I made the mistake of walking away from my computer after hitting “play.” All of a sudden, the room was filled with hails to . . . Satan. This was the comeback from some Wendy Davis fans outside the Texas statehouse to opponents of the Texas legislator’s attempts to kill a bill that would restrict some abortions (20 weeks and later) in the state. Given that Davis has become effectively a heroine of our slouch — if not plunge — toward a culture comfortable with infanticide denial, the scene was fitting, however, I pray, jarring.
It came during a week that had begun, as our weeks frequently seem to nowadays, with unholy exchanges on the Sunday-morning talking-head shows. In between expressions of glory and praise to Davis on the various channels, there was a lot of talk about the Supreme Court’s rulings on marriage. One of the hosts asked a marriage-redefinition dissenter how it could possibly make a difference to a child if he were raised by two “married” men or a man and a woman — mother and father is what we call them, you may still recall.
Men and women are, actually, different. And yet we deny it. And, yes, on Sunday morning.
And that’s what is at the heart of these debates, now isn’t it? It’s all complicated and emotional given our mixed experiences and encouragements, desires and heartaches, pains and attractions. These neuralgic questions we debate concern the most intimate of issues, and yet we pretend they can somehow be solved by just the right legislation or court ruling. But there are some basics we’ve lost sight of, or have decided that we must necessarily dismiss — even suppress. We do this, too, as we embrace the pursuit of individual gratification, sometimes at the expense of life and liberty. We cannot reasonably expect a senator or president or Supreme Court justice to satisfactorily make sense of this; what we need is to rebuild and renew our culture, working together to recapture some fundamental understandings.
Another “hit play” moment came with the latest video release from Live Action, the pro-life group that does undercover investigations at abortion clinics, motivated by the belief that unborn children need protection and women deserve better. Men won’t be worse off, either, if they are challenged to rise to their responsibilities — if they are expected and wanted as loving protectors.
In Live Action’s latest, a doctor explains how labor is induced during a late-term abortion — “so you will deliver, a still-birth.” An “injection . . . stops the heartbeat of the fetus,” the doctor explains. “On day two, we’re gonna check and make sure that that worked. That is not something that we are going to let slip through the cracks.” The third day, though, is “hard,” she explains to the actor/investigator she believes to be a woman wanting a late-term abortion.
“It’s like you’re having a baby, basically?” the investigator asks.
“Yeah,” the doctor replies. “It’s intense.”
No less intense when we pretend it’s only “like” a baby.
A counselor at the same Albuquerque clinic explains that if the woman doesn’t make it back to the clinic in time — “if we can’t catch it early enough, which has happened” — she’ll want to unlock the hotel door, call the clinic on her cell, and “just sit on the toilet. You don’t have to look at anything.”
That’s probably good advice to a woman who is being advised to deliver her dead baby into a hotel toilet. But this isn’t something the rest of us can afford to look away from. Whether it’s a hotel bathroom or a state-of-the-art women’s clinic, this is a gravely miserable state of affairs, as we drown in euphemisms about women and health and freedom. Does anyone really think this is healthy? Unless, of course, you’ve made a sacrament of abortion itself. But most of us haven’t, even those who consider themselves “pro-choice” and who are concerned about the toughest situations a woman might find herself in, but who know abortion involves life and death and is not a good. At least, we haven’t consciously embraced abortion, even as we drown out the horrific details with anodyne rhetoric.
We can bear these open windows into the grim realities of 40 years of legal, largely unrestricted abortion in the United States — and at a time when some pols are demanding yet more widely expanded access to abortion — because we are also a nation filled with maternity-home workers and crisis-pregnancy angels who just want to help women be the mothers they already are. A desperate woman or girl has choices, and there are loving people who want to help her know she really doesn’t have to choose death. Couples are desperate for children in a nation where fertility is increasingly considered enslavement, and as a once-radical ideology goes mainstream and becomes the basis of mandated federal policy, with no regard for countercultural conscience, never mind health and common sense.
And we have hope, because people have not quit working to build a culture of life in this country, in neighborhoods, in churches. Many Catholic bishops and priests have pleaded with women to know they are invited into a community that will support them, that will bring them to the source of all love and mercy — and yes, that applies even if you’ve had an abortion. And we have hope because people have not quit praying. One of the most important events of this year happened under the media’s radar in Rome this past month. It was a celebration and study of “The Gospel of Life,” an encyclical issued by Pope John Paul II. Presided over by Pope Francis, the event had young people flooding Rome to pray together for peace for those touched by abortion, and for the grace to help us do better — as we simply and urgently must.
At an earlier event in this Year of Faith (reminding Catholics of their call to be authentic, integrated Christians in their daily lives), Pope Benedict handed me a message the Church seeks to communicate, and not for the first time: “You women have always had as your lot . . . the love of beginnings. . . . You are present in the mystery of a life beginning. You offer consolation in the departure of death. Our technology runs the risk of becoming inhuman. Reconcile men with life, and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of our race. Hold back the hand of man, who, in a moment of folly, might attempt to destroy human civilization.”
Women have tremendous power. Men and women together do. They can create life together, build families together, help societies make sense.
Today we face choices. We can talk about a Texas state senator’s pink sneakers, or we can confront the misery that is not making life seem possible to a culture that has lost its sense of priorities, responsibilities, stewardship, and sacrifice. Whatever we believe about religious faith, or party politics, or even abortion and same-sex marriage, there are alternatives to pretending there isn’t a natural order that can help us make sense of our lives, with, perhaps, a welcome supernatural element, at the very least, helping make something better plausible.
— 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.