“Pro-Choice” Discourse Crosses The Rubicon
The single most terrifying moment of my entire life happened one April morning in 2010, and I will never forget it as long as I live.
Erin had just given birth to our third child and second daughter. We were so happy—she was beautiful. And yet, as I held her for the first time, I could tell something was wrong. She seemed listless. Her breathing was labored. Her color was not the ruddy brightness I’d seen in other newborns, but a darker, more menacing shade. She was struggling.
Erin took her to nurse, and I hoped that would “wake her up a bit.” After a half-hearted feed, Erin held her upright to burp her—and the baby made an awful gurgling sound. Her little eyes bulged and rolled back. Her complexion darkened suddenly, going rapidly to purple, then to a chilling, greyish blue. Erin and I will forever thank a merciful and loving God that my mother was in the room, because as we stood frozen, she ran for the hallway and yelled for help. I remember the nurse and a couple of techs charging into the room moments later. I remember the look of fear on their faces.
One nurse snatched the baby out of Erin’s arms. Grasping her in one hand, facedown, she massaged the baby’s back somehow. After a long, long time (probably only two or three seconds in reality) our daughter coughed. The techs quickly got a tube up the baby’s nose and into her lungs and performed suction, cleaning her airway. Her dark complexion began to lighten, the blue disappearing, purple brightening to a healthy, ruddy pink. They then whisked her away to intensive care, leaving two young parents shaking in their wake. Before they left, I looked at the nurse and the techs again—and, while it couldn’t be compared to ours, nevertheless I saw genuine, heartfelt relief: tense shoulders relaxed, furrowed brows smooth out, professional detachment melt away to smiles. They’d saved her life, and while I wasn’t ready to believe it for several hours, they knew she was probably out of the woods now.
The rapid response of the medical staff was institutional: hundreds of hours of experience, well-worn, long-practiced drills. This was something trained, something learned. The look of fear when they charged in the door, the expression of relief at our baby’s recovery—those weren’t. That was something innate, something natural. Something unlearned, something ingrained in their nature.
So when I read this story, about an abortion clinic where, it is alleged, viable babies were fully delivered, fully born, and then their spines ruthlessly cut by other so-called “medical professionals,” I think back to those workers that saved my daughter’s life, to their relief and joy at her survival, and I wonder: how many dead children does it take to deaden that unlearned, innate concern for a child’s life?
What kind of self-deception must be required to overcome the unimaginable revulsion and horror they must have experienced that first time they felt, in their own hand, that little human life—soft, stretching, squirming, straining for breath, warm in the hand—suddenly, sickeningly go limp, the living baby abruptly, finally going lifeless in that same hand?
That ghastly “deadening” of our own moral and ethical reasoning is not just happening on the individual level, to particular workers in abortion clinics. As unspeakable and horrific as these allegations are, I’m actually more disturbed by this specific piece of journalism I’ve linked, and how it is written. Whether or not the allegations are proven in court, a terrible line has been crossed.
Specifically, the moral and ethical Rubicon that has been traversed is found in one line, an informational statement supplied for context:
“Abortions are typically performed in utero.”
What power little words have! That nine-letter word “typically” signals a fundamental shift in the war over abortion. The mainstream media has, with this story and this line, subtly broadened the scope of abortion in the sphere of public discourse. The definition of the word “abortion” has been expanded here. Did you see it?
Abortions “typically” happen in utero. This, then, is an “atypical abortion.” Not a typical abortion. But typical or not—and this is crucial—it’s still an “abortion.”
The semantic range, the set of possible meanings, for the word “abortion” now, in the sphere of public discourse, includes the killing of children after birth, outside the uterus and birth canal, away from the mother.
Stop and think about that.
Pro-life advocates have argued from the beginning that abortion is not morally different than infanticide (the killing of a child outside the womb). Well, now we see society—represented in this example of journalism—concede that very point, but in an unexpected way. Now, infanticide is being subsumed under the notion of “abortion.” And if a woman should, as our culture demands, have an unfettered right to an abortion whenever she chooses, well, I think anyone can follow the direction things are going.
A cultural “deadening” has taken place. Tens of millions of aborted children in North America, and many more around the world (330 million in China alone!!) have deadened our society to the horrific reality of what is happening. The idea of an abortion is no longer repulsive, because people see it as a clinical, antiseptic medical procedure. And the sheer numbers are so staggering they have become meaningless, just statistics.
Our society has become accustomed to killing and casting away babies. Yes, it’s tried to confine itself to the womb for the most part, but because the fundamental difference between a “blob of unwanted tissue” and “my baby” is not a scientific or medical distinction but rather whether the mother wants a baby or not, that arbitrary “limit” of the womb/birth canal is hardly critical to the argument and so is easily crossed.
This subtle verbal shift is terrifying because this happened in a mainstream publication. Not only did a (presumably) trained journalist think that this word choice was appropriate, but it also passed editorial control at both the Associated Press and at Philly.com (and perhaps its parent organization as well, which runs the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News). This speaks volumes about the evolution of the idea of abortion in the sphere of public discourse. And it is this sphere of public discourse—the space where people get their news, where people are informed about the big issues, where people allow their opinions to be shaped by editorials and columnists—where this shift in meaning has taken place.
So this little shift in one word’s meaning represents a deeper cultural shift. One which will take us back to the days, seen in ancient Rome, where unwanted babies were “exposed,” left in a public place to die of exposure, except that it will no doubt take place behind a hospital curtain, away from guilty ears and eyes. Ironically, back then, that “right” to kill one’s child belonged not to the woman, but to the man. How far we’ve come! In two thousand years, we’ve managed to establish that slaughtering helpless babies is actually a matter of women’s rights, not men’s rights. Hooray for progress.
I have to ask those who continue to support abortion: is this the kind of world you want to live in? What does this say about us as a society?
It’s noteworthy and shameful that this story is not being splashed across the front pages of newspapers like another prominent recent killing of helpless children. I think part of the reason why is shame. Deep down, most people know this is wrong. For the same reason that those medical professionals who dashed to save my daughter were scared and then relieved by her survival, most human beings have an innate sense that the loss of life is somehow wrong. The Bible calls that “the work of the law written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15).
Our culture is doing its level best to deaden our collective sense of that law. The result is a world where the value of life is decided based on its convenience for others. A world where your status as “human” depends on whether your existence makes life more or less enjoyable for someone else.
Do you really want to live in a world like that?
Something’s deeply wrong with our culture. Something’s fundamentally wrong with us as human beings. A world that would allow itself to sink to such depths, that would be complicit and active in not only destroying its most vulnerable but in trying to convince everyone else that it’s okay, is a world that is irreparably broken.
That’s why Christians look for a new and better world. That’s why we call everyone to repent of their own complicity in deadening God’s demands on their lives, and to submit in faith and trust to Christ. He is our only hope. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate, but, terrifyingly, it’s leaving the realm of contemplation and becoming reality before our very eyes.
Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly.