Creating a firebreak is sweaty, sometimes risky work and especially dangerous in an emergency. Crews crank up bulldozers, brush axes and chainsaws, even light backfires – anything to stop a wildfire from spreading further destruction onto fresh ground. If the fire rushes too quickly upon the firefighters and fleeing panic stricken animals rush by, they have little choice but to run for their own lives or hunker down under emergency wild land fire shelters and hope they can keep breathing long enough for the fire to pass over them. Other crews will be working again ahead of the fire to make a new firebreak to try and restrain the blaze. A successful firebreak contains the devastation and preserves what remains.
If our house be on fire, without inquiring whether it was fired from within or without, we must try to extinguish it. Thomas Jefferson
An article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal entitled “America’s Baby Bust” by Jonathan Last tells of a different kind of consuming fire – one far more destructive. United States citizens, like 97% of the rest of the world’s population now, live in a country with birth rates below a replacement threshold necessary to sustain itself – 2.1 births per woman. We have not been consistently at a sustaining rate since the early 70’s; currently we are at 1.93 and dropping because the immigrant population, which was holding its own for a long time, has now followed those of us born here. Among college educated women, the rate is 1.60 births per child bearing woman, about what it is in Japan overall. China is in worse shape at a 1.54 rate after decades of a one child and forced abortion policy, exacerbated because of cultural bias with a young demographic heavily weighted male. Japan has been at it longer and is in full blown panic. Russia, Italy, France and Canada are all paying mothers large tax credits or even cash bounties for new babies. By 2100, Japan will be half its current population. Its once dazzling growth rate in GDP has ground to a halt.
Many of the economic and sociopolitical crises we face arise from a stagnant population. A rapidly aging demographic makes any social security program for the elderly unsustainable with only two workers for every person drawing benefits. The major impetus for escalating health care costs is directly attributable to the inescapable reality that we are living longer with more expensive health remedies available, and there are too few still working (and contributing) to pay for it all. Another slow train coming is too few young fit people to staff a strong military and too few taxpayers to fund it.
The myth of overpopulation touted incessantly in the 70’s is long behind us.
If I … comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge…, but do not have love, I am nothing. 1 Cor 13:2
Last week in Washington, there were two demonstrations: one to express support for new gun control legislation was attended by three to four thousand people and received ubiquitous coverage by every major network and print news media. The second was to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 that overturned every state law in the country that limited abortion for any reason at any stage of pregnancy. Attended by somewhere between 500,000 and 650,000 people, the March for Life got little if any mention on most news outlets (except for Fox News and EWTN) with every effort made to obfuscate the size of the crowd.
The most eye-catching aspect of the turnout was the average age of the participants. Hundreds of thousands of young people from high school to post graduates braved the bitter cold, carried signs and chanted, “We are the pro life generation.” They are the survivors of the last forty years in which between 25 and 33% of those conceived in the womb were killed – fifty five million of them. Earnest, healthy, full of life, intelligence and humor, the young people came. The progeny of a generation of materialists, hedonist pleasure seekers, narcissists and those committed to self fulfillment, not self sacrifice, they came. To make extraordinarily clear that the torch has been passed to those even better suited for the fight, they came. And given the sparse numbers born to those committed to a pro-choice agenda, these born to be pro life will eventually triumph – even if just by an inexorable demographic.
These are the children cutting the firebreak, and they will persist. They will not go gently into the night. They will “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV)
One more article captured my attention this week. In it pro choice (or formerly pro choice) reporters described what they observed in abortion clinics. For the sake of brevity and limiting the brutality, I will cite only one out of seven. Pro choice author, Magda Denes, in her book, “Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death Inside an Abortion Hospital”, wrote this about coming into an operating room following the abortion of a second trimester baby:
I remove with one hand the lid of a bucket … I look inside the bucket in front of me. There is a small naked person there floating in a bloody liquid- plainly the tragic victim of a drowning accident. But then perhaps this was no accident, because the body is purple with bruises and the face has the agonized tautness of one forced to die too soon. Death overtakes me in a rush of madness … I have seen this before. The face of a Russian soldier, lying on a frozen snow covered hill, stiff with death and cold. … A death factory is the same anywhere, and the agony of early death is the same anywhere.
