The National Catholic Review

'A time to offend and be offended.' There were two groups conspicuously absent from the State of the Union Address, 2000. The first was nine Supreme Court justices. Our most judicious body seems to have had a case of the collective flu. The other absent group was third-trimester unborn human beings. These groups will face each other when the court examines the attempts to protect the lives of the latter.

As for the speech itself, despite its litany of proposals for justice, equality, help for "kids," child care, Hillary Clinton’s "tireless work" for children and families over 30 years, "the gun death rate of children" and "saving millions of lives," there was no talk of the unborn childthis despite the fact that President Clinton has clearly linked the much desired election of his vice-president with his assurance that any partial-birth abortion bill will be vetoed.

I fell asleep during the first 15 minutes but read the text the next day in The New York Times. It seemed like a huge bribe to me. Things so dear to my own commitmentsmore equitable distribution of wealth, concern for global poverty, a truly living wage, tax cuts for the middle class, more effective health care for all, greater commitment to educationwere dangled before me, if only I would forget the absent constituency of which my conscience keeps reminding me. Try as I might to be seduced by the cornucopia of promises, I could not forget an image.

The December issue of Life magazine, with three Wise Men bending before the Child on the cover, featured an article that is only possibly a devastating rebuke of our national policy. "Born Twice" begins with a vivid, glowing picture of a womb outside the pregnant mother’s body. Reaching through an incision in the uterus is a human arm, the length of a grown-up’s hand, its own hand a little larger than the doctor’s finger it was holding.

Forget all theological commitment. Ignore philosophical speculation. Just look at the evidence. This is a patient. A living patient. Let no sophist tell you that we’re not sure its life has begun. It is a human’s hand we see, not the paw of a hamster or the limb of a tree (although some people seem more empathetic to these than to the patient within the womb).

There are those who honestly believe that a human life does not begin at conception. Others think that a human life cannot begin until there is a human brain. Those of us who disagree ethically, theologically and scientifically with such judgments may still respect them while contesting them.

But unborn third-trimester humans are another story. If you think the patient reaching out her hand from the womb is anything other than a human being, you are either a fool, a liar or (one in charity may hope) a victim of illusion and cultural group-think.

I’m sorry if that last paragraph is offensive to some of our readers. So be it. This is a time to offend and be offended.

Fetal surgery on Sarah Marie Switzer, when she was a 24-week-old fetus with spina bifida, was surgery on a human being. You may want to argue the niceties of calling such a fetus a "person," as Peter Singer and others doand you will, with them, soon deny such personhood to infants, toddlers, the handicapped and the brain-damaged. And you will reap the whirlwind. But you cannot deny these patients their living humanity, "the most important fact of our life," our president so touchingly put it.

Third-trimester abortions are homicides. Some people argue that such homicides are justified to save a mother’s life. But do they really think homicide is justified for "health?" Will they, with Singer et al., propose infanticide on the same grounds as well? Will they recommend forced euthanasia for those who burden us?

With the legal sanction of third-trimester abortions, we have not started on some moral slippery slope. We have stepped into an abyss. The concocters of Roe v. Wade seem to have suspected as much. Even though they could "not resolve the difficult question of when life begins" (if Sarah Marie Switzer was not living, was she dead when they operated on her?), they knew there was damning and incontrovertible evidence available at 24 weeks.

"With respect to the state’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the compelling’ point is at viability. This is so because the fetus presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the state is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother...."

In the coming months we will witness what this high court of our nation’s conscience deems "necessary" to kill unborn but indubitably living human "patients." Should they throw their fate upon the not so tender mercies of "choice," I will more than grieve our contempt for the unborn.

I recoil from the thought of a presidential candidate who, with Jesus as his "political inspiration," has made a reputation for overseeing executions in the state of Texas. I will not abet the policies of "America first," labor last and the poor of the world lost. But I also know this: So soured is my stomach at the thought of another president who vetoes any protection for third-trimester patients, I will have no part of any group that wins a presidency at the cost of those patients’ lives and our consciences.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J.

 

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

Tim Musser | 1/19/2007 - 9:12am
John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., in “Killing Unborn Patients” (2/19), is right to state that with the legal sanction of third-trimester abortions, “we have not started on some slippery slope—we have stepped into an abyss.”

For decades now I have gone to the polls to vote for or against various issues, but I consistently refuse to vote for any of the presidential candidates because none have come close to embracing a “consistent ethic of life.” Abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, the incredible and scandalous military buildups and trade in weapons of mass destruction...all these and more are upheld—in whole or in part—by the presidential wannabes.

There are thousands upon thousands of people who refuse to vote in this country each year and are labeled by the media as “apathetic,” which in many cases may be accurate. But I’m beginning to believe that more and more—myself included—refuse to vote based on a sense of civil disobedience, certainly not apathy.

Tim Musser | 1/19/2007 - 9:12am
John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., in “Killing Unborn Patients” (2/19), is right to state that with the legal sanction of third-trimester abortions, “we have not started on some slippery slope—we have stepped into an abyss.”

For decades now I have gone to the polls to vote for or against various issues, but I consistently refuse to vote for any of the presidential candidates because none have come close to embracing a “consistent ethic of life.” Abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, the incredible and scandalous military buildups and trade in weapons of mass destruction...all these and more are upheld—in whole or in part—by the presidential wannabes.

There are thousands upon thousands of people who refuse to vote in this country each year and are labeled by the media as “apathetic,” which in many cases may be accurate. But I’m beginning to believe that more and more—myself included—refuse to vote based on a sense of civil disobedience, certainly not apathy.