About a week ago, I went to a local pro-life rally. Clergy from several denominations gathered at our county courthouse, along with choir members from our local Catholic school, Knights of Columbus and a good cross-section of community members. Even one of our county commissioners spoke. It was heartening, respectful and peaceful. One part of the ceremony featured speakers who read out the names and birthdates of hypothetical children, some killed before they were born and some who were born and went on to have families, careers and other achievements. As each name was read, a student laid a rose in front of the podium. Together, we decried the loss of so many children, brothers, sisters, doctors, lawyers, mothers, fathers, even citizens and taxpayers.
Some days later, I was listening to Catholic radio as the hosts again described the devastating loss of human potential to abortion. Who knows what these baby lives could have grown up to be?
In the same week, New York passed a new abortion-rights law, stating: “A health care practitioner licensed, certified, or authorized under title eight of the education law, acting within his or her lawful scope of practice, may perform an abortion when, according to the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”
A few days after that, a friend mourned the decision with a beautiful picture of a lit manger, stating simply, “one unplanned pregnancy saved us all.”
“The patient’s life or health:” So much is left unsaid in those five words. So much pain and disappointment and anguish. So many mothers and fathers hoping for the same thing pro-lifers long for: a living and beautiful newborn, soft and snuggly, sleeping in peace and full of potential. A healer, a mother, an artist, a warrior. A bouncing baby boy or giggly girl. A hero that saves us all.
Then, reality intrudes, rudely shoving away our dreams. Fear flies in and nests in the space we have prepared for the stork.
“The delayed results are in. Part of your daughter’s brain is missing. She will be blind, deaf, and paralyzed. Her head will swell to an abnormal size due to the fluid pressure inside her skull. Death will occur likely within the year.”
“Listen. Your child has Down syndrome and congenital heart disease. We suggest reading up on the hardships your family will go through as you support him into his adulthood.”
“Ma’am, the tumor is malignant, and your prognosis is bad. You need to start chemo right away. Baby is 29 weeks old. We could deliver her, but we also know you don’t have the family to care for her while you’re undergoing treatment. And your future is uncertain.”
“This kid is already addicted. Mom just HAD to go and relapse. It would be better for everyone if she could get clean without this and try again. She’s only seventeen.”
Life and health.
Nobody wants to abort a pink and promising future. But these babies? We imagine them grim and gray and white. Lonely in a clear box in the NICU. Drooling or writhing in pain. Abandoned or incarcerated or in tiny graves in the “little angels” section of a cemetery. They are children and never parents. Patients and never doctors. “Takers” and never taxpayers.
We don’t mention them at the pro-life rally or on the Catholic radio show because we want to give people hope and drive away fear and remind people of miracles. What kind of an anti-abortion meme shows an infant gasping amid a tangle of wires? “One unplanned pregnancy could end just like this.”
But this is the truth and the fear that drives late-term abortion. It will never be dispelled with rallies and platitudes or even earthly hope. As Catholic pro-lifers, we must do better than “potential” and “promise” and “success” and “miracle.” To combat the fear and evil of New York’s Reproductive Health Act, we can only make progress by pointing to the deeper, eternal truth that clings to each of us like a garment:
My life, my thirty-one years, my motherhood, my marriage, my bachelor’s degree, my achievements, my everything—they are worth not one whit more than that pallid baby doomed to die. I am neither better nor worse than the young man with Down syndrome. I am of equal dignity to the mother on crack and no more valuable to the Lord than her child, the one who will “drain the system” without “breaking the cycle.” I am no more worthy of life than the mousy “blob of cells” miscarried at ten weeks gestation. Me, my child, the future saint, the serial killer, the President, the Honduran drug dealer, the zygote, the healthy six-month-old, the snotty teenager, the terminal cancer patient, the elderly woman who screams and cries and wets the bed alone in the nursing home— our human dignity and value in the eyes of our God is exactly equal. We all came out of nothing, and we will all return to eternity. Our faith, thoughts, words, actions —they make us worthy of this or that, fame or failure, heaven or hell—but they do not affect our worth.
We know this, Catholics. We should know this better than anyone and we should proclaim it loudly instead of leaning on the wobbly pillar of potential. In fact, this equal dignity is one of the most amazing promises of Christ for his faithful: “For through faith you are all children of God in Christ. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28
The Scriptures bear us this same lesson over and over again. The late workers receive the same wages as the early. The Prodigal gets the fatted calf. The prostitute is allowed to anoint the King. Martha works, but Magdalene is favored. The sick and the young receive His attention while others are made to wait. The last will be first. And far from being scary or unfair or even hard to understand, it gets simpler and easier the longer you think about it.
Even without the lens of faith, it is easy to see that we are all human beings. Even without religion, it is easy to see that the history of humanity is that of the strong subjugating the weak, the worthy eliminating the unworthy, the fearful building fortresses to keep out heartache and pain. Even when these actions are undertaken with the best of intentions, it is easy to see the unraveling, devastating evil that rides in their wake. It is easy to see that pulling even one thread away from the tapestry of human dignity mars the whole picture. If we treat even one wisp of humanity as disposable, we forfeit our ability to preach liberty, dignity, and equality for all the others.
Christ’s truth, which is everyone’s truth, is the only way out of it all.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him.” 1 John
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10
“But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’
nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary,
and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable
we surround with greater honor … If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” 1 Corinthians
Christ’s message is more liberating, more egalitarian and more radical than any social movement or uprising or revolution. It dignifies us with protections no law can provide or revoke. He loves us individually and fully without expecting anything of us. He asks, pleads, only love in return. He values us for WHO WE ARE, not WHAT WE CAN DO. We are the children of I AM, not I CAN. The language of human potential pales in comparison.
If we continue to ask only who the unborn could grow up to be in our fight against abortion, we are traveling on a crash course with those who would reply: “the poor, the sad, the sick, the criminal, the unworthy, the helpless, the suffering, the selfish, the lazy, the lonely, the wretched. The same people you didn’t talk about.”
As the New York legislation becomes law, it is time for Christians to re-examine our language and our hearts, then go out joyfully to proclaim the greater truths.
** I am not the owner of any of these photos, and with the exception of the free stock photo used as the featured photo, all of them were found on Facebook being used as memes.