Baby, It's Cold Outside:
The Abortion Issue
By Audrey Stallsmith
“But aren’t you Catholic?” a member of our party asked Tom Ridge. Busloads of us church people had flooded the nation’s capitol for a January pro-life rally. Ridge, a pro-choice member of the House of Representatives at the time, had gamely agreed to meet with some of those from his own state afterwards.
“Yes," Ridge began "but I put my responsibility to my constituents above--“ There he stopped, as if realizing that what he had been about to say wouldn’t go over well with these particular constituents.
I understood what he meant and could, in a way, sympathize. It was, after all, his responsibility to represent the citizens of his state. So he was expected to vote in the way that a majority of them would prefer, no matter what his own personal beliefs might be.
After a disheveling night dozing on a bus, many of us had had to walk from distant parking lots to the rally because the subways were jammed. Now exhausted and nursing a blister, I envied the cool and collected appearance of a middle-aged lady seated toward the front of the room.
So it was something of a shock to hear her tell how she had once been a pregnant and panicky unwed teenager in Texas. Urged by almost everyone she knew to have an abortion, she’d chosen instead to heed the arguments of a pro-life congressman whom she had never met. “If I hadn’t,” she concluded, “my daughter wouldn’t be sitting beside me here today.”
The starkness of that statement was almost embarras- sing. In the sudden silence, we all stared at the daughter, somewhat disconcerted to see the abstraction we were defending seated among us in actual flesh and blood.
I don’t think Ridge attempted a reply. What could he say with the young woman, who had been so nearly extinguished, gazing calmly back at him?
Although that was years ago, recent incidents--the movie Juno, the election, and Sarah Palin’s decision to have her Down’s Syndrome baby--have brought the abortion issue into prominence again. Some have called Juno a pro-life film, though I wouldn’t go that far.
There are parts of it that are definitely off-putting to the Christian viewer, and Juno is never entirely clear about what persuaded her against abortion. A pro-life schoolmate’s contention that “your baby already has fingernails,” may have had something to do with it.
If the film does contain a message, it’s that life is messy and seldom turns out as we planned. That doesn't have to be a bad thing. If we accept responsibility for our sins and slip-ups, God can turn them into something good.
Now I think of it, that is, perhaps, close enough to a pro-life message. However, the woman who chooses abortion doesn't want to deal with a new life in any form. Instead she usually just wants to get back to her old one by ridding herself of the "interruption" to it. First she has to assure herself that the intruder was never really human.
That must be difficult to do, when--in many states--a person can be convicted of homicide for killing a fetus. Unless, of course, the baby’s mother consents to its death. That just doesn’t make sense and I’m persuaded that most people, deep down, realize it doesn’t. They prefer not to think about it too closely.
“The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you are,” C. S. Lewis comments wryly in The Problem of Pain, “Is that you very often succeed.” And many of us have, as G. K. Chesterton points out, “a trick of making things seem distant and dehumanized, merely by pretending not to understand things that we do understand.”
So some speak vaguely of “fetuses” and “termination” in an attempt to disguise that what they are really doing is killing a baby. “But strong and genuine religious sentiment,” as Chesterton points out in Heretics, is “the realistic thing, the brutal thing, the thing that calls names.”
As T. S. Eliot put it in Choruses from The Rock, “She (the church) tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget. She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.”
“Tender where they would be hard,” because the Church is commanded to care about all souls, even those that no one has yet met. And “hard where they like to be soft” because she will call the “termination” of those souls what it is.
I am persuaded that, if a woman were really familiar with the personality of that fetus growing within her, she would be much more reluctant to have him or her killed. Because the unborn cannot speak for themselves, the church must speak for them. Christians have always been called, as Charles Colson contends in Against the Night, “to defend the cause of the weak, the helpless, and the defenseless.”
Meanwhile, the state--which should also be a defender of the weak--schizophrenically contends that killing a fetus is only homicide when the mother actually wants the baby. As Colson further asserts, “it is no compromise that government, with supposed moral neutrality, leaves the decision to private individuals. Children die.”
During this election campaign, people have questioned whether Christians should be choosing a candidate based on only one issue. But this issue is far more important than any other. As Albert Schweitzer points out, “The beginning and foundation for morality is reverence for life.”
“Life,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer agrees, “created and preserved by God, possesses an inherent right, which is wholly independent of social utility. The right to life is a matter of the essence. . .”
I'm sure Bonhoeffer could relate to the idea of exceptions to the rule, because he was convicted and executed for his part in a plot to kill Hitler. I think we can all agree, though, that Hitler had it coming, whereas a baby does not. Still, the woman whose health is threatened by her pregnancy could be compared to a female lifeguard being dragged down by the child she is trying to save.
In such a circumstance, it may be better for her to abandon the weight she can no longer carry than for both persons to die. I can also imagine a situation where a rape victim might actually go insane if she had to gestate the baby of her attacker. In that case, too, abortion might reasonably be called self-defense.
“Though we may do a horrid thing in a horrid situation,” Chesterton concedes, “we must be quite certain that we actually and already are in that situation.” I suspect that many doctors, afraid of being sued if something goes wrong, will recommend abortion when the risk to the mother is actually quite low. She would do well to get a second opinion--and maybe even a third!
“We are always near the breaking point,” Chesterton notes, “when we care for what is legal and nothing for what is lawful. Unless we have a moral principle about such delicate matters as marriage and murder, the whole world will become a welter of exceptions with no rules. There will be so many hard cases that everything will go soft.”
We would do well to remember that, though the law may contend that the fetus belongs to his/her mother, its Creator doesn’t share that view. “The word ‘mine”,” Lewis points out in The Screwtape Letters, “in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything.” Especially not about other souls.
Although I don't like to mix religion with politics, in this election our choice is clear. Any candidate who can support partial birth abortion--a procedure in which scissors are jammed into the baby’s skull and its brains sucked out with a suction catheter--obviously doesn’t have the respect for life that is the foundation of true morality.
The woman who has to make another sort of decision should keep in mind that, although many suffer remorse for years over their abortions, we seldom hear of a female who felt guilty because she chose to have the child. We don’t hear of many who regret it either.
Although the pregnant teenager or the poverty-stricken mother of many may think, “This pregnancy is impossible for me,” it really isn't. There are many pro-life groups out there that will be more than happy to give her any assistance she may require. Not to mention scores of barren couples who would be happy to adopt the baby if she genuinely can't care for it.
As Charles Bass points out in Banishing Fear from Your Life, “You can survive any test that comes to you. Most of us live far below our tolerance zone. . .If you choose fear instead of faith, God cannot deliver you from your self-induced defeats.”
One of the best arguments against abortion is Malcolm Muggeridge's comment in Watch for the Light that, “in our day. . .it is. . .extremely improbable. . .that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all.” In other words, well-meaning people would have advised the young and unwed Mary to get rid of the child that would cost her both her fiancé and her future.
I very much doubt that she would have agreed to that. Mary knew that what God wanted was much more important than what she wanted. Of course, she did have the advantage of an angel’s message to make clear to her Who her Child was. But, if we have really been listening, we know that Child has made us all sons and daughters of God.