All three of my parents have been doctors. I didn’t follow in their footsteps to pursue medicine because I didn’t think I could handle the graphic, visceral sight of someone else’s suffering. But when I watched those investigative films on Planned Parenthood, I wasn’t dying inside because of my garden variety distress around bodily trauma. I was struck numb by the hands and legs that resembled those of my son Jonah. Jonah, when we saw him in the ultrasound. Jonah, when he was born, so tiny, fragile, and vulnerable. Jonah, so incapable of speaking for himself, taking care of himself, or protecting himself from neglect or abuse. I saw Jonah in each of those specimens on the pie plate, being picked apart for research.
Today is Jonah’s 1st birthday. He crawls like an ape, one knee elevated, the other sliding underneath. He mumbles. His version of “Dad” is “dadaadadadaaa” and “all done” is “ah-duh.” He claps when we clap. His smile can melt a room.
He is a little human. He was a little human too when we saw his little heart beating at his first ultrasound at twelve weeks. All of us have been little humans, all of us have traversed those days when our age was defined by weeks, not years. It just so happens that little humans are also voiceless, powerless, and defenseless. Any one of us could have alternatively been born in an unplanned pregnancy, and in danger of abortion, just as any one of us could have been born in an impoverished country.
When I was in college, I spoke briefly with a friend who was pro-choice. She said she understood why pro-life individuals would be pro-life. If she thought a fetus were a baby, she would be pro-life too. But she didn’t think that, so she’s pro-choice. I thought, “Well, that’s convenient, isn’t it?” I think the same train of thought is used by many corporations to justify their pollution: they just don’t think climate change is real. Or the Nazis, when they didn’t think Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the mentally disabled were real either. Rats, maybe, but not real humans. The same thinking prevailed in the great American slave trade and the sweeping genocide of Native Americans.
Forget for a moment about the individual and social inconvenience it would be to have a world with millions more unwanted children, just as people before us have forgotten about the individual and social inconvenience of emancipating three million slaves. Forget for a moment how unfair this would be to women, just as how the Southerners have long forgotten about the unfairness they experienced when all their labor was gone. In the case of slavery, liberty superseded convenience, liberty superseded fairness.
I think it’s universally believed that as important as liberty is, life still supersedes liberty. The only thing in dispute is whether a fetus is life or not.
If as a people we can’t agree whether something is real or not, it might be wise to err on the side of caution, lest we realize later that we were all horribly, terribly wrong.