We have made technological advances undreamt of by our parents and grandparents. Among these is the scientific and medical ability to control pregnancies in a way not possible just forty years ago. We can take a pill to end a pregnancy and flush a new life away. We bicker about whether taxpayers who find the practice morally repugnant and in violation of their religious freedom should have to pay for it. We seem to have lost the thread on the larger question. The issue is not “how” or even “why”, the issue is “ought”.
These are some of the gripping questions it will take at least another generation to determine, and they will look into themselves, not into the media, to resolve them. And this generation is hopeful and ready.
So to my pro life and pro choice friends, I pose these queries. Have we come so far? We differentiate ourselves from all other known species not just with rationality and imagination, but with accrued knowledge, wisdom, a search for love, truth and beauty, with spirit and soul, and with consciences formed by all of these facets. Do we endure in dragging along with our hoodies up, our ear buds in and our eyes cast down a yard or so ahead of our sad shuffling? Is this really the best we can make of it? Is this really the best we can do?
The world arrays a twofold battle line. It offers temptation to lead us astray; it strikes terror into us to break our spirit. Hence if our personal pleasures do not hold us captive, and if we are not frightened by brutality, then the world is overcome. St. Augustine
One response to “Firebreak”
Two years after Roe v Wade in 1975, I was working in a Maine hospital as an obstetrical RN. The hospital was adjusting to the new rules. OB was on the fifth floor; the surgical suites were in the basement. It was there that they perpetrated abortions. Our adult conversion to Catholicism was still a year or two ahead of us, but my heart and commitment were to the health of the mothers and of the babies. “First, do no harm.” Abortion to me was killing the innocent and something I would not do.
One evening, the head nurse told me that some of the OB doctors needed our support down in the basement OR because they were having a tough time getting surgical nurses to assist in abortions. This was still in the days of doctor worship when a nurse’s duty was to do whatever they wanted as if God walked the earth. I responded to her that I could not participate in an abortion and that she could fire me if that was not acceptable. She walked away and never brought it up again.
A few months later, I was with a mother in the beginning of the fifth month of her pregnancy one night. Her contractions were sporadic and weak, the baby’s heartbeat was strong. I had started an IV to hydrate her because frequently that would stop the early contractions, which was greatly desired seeing how early she was. Her doctor came in and spoke to her, then turned to me and instructed me to put Pitocin, a synthetic hormone to induce labor, into her IV. For a second time, I refused, since this would be equivalent to causing an abortion. I told him I disagreed with his treatment and that if he wanted Pitocin in the IV, he would have to put it there.
He was holding a metal file clipboard writing his orders and angrily side armed it at me. I deflected it. He put the Pitocin into the IV; shortly thereafter, she started her labor in earnest. My first responsibility was to the health of the mother. When babies were born, the staff in the nursery took the newborn and ministered to it under the warming lamp, suctioning the breathing tubes if necessary and making sure they had a good start. I went into the nursery and gave the nurse in charge there a heads up about this labor, and that very soon she would have an extremely premature baby to care for. In truth, that many years ago with the closest neonatal intensive care unit at least an hour away in Portland, the baby had little chance of survival.
On the labor and delivery room table a small stainless steel basin was kept for the placenta. Normally handed off to the nursery nurse, this tiny girl born with a heartbeat was discarded into the basin by the doctor. The nursery nurse immediately went over to pluck the baby in the basin, brought her to the warmer, suctioned her, wrapped her and cuddled her. After a half hour or so, the baby’s heart stopped beating.
Another unusual circumstance was with the anesthesiologist, who put the mother deeply under. This was not being done even then in normal practice because of the danger to the baby and mother. After the child was born, both anesthesiologist and obstetrician wrote doctor’s notes, which are legal documents, to the effect that the baby was “stillborn and macerated.” In other words they wrote that the baby had been dead within the mother’s womb for more than a few days, which was utterly untrue. Both the nursery nurse and I wrote in our notes that the baby was born alive with good color. Because of the conflicting notes, the funeral director called the hospital, and I was permanently persona non grata with both doctors. That was OK with me.
I had seen in the two years following Roe that doctors who routinely performed abortions became increasingly calloused towards both the mothers and the babies. How could they not? The physical brutality of abortion cannot be denied by any who have witnessed one. Without building a hard layer between them and what they did, how could they function? It lessened them as doctors and as human beings. I am haunted by this episode in my life to this day…