Well, folks, as they say in Southeast Missouri, “I’m fixin’ to jump into the fray.” Some of you know and some of you don’t know of my love for life in the womb. I believe the womb is by design a place of protection and nurturing without which we would cease to exist. As a mother of four babies of my own, my heart is often dissolved with what many call “babylove” and I proudly identify myself as a “birth junkie.” The sight of a peaceful sleeping infant or the little curled hand of a nursing baby melts more than my heart. As sentimental as these observations may sound, I think most mothers can relate to a lack of preparedness for the magnitude of unbridled love we can feel for our children. Because of these feelings, it has often been hard for me to understand the concept of a mother willingly killing her offspring. It is a contradictory concept, an ominous example of how we can distance ourselves emotionally from that which is at its very nature a part of our own selves. The use of the term “fetus” has been intentional for it cements that emotional distance by rendering the life inside as some sort of alien foreign invader, a parasite that seeks to destroy its host. What mother says “I felt the fetus move today?” or “I saw the fetus on ultrasound today?” No, the advent of ultrasound has dealt a heavy blow to those who would continue to try to persuade women that they are carrying “a blob of tissue.” Once most women find out they are pregnant, they immediately can identify that this is not, in fact, a blastocyst, an embryo or a fetus, but that this is a baby. Funny that those who are trying to become or are happy to be pregnant, tell their friends excitedly, “I’m going to have a baby!” whereas those not so happy, tend to not identify with this new life at all, or as an “it.” The debate about when life begins has always struck me as strange. Any biologist will tell you that life begins at conception, as sperm and egg join and begin cell division and mitotic activity. On the public stage, though, we have those who think life begins when the embryo implants in the uterus, when the baby is able to survive on its own outside the womb, or shockingly even, when the baby is in the hands of the mother or the delivering physician.
The murder of abortionist George Tiller brought worldwide media attention to this polarizing issue. The vast majority of pro-life supporters are just that, pro-life. They do not advocate murder of anyone, pre-born, born or full-grown. Yet those deranged individuals who feel that they must take matters into their own hands and that the end justifies the means, are protrayed by the media as routine, every day examples of those crazy pro-life nuts. And in fact, those that speak out against the actions of individuals like Tiller, especially when highlighting the obvious financial motive he had for performing late-term abortions (after the point that the baby can survive outside the womb), they are lambasted as responsible for instigating the murder of Tiller. I want to bring up, though, what I consider to be a more important point. Practitioners like Tiller are elevated almost to a pious status as being one of only a few brave souls willing to accept the sacrifice of sacrifice, willing to step up to the plate and rid poor women of their hideously deformed babies, with the implication being that this is the most common scenario for the women lined up to pay this man lots of cash for dismembering, killing and removing their embarrassingly large fetuses. The fact of the matter is most of the abortions performed by Tiller where actually not for life-threatening situations, and further, the need for a late-term abortion to save the life of the mother, as opposed to a cesearean section which would save the lives of both the mother and child, is almost never medically warranted as this excellent commentary by Dr. Mary Davenport outlines. Tiller was accused of violating the law by performing medically unnecessary late term abortions when it was revealed that the doctor who was confirming (read: rubberstamping) the medical indications for the procedures was in fact his employee. The jury refused to indict him on these MISDEMEANOR charges. See, Tiller had friends in high places, who made sure that he would get off, including former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius who was Obama’s choice for director of Health and Human Services. The other important point that emerged from this trial was the position that Dr. George Tiller was one of only a handful of doctors who would perform late-term procedures and that any limitations on him would be an undue burden for women to try to find someone to perform them, a sentiment bemoaned loudly after his death. However, as pro-life blogger Jill Stanek explains, this is simply an widely repeated untruth. Late-term abortions are performed daily at many community and university hospitals. I trained at a major metropolitation university hospital and late-term abortions (whether partial birth or D&X, or whether they were performed after the baby’s heart was stopped with potassium infusion first) were considered great learning experiences for the residents. I, of course, refused to participate, an act that many are trying to prohibit with the anti-conscience legislation. We are looking at the potential deliberate exclusion of those of us who are openly pro-life from the practice of obstetrics and gynecology because we won’t participate in or refer patients for these procedures. But as I was saying, it is important to note that most fetal anomalies or maternal medical complications like cancer and cardiac problems are referred to tertiary care centers with specialists anyway. These are not the typical patients that are seeking an abortion from a private clinic like Tiller’s.
Fast forward to health care reform. With our eloquent President’s speechs about no one being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and universal healthcare for all, it again becomes important to actually read what the reform would entail, especially as it pertains to abortion. It should be clear to anyone who has followed Obama’s career that he is about as pro-abortion as you can get. So it is no surprise that health care reform would include mandatory coverage for abortion, so just to spell it out I would be required to pay taxes that would support a government-mandated procedure to which I am morally opposed and as a business owner I would be required to match government health care plans by purchasing a policy for my employees that would cover abortions for any reason. Obama is trying to backpedal and diffuse this potentially politically dangerous issue, but unfortunately the cat is out of the bag. Please see this brief for an explanation of the legal issues. Although there has been activity to try to amend the abortion mandate, it is still, no pun intended, alive and well.
I believe these times require us to think through such important issues on a personal level and decide for ourselves how we view life, in and out of the womb. And it also requires us to be active participants in our world, paying attention to the fine print (note to Congress: read the bill before you sign it), and asking ourselves how our personal participation or lack thereof is going to impact our future. As Elastigirl says to her husband in the movie The Incredibles, “Engage!”