It’s not politics, it’s about babies

About a year ago we got the exciting news that our daughter was pregnant with our first grandchild. We began to say things like “Anna is going to have a baby,” and “We are going to be grandparents.” All of this pointed toward some future date when “the baby will arrive.”

It struck me that those were odd ways to refer to this new person. If a guest were coming to our house, wouldn’t they be a human being until they come through the door? As silly as that sounds that was how we were speaking of the child we know now as Levi.

Whatever Levi was for those nine months in the womb, we typically don’t call that person a baby. If you look up the definition of “baby” some dictionaries limit usage to an infant, newly born. Other dictionaries do include the fetus among the possible meanings. Not having any experience in this, I’d guess pregnant mothers are instinctively aware that the person kicking around inside is very much a human being. In today’s world of astonishing ultrasounds, most babies have names before birth.

You might guess where this is going. I am “pro-life” although I don’t think that is a particularly helpful term. Except for assassins and terrorists, all of us claim to be in favor of life. The other side in the abortion debate would rather call me “anti-choice.” I am fine with that label, too, as I am against this particular “choice.”

The Supreme Court’s blanket legalization of abortion for the nation passed on January 22, 1973. I don’t recall that date although it must have been in the news. I was a junior in high school, probably more concerned about the upcoming baseball season. The attention I did pay to issues of the day was consumed by Watergate and Vietnam.

As I grew toward adulthood, I tried on various positions. Some of those would be called conservative, some liberal. It was like water sloshing in a pan before it becomes settled. Somewhere during that time, I told myself, “Of course, a woman should have the choice whether to have a child. Abortion should be legal.” I remember that ended one day with a “What the hell am I thinking?” when I realized that I couldn’t see any way to discern that a fetus was not a baby.

That continues today. A fetus is not “potentially” a child. A fetus is not a mass of cells like a cyst. I just can’t see it as anything but a baby. So I’m stuck with my position. Nothing in the last year of pregnancy and birth in our family caused me to waver in that. It’s been strengthened, if that is possible.

I have friends who are pro-choice. They are good and decent people. They love their families and contribute to the community. Obviously they see a fetus differently than I do. There’s not much reason to talk about it. At a certain age, we are aware of the evidence on both sides. I value them as friends and know we disagree, as confounding as we might be to each other on this issue.

I happen to be Catholic. Some would say that my position on abortion comes from that. My faith certainly informs my life, but my view on abortion doesn’t come from there. It flows from a sense of natural law. If I were living on some desert island and had never been in a church in my life, I don’t see that I would believe that a baby in the womb is not a human being. It is a member of our species with the same right to life that you and I have. That’s simply nature at its most common sensical.

Just as I don’t see religion as guiding me on this issue, I don’t see politics as having a role. I can’t see what being a Democrat or a Republican has to do with a baby’s right to live. Of course it has come to be a stratifying issue between the parties, almost a litmus test for membership in either. I have supported the gallant Democrats for Life of America. Talk about tilting at windmills. If they are welcome in their party, it is only because they are a tiny and ineffective organization.

It is an issue I feel strongly about. I have to admit, though, it has not touched my life directly. I only know a few people who have had an abortion, although likely there are some I don’t know about. I live in a mostly white, middle class world. Abortions are heavily weighted to the poor and the underclass in general. We all bear a deep responsibility to aid women who feel trapped and might consider an abortion because of that.

In my most cynical moments, it seems abortion is a sneakily racist and classist way to suppress the number of “undesirables.” Of course abortion’s supporters would recoil at being called racist.

We are told that we should be on the “right side of history.” Certainly the end of slavery, full citizenship for women, and efforts to end racism are positive things our nation has undertaken. On abortion, I fear future generations will look at us and shake their heads. How does taking of life from the most vulnerable align with efforts to improve society and expand freedoms? “History” may judge us harshly on this.

If you share my view on this issue, you share my frustration. We write letters, we donate, we vote. We do all the things Americans do to affect policy. But if you believe an abortion takes a life, those feel like small gestures. There will be something like 3,000 abortions performed in the United States today. Those of us who are anti-choice believe that 3,000 children will lose their lives today. It’s overwhelmingly sad if I dwell on it. Sometimes I do.