The Essence of the Thing

“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.”

1965LC 0430.jpg

18 -week-old fetus shown inside amniotic sac. from cover of LIFE Magazine, 4-30-1965.

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.

me-still-meNo 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

[iv] Baby soothed and brain development in the womb enhanced by classical music, especially Mozart.

[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.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Essence of the Thing

  1. Anthony Vinson

    Congratulations. You will soon get what you have long desired. Let the revels begin, let the fires be started. At any rate the time is long past for cherry-picked examples to support your side. It’s a done deal. Simply enjoy what will turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory, though neither of us will be around to see the fallout… but our grandchildren will.

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    • Thanks for weighing in, Anthony. I’m not sure what you mean by Pyrrhic victory? What repercussions will outweigh the taking of innocent life tens of millions of times? Can you answer the one question that means anything? If we can agree that the deliberate taking of innocent human life is intrincically evil, then what is it that lives in the womb of the mother? Parasite? Tumor? Malignant invader? I never took you for a science denier.

      And what specifically was cherry picked here? The embryology or the critque of ideological judicial overrreach that had no real basis in reasoned interpretation of the constitution? Or is it as some have inferred that overturning Roe will outlaw abortion? Astonishingly, two thirds of Americans believe that to be the case, and the self interested fan that controversy with their willing flacks in the chattering class.

      As the usual political actors ratcheted up their rhetoric after the leak of the first draft of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v Jackson decision, we need to true up what they are claiming to reality. Together they insinuate that Justice Samuel Alito’s draft robs women of their so-called right to abortion. Of course, it does nothing of the sort, and the politicians know it.

      The draft decision does nothing to change any law in any state; it simply undoes some of the most flagrantly ideological decisions in Supreme Court history in Roe v Wade and Casey v Planned Parenthood. Dobbs justly sends this most contentious issue back to the citizens and their representatives. As Justice Byron White wrote in his dissent, the arbitrary 1973 Roe decision was an “exercise in raw judicial power.”

      Justice Antonin Scalia dissented from the cobbled together 1992 Casey decision reaffirming and expanding Roe. Scalia wrote presciently then, “It is no more realistic for us in this litigation than it was for him in that, to think that an issue of the sort they both involved — an issue involving life and death, freedom and subjugation — can be ‘speedily and finally settled’ by the Supreme Court.” (Comparing Casey to Justice Roger Taney’s vile Dred Scott v Sanford decision that codified the “right” to own slaves and institutionalized the inferiority of some human beings because of their race.)

      Even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, certainly no defender of the Fourteenth Amendment rights of the unborn, wrote about the woefully reasoned Roe: “Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped…..may prove unstable.” She thought it was badly reasoned even though she supported the outcome. She thought it was vulnerable, as it has proven to be.

      The Dobbs draft rectifies these errors. Justice Alito in the Dobbs draft systematically dismantles the pretense point by point. In the draft he stated, “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start — Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.”

      In lieu of emotional hand wringing, let the hypocritical politicians show specifically where Justice Alito got it wrong on the Constitution and undoing the errors of Roe.

      Both the Roe and Casey decisions were bad law, badly written. It is way past due time to consign them to the same trash bin as Dred Scott v Sanford.

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      • Anthony Vinson

        Science denier? Moi? If it came down to simply science, we would not be having this debate. The core argument is based solely on religion and supported by appeals to emotion and authority. Science might inquire about the use of contraceptives and comprehensive sex education as bulwarks against potential abortions, but the Religious Right has long railed against either because, well, the Bible and all.

        When I wrote of cherry picking it was in general and not specific to your post, although I might argue that at least one of your recent examples might be tinged a bit red.

        Bad law? Well, I am not qualified to say, but I do see the point. Perhaps viability should not have been the standard. Perhaps it should have been anchored to some other measure. But perhaps an outright ban on medical procedures of any sort might be ill-advised. Perhaps such decisions should be left to doctors and their patients rather than parishioners and their priests? Perhaps. Reasonable adults may differ. We do. That’s all.

        If it is to be, then it is to be. I will not be around to assess the long-term consequences so I will simply embrace the chaos. Entropy is eventual so enjoy the show. Along the way there will be fallout and consequences, the worst of which I am likely unable to imagine, and I have a fantastic imagination. One thing is certain, simply leaving it to individual states won’t be enough and you can bet your bippy that drafts of challenges are already in the works. As are draft challenges to Obergefell v. Hodges, et al.

        Here’s my final thought. Neither you nor I are in control. We have opinions, and informed or otherwise, that’s about it. I try to live according to a few simple “rules”: Be a good human. Be kind. Exercise empathy, but not to the point of excusing chronic poor behavior. Work to earn trust and respect from others and expect the same from them. Be honest, but not too honest since most people appreciate at least a dollop or two of bullshit to mitigate the sting.

        Be well and rock on,

        Av

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  2. Av,

    Too hot today to work in the garden, so……

    I always enjoy our exchanges as you consistenly are kind, respectful, thoughtful, articulate, and frequently wrong. ;^) Just kidding about the last one. We agree on far more than we disagree, but agreement isn’t half the fun. In those times of yore when we got to know each other a bit in the great training classes you ran, I learned you do indeed try to live by the good tenets of the last paragraph. And add in a good sense of humor. I hope you are still doing some training or consulting or story telling. I and many others benefitted from your skills.

