Tuesday, January 13, 2009






I have no words to deal adequately with this thing. What shall I say, to those on the other side? You kill babies? They will say, “No, we terminate unwanted pregnancies.” I will say, by killing babies, and they object, “Fetus, not baby.” I respond that fetus is just the Latin for young one, and they reply that I am very erudite, but etymology is not a biological science.

And we have wasted words.

So I say there is nothing magical about air, that contact with it turns a fetus into a baby. They will say that it is, indeed, a difficult and controversial subject, and that viability is a good criterion – if the fetus is viable outside the womb, then it would count as a baby, but a fetus is not human life. I point out that anything that exhibits metabolism is alive, and they respond that tadpoles are alive. And the fact that these fetuses have human, not amphibian, DNA? --Well, fingernails have human DNA. But, I ask, do fingernails exhibit metabolism? They respond: Is a single cell a human ... are we yeast? I reply: Is yeast "alive," and does a human remain only a single cell? My point seems not to be understood, and is ignored. Instead we quibble about trimesters and technologies, and about hard cases such as anacephalism. There is no resolution.

More wasted words.

I say that we should err on the side of caution – if we are not sure, if there is any doubt at all, then we should count this entity as human. I give the example of a building scheduled for demolition: someone is saying that there’s a child inside, and the building must not be destroyed. Given the uncertainty, we should wait. Life is more precious than the schedule. They say the analogy is not valid, and add that a woman is worthy of mercy too, and the burden of unwanted motherhood outweighs the theoretical presumption that a fetus is a fully human life – that the "building" is "occupied." I reply that between death, and inconvenience, the choice is clear. They demur, and we cannot agree.


I say that the fetus of John the Baptist leaped for joy in the womb, when it came into the presence of the newly-conceived Jesus. From this, I assert that everything a person possesses of spirit, he possesses at conception. “Oh, there are so many things wrong with that,” they scoff, observing that superstition has no place in a discussion about science. I take up that theme, pointing out that the system of cells, at any stage of development, has a unique genetic code, very quickly a nervous system, and in more than half the cases, a penis. I laboriously spell out the fact that a woman has only one genetic code, only one nervous system, and no penis at all – it is not “her body,” but rather another body, within her body. They respond that regardless of any other consideration, whatever goes on inside her body is solely her own responsibility. I consider an ethical response, but abandon it as useless.


Nazis said some people are more human than others. Racists say that some people are more human than others. Because language is powerful, we strive to control it. I say Hitler murdered Jews, Nazis say he exterminated vermin. I say abortion kills babies, abortionists say choice terminates unwanted pregnancies. Nazis and racists believe in a continuum of humanity, up to a master race. Abortionists, too, believe that we evolve into our humanity – at conception, it is only potential, and we have not yet fully developed into it. Indeed, an infant is not viable, in that it cannot care for itself. A young girl is not fully developed, not sexually viable. Is she then not fully human? Personality is developed, but personhood is innate.

But such reasoning issues like heat into the void.

I recall myself saying as a callow youth in high school that babies were better off dead, rather than born to stupid parents. I was convinced otherwise by the simple thought experiment of picturing an abortion from the perspective of its object. Possessed as I am of some clarity of imagination, the image that rose up before my mind’s eye was sufficiently disturbing that I grew pale and faint, and had actually to leave the classroom. And I was convinced. It’s not right to kill babies. Even unborn babies. Regardless of any consideration about the supposed prospects, the potential quality of life, that may lay in that baby’s future. Babies have a right to a future. There is no appeal to reason, here. Words are useless. Either you get it, or you don’t.

That's all.



Another Word

Well ... that's not quite all. Because it holds a strange fascination. I'm of an age where I generally possess enough maturity and self-restraint to simply walk away - but sometimes a thing just draws the eyes to it, and we stare, like innocence at the hint of depravity. So I return, briefly, to the subject again. Abortion. And again, my son of a previous decade teaches the lesson.

In fact, we were outside that self-same store. A health food store, as it happens. On the sidewalk was a fellow collecting signatures. "Would you like to sign a petition, protecting a woman's right to choose." I never did learn the details. How, in what manner, was a woman's right to choose being threatened, that signatures needed to be gathered? I haven't a clue.

There we stood, my little boy and myself, holding hands. And I, being me, just had to ask: "A woman's right to choose what?" Butter wouldn't melt.

He seems surprised, because I don't give the appearance of an ignoramus. "Why," he said, "why, the right to ... it's about reproductive freedom."

"Ah," I breathed. "You're talking about abortion." There's another word for it, you see.

"Uh, yes."

I didn't have anything planned, of course. That's not my style. A lot of my time is spent listening to the wind. I just felt like holding my boy, so I picked him up - him sitting on my arm - you know. I was looking at his hand, and I remembered him as a new baby, noticing his hand for the first time, thinking how perfect it was. Like a five-petalled flower.

"You know," I said, "this is my son. Look at him. Isn't he handsome? Look at how perfect he is." I said it smiling - joyfully, really. "Tell me, sir," I said, "when would it have been okay to abort him?"

Alas, that's where my little story ends. Memory fails, you see. I just don't remember what he said, or what I said after him. I know it wasn't anything dramatic. Again, not my style. I expect that he just moved on to another prospect. And I expect that he got nothing from the exchange. Because he was standing outside a health food store, gathering signatures to protect a woman's right to choose.


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