Sunday, February 15, 2009

What God has for Gary Graham... for Gary Graham

A Hollywood actor named Gary Graham, who I had never heard of before (I only watched the original Star Trek cast, not the later generations), has posted a detailed account of his new epiphany that abortion is murder. It is available on line and a shorter excerpt, faithful to the original, is available from gospel columnist James Watkins. It is an important, honest, moving, heartfelt presentation. Anyone who considers themselves to be pro-choice should read it. Anyone who cannot read it, carefully consider every word, and still affirm their pro-choice principles, should join the right-to-life movement.

I write as someone who has read the entire column, and remains firmly pro-choice. I also find a great deal of merit in the way Graham has transformed his life. (See also: Roe v. Wade Affirmed Again, and, What Abortion Campaign?)

Unlike Graham, I was never a long-haired hippie. I was always trying to figure out how to bring paper mill workers into the anti-war movement; I thought growing my hair long would get in the way. I was never into free love, never invited a “nice piece” to get warm in a sleeping bag with me, and certainly never had seven women on the side. I did attempt to commit adultery once, but found it very unsatisfactory. The fact that her husband was having an affair with a mutual friend (mutual to all of us) was no excuse. (What if she became pregnant? Her tubes had been tied some time previous.) Anyway, I never confused cheering up a lonely woman with changing the world. I thought that anti-war slogan should have been, make peace, not love. I’m glad Graham has grown out of the idea that drugs, sex, and rock and roll are going to save the world. He’s right, they are not.

More important, I’m glad he has recognized the value of human life, and that God had a much more significant purpose for relations between a man and a woman than a quick feel-good moment. It is obvious, although not explicitly stated, that Graham has found a woman he is really committed to, one woman, and they really, really want this baby. He paid for an ultrasound this time, not an abortion. I’m really happy for him.

Unlike Graham, I’ve never paid for an abortion. I’ve never conceived a child. I’ve always loved babies. I never bought into the “kids are a drag” nonsense that some pseudo-feminists, and not a few men, were toying with some years back. I would volunteer to take care of any friend’s baby any time. If there was a child in the room, I would be reading to that child within five minutes. If a woman in the next row in church had two young children, both appealing to be picked up at the same time, I would take the older one. If someone I knew was doing day care, I would be there any available hour helping out, just for the joy of being with the kids. I talk in complete sentences to three month olds, just so they can start to become familiar with the pattern.

So how can I be pro-choice? Let’s start with a cute bumper sticker I saw, “How Can There Be Too Many Children? That’s Like Saying There Are Too Many Flowers.” Very bad analogy. How do we treat flowers? First, we ruthlessly dig up the ones we call “weeds” and throw them away. Second, we plant lots of seeds, thin out the seedlings so the mature plants won’t be too crowded, and throw away the “excess.” We prune the plants so that we get the maximum blooms that we consider beautiful. When a plant stops blooming, we dig it up and throw it away, to make room for something more productive.

We don’t treat children like that, do we?

Unlike Graham, I am perfectly prepared to draw a line between a fetus and a child. I don’t believe that life begins at conception. I believe that life begins long before conception. Every sperm cell is alive. So is every unfertilized ovum. Do you realize how many millions of sperm cells are wasted, just so that ONE of them can fertilize an egg? For some reason, that is how God planned it. How about all the eggs wasted by menstruation? Each of them, matched with even a tiny fraction of the wasted sperm cells, could grow into a beautiful human child.

True, there is a qualitative difference when two sets of 23 chromosomes unite to form 23 pairs, a total of 46 chromosomes. A sperm could be a sperm for one hundred years, and never grow into a baby. A zygote, the union of a sperm and an egg, cannot last even nine months without growing into a baby. But a zygote is not a baby. It is the blueprint for a baby. It has to snatch an astounding array of hydrocarbons from the placenta, putting them into the correct place in its expanding biochemical framework, in order to become a baby. That pulsating ultrasound Graham was so overwhelmed by cannot eat, think, learn to read… not for several more months. It is a miracle, and Graham is already fond of the future he will have after it grows into a baby, when he can hold his daughter in his arms. Good for him.