    I love the entropy comment, another bow to current science on the topic. It, of course, gives the lie to the progressive fable that human progress is linear and that somehow against all evidence technology and human advancement will solve all our problems and cure all our ills. Sadly laughable, as we probably agree. Just a quick glance at the news of the day supports entropy and dystopia rather than utopia and the trumph of reason.

    Where we differ in our opinions on this topic, informed or otherwise, is marginalizing the arguments (in the good and friendly sense of the word) to a religious
    or entirely emotional debate. Although it is impossible to completely disentangle emotion from the discussion because of its nature.

    I was serious about the science. The root of my views is not religious, although that certainly helps inform my conscience and views on this and other matters to some degree. We all have our sources of conscience formation deeply inculcated, and whether we acknowledge those sources or not, they are there. It is in the science as I stated when I tongue in cheek suggested you were a science denier. Embryology and technology like ultrasound have indeed settled the science on this one.

    Nor is this is a discussion solely about the sovereignty of the female body or control over it. Or for that matter sovereignty of anyone’s body based in law. No one has full sovereignty over their body for any purpose. A quick consideration of indecent exposure or public urination or prostitution or pornography laws demonstrate that pretty easily. When my body conflicts with the body of another to the harm of the other body, my sovereignty is necessarily curtailed. And the fetus is not the body of the mother. Not a parasite or malign alien or a tumor; the fetus is a preborn human being. Full stop. Science is undeniable on that one.

    Where the conflict arises is what we do about that. I am a full supporter of a woman’s right to control her body and its natural functions to the degree that is possible. Where we differ is when that opportunity exists and when it is limited because it involves an innocent third party who has no say in the progress or abrupt violent termination of its development.

    When our third child was born, she weighed in at two pounds and spent six weeks in neo natal intensive care, which was staffed by amazingly skilled and loving health care providers. At that time, on another floor in the same hospital, different people were aborting children, sometimes the same size as our daughter. Our daughter was a fighter from the start, felt every jab and test, and grew into a fine young woman with multiple degrees and the mother of five herself.

    But the dissonance caused by the disparity of care offered on those two floors in the same hospital has never left me. My wife Rita was also an obstetrical nurse during the same period in a hospital closer to home. Rita was present and assisted in hundreds of births plus four of her own. She noticed right from the start the difference between doctors who performed abortions and those that did not. A difference in empathy and how patients and babies were treated. A detachment, a certain callousness, probably necessary for them to function, was consistent in those who took lives deliberately and absent from those that did not. As far as limiting the choice to the woman and her doctor, the doctor in the case of abortions has very limited contact with the woman, and it is purely functional.

    It is difficult for me still after the passing of decades to think of my daughter’s tiny limbs and cries, her determination and fight, and to compare it to those babies of the same size who had no chance to live. Given no chance because they never had one. The choice was not theirs. It is difficult for me still to imagine without a shudder the grotesqueness and violence of the procedures up to birth now sanctioned in RI clinics and hospitals.

    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?

    In California, 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 that 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 and utterly distinct genetically and in every other way from her mother.

    Where does it end? When does this society take responsibility to protect the most vulnerable? Where do we draw the line? Is there a line? The polling breakdown is pretty consistent. About ten percent are hard core pro choice (bordering on pro abortion). A similar ten percent are hard core pro life (or anti abortion). And the remaining 80% are on the spectrum. Seventy percent of Americans support some level of restrictions on abortion, especially second and third trimester abortions. The hard core pro choice folks fight fang and claw against any such restrictions such as late term abortions or even law requiring care of survivors of abortion or babies who have passed the threshold of feeling pain. Such is the divide, and there are very few bridges or compromises.

    That the judicial fiat solution which clearly has not resolved the issue to anyone’s sastisfaction may soon be dissolved (and rightly so after analysis of thej weakness and provable untruths in the Roe and Casey opinions). Perhaps having it worked out at a legislative level will prove more lasting? But somehow, like you, I believe that compromise on who lives and who dies is hard to find.

    RIta and I have been involved in this debate for four decades at least and known many, many post abortive women. Almost without exception, there is some measure of regret, sometimes profound. Many have other children, either before or after the abortion. And almost every one tells a heart wrenching tale of desperation and fear. They were sure they just couldn’t possibly have a child at that time. Her boyfriend or husband or family or friends either pressured her to have an abortion or left her on her own. Terrified, alone, and without support for anything except ending the pregancy, they went ahead. We have nothing but love and offered support to those women caught on the horns of that terrible dilemma. We have also known many who made the hard choice to continue their pregancy. Very few of them had regrets after they met their kid.

    We have been involved in helping women in crisis pregnancies for many years and still are. An organization for which I am serve on the board helps thousands of women with referrals for help (and or protection from abuse), baby clothes, diapers, baby furniture, etc. Over two hundred client visits a month at our office. And free pregnancy testing and ultrasounds on our mobile ultrasound bus that deploys all over our state here. You and I probably agree that those of us who champion the unborn and their mothers have a moral obligation to do more than protest, carry signs, and wring our hands. We must help to the greatest degree of which we are capable.

    Anyway. Too long as usual.

    Best always to you and yours, Anthony. Should you ever find yourself this far north, there is an open invitation for a cup of joe, a lunch, or an adult beverage of your choice.

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  3. Jack, Again, thank you for standing up for the unborn. There is an inexplicable evil in this country that would even have women kill their children after they are born. It is unfathomable. You are a voice of reason in a world gone mad. Keep speaking out! Valerie

    Liked by 1 person

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