“Set aside all the muddle of your fears and desires, your resentment, your self-opinion, your politics, whatever. Look at that child. That was you, that was me.” Dr. Anthony Esolen, “Let the Beautiful Creature Live.”
I’ve been busy writing letters to the editors of various local newspapers about the outcry over the first draft of the Dobbs decision written by Justice Samuel Alito after the leak caused such a trembling in the fabric of social media. I was struck once again by how rarely we discuss the central question of the abortion debate. Yes, Roe was bad law, badly written, and yes, of course, the “exercise in raw judicial power[i]” was “egregiously wrong from the start — Its reasoning was exceptionally weak,”[ii] The wrongness of Roe has long been acknowledged by jurists on all sides. The dubious decision was a flimsy structure on which to support the far-reaching judicial mandates that usurped every state’s authority to limit abortion. “Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped…..may prove unstable.”[iii] However, irrespective of legal debates over constitutional issues, we still don’t talk much about the pivot point of all this.
To wit: what grows inside a woman’s womb when she is pregnant? Simple question. Is it a tumor? A parasite? Is it something alien and malevolent to be eradicated at will by the host? I ask that question in all sincerity of anyone who advocates for abortion as a “right.” What is it we will permit to be torn asunder and ripped out?
Science tells us it is one thing and no other: a tiny, living, dependent human being. All the debate about heartbeat, viability, and when the fetus experiences pain are only points on a preordained continuum. An embryo is not part of someone’s body, but a separate body from her mother, genetically distinct, and not an unwelcome appendage. She will grow by absorbing food through her umbilical, learning early to like some kinds of food her mother ingests better than others. Without further outside prompting, she will begin to develop her senses, to see light even inside the womb, to hear voices and respond and bond to them as well as to other sounds. She will be startled and frightened by sudden sounds and soothed by music, especially Bach or Mozart.[iv]
A continuum from conception to death, which if uninterrupted by disease or violence, will develop her inherent capabilities uniquely implanted in her genes that were formed in an instant at conception. Her hair and eye color, her organs, fingers and toes, her brain and heart, her capacity for learning already hard wired. She will develop those capabilities to whatever degree her education, nurture, and those who care for her support. She will mature and experience a complex human life with a brief arduous journey down the birth canal from the uterus to the open air just one more milestone along the way.
No one yet to my satisfaction has explained the justification and moral argument that grants the larger, stronger human being the ‘right’ to take the life of the smaller, weaker human being because the big person is mobile and has power, and the little one is trapped and has no power. Exactly why should killing a human being become lawful because the victim is in an unprotected category of tiny persons and declared expendable? Because it’s inconvenient or embarrassing or too expensive or too difficult to keep them around? Because they were condemned with often wrong prenatal test diagnoses? [v]
In California[vi], there is now a bill to ‘decriminalize’ ending a baby’s life either through neglect or violence or “unknown causes” during the first thirty days after birth. As horrifying as that sounds, it is no different ethically than abortion. A baby in the first month is breathing on her own but still utterly dependent day to day for her life on her parents or guardians. No protector, no nurture – no survival.
Peter Singer, the Princeton bioethicist known for his pro-abortion and animal rights work (one of the founders of PETA), for years has asserted that infanticide should be allowed until full self-awareness, which he defined as up to three years post birth. He has stated that the life of an adult pig should enjoy greater protections than an immature human being before they are fully self-aware. Whatever you think about his moral stance, you can’t fault his consistency. He is perfectly logical in his arguments. Preborn or post born, all the same kid. #MeStillMe.
No sophistry, no rhetoric, no emotional, political, jaded language about rosaries and ovaries, theocracy or state power or keep your hands off my uterus or any of the shopworn slogans, just this: Why does the big person get to kill the little person solely because the big person wants or even needs to do so? As a right?
Dr. Anthony Esolen this week published an essay entitled, “Let the Beautiful Creature Live.”[vii] A long quote of a couple of paragraphs is germane. He writes a lot more elegantly than I ever could hope to do, so I will end here and not sully the loveliness of his prose, prose which reads like poetry without an unnecessary word and missing not one that is needed[viii].
“Still, there are pictures of unborn children in the womb. As early as eight weeks in, you are looking at a being that is obviously human, with arms and legs, toes and fingers, a head, a face, and eyes. A little later on, he will be sucking the thumb, practicing in the womb what will soon be his sole means of nourishment. The child is strange and familiar at once. Set aside all the muddle of your fears and desires, your resentment, your self-opinion, your politics, whatever. Look at that child. That was you, that was me.
Nothing else that we know of is like him. He possesses, in latency, the developing powers of a mind capax universi: capable of apprehending a universe of existent things. He possesses, in latency, the soul capable of grasping itself; of conceiving objects not bounded by matter; of reflecting his Creator by the works of his hands, his heart, and his imagination; of promising itself in duty; and handing itself over in love. Surely, we have here infinite riches in a little room. And he is our brother.”[ix]
[i] Justice Byron White in dissent from Roe v Wade, 1973
[ii] Justice Samuel Alito in first draft majority opinion in Dobbs v Jackson Health, 2022
[iii] Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a speech at New York University referencing the weakness of Roe v Wade, 1992
[v] Some prenatal tests for genetic diseases have up to 90% false positive results. Many are over 80% false positive. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/01/upshot/pregnancy-birth-genetic-testing.html
[vi] In 2019 Rhode Island joined California, New York, and a few other states in allowing abortion up to birth for undefined reasons other than the mother’s health. Health being defined as encompassing emotional, financial, or physical without reference to the severity of the risk. No other European country has such lax laws. Rhode Island, California, and New York join Russia, China, and North Korea as one of the riskiest places on earth for preborn babies. Not august company.
[vii] Let the Beautiful Creature Live, Crisis Magazine Dr. Anthony Esolen formerly taught at Providence College, and is now a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College in New Hampshire. One of the most respected social commentators around. Has spoken at over fifty colleges.
[viii] Note please Dr. Esolen references latency, not potential life. Inherent and to be developed in the nature of the baby. Latent is from the Latin meaning “hidden.” Unlike “potential” which might imply contingency or just possibility, “latent” is fully present, just not yet visible.
[ix] Me-Still Me picture credit from LiveAction website.