This is a true story. In the intervening years, I have often wondered whether I did my children a favor by answering their questions straightforwardly, but at the time, cornered like that, I couldn't think what else to do. Abortion rights is part of our linguistic currency; why shouldn't they know what that phrase means, and without the icing of euphemism?“Mom?” The six-year-old appeared at my elbow. His face wore a questing expression which typically preceded remarks like, How can that line I just drew on my paper contain an infinite number of points?“Mom?” he said again. “What exactly are abortion rights?”I stopped peanutbuttering in mid-swipe. Exactly? You want to know exactly?Yes, he did want to know exactly. After all, this phrase recurred hourly on the radio, alongside the hurricane news, so it must mean something at least as interestingly important as phrases like Category Three.So, figuring that an honest question deserved an honest answer, I told him. His older sister turned up while we were talking, so I told her, too. I said that abortion rights meant that in our country it is legal for a pregnant mother, who may feel frightened or unready or as though nobody will help her, to have a doctor kill her unborn baby.“You’re making that up,” they said.“I wish I were,” I replied.They were outraged. It was as if I had revealed that their father and I were planning to cook them for Christmas dinner. I could see their thoughts travel into the living room, where their toddler brother was shaking a floor lamp to pieces, then back to me, and to the baby inside me, whose movements they had been tracking as they tracked the hurricanes, as we waited for her to make landfall.
I did not, after all, tell them anything like this. But what I did tell them -- that in America it is perfectly legal to kill an unborn child -- was, without embellishment, enough.
[T]hat if I lost my mind, as must at times have seemed an imminent and inevitable development, the baby inside me was the last person any authority would protect: this revelation was like a gash in the underbelly of their world, a wound which dripped with unimagined poison.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that this conversation, many years ago now, changed my children's lives. It made pro-life activists of them, though that wasn't really what I'd set out to do, not being especially pro-life myself at the time. On reflection, what I'm writing right now is, as much as my children's participation in March for Life, a consequence of the same discussion. Conversation/conversion; I don't have time at this moment to explore etymologies, but by a slip of the fingers, I might just as well have typed one for the other.
Pro-choice had been my default setting since college. Though each successive pregnancy taught me all over again the humanity of the unseen person -- feeling somebody turn his or her head in the halo of your pelvis while you're standing in the grocery checkout line will do that -- and though I'd settled in my mind, and with sometimes-incredulous doctors, that I would not under any circumstance have an abortion myself (thus saving myself a world of hassle with the kinds of diagnostic tests designed to make you consider having one, because what the hell else do you do with information like that?), that was as far as my thinking had gone.
A friend of mine once put her own ambivalence regarding abortion this way: "While I was pregnant, I knew that I would let nothing on this earth harm the child in my womb. But I can't tell somebody else what to do."
At the time, this sounded reasonable to me, even sensitive. Now, I think: do other children not deserve protection? Because that is what it comes to. Each year that one of my children was born, four thousand -- on average -- died. (I got this number wrong. The truth is that on the DAY each of my children was born, roughly four thousand other children died.)They died because their mothers were poor. They died because their fathers or their grandparents said, "Get that taken care of; otherwise it's your problem." They died because they had Down Syndrome, or cleft palate -- or tests indicated that they might.
Though the reasons and rationales vary, in the end, those people died, frankly, because our culture believes that death is preferable to the potential for unhappiness. At nine and six, my children could see this for the outrage that it is. This year, when my oldest child graduates from high school, four thousand other people will not graduate, because our culture believes that death is preferable to the possibility of dropping out. (Again, the true number is more like 1.37 MILLION)
My kids didn't go to March for Life to make things worse for women. Nor did they go simply because of one unbelievably gruesome story recently come to light, however blandly the mainstream media has reported it. They went because even the cleanest, most efficient abortion clinic tells, behind its sterile facade, the same story of the throw-away-ness of human life, the story that really, children are better off dead.
More on the unbelievable story of Kermit Gosnell here.
No more mental retardation?
Tens of thousands? Uh, count again.
How I Became Pro-Life, plus
a photo-essay from the West Coast March
Not Safe, Not Rare. Just Legal.
Eve Tushnet on Abortion as Horror Subgenre (H/T)