‘I can’t imagine how scared my mom must have been and how alone she felt,” Marlin Stutzman, a congressman from Indiana, would later comment. After he heard about Dr. Kermit Gosnell, he did what congressmen do: He went to the House floor, where he pleaded with the media to cover the case of the since-convicted Philadelphia abortion doctor, whose filthy clinic has exposed the right to abortion as the right to a dead baby, a right that emanates from the penumbras of Roe v. Wade.
“I went to the floor because innocent life is worth defending,” Stutzman tells me. “A monster in Philadelphia — not halfway around the world — murdered newborn babies, preyed on vulnerable women, and stuffed bodies and body parts into the freezer in boxes, bags, and cat-food tins.” The Gosnell trial “should have been front-page news across the nation,” but the mainstream media were largely ignoring it. “The American people deserved to know the truth about it, and I was seeking to raise awareness,” he says. Abortion is such a grave, ugly reality. We mask it “behind convenient euphemisms like ‘choice’ and ‘safe, legal, and rare’ instead of taking a hard look at what abortion really is,” Stutzman observes. “The Gosnell case stripped away all those euphemisms and showed that abortion isn’t safe and it isn’t rare.”
But that day in April when the second-term congressman went to the House floor to talk about Gosnell, he had no idea how personal an issue this was for him. When he phoned his mother a few days later, he learned that she was trying to figure out how to get to an abortion clinic when she was pregnant with him in 1975.
“I could never imagine how this case would change my own life,” Stutzman tells me. “When my mom told me her story — how her house had just burned down, how she was alone and terrified, and how she wanted to find a way to make it 40 miles to get an abortion but couldn’t — we both cried.”
“I can’t help wondering what would have happened if there was a Gosnell clinic four miles away instead of 40,” he reflects. “How many fathers, wives, teachers, doctors, and public servants are missing today because of abortion?”
“My mom and I have never been closer than we are now,” he adds. “She asked me to forgive her, which I was glad to do.” And he thinks of the many women who “find themselves in a similar situation, and so many are told lies by the abortion industry. I’m here only because my mom and then my dad made the incredibly difficult decision to reject those lies and protect my life. I truly believe that the American mindset is to love them both — frightened mother and innocent, defenseless child.”
Stutzman’s mom; the frightened teenage girl; the inner-city single woman who has made some bad choices and doesn’t quite know what she could do to not make a mess of her child’s life; the twentysomething on a career track whose boyfriend is not interested in being a father to his child; the busy young couple who decide that now is not the right time: These are all real individuals and real scenarios, involving real fears, influenced deeply by a culture that pretends abortion is an easy solution to a problem. But are we really satisfied with insisting that a child does not have a right to life unless her mother wills it?
Let’s start with late-term abortions. No one can pretend there is no human life there. In fact, in recent undercover videos released by the pro-life group Live Action, clinic workers are seen trying to pretend, but they can’t make the fiction credible. And does it really make any sense that when one woman finds out she’s pregnant, her ob-gyn now has two patients to care for, while next door a doctor can pretend that his pregnant patient is not the mother of a developing child? We know better, don’t we?
But it’s hard — to be a mother, to be a father, to find help. Our language about alternatives to abortion is so poor: We talk about “giving the child up for adoption.” It sounds like the medicine you don’t want to take when you’re sick. We could do better at telling stories of hope — of the infertile couple, for example, with love overflowing, who very much want to make that child their own. We’re naturally open to life, aren’t we? Why don’t we do a better job of helping one another embrace life?
“We have to stand for life, for babies, and for young women like my mom,” Stutzman says. “While Planned Parenthood talks about ‘choice,’ the sad reality is that the abortion business depends on women who feel like they don’t have another option. We need to show compassionate action and offer help to the women who find themselves in an unimaginably hard situation.”
And in the wake of the Gosnell verdict we cannot be satisfied with moving on or even simply knowing that Congress has now sent out fact-finding letters to state attorneys generals and health officials for the purpose of investigating what’s happening in abortion clinics across the nation.
“Roe v. Wade was the worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott,” the congressman argues. “Unless we’re talking about it, we will never see it reversed.”
“There is no moral distinction between ending a child’s life five seconds after birth or five weeks before,” Stutzman emphasizes. Still, leading academics in respected forums argue the ethics even of post-birth abortion. “It doesn’t matter who you are, if you can’t come out and say it’s wrong to kill newborns, you need to examine your conscience,” he says. Our nation needs to do so right about now, knowing that infanticide happens, and in the cleanest clinics and hospitals, not just in nightmarish Gosnellian places.
Here perhaps we could consider that even the word “abortion,” which occasionally creeps out from under the layers of “choice” euphemism, is a euphemism in itself. “Ending fetal life” is a term of art for doctors who have been conditioned by Roe to do harm when it is politically correct to do so. You and I both know what that means, whatever our politics, whatever our convictions.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.