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I recently assigned my high school sophomores Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” The story asks the reader to imagine a beautiful city on a day of celebration. The people of Omelas are peaceful, prosperous, happy, and free. It seems a heaven on earth. But there’s a catch. Somewhere in the city an innocent child is imprisoned in a dark basement, where it sits in its own excrement, covered in sores, whimpering. If this child were to be freed, if someone were to so much as speak a kind word to it, Omelas would become as dismal and chaotic as any other city. Everyone knows about the child; they learn about it in school. While most citizens accept the child’s torture as the necessary price for their bliss, a few leave the town in despair.

I ask my students whether they themselves would leave Omelas. Most say yes. Of course, a few contrarians claim they would stay, reasoning that the benefits outweigh the singular evil.

The story illustrates how social peace is all too often bought at the price of exclusion—exclusion that paradoxically is both known to everyone and yet remains hidden. The metaphor seems tailor-made for abortion