Four and a half months
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
Pick up on one and leave the other behind.
It’s not often easy and not often kind.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
— The Loving Spoonful
No Answers Here. Just Observations and Anecdotes
Like most serious people in America today, I’ve had to struggle with my views on abortion. You are required, in this deadlocked and soul-locked society to have a view on this issue. “I don’t know” just wont cut it. You’ve got to know. It says so right here in America: The Instructions.
But what do I know about Abortion? Here’s what I thought I knew then and what I think I know now. Why today? Because I read the news today (Oh boy). And the news is only too happy to tell me that January 22, 2019, was the 46th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that released the crushing Abortion juggernaut to roll over the soul of America.
Abortion is, as we all know, one of the 25 or 30 third rails of American politics. So what? A President must prove to the American people that, from time to time, he can reach out and touch a few of these rails with both hands. I wouldn’t want a man as President who couldn’t do it. And yet….
Political pronouncements on abortion always have the whiff of Prufrockian diffidence about them:
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
The Vexation and the Fear. The Abstract Issue and the Real Child
Abortion is one of our most vexing issues. Like a satanic Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going… and going… and going. There’s no good in it and no good end to it.
It is currently resolved one way, in favor of choice, but the palpable, visceral fear of those who support choice no matter what has been that one Supreme Court appointment could overturn Roe v. Wade. The fear from the other side is now that one Supreme Court appointment the other way could set Abortion in stone. I’m not so sure about that, not sure at all, but the energy source here is fear and fear is a big motivator, especially if you are on the Left in America these days. Indeed, fear and hate seem to be driving most of the concepts coming out of the Left lately which is why I distrust them so deeply.
On abortion, my view has shifted over time. It shifted most palpably after the birth of my daughter. Something about birth makes you realize the stakes involved in the abortion issue in a way that was merely abstract before.
It seems to me that if the issue remains, or is contained, as an abstract notion (What would you do if…) then “choice” — given the agnostic temper of the times — remains paramount. In the abstract. we’d all like to be given a choice and not a mandate — from the state, from God, from our society, or from ourselves. We’d all like to go through life doing what we want, when we want, with no consequences. You know – “No judgments, man,” “Hey, no blame, Dude,” “No problem. It’s all good.” Alas, abortion is not an abstract procedure or some harmless gedankenexperiment, although many of the more virulent Pro-Choice people would like it to be thought of in that way.
My own experience has been that when you are confronted with the abortion issue after having nurtured a child, abortion is no longer an abstraction — i.e. “Resolved, all women should be able to control their bodies without interference” — but becomes more concrete — i.e. “Resolved, all women should be able to control their bodies without interference including ending a life within them at will.”
It seems to me that (absent the usual banal disclaimers involving crime, rape, incest, danger to the mother, etc.) the abortion issue splits between those who base their position on the abstract notion of choice, and those with more concrete experience — parents. This is not to say that those with children who remain pro-choice are caught in an abstraction, quite the opposite. I place them in the latter camp. It is to say that, no matter where they stand on the issue, the opinion of people with children has more standing, to me at least, than those without children. Parents have, to use an expression not without irony, “Real skin in the game.”
Beginnings: Life and Human Life
Evidence that life begins at conception is obvious and conclusive. If an egg has become a zygote that zygote is alive that life is on the path to a person. This is how babies are built. Once fertilized and viable, a zygote will become — barring misadventure or intervention — a blastula, a gastrula, a pharyngula and so on, but always alive. Life is a property both the egg and sperm possessed and the result of that union possesses life by definition and will grow. No life, it does not grow. With life, it grows. Life begins at conception. Full stop. Period. End of discussion.
When human life begins is harder to know.
Certain lower life forms can already be grown to term from zygotes in artificial environments by our scientists, and it is foolish to think that human life will be immune from our technologies in this regard, unless by decree — and even that is foolish. American policy may currently be squeamish and retrograde in this regard, but other cultures are neither so religious nor so delicate. And there is every indication that an Obama administration will want to play catch up with this ghoulish science. The Left’s love affair with eugenics is an ancient and fundamental perversion in a political philosophy that is no stranger to perversion but rather seeks to embrace it in all its forms.
