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.

 

Big Catholic Families

I’m posting this column reprint as a followup to my “Why Stop at Two” post of a few weeks ago.  In that post, I talked about why we’ve chosen to have a big family; this post focuses on the Catholic Church’s teachings on family size.  This was too long for the East Tennessee Catholic in this form; it was condensed and split into two columns which appeared, I believe, in early 2009.
“God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth’”(Genesis 1:28).
You know He said it, but what did He mean?
A few months ago I told you why we have chosen to have a “big Catholic family.” Today I am making good on my promise to write on what the Church says about family size.
To be honest, though, I am humbled by the task I’ve set myself. It’s already been done, you see, much better than I could ever do it and by scholars with much more authority than I. But you’ve probably never read Gaudium et Spes, have you? Or Familaris Consortio? How about Humanae Vitae or Evangelium Vitae? If you’re in a Renew group, you’ve at least read some of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but we haven’t gotten to this part yet.
I’m not criticizing you, although I think it’s a shame, and I hope that Catholic educators today are doing a better job of getting some of this material into the hands of high school students. Even though I minored in Theology at a Catholic university it was only by accident that I ended up in a Christian Marriage class where some of this material was required. I’ve been fortunate since that my work with the Diocesan Respect Life Committee and with this column have led me to delve deeper into the writings that explain the doctrines Catholics profess to believe. I hope after reading just the small sampling I provide here that you might be tempted to go further, to be inspired as I have been by the Church’s vision of marriage and family–it’s so much more than the secular version.
Here’s the crucial point for most of you: The Catholic Church does not require or even suggest that you forgo all forms of birth spacing or regulation in order to bear as many children as physically possible throughout your reproductive years. Surprisingly, that’s actually an Evangelical Protestant idea–a minority idea–called the “Quiverfull Movement.”
This movement springs from Psalm 127:3-5: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.” Its adherents, mostly U.S. conservatives, believe in receiving as many children as possible as blessings from God, rejecting even Natural Family Planning.
Now the Catechism of the Catholic Church does say that “Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity” (2373). But it also says, “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children” (2368). In Gaudium et Spes we read that “certain modern conditions often keep couples from arranging their married lives harmoniously, and . . . they find themselves in circumstances where at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased”(51). This is further clarified in Humanae Vitae: “Responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth”(10).
The problem is that many people hop on the “It’s okay to limit births,” part of the message without paying attention to the “grave motives” and “moral law” part. This is NOT okay: “In the task of transmitting life . . . they are not free to proceed completely at will, as if they could determine in a wholly autonomous way the honest path to follow; but they must conform their activity to the creative intention of God, expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts, and manifested by the constant teaching of the Church . . . If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier” (HV 15-16). “It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood” (CCC 2368).
So, to simplify: Catholic couples are called to cooperate with God in the transmission of life, being as generous as their particular circumstances allow, limiting births only by the use of natural methods and for suitably serious reasons.
This casts it all in such a negative light, though! Listen to what some of these documents have to say about the meaning and the function of marriage and family in God’s plan: “Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God” (CCC 2367). “Spouses, as parents, cooperate with God the Creator in conceiving and giving birth to a new human being . . . God himself is present in human fatherhood and motherhood . . . In procreation, therefore, through the communication of life from parents to child, God’s own image and likeness is transmitted, thanks to the creation of the immortal soul. . . . in their role as co-workers with God . . . we see the greatness of couples who are ready ‘to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Saviour, who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day by day’ . . . Thus, a man and woman joined in matrimony become partners in a divine undertaking: through the act of procreation, God’s gift is accepted and a new life opens to the future” (Evangelium Vitae 43).
“Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents . . . All should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured or perceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternal destiny of men”(GS 50-51). “Conjugal love . . . does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. . . .Their parental love is called to become for the children the visible sign of the very love of God . . .Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the Church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God’s family, which is the Church. . . . The commandment to grow and multiply, given to man and woman in the beginning, in this way reaches its whole truth and full realization” (Familiaris Consortio 14-15).
If you were married in a Catholic ceremony you answered “yes” to the following question: “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” Chances are when you promised that you did not really understand any more than I did what it really meant. Now that you have read just a little of the teachings that inspired the question, I hope you might prayerfully consider whether that longing you’ve sometimes felt for “just one more” might be the voice of God.
 

