Abortion is not new. It did not spring fully-formed from the head of the Supreme Court in 1973. It is as old as civilization itself, and the controversy surrounding it is just as old:
“Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevent its being born. Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?”
That’s St. John Chrysostom, one of the Doctors of the Church, writing in the 4th century AD, damning men for seducing women and abandoning them, forcing abortion upon them (just in case you thought that those old unmarried men had no idea what made babies happen). This argument has been going on for a very long time, and it’s going to keep going on. Nothing that has happened recently is going to change that.
It’s safe to say that the dam is bursting on the Kermit Gosnell story, as it inevitably must have. Nothing as lurid and horrifying as the prosecution alleges could have truly failed to escape the public consciousness, no matter how much certain circles would have preferred it.
I am late to this story, not because I didn’t know about it, and not because I haven’t been reading up on it (Stacy McCain in particular has been all over it from the beginning). I haven’t wanted to write about this for the same reason Megan McArdle didn’t: sheer revulsion and horror. What this bland, grandfatherly-looking man of 72 – a poster-boy for “the banality of evil” if ever one existed – created in his Philadelphia clinic amounts to an infant-sized Auschwitz, a crime against humanity. And even generically pro-life people like myself dont’ want to realize that it exists, for to do so would be to violate a polite taboo.
In ancient Israel, the sanctorum at the center of the Temple in Jerusalem was called the Holy of Holies. As the home of the Ark of the Covenant, it made incarnate the presence of God in Israel. Only one man – the High Priest – on only one day – Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – could ever enter the Holy of Holies. Anyone else (such as the sons of Aaron in Leviticus 10) who entered died. The presence of God was not for the unworthy to look upon.
If modern feminism’s obsession with “reproductive freedom” has something of a religious character (and there are those that say so), then the birth control pill is its Eucharist, and abortion its Holy of Holies. It is Between a Woman and Her Doctor: mere mortals are not supposed to know what goes on. When anti-abortion activists take to the streets with pictures of mutilated fetuses, we are angry at the makers of the pictures, not the makers of the content. This is true even of pro-life people, such as myself. We don’t want to see this. We don’t want to know. Witness Roger Simon:
The trial of Dr. Gosnell is a potential time bomb exploding in the conventional liberal narrative on abortion itself. This is about the A-word.
No feeling human being can read this story or watch it on TV without being confronted with the obvious conclusion — like it or not — that abortion is murder.
It may be murder with extenuating circumstances (rape, survival of the mother, etc.) but it is murder nonetheless. Dr. Gosnell — monster though he is — has accidentally shoved that uncomfortable truth in our faces.
Pushing this case front and center in the media would change the national narrative on this subject. (The current stats are here, via Rasmussen.)
I can give you two guinea pigs to prove this point — my wife Sheryl and me. We were in the kitchen last night, preparing dinner, when we saw a short report of this story on the countertop TV.
Both lifelong “pro-choice” people, after watching only seconds, we embarked in an immediate discussion of whether it was time to reconsider that view. (Didn’t human life really begin at the moment of conception? What other time?) Neither of us was comfortable as a “pro-choice” advocate in the face of these horrifying revelations. How could we be?
Yes, Dr. Gosnell was exceptional (thank God for that!), but a dead fetus was a dead fetus, even if incinerated in some supposedly humane fashion rather than left crying out in blind agony on the operating room floor, as was reportedly the case with one of Gosnell’s victims. I say blind because this second-trimester fetus did not yet have fully formed eyes. (Think about that one.)
So I don’t think I’m “pro-choice” anymore, but I’m not really “pro-life” either. I would feel like a hypocrite. I don’t want to pretend to ideals I have serious doubts I would be able to uphold in a real-world situation. If a woman in my family, or a close friend, were (Heaven forbid) impregnated through rape, I would undoubtedly support her right to abortion. I might even advocate it. I also have no idea how I would react if confronted by having to make a choice between the life of a fetus and his/her mother. Just the thought makes my head spin.
And there it is. We are compromised. We see murder and we pretend not to. We call it something else. We treat it as magic, as though a first-trimester abortion mystically removes the unwanted-abstraction-which-is-not-alive-shut-up, transubstantiates the woman from “pregnant” to “not pregnant” and sends her heroically on her way. The death, the blood, the humanity-reduced-to-laboratory-specimens (I have seen them), we doublethink these messy realities away. And we tell our young (and ourselves, truth be told) that they may fornicate freely, without consequence, because “protection” exists, and if “protection” fails (or they fail “protection”) we have this Serious And Important Issue to Pontificate and Philosophize About, which will unmake the the consequence.
We call this “Love”. We call it “Modern.” We call it “Necessary.” We call it “Woman Retaking her Power from the Patriarchy.” We call it “Free of Medieval Moralizing.” We call it “Rational”. We don’t call it “Infant Girl Decapitated With Scissors.“
We don’t want to see it. We don’t want to know.