The crux of the abortion dispute is, as mentioned above, the question of when human life begins. At this point, we all know the opposing political and religious positions. At some point, human life begins and the fate of the fetus is either at the absolute will of the mother or it is not. Nevertheless, it is still hard to say exactly when humanness happens since:
1) We do not agree on the term “human,” and
2) as a result, all evidence on this issue remains anecdotal once you strip away the slant of the “research” that supports your preferred result.
A Small Island of Agreement
Still, a modicum of progress in this politically-religious or religiously-political cleft stick has been made.
We seem to have found some small island of agreement in the fact that children who can survive premature birth are good indicators that human life began sometime previous to the time they were delivered. This is an inch of progress, but I don’t look for people to set a date certain for “human life begins” anytime soon.
The two sides now seem to be that, on the one hand, all human zygotes are human life in potentia, ergo all zygotes are babies. This treads awfully close to the “every sperm is sacred” territory and I’m not sold.
On the other hand, the extreme opposite side seems to be saying that up until the moment a woman delivers a child it is but a fetus and remains her sole property to dispose of at will. I’m not ready to buy this either, nor do I think most women would endorse a proposition that seems to argue from the concept of human slaves and chattel. This is a concept women have been pretty vigorous getting rid of when it comes to women.
Either way, I’m left not knowing, but knowing that I’m not alone in my ignorance. Yes, we do know a certain amount about when higher brain functions arise but is a higher brain function some sort of real sign of human life, or a concept that is merely attractive to the intellectually insane? It seems to me that wise people also know, first and foremost (and what the last 10 decades of our tremendous expansion of knowledge are a testament to) is that what we know most certainly is that we do not know very much at all. And I don’t mean that to be a cute little circular statement, but the foundation of wisdom – the highest form of knowledge.
Abortion: The Buckminster Fuller Gambit
Some time ago, in another online venue, a thoughtful person advanced Buckminster Fuller’s proposition: “‘the status of an ‘individual’ [is] established as soon as there is ‘consciousness of otherness.'” I’ll allow that Buckminster Fuller was a brilliant man, if not the one I’d turn to for his track record of being right (As anyone who has lived in a dome can attest.). But for politeness sake, our discussion went on from there. My remarks were:
‘Otherness’ strikes me as a bit fuzzy. Almost as fuzzy as ‘consciousness’ but I’ll say I accept it for the present. Suppose the fetus that, in its development, recapitulates the fetus forms of lesser orders and at some point comes to a ‘consciousness of otherness.’ We really do not know, and we really, as far as I can see, cannot know what the instant of such an awareness would be. If the ambiguity of life and a human beings general development once born is any guide it could be at any random moment within a certain time range. The fetus as embryo might have a knowing of otherness — that which is not what it is — but it is a purely poetic exercise to suppose this. Indeed, it nothing but a leap of faith.
Does a fetus only achieve the knowing of otherness when, as an infant, it says ‘mama,’ or does it know it at some point in the womb? That point would be the nub. Since after that point the abortion would amount to the ending of a human life and before that point it would be a mere medical procedure? I can realize that rationally, but I don’t have to like it. Indeed, I do not like it.
And my visceral dislike of it signals to me that what I really feel is that, regardless of any right to freedom of choice what is happening in an abortion is still wrong.
The “wrongness” of abortion does not put it beyond that pale or make it into something that is de facto illegal. We do many wrong things for a ‘better’ result in life, but that doesn’t eliminate the wrongness of the action. It is mere mitigation of doing evil for the sake of some future good, where the good is not foreordained as the outcome, but only theorized.
To argue that everyone must stand up and assert that there is nothing wrong with the “right to choose” seems to be asking for vindication rather than toleration. I don’t think it is wrong to pursue your rights, but don’t think the pursuit of this right leads you to right action. While having the right to choose may be one of those derivative rights constantly being discovered by those that mine the subtext of the Constitution, that doesn’t mean you get to have a pat on the back and a big cheer from society. Unless, of course, you want to have the kinds of medals and awards that were once given out in socialist dictatorships for following the instructions of the state to limit your children to one (and throw away the girl children while you’re at it.)