Grace through Suffering

This originally appeared  in the East Tennessee Catholic in 2006. 
It was late at night–later than a twelve-year-old should have been awake–when Jake discovered me crying in front of the computer. Like all children, he doesn’t like to see his mother cry, and he asked me what was wrong. I told him about the website I was looking at, and he went up to bed.
He caught me reading and crying again the next night, and the next night too. “Why do you keep reading something that makes you so sad?” he wanted to know. He’s still too young to understand how joy and sorrow can be wrapped up in one package. He’s not alone–the idea of grace and joy flowing from suffering isn’t a popular one even with adults these days.
These personal stories are the most heart wrenching things I have ever come across in print. And yet there is a beauty in them. Last month I wrote about people who would abort a baby for having an extra finger. The families in these stories welcome babies developing without much of their brains. The news is full of articles about women “terminating” for “defective fetuses.” These stories are full of mothers who pray for their doomed babies to survive long enough to be born alive, who welcome surgical birth to give their sick babies a better chance at a few more minutes of life, who treasure every second of their pregnancies because that is the only time they will have to love and care for their babies.
You’d expect the stories to be sad, of course, and they are. For every story of a diagnosis that turned out to be a mistake, there are 20 about babies who proved to have terrible abnormalities, from anencephaly to missing kidneys to rare chromosomal additions that are incompatible with life. For every story of a baby who miraculously survived after medical intervention, there are ten about babies who breathe for just a few precious days.
But they are also joyful, peppered with such adjectives as “amazing,” “happy,” “beautiful,” and “thankful.” Nobody says, “I wish I’d had that abortion my doctor suggested.” Nobody says, “They were right. It would have been better for my baby to die sooner.” They don’t talk about defective babies, but about much-loved family members. And while many of them begin with anger at God, they end with acceptance, peace, and a respect for His dominion over life and death.
As I write this, my beautiful two-year-old, my fifth healthy child, is falling asleep in my arms. I am grateful for her perfection, but it bears remembering that God’s concept of perfection is not ours. I hope never to receive a poor prenatal diagnosis; I hope the same for you. Nevertheless, I’m glad these stories are there to remind us all that suffering is not meaningless and that its eradication by immoral means is never justifiable.

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photo credit: Jubilee Lewis used by permission: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

If you are on Facebook (and who isn’t?) you can “Like” BeNotAfraid’s page and see additional inspirational and informative posts by and about mothers and fathers dealing with prenatally diagnosed fetal abnormalities.

Books That Change Lives

I want to do some book blogging here from time to time.  I’ll share some of the books that have been important in my life, or that inspire me, or that I just enjoy.  And I hope that in the comments you will share some of your favorites as well.  The topic today is the nonfiction books that have had the greatest impact on my life.  I was going to make it a top five or top ten list but then I decided it would be more authentic if I just wrote about the ones that popped into my head first without setting a specific number, or even looking on my booksheves (or in the many, many boxes in the garage!).
The following are in no particular order unless you ascribe some significance to the order in which they popped into my head!

