Monday, February 03, 2003

Letter to the Editor: Balancing Act

[To the Gainesville Sun, in response to their editorial concerning a case pending before the Supreme Court: Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services]

Now that my wife has ordered me to clean out a corner of a back room full of boxes from yesteryear, you will have to suffer a few more blasts from the past, maybe many more. I found sheaves of back issues of the New Oxford Review, Laywitness, National Review (when Buckley was in charge), and The American Spectator, most all from the 1980's. Issues of Time and Newsweek, with the Pope on the cover during his visits to the U.S. and Poland. He looks so young, so handsome, vigorous, triumphant, and upright of stature. Those of you who are young may not see him in quite that way, but I have never forgotten the promise of those days. And two more issues of the same magazines, both with the Pope on the cover again, but this time with a priest's arm round his neck, holding him, as he lies fallen in his Popemobile after being shot by Ali Acga, beseeching his mentors, and Our Lady, "Why did they do it?" Physically he was never the same again, and looking at these pictures now, not only have I not forgotten the promise, but I remember anew, and feel anew, the love we all had for him. Now, in these days of real darkness, we need it back again. How must his heart be breaking? While Jews and atheists showed up at the doors of St. Patrick's to pay their respects, even seeing their own Pope shot did not still the dissenters. They paused politely to see if he was going to live, and then proceeded apace, and are still proceeding. It's a horror.

And there were a couple of newspapers, the pages darkly yellowed, but still readable and not disintegrating in my hands. Four issues, two from April, two from December, 1989. Perusing, I found editorials, and those featured concerned abortion. The two matching issues responses, letters to the editor, circled in ink. I had forgotten I used to do that sort of thing. Rarely, but at least I tried now and then.

George Bush the first was newly president. A case was pending before the Supreme Court, Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, and all the papers in the nation were weighing in hoping to sway the proceedings (you can guess in which direction). On another page was an article on the previous Sunday's pro-choice march on Washington, which drew, according to its organizers, 600,000 people, and according to the National Park Service, 300,000. Funny thing about numbers, there's no safety in them. It all depends on whom you're asking. There was certainly no safety in them for the estimated 1.8 million being aborted every year. On the editorial page was a column by Bill Buckley exploring some economic issue, and another by the elegantly mush-mouthed William Safire urging upon the court precisely the same pro-choice position as that advocated by the newpaper in question, The Gainesville Sun. (Gainesville is the home of that giant party school cum diploma factory known as the University of Florida.) The editorial made the usual obeisance to the rationale for Roe v Wade, calling it a "hard-won ruling that recognized the reality of abortion and a balance between the rights of a woman and the rights of a fetus," although I've never seen the balance tip in the fetus' direction. It ends with a somewhat less than Newmanesque attempt at achieving impact through parallelism: "It would be nice if no pregnancies were unwanted, but many are. It would be nice if all children were born welcomed, but they aren't. It would be nice if we all 'just said no' to unprotected sex, but we don't. It would be nice if teenage or single women always had the financial and emotional resources to carry to term every pregnancy and raise every child, but it just ain't so." Whew. Duly pissed off, I fired back my devastating response....All right. I'll back off, let you be the judge:

In your editorial of April 11 concerning Roe vs. Wade, you say, "These women are not murderers, and neither are their physicians, etc." Well, that depends on the status of the thing being killed, doesn't it? I presume you would hold that even if abortion might be murder, too many women of good conscience simply do not believe that that is what they are doing, and therefore do not intend it.

But if a certain white man, for example - and there have probably been a few - truly thought that black men in general were in some sense not fully human, I doubt you would be in favor of court decisions that left the black man's mortal disposition up to the white man's conscience. This problem of the status of the thing being killed is not dealt with in your piece, and it is the very problem pro-choice arguments consistently evade. Further on you say that "it would be nice if no pregnancies were unwanted." How so? If abortion is a morally neutral act, why should we prefer wanted over unwanted pregnancies? If wanting is the main criterion, well then it's "nice" if she does and nice if she doesn't. Congratulate the woman on her choice and be done with it. This vitiates, however, your 24-week viability standard, at which point we are to attempt a balancing act between the rights of the woman and those of the fetus: the right of the woman to either want or not, and the right of the fetus to - what? Live? A right to life, shall we say? But how will a child's arrival at the point of viability ( a rather elastic "point" these days) suddenly make it more wanted?

The woman's right to choose cannot be overridden by the child's right to live unless you are attaching to survivability a value (or status) not discoverable in the moments preceding it. The next time you tackle this subject, this reader thinks "it would be nice" if you revealed precisely what that value is.

I'd like to be able to report that the Gainesville Sun changed its editorial position, and that the U.S. Supreme Court went our way, overturning Roe vs. Wade as the Bush administration had asked, already know the ending. We're kind of frozen in time, aren't we? But a neat thing did happen. I got phone calls from total strangers thanking me for my letter, one from Gainesville Right to Life, to whom I contributed a steady ten bucks a month, twenty-five when I could. But it was the strangers that got me, besieged lovers of little babies hunkered down in their homes like soldiers in bunkers, praying, wondering why the relief forces were so slow in coming. The numbers were definitely not in their favor.

I didn't get any calls from priests. The ones around town didn't pound the issue too hard, but I know they read the paper because they were always referring to it in their sermons. But there was one priest at the head of everything - a white-haired fellow, a cold warrior, a liberator, a preacher of truth, and now a wounded soldier of Christ - who gave a damn and said so on many occasions. I believe his presence there was a fine motivator, like an angel at one's back, and I'd like to thank him for that.

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