Those of us in the pro-life movement often claim that we live in a “culture of death.” But most of us don't believe it. Not really. We may use the phrase as a rhetorical tool, but deep in our hearts we think that our family, friends, and neighbors wouldn't knowingly kill another human being.
We convince ourselves that they simply don't realize what they're doing. If only they could see—and honestly look at—the ultrasound pictures of an unborn child. If only we could convince them that what they consider a “clump of cells” is a person. If only they knew it was a human life they were destroying. If they only knew, they wouldn’t—they couldn’t—continue to support abortion.
But they do know. And the abortions continue. Not because we live in a culture of death but because we live in a culture of me.
The recent debate over defunding Planned Parenthood reminded me of a 2003 article in Glamour magazine about a group of abortion clinics that called themselves the November Gang. The clinics would encourage women to express their feelings about their abortions by writing them down on a pink, heart-shaped sheet of paper:
• "Women: This is your life and your body. What you think is right . . . is! No matter what anyone else has to say about it. Look around you . . . many people sat in that same chair. Be strong. And if you think this is a “sin,” remember, God forgives!"
• "For my little angel: Although I say goodbye to you today, you will always be in my mind, heart, and soul. Please understand that this wasn't your time because you are better off in the hands of God than mine at this moment. My own creation, you are and forever will be beautiful and pure. I smile when I think of you, even if I cry. You have given me reason to be strong and wise and responsible. You will always be my baby. I will see you in heaven, sweetheart. I LOVE YOU! Always and unconditionally, Your Mommy."
• "I didn't let your dad know about you, simply because I'm ashamed. In my heart I will miss you but physically I don't have the means to take care of you and your older sister. I will never label you a mistake, because God obviously thought you should have been here, even though I beg to differ."
Notice that all three examples mention God. God forgives. The baby is better off with God. However, the last one best sums up this attitude behind the Culture of Me: God thought you should be born, but I beg to differ.
Unfortunately, the repercussions aren't as easy to dismiss as God's will. Claire Keyes, the executive director of Allegheny County Reproductive Health Center, shared some of the questions women asked her before going through the procedure:
“First and foremost, the question is ‘Will I ever be free of guilt?’” Keyes says. “That’s followed by ‘Will I ever go to hell?’ ‘Will God take one of my other children from me?’ ‘What gives me the right to decide which of my children lives and which dies?’
Keyes, who at the time had been with the abortion industry for 25 years, said she didn’t know how to answer (nor do the answers seem to matter to her). But in the late 1980s she had an epiphany:
“We in the movement, those of us in the clinics at the beginning, were so caught up in the early euphoria about winning a right to an abortion, we weren’t listening to what the patients were saying. They weren’t talking about abortion in the same way we were. They weren’t talking about the constitution or women's rights. And many of them weren't talking about a bunch of cells, either. They might call it ‘my baby,’ even though they were firm about going through with the procedure. Many of them expressed relief, but many also talked about sadness and loss. And we weren’t paying attention.”
Note that when she says “we weren’t paying attention” she isn't referring to the fact that there may be something immoral about helping women kill what they would refer to as “my baby.” No, what Keyes said the movement wasn't paying attention to was the fact that women were having painful feelings about what they were doing.
Pangs of conscience are, of course, a natural reaction to the taking of an innocent life. But while the Culture of Me can accept an unborn child being ripped from the womb, having hurt feelings about such actions is unacceptable.
The end of the Glamour article closes with a feature called, “Women tell the true story of my abortion.” Unsurprisingly, the women represented are more concerned about their own anguish than they are regretful about their decision to kill another human:
• “I don’t want this to affect the rest of my life.” — Carla, 23
• “There's a great quote from the essayist Katha Pollitt that comforts me. She said, ‘A woman has about 30 years of potential fertile sex. That’s a long time to go without a slipup.’” — Lisa, 32
• “When I finally confessed my abortion—after 25 years—I dreaded what kind of penance the priest would give me. He said, ‘I want you to say one Our Father and one Hail Mary. Then I want you to go home and make a list of the good things you’ve also done in all those years. Until you see the past wasn’t all bad, you can't move into the future.’ I did, and it made all the difference in the world.” — Frances, 45
• “There was never a doubt in my mind about [having the abortion]. . . .I was financially, emotionally, and psychologically incapable of dealing with motherhood, not to mention that I smoked a pack a day and my idea of breakfast was a KitKat.” — Donna, 38
But the most revealing confession came from thirty-five-year-old Micaela:
"This may sound strange, but I felt I knew the being I was carrying. I felt he was my son. I even called him Ernesto. And Ernesto was my reminder that my life was significant and that having an abortion was putting my life first. I know it was really about me, about promising myself that now I get to be super thoughtful about my life, super intentional—and that's what the last five years since the abortion have been about."
While rereading these quotes I was reminded of the words of Josef Pieper. In his book Faith, Hope, Love, the Thomist philosopher examines the various meanings and connections between the concepts we use to describe “love.” What, he asks, is the “recurrent identity underlying the countless forms of love?”
“My tentative answer to this question runs as follows: In every conceivable case love signifies much the same as approval. This is first of all to be taken in the literal sense of the word's root: loving someone or something means finding him or its probes, the Latin word for ‘good.’ It is a way of turning to him or it and saying, “It's good that you exist; it's good that you are in the world!”
The opposite of love is the frame of mind that declares, “It's good that you not exist; it’s good that you are not in the world!” No matter what words they chose to scribble on a pink paper heart, this was the true message being spoken to the lost unborn children.
These women were informed that abortion was a reasonable choice. What no one told them was that what they were choosing was the negation of love.
Joe Carter is web editor of First Things and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator. His previous articles for “On the Square” can be found here.
Glamour, Are You Ready to Really Understand Abortion? [PDF]
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Hearts full of hurt: Abortion clinic messages reflect new counseling philosophy