  • Surrendering to Motherhood by Iris Krasnow.  Judging from some of my recent posts, I need to read again Krasnow’s autobiographical journey from high-powered ambitious challenge-chasing career woman to mom-in-the-moment.  One quotation: “Being There [is] an emotional and spiritual shift, of succumbing to Being Where You Are When You Are, and Being There as much as possible. Its about crouching on the floor and getting delirious over the praying mantis your son just caught instead of perusing a fax or filling the dishwasher while he is yelling for your attention and you distractedly say over your shoulder: ‘Oh, honey, isn’t that a pretty bug.’ It’s about being attuned enough to notice when your kid’s eyes shine so you can make your eyes shine back.”
  • Let’s Have Healthy Children by Adelle Davis.  Davis is considered a crackpot by some, but I credit her nutrition advice with the buoyant good health of my kids, who each had maybe one ear infection, have never had strep throat, never take antibiotics.  (Seriously:  Emily, age 19, was last seen by a doctor for illness when she was two years old.)  I say Davis was ahead of her time–she had me taking folic acid years before anyone thought to fortify bread with it.  One quotation: “Research shows that diseases of almost every variety can be produced by an under-supply of various combinations of nutrients… [and] can be corrected when all nutrients are supplied, provided irreparable damage has not been done; and, still better, that these diseases can be prevented.”
  • How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Dr. Robert Mendelsohn.  Dr. Mendelsohn was suspicious of vaccinations.  He thought antibitotics were overused.  He didn’t think kids need to be taken to the doctor at the drop of a hat–most childhood illnesses clear up on their own.  I agree with him.  One quotation:  “The pediatrician’s wanton prescription of powerful drugs indoctrinates children from birth with the philosophy of ‘a pill for every ill’. . . . Doctors are directly responsible for hooking millions of people on prescription drugs. They are also indirectly responsible for the plight of millions more who turn to illegal drugs because they were taught at an early age that drugs can cure anything – including psychological and emotional conditions – that ails them.”
  • Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley.  I love this one as much for its philosophy of natural mothering as for the child spacing aspects.  One quotation:   “We tend to forget that these artifical aids–bottles and pacifiers–are merely substitutes for the mother.  The infant’s need to nurse or be pacified at the breast is nature’s way of bringing mother and baby together at other than feeding times.”
  • Nursing Your Baby by Karen Pryor.  We’re talking the 1970s version here, which I picked up at McKay’s while expecting baby #1.  It’s a simple, basic, practical, and yet beautiful guide to breastfeeding–just the best one I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot.  One quotation:  “Nursing a baby is an art; a domestic art, perhaps, but one that like cooking and gardening brings to a woman the release and satisfaction that only creative work can give.”
  • Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott.  My mother’s copy of this book was sitting around our house for as long as I can remember.  I read it long before I had kids of my own.  I may not follow its principles all the time, I’m sorry to say, but I try.  One quotation: “What do we say to a guest who forgets her umbrella? Do we run after her and say ‘What is the matter with you? Every time you come to visit you forget something. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Why can’t you be like your sister? When she comes to visit, she knows how to behave. You’re forty-four years old! Will you never learn? I’m not a slave to pick up after you! I bet you’d forget your head if it weren’t attached to your shoulders.’ That’s not what we say to a guest. We say ‘Here’s your umbrella, Alice,’ without adding ‘scatterbrain.’  Parents need to learn to respond to their children as they do to guests.”
  • Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso.  I’ve read a lot of parenting books, new and old, and I’m sure you have too, but never one that was simpler, truer, and less gimmicky than this one.  A former school-teaching nun, now married with three kids and a popular inspirational speaker on parenting topics, Coloroso’s descriptions of three kinds of families will make you cringe if you are a Brickwall or a Jellyfish.  One quotation:  “Our children are counting on us to provide two things: consistency and structure. Children need parents who say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say they are going to do.” 
  • Relating.  I still have this battered paperback religion textbook from my junior year in high school.  It was the first place I learned about fair fighting rules.  My friends and I used its ten hallmarks of love vs. infatuation to evaluate our college romances.  I made my future husband do all the quizzes in it with me before we were married.  Thank you, Mr. Dan Darst, a religion teacher we thought was goofy at the time but whose lessons we carry with us today.  No links or quotations, I’m afraid–it’s here, but I don’t know where, and the title is all I can remember right now! [I wish so much that I had pulled it out and written down something that day.  I have searched and searched online for a replacement but I just don’t have enough information.]

How about you?  Have you read any of those?  What nonfiction books have you read over and over?  Would you say there are any books whose effect on you was so profound that they helped you become the person you are today?  Please share yours in the comments.

Who Gave You Life?

This originally appeared as a column in the East Tennessee Catholic in 2006.
Today is my “baby” sister’s 29th birthday.  My mother reminded me today that Anne owes her existence to her two big sisters. I remember well how much we begged and begged for a baby.  According to my mother, she decided to have another baby because she loved us so much that she wanted us to have whatever we wanted!  Luckily, we were very pleased with the gift.  We did everything for the baby except feed and change her. And I frequently said, “What if we had never had her?  It would be terrible if we never had her!”

