Two news stories in the last week or so should alarm us in rallying ways. The first was a report that rose to the surface because of the quick and careful reporting work of my friends at the Catholic News Agency — they may have saved a life. A woman with severe mental disabilities was being mandated by a judge to have an abortion, despite her mother’s plea to let the baby live. The judge explained her reasoning by saying that the woman, 22 weeks’ pregnant at the time of the ruling, wouldn’t know the difference between a baby and a doll — and during court proceedings a new doll in place of the baby was even promised to her. On appeal, the ruling was lifted, but in England in 2019 there was a moment when a court mandated an abortion.
The West seems to be on this cliff, ready to plunge at any moment deeper into a grave abyss where death becomes a normalized standard for care when life gets too hard to fathom. In recent years, some have warned, while acknowledging that it isn’t anything like an ideal, that we have been moving away from “safe, legal, and rare” language to almost an expectation and at times preference for abortion. Most people don’t wake up in the morning motivated by abortion in the way that politics may sometimes suggest — especially in a year where the New York governor celebrated his abortion-expansion law in pink lights on the Freedom Tower. But there has been this creeping happening in the culture whereby CEOs will now openly express that preference for abortion. For this and many other cultural and intimately painful relational reasons, how can women not come to feel more than a little pressure that abortion might just be an expectation?
And yet where is the sober conversation about this? About whether this is healthy, never mind health care? In two recent Democratic presidential-primary debates, while there was cheering for abortion, there were no questions for the candidates about the latest out-in-the-open trend in Democratic politics: Support for expanded abortion, including the mainstreaming of infanticide in the early moments of life, after an abortion fails. The governor of Virginia, a medical doctor, might have been the most troubling voice this year supporting the normalization of letting a child die.
And then there was a girl named Valeria. Probably few of us would know her name if she didn’t die with her father trying to flee El Salvador. The photo of them lying face down, dead, on the bank of the Rio Grande, is one that by now has been commented on the world over. Beyond politics, this is the kind of thing that begs for a pause, much as the mandated abortion in England does. Who are we and what are we doing? On Twitter, I saw some instant reactions about how you won’t die if you don’t come here illegally. But for just a moment — a human moment in solidarity with the suffering of others — consider what life and conditions must be like that a family becomes so desperate that they will do anything to leave and come to the United States. Beyond urgent political reforms and enforcement should lie an intolerance for inhuman conditions at government facilities of any sort. (My friend and National Review colleague Kevin Williamson brought in the abhorrent circumstances of American prisons, too, in a recent column; It’s not okay to treat people like animals, even people who are guilty of criminal acts.)
After spending time at a Texas-Mexico border crossing not for the first time, Bishop Mark Seitz of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso warned that “we suffer from a life-threatening case of hardening of the heart.” He has been taking the deaths of Valeria and her father as an opportunity to open hearts to loving and prayerful encounters with people in situations that many of us never even consider in the daily course of our daily lives.
For the better part of a day last week, I was in Washington, D.C., with the mother of a teenager who was born to a mentally disabled woman, who could have been utterly lost and forgotten and the life within her eradicated. But Anna Grace lives in a family where she is love and loved. And one of the things her adoptive mother went to the nation’s capital to talk about is making politics more tender by allowing ourselves not to be fenced in by political sides but to be moved by the heart, even when it comes to issues that necessarily involve politics. (Paid family leave and adoption happened to be the events we were speaking about that day.)
You can be a Trump supporter or opponent and still weep for Valeria and support efforts to help true asylum seekers be treated with love. (On that issue, the ministry of Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is becoming the most well known). You can be a pro-choice Democrat or most ardent pro-life activist and still work together with your political opposite to find ways in your community to make it more welcoming to pregnant women who may otherwise be lost and alone. If we become strangers no more, our politics might become a little less strange and much more humane.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.