Our bodies are the product of a biological process in which many die, so that a few may be born, live, and reach adulthood. There must be some moral compass to this biology, because this is the way God created life. God plays these numbers. There is a point at which we rise above the mere biological imperative. We are human, we are individuals, each of us is individually precious. Of all the acts of creation recounted in Genesis, only one was a direct act of creation. Instead of saying "let the waters bring forth" and "let the earth bring forth," God said "Let us make man in our own image." Only after creating man in his own image did God see that his creation was very good. Salmon spawn millions of eggs so that a few thousand may hatch, so that a few hundred may mature to swim out into the ocean, so that a few dozen may come back to the rivers where they were born, so that five or so pairs may spawn before they die. Most of the rest are eaten. Many end up in cans in our supermarkets. Mammals keep their young inside the female until birth, but we waste millions of sperm and dozens or hundreds of ova. Humans mostly bear one child at a time. Still, it was true only a century ago that half of those who entered kindergarten would die of accident or infectious disease before graduating from high school. So where do we draw the line?

Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, invited Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to present arguments against stem cell research to one of his classes. Melton asked Doerflinger if he considered a day-old embryo and a 6-year old to be morally the same. Then Melton asked, why is it that our society accepts the freezing of embryos, but not the freezing of 6-year olds? That question doesn’t reveal the full poignancy of Melton’s research. Melton was a microbiologist studying amphibian development, until his 6-month old son nearly died of what turned out to be Type I diabetes. Melton shifted to the field of stem cell research to find a way to introduce new insulin-producing cells into the pancreas. Where exactly does the right-to-life equation balance here?

At conception, a zygote is not a baby. At birth, a baby is a baby, not mere tissue. I fully embrace drawing the line exactly where Graham says we cannot draw it: can the fetus, if removed from the mother, by natural or caesarean delivery, survive on its own, without extensive artificial life support? Graham asks, what about a two-day old baby? It would die too if not properly cared for. There is a difference. Any adult human being could step forward and volunteer to raise the two-day old abandoned by its natural parents. Nobody but the mother could carry a fetus to term.

If abortion is murder, then every doctor who performs one should be put to death by lethal injection, and every woman who consents to abortion should be imprisoned for life. The right-to-life movement has been in the political minority for so long, they don’t have to answer for such a horrifying prospect. Nor do they have to answer for the many distraught, frightened women who have sought abortions by any means available when abortion was illegal, ending up dead (along with their unborn child) on a greasy back-alley operating table. They show pictures of cute babies on billboards, babies who are clearly not fetuses. They show blown up photos of aborted fetuses, probably the very small number aborted late in pregnancy to save a mother’s life. They don’t have to answer for the severe doctor shortage they seek to create, or for the image of thousands of women in lonely prison cells. If their own figures are correct, millions of women in lonely prison cells!!!

Graham, like more experienced advocates in the right-to-life movement, conveniently overlooks that in every state of the union, third trimester abortions are illegal, unless the mother’s life or health are in danger. (The tragic procedure referenced as “partial birth abortion” is, by its very nature, only performed at the very end of the third trimester). Banning third trimester abortions is not a violation of the federal constitution. Not at all. There is, as he briefly alludes to, some potential for abuse of the standard “health of the mother.” It should be limited to permanent physical impairment, or some similar standard, not “Are you suicidal?” (Wink-wink). There are some who believe it is a woman’s duty to sacrifice her own life for the sake of her baby. Roman Catholic priests taught that in much of Europe at one time, and rigorously enforced it if called in to referee a difficult birth. I don’t buy it. IF the mother’s life IS in danger, then the life inside her, which could otherwise be safely delivered, MUST be destroyed in order to save the mother. Tragic, yes, but not gratuitous. If the mother freely chooses to risk her own life to save her baby, it is her right to make that decision.

Abortion is not murder. But it is a very serious matter. It is the interruption of the process for creating a new life. Graham is quite correct that the cavalier manner in which he inseminated one woman after another, then terminated the process he never took seriously in the first place, was morally depraved. Abstinence is better than abortion, contraception is better than abortion. Outside of marriage, abstinence is better than contraception. But we live in an imperfect world, and the question for constitutional law is, exactly how intrusive should The State be in these very complex and intimate decisions? If abortion is murder, of course The State should be performing executions.

