to find a way to make that guy stay, to have a living doll that they can love. And some women choosing to have the abortion are just not ready to make the commitment to taking a pill every day or a shot four times a year.
    My mistake in my evolutioon through the abortion debate was thinking that women considering abortion were actually as involved in the thought process as the debaters were. I guess some of them are , and maybe I am too jaded, but I think most of them are thinking about a whole lot of things and not that this is their first real parenting crisis.

    • lesliesholly says:

      In reading what you wrote, Justine, I started thinking that it’s too bad that people don’t think harder about that initial choice–the choice to have sex or not. If people didn’t forget that the biological purpose of sex is babies, if they didn’t acquire the cultural belief that they are entitled to consequence free sex (so untrue, since there are always consequences of one kind or another!), if no one had sex with someone they didn’t love and weren’t committed to, would there be a high demand for abortions?
      I also like your observation that the pregnancy decision making process is “their first real parenting crisis.”
      Keeping in mind the experiences you have had, and the conclusions you have reached, do you have any suggestions for a new way for pro-life people to argue this issue?

      • Joshua says:

        While I agree that risks should be considered before making any decisions, it seems you’re implying that people should suffer the consequences of their bad decisions. I disagree. Just as people should be able to drive on the road without fear of car accidents or eat pork without fear of parasites, people should be able to enjoy sex without fear of STDs/pregnancy.
        Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and accidents happen with even the best precautions, so the best we can do is act compassionately and help those unlucky ones. We wouldn’t leave somebody injured on the side of the road even if they had crashed while driving in a very risky way, and if somebody does unwillingly fall pregnant we should respect her wishes regarding abortion regardless of how risky her sex life may seem to us.

  6. lesliesholly says:

    Joshua, your examples are faulty because if everyone properly maintains their cars and follows the rules of the road, there would be no accidents. If the pork is raised and prepared properly there are no parasites. But sex used correctly DOES lead to babies. That is what is is FOR (with the enjoyable/unitive aspect secondary to the biological goal of perpetuating the species). Sex used correctly does NOT however lead to STDs. They are a consequence of promiscuity (whether your own or that of the person with whom you choose to have sex). There is no right to sex without babies. I know you disagree but I don’t believe that anyone who is not prepared to deal with a possible pregnancy should be having sex. And there are other compassionate ways of helping a woman deal with an unexpected pregnancy, ways that are compassionate to both her and her baby.
    Thanks for commmenting and I am sorry it took me so long to reply.

  7. Justine Martin says:

    Leslie,
    My immediate response to your question as to suggestions for the pro-life community was no. And it is entirely possible that my idea has already been argued, I think the pro life community needs to start showing the world that the very idea of abortion in and of itself another act of gender violence. The better a woman’s life and experience is in a a place, the more the woman is valued the less of a “need” for abortion.
    I bet if you were to look at abortion rates throughout the world – where abortions are legal and therefore statistics available you would probably find that higher abortion rates are in more mysogenistic countries.
    I don’t know the numbers myself. I only have impressions. My impressions of Europe being that they have lower abortion rates than the United States and that the family is more supported by the government – state funded health care, day care, flexible work time, generous maternity and paternity leaves. The government works harder and spends more money to support families and therefore women. But the greater difference is the attitude towards sex.
    Then you go to countries like India where female infanticide is still practiced, where they have made gender selection abortion illegal but cannot enforce it. Looking at societies where women are treated as property and having a girl child a considerable burden, abortion becomes just another way to be violent towards a woman. And their attitude towards sex – well honor killings are still practiced.
    The other difference between us and the rest of the world are these weird notions towards sex. We as a culture are in denial that sex causes pregnancy, and this denial is mysogenistic because it prevents us from having real conversations about the consequences that come with sex.
    As you said the purpose of sex is to have children, honestly if it wasn’t then it would not be pleasurable, who wants to do something over and over again if it is not enjoyable? So long as we try to separate sex and procreation, we cannot change anything.
    I do not understand why Dr. Phil and a whole lot of other people can say to a couple with more than 3 or 4 kids that we know what causes pregnancy, and there are ways to prevent it, but we cannot say that to a girl or woman who chooses sex in what ever circumstance for what ever reason but say to her an abortion is justified.

    • lesliesholly says:

      I love your last comment about Dr. Phil et al. I too believe that the separation of sex from pregnancy–the whole idea that we are entitled to consequence-free, recreational sex–is a HUGE part of the problem. And I also agree with your comments about abortion being misogynistic. You should read Dr. David Reardon’s work on the damage done to women by abortion. He believes that many who advocate for abortion do so out of a misguided compassion for women, and that the solution is to show women that it can never be in a woman’s best interetests to kill her own child. Many have said–and I concur–that abortion is essential a masculine solution to the problem of an unwanted pregnancy, that men seek violent solutions while women look for relational ones. I don’t meant to say that it’s all about men forcing women to have abortions, although that of course does happens, but rather that women now seeking and approving of this violent solution themselves points to a disordered way of thinking. The early feminists were pro-life and there is a Feminists for Life organization now that I want to write about in the future.

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