Last week my first-grade daughter, Astrid, heard me mention abortion in conversation with my wife and asked me what it meant. It took no time for me to reply: “Abortion is when they kill a baby before it’s born, when it’s still inside its mommy.” Astrid’s eyes grew wide as she processed this horrible new feature of her world. She has seen her mommy pregnant twice, and those pregnancies ended in two little brothers. It’s strange to think that on Thursday morning, my little girl woke up not knowing that many like her brothers (and her) are legally killed before they have a chance to breathe. Now she knows. Welcome to America, pumpkin.
No matter what ideologues say, we all know (or at least once knew) that abortion involves killing unborn babies. Many have since suppressed that knowledge, and with J. R. R. Tolkien, I am a firm believer that people can—like a certain 500-year-old jewelry enthusiast who convinced himself his “birthday present” wasn’t acquired by parricide —come to believe their own oft-repeated lies. Many do talk themselves into believing, somehow, that vacuuming out the calvaria of preborn children is not murder. Born children intuitively know otherwise.
Now, I’m not saying my child’s reaction proves the pro-life cause. Little ones have been deployed too often as shock-troops in the culture wars. Videos of kids explaining why everyone should just get over gay marriage because “love is love” are in no short supply. Although, given how frequently these grade-schoolers parrot familiar progressive slogans, I do wonder how original their opinions are. Still, just because kids are predisposed to reach a certain conclusion doesn’t mean that is the right conclusion. Kids probably start out thinking the earth is flat.
My point is rather that the humanity of the unborn is obvious to everyone—so much so that adults look unbearably awkward trying to deny it in front of youngsters. I think especially of the recent video of the founder of Shout Your Abortion, who attempted to act nonchalant as she justified abortion-on-demand to preteens. “It’s like a really crappy dentist appointment,” she lied, having first-hand knowledge of the practice.
The very premise that abortions are things to be shouted is a tacit admission that something more consequential than a filling has taken place, and she knows it. Watch how quickly she corrects one boy who dares to suggest adoption as an alternative to the absolute exercise of a woman’s right to choose (She says: “Do we want people to just have all those babies?… So, what do we do with them?”) Listen as she agrees with a young girl who describes abortion as “You basically go and get rid of the baby from inside you.” Notice the slight pause as she chooses her words while describing the procedure (“they just…suck the pregnancy out”).
There’s still a halfhearted effort to use stock pro-choice euphemisms. It just sounds too bad, even to a seared conscience, to talk of a baby being “sucked out.” We need a code-word to cover that little boo-boo. But the veil slips frequently as Madam Shout-Your-Abortion and the children on either side of her refer to the condemned as “baby.” The children fidget with noticeable discomfort at these moments. Most of them have been taught what to say. But I’m not sure they’re quite buying it.
And why would they? The verbal gymnastics on the apologist’s part are ceremonial. In the twisted moral universe of Roe v. Wade, it doesn’t matter whether the unborn are human beings or not. Their lives are pitted against the absolute bodily autonomy of their mothers in a ruthless, zero-sum calculus that denies the primordial bonds of maternity—the kicks and stirrings and now even sonogram images that parents and older siblings instantly recognize as a second, tiny person—at least until politics demands we all pretend otherwise.
Before Astrid was even at the kicking stage of development, we called her “Sesame Seed,” because a pregnancy book we picked up after finding out of her existence told us that was about how big she was. Now she can read to me and ride a horse bareback. I think she, like most young children, has a natural understanding of the continuity between herself and the tiniest babies.
For all the “I’m-a-big-girl-now” bluster, she knows she is closer in time to that little sesame seed than she is to adulthood. There is a kinship there. And little girls instantly pick up on the idea that a baby is growing inside mommy’s tummy. How confusing it will be for her to grow in a world where some people celebrate that tiny life, and others have it sucked out.
But this is the world we have created by trying to tear asunder what God has joined together. Such acts of division often have a remainder—an unwelcome guest imposed by our unalterable design. We have come up with another use for our bodies which many imagine is better, more liberated, and more fun. But they keep right on rudely working as they were designed. So, we punish the remainder.
As Nancy Pearcy writes in “Love Thy Body,” “In a culture that says we have a right to the pleasures of sex, while denying its biological function, many will end up treating babies as the enemy—intruding where they are not wanted or welcome.” Thus, when sex fulfills its good design of creating family, many today would rather kill the family than rethink their math. It’s a confusing and grievous world in which to raise children. Looking in my daughter’s eyes the other day, I remembered that it’s even more confusing to grow up in.