Has life lost?

The trouble with putting all your eggs in one basket

Issue: "Dumpsters or hospitals?," June 24, 2000

There comes an obvious point in virtually every human struggle when you suddenly know it's over. The St. Louis Cardinals had that sense a few days ago when they found themselves trailing the Detroit Tigers 10-1 with two outs in the ninth inning. I had the same sense the other night in an airport 600 miles from home, trying to get a ticket back to Asheville, but watching 30 people ahead of me in line, all competing for just three available seats. It wasn't even close. Everything inside you says the battle's been decided.

I think that's the case now with the legal contest over abortion in America. The soon-to-be Thirty Years' War has largely been settled, and for all practical purposes, the abortionists have won.

The most vivid proof of that assertion is the very fact that, with barely a scuffle, we now seem to have lost what we once thought might be our ultimate weapon: the partial-birth abortion argument. Any optimists left within the pro-life movement need to remind themselves that the partial-birth abortion debate was launched as a silver-bullet issue. "Certainly," we assured ourselves, "we can win this one. Who could argue with us over so grotesque a procedure? And then, having won this argument and established such a beachhead, we'll reason backwards to the other forms of abortion that some might right now not think are so obvious."

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The trouble with putting all your eggs in one basket, of course, is that you might drop that basket.

That has happened in part because the secular media have so successfully diverted public attention from a realistic look at the awfulness of partial-birth abortion; if the big networks were half as worried about that genuinely dramatic issue as they are the tobacco industry, the public might also be aroused.

But the media are hardly the whole problem. For the American public has had its chance to get on this bandwagon-and it has repeatedly turned down the offer. They may not know every hideous detail about partial-birth abortion, but they know enough to have become responsible to learn more. Yet, just as they spoke of God's people in the Old Testament, prophets today might well say of the American population: They're well aware of their sinfulness-and they love to have it so. (See Jeremiah 5:31.) In other words, the evidence grows day by day that the problem of the American public is not a lack of information about abortion; their problem is what they do with the information they already have.

So while we reflect condescendingly on the German public of the 1930s and 1940s, and ask ourselves, "How could they have tolerated such blatantly evil policies against the Jewish people among them?," we have become the Germans of our own era. Our tolerance for an established and well-documented evil is profound.

We aid and abet such tolerance for evil when we adopt an air of sophisticated anti-sophistication, throw up our hands, and argue (as the American judiciary has done for a generation now) that there's just so much we can't know for sure. How can we say exactly when life begins? How can we know exactly how far down the birth canal a fetus must come before becoming a baby with an identity of its own, or before "it" becomes a "he" or a "she"? So professed ignorance becomes our justification for treating hundreds of humans with a viciousness that would produce outrage if applied to dogs, cats, or horses.

"The definitions are just too vague," abortionists have argued about every attempt to limit partial-birth abortion. But our public standards-setters have never been so daunted by ignorance in other areas of life. Racism's ugliness must be fully as nebulous an issue to define as is the snuffing out of a baby's life-but we march straight into the challenge and hold people legally accountable for racist action. The definition of sexism is easily an exercise in obscurantism-but that has hardly deterred our society from taking away people's savings and/or their jobs when society says they have crossed the line. If we can define those fuzzy issues, is there really any excuse for not being able to define the life of a baby boy or girl?

The fact is, though, that we have defined it-and the definition is that dissecting a live baby the way you would a dead frog in biology class is neither wrong in our society, nor something we even want to discuss anymore. That discussion, we seem to be saying now, is over.

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