Three sisters at my wedding
Three sisters at my wedding

When Anne was two or three, I taught her to recite a few lines paraphrased from George MacDonald’s poem “Baby.”  I would say, “Where did you come from, Baby dear?” and she would reply, “The blue sky opened and I am here.”  Then would come, “Where did you get those eyes so blue?” “Out of the sky as I came through.
That’s about all I remembered; then yesterday I happened to come across the book the poem was in, pulled out by someone and left lying on the back stairs.  What struck me upon re-reading was the end of the poem.  After cataloguing all of baby’s sweet little parts, the poet asks:
How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.
But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.
Isn’t that a lovely thought? And how many people really think of babies like that these days, as a special gift, planned just for us and presented by a loving God? It seems to me that on the one hand people see babies as mistakes, accidents, inconveniences. Something like 60% of babies are unplanned, and don’t they seem to come at the worst possible times? They cost lots of money, they cause us physical problems, they interrupt our busy lives.
I think many times people don’t even consider their intended and wanted babies in terms of gifts from God.  No, then babies are something they planned, something they earned, something perhaps they even paid for, considering the widespread reliance on fertility treatments, artificial insemination, donor eggs, and surrogate mothers. If they think of a baby as a gift at all, it’s more like a gift they think they are giving themselves—there hardly seems to be room for God in the equation.
And often as kids grow we try to give them the feeling that it is we who gave them the gift, the gift of life. I hate that particular guilt-tripping phrase, “I gave you life!” Well, no, I didn’t give my kids life; God did. Life was His gift to them; they are His gift to me.
And I don’t always appreciate it either. Longfellow said that into each life some rain must fall and the Shollys have been in the midst of a rainy season for a while. Today at the dinner table we were discussing things we were grateful for and I talked about how 16-month-old Lorelei had given me a gift today. I was supposed to be working but she begged and begged to go outside.  Because of her I took the time to enjoy the Spring.  Because of her I got down on the ground, examined pine cones, smelled daffodils, tore up handfuls of onion grass, remembered what it was like to be a child in the springtime.
As I write, Lorelei sits in my lap, half-asleep, nursing. She is wearing pink striped long johns and a t-shirt which reads “Sholly Creations. Size small. 100% joy. Made in Heaven.” I couldn’t agree more.
Lorelei at about 18 months (with William, aged 5)

And tomorrow I will write something new, I promise.  So many ideas, so little time. 

The Secret to a Happy Life

The following is a reprint of a column that appeared in The East Tennessee Catholic in 2002.
When I was pregnant with my third child, friends, family, and strangers in the mall all seemed desperate to know: “Was it planned?”
law-school-graduation-edited
At first I answered, “I’d have to be crazy to plan this.”  (I had a three-year-old and a three-month-old at the time, and my husband had just graduated from law school and didn’t have a job.) Later I came up with a truer and better answer: “God planned it.”
A few years ago I was flipping through The Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee student newspaper, when I came across a local abortion clinic’s ad with the catchy slogan THE SECRET TO A HAPPY LIFE IS PLANNING.  The bold words grabbed my attention even before I realized what kind of planning was being promoted.  No! I thought.  That’s not true at all!
If I were to attempt to define the secret to a happy life, I’d take the opposite position:  The secret to a happy life is flexibility.
Life is full of twists and turns that not even the best planners can predict.  Plans go awry every day–when you are late instead of early for work because a train stopped on the tracks in front of you, when you walk to the Weigel’s with your kids only to find that the Icee machine is out of order, when Attack of the Clones is sold out when you arrive at the front of the ticket line.
No matter how complete your plans or how carefully you follow them, you can’t plan happiness.  And some of the happiest moments in life are the ones you can’t plan: an unexpected rainbow seen while you’re caught in a traffic jam, a spontaneous cup of coffee with a long-lost friend, a song from your youth playing on the radio, feeling your unborn baby kicking for the first time.
Attempting to map out every aspect of our lives is saying, “I’m the master of my destiny.  I know what’s best for me.” There’s no room in this philosophy for serendipity, for chance, for the hand of God.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus counsels us to accept the fact that we don’t control our own destinies and to relinquish ourselves to God, secure in the knowledge that HE has control:  “Do not worry about your life . . . or about tour body . . . Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span? . . . Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself” (6:25-34).
If we think happiness lies in planning, if we’re unable to trust in God, we’ll feel angry and cheated when our plans fail.  An unplanned pregnancy is viewed as an unwelcome interruption to the plan.  We forget that God’s plan might be different from our own.
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Abortion is all about control.  We can’t control our fertility, we don’t want to control ourselves sexually, our children are little individuals whom we quickly learn we can’t control.  Jobs come and go, people must eat, and rent must be paid, no matter the size of the paycheck.  So much of life is uncertain and doesn’t go the way we plan or hope.  But an aborting woman takes control.  She eliminates her pregnancy—this flaw in her plans–and prevents a whole new set of complicating and uncomtrollable factors from entering her life.
At the time they occurred, I wouldn’t have chosen or planned many of the events in my life–but what joy I would have missed.  Without the cloudy days for contrast, the sunny ones would have little meaning.  Most of the blessings in my life today are the result of unplanned events.
For an abortion clinic to proclaim that “the secret to a happy life is planning” as a way of advertising its services is irresponsible and deceptive.  This philopsophy ultimately leads to a closed attitude toward life–and to more abortions.
double-rainbow
Considering everything that’s happened in the eight years since I wrote this, I’m grateful that I have learned to appreciate flexibility over planning!  So what do you think?  Do you know any secrets to a happy life?  Should the goal of life be happiness in the first place?  Share your thoughts in the comments section.