The law is a very blunt instrument. If we keep it simple, it will have many unintended consequences. If we try to make it fair, and take into consideration every variable in the life of any person subject to that law, it becomes too complex to manage. I am convinced that The State is totally unfit to sort out the very profound moral considerations that come into play in the matter of terminating a pregnancy. It is not a matter for police, judges, or advocates. It is a matter for the woman concerned, her doctor, and her family to the extent she has one and places confidence in them.

It is entirely appropriate that those who believe abortion to be morally wrong at all times and in all circumstances should say so, loudly and publicly, privately, intimately, individually. That is precisely the ground on which the profound moral questions concerning pregnancy and abortion should be fought out. Just don’t ask the police to intervene for you, if you are not sufficiently persuasive. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one. If you want to reach out to an undecided pregnant woman, offer her whatever support she needs to carry the pregnancy to term. If some women don’t follow your advice, pray for them. If every woman were fully convinced of the moral argument against abortion, there would be none.

A friend who is deeply opposed to abortion, morally, has been expressing some second thoughts to me lately. He observes, in his community, the many young women who have five or six children before they are 25 years old, by five or eight men, and haven’t a clue how to raise any of them. He is beginning to wonder, would it have been better if these young women HAD gotten abortions? Oh, we can all say adoption is better… but are there enough people in this country who are prepared to practice pro-life convictions by actually stepping forward to adopt all these children? ALL of them? It would be even better if these young women had used contraception, or had their tubes tied, or refrained from casual sex with the absent fathers, but since we don’t have effective control of that either, should we also be restricting abortions?

The ultimate decision properly lies with the mother. Some mothers will make the wrong decision. Some will later regret it. If The State makes the decision, The State will sometimes make the wrong decision. Roe v. Wade is a ruling about who should make the decision. It says nothing about which decision is the right decision. There are circumstances in which I, personally, would choose abortion, or more accurately, when I would support my wife’s decision to abort a pregnancy. Other men may disagree, and women may also have many different perspectives. The law need not decide which of us is correct. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it is morally right.

Tremendous damage is done to human lives and families by abuse of alcohol. Many highly motivated reformers sought to ban the production, importation and sale of alcohol, and even passed a constitutional amendment for that purpose. Ultimately, we found that did more harm than good. It morally corrupted our entire justice system, and turned organized crime from a street-corner hazard into big business. There are still churches which teach that letting even one drop of an alcholic beverage pass your lips is a sin. If you belong to such a church, the fact that it is legal to drink beer, wine and whiskey doesn’t make it all right. If such churches ever succeed in persuading the entire population that this teaching is true, then we will have absolute Prohibition, without a single criminal statute.

Gary Graham’s epiphany is his very own. He has repented of many self-centered, hedonistic bad decisions he has made in his life. The fact that Gary Graham paid for some vain, thoughtless abortions after a series of frivolous sexual encounters does not mean that every woman who ever seeks an abortion should be threatened with the ultimate penalty of the law. Abortion should be much more rare than Gary Graham’s past life made it, and much more legal than his impassioned regrets would allow for. Graham admits that he doesn’t have the answers for incest, rape, or severe birth defects. I would add that perhaps if he did have answers, they might not be THE answers for everyone. So there we have the answer to, why should abortion be rare? There are rare instances where we don’t have all the answers. Therefore, The State should not impose answers. Abortion should be legal, and rare. How do we make it rare? Make a list of all the reasons women seek abortion, then make a list of how we can take away those reasons. We won’t be able to eliminate every reason, but we could, if people put their money where their mouth is, instead of where their lobbyists are, eliminate enough reasons to make abortion rare.

Of course, all of us, pro-choice, pro-life, or kind of in between and wishing the loudest mouths on the subject would go away and find something productive to do, are imperfect. We will all make mistakes. And so I join in Graham’s closing plea: May God have mercy on us all.