My own experience tells me that the child knows the other in the womb before birth. The movements of the child in the womb. The reactions of the unborn child to music or other external stimuli all tend towards this. I’d say, without really knowing, that the fetus knows “otherness” certainly at some point within the last trimester. I suppose that most reasonable people who have been through a pregnancy to term would agree with me.
Okay, it knows other in the last trimester. How do we know? We know only because the child is at that point capable doing something that *we* perceive as knowing the other. But is it capable of this knowing before it can exhibit behavior we can perceive? Is it in some sort of coma state where its knowledge is in advance of its ability to act on it? Probably. And if so, how far back into gestation does this ability to know go? Is it possible to know the other before being a viable fetus that can live outside the mother? This we do not yet know and we may never know.
The Death Camp Book
But…. but… something persists in me from a book read long, long ago concerning the Death Camps during the Holocaust. I read this history more than forty years ago as a teenager and have not read it since. I read it so long ago that I cannot remember the title but retain trace memories the photographs of Dachau in the center that shocked me out of childhood. I also remember one particular passage. I find it strange that, given my youth at the time, and the thousands and thousands of books since, that this passage should stay with me.
I cannot quote it but its import went something like this:
The person being interviewed was a female concentration camp survivor. She survived by being ‘of use’ to the camp. This ‘use’ was to take the unborn, the aborted, the babies, the infants and the small children (dead or alive, I’m no longer sure), and throw their bodies into the ovens. At the end of this passage she reflected (in paraphrase): “Were we throwing another Mozart or Moses into the flames? We’ll never know.” And that not knowing was her enduring hell.
The Lost Children I’ll Never Know
Early in my first marriage, involved in my career and my first wife involved in hers, she became pregnant. Because we still thought of children in the abstract, we “agreed” to have it aborted. It seemed like the “sensible” choice at the time. We told ourselves we “weren’t ready” (Who is?). We went ahead with the abortion of our first child and, after a short recuperation, life went on as before. At least it felt as if went on as before.
Two years later, my first wife became pregnant again and this time we “were ready.” We moved back from Europe, got jobs, got settled, and had a little girl.
Being at the birth of your child is an amazing thing. Stunning. You feel your whole previous life close like a giant circle coming together. You feel another circle begin.
Two years after my daughter’s birth that my wife told me one day that she was pregnant again. She had been raising our daughter for two years and was not, she said, ‘ready’ for another. This time, though, my mind and soul had changed. I was not in such an abstract frame of mind about abortion.
Money was short, my future uncertain and I was fearful of another responsibility as large as another child, but I loved the daughter I had. I hung back. I wasn’t sure. But then my wife reminded me that it was her body and she had “a right to choose.” My choice was not to be a hypocrite– a churlish choice as I now realize — but really the only one open to me, as I was only the father.
And so, with my support, she went ahead at a hospital in Massachusetts on what I remember as a particularly raw late Autumn day. Although it was her right to choose, the decision was ours and I was fully complicit. Perhaps if I had earned more money or been more confident of my future, she would not have seen it as a necessity. I don’t know. I just know that that is the way in which I participated in what I have come to think of the loss of my third child. “Loss” makes what was done sound less awful even if it was not. That it was shameful and wrong is attested to by the fact that, once done, we never spoke of it again.
All this was long ago and far away, but still, today, here on a different coast and in a different life, I think at times, usually late at night, about those two “losses,” those two choices, to which I agreed. And in those dark nights I can almost see the ghosts of what those two children might have been, might have become.
Were they, maybe, another Mozart or Moses? Not likely. Almost certainly not. Be that as it may, at some point they would have become two of my children, and I do not know, still, at what point that would have been. I do know that ending those lives was right and wrong, and rightly and wrongly, I was complicit in their destruction. It was my choice too.
If I knew them, would I miss them, would I mourn them? The question is absurd. With abortion, you never get to know what you are missing. That’s part of the deal.
And that, leaving aside all our abstract notions and the tidy ideas about consciousness and otherness, is the private hell everyone involved in an abortion enters. It’s not a hell you’re in and then walk out of, but a hell that burns within you forever.
There are no fire escapes.