Sunday, December 12, 2010


Can you be “pro-life” when there's no life there?

The Ridger, pointed out an item in the Washington Post magazine section, citing a particular section. The article is by a religion writer called Julia Duin, and it describes her bus ride from New York to D.C. for the Stewart/Colbert rally at the end of October. She talks with a number of folks on the bus, along the way.

But Ms Duin is a writer, not a reporter, and her story isn’t an attempt at unbiased reporting, but a piece that includes her opinions — sometimes strongly. Here’s the part that The Ridger noted, where Ms Duin is talking with her seatmate, Robert Woudenberg, a 46-year-old man from Rockland County, just across the river from me:

[...] But I decline to argue with Woudenberg about this, as the conversation soon shifts to his 21-month-old daughter, whom he dotes on. Before she was born, I learn, there was another pregnancy. Doctors told Woudenberg and his wife that the fetus had no heartbeat, and she was advised to abort.

Why couldn’t you have at least allowed your child to live out its short life in the womb? I ask.

I have strong feelings on this, not just because of my faith but because of a 2009 article I wrote about a Silver Spring organization called Isaiah’s Promise, which encourages women with problem pregnancies to bring their babies to term. The women I had interviewed told me that doing so was less traumatic than aborting the babies would have been.

Woudenberg responds with a line I often hear: that if an unborn child has some kind of abnormality, it’s best to abort him or her sooner and let the mother get on with her life. He argues that my position is a minority one; I say it’s the more compassionate one for the mother, for whom an abortion is an added trauma, and for her helpless child, for whom nine months in the womb will be the only life he or she knows.

I talked this over with a sonographer who does ultrasounds on pregnant women. She spends all day, every work day, looking at babies in utero, mostly with good news for the mothers, sometimes with sad. Here’s an approximation of her response to the above:

No, no, that doesn’t make sense at all. There’s no grey area here. Dead [she extends her left hand]. Not dead [she extends her right hand]. A fetus with no heartbeat is dead [she waves her left hand]. That’s it: it’s dead. There’s no life for it to live out, in the womb or anywhere else. It doesn’t know anything, it’s not enjoying being in there, it’s not growing (in fact, it will probably atrophy if it’s left inside), it’s not kicking or moving around. It’s not alive.

This woman is confusing a problem pregnancy, perhaps a congenital defect that will result in the baby’s death soon after birth... with a fetus that’s dead now. It’s not a problem pregnancy; there is no pregnancy any more. And removing it isn’t an abortion. Abortion is terminating a pregnancy; this has already terminated.

Indeed. It’s certainly a valid choice for a woman to make, if she wants to leave her dead fetus inside her for a while, until her body expels it. If she feels that will be less disturbing to her, less traumatic, than having a doctor help remove it, that’s fine. But there’s no sense in which she’d be doing it for her unborn child. Her unborn child is dead, and that’s a terrible thing for her to have to face. If softening it in some way helps her... good.

We don’t know how far along the pregnancy was — perhaps Mr Woudenberg didn’t say, or perhaps Ms Duin just prefers to leave that out to help make her point, just as she does by referring to the helpless child as he or she. The heartbeat should first have shown up at 6 weeks, so it could have been lost any time after that. The current standard for viability is 24 weeks. And, of course, full term is 40 weeks. If it died after 24 weeks, we’d consider it a stillbirth. But no matter what, it’s not a helpless child.

It’s dead.

Ms Duin is a religious-fanatic, nonsensical moron, looking to try to preserve some sense of life and sentience for an erstwhile being that has none of either to preserve. And insisting that it’s the right thing to do. And berating a man who probably still feels horrible about having lost his first child before it was born, expecting him to share her delusional fantasy of a happy baby soul floating contentedly inside its mother.

I continue to be puzzled that we accept such fantasy from otherwise thinking adults, that we actually encourage and praise such magical thinking, and that we publish garbage like this in reputable media.


Sue VanHattum said...

Is the Washington Post reputable?

Barry Leiba said...

Yeah, there's a point. It used to be, but I'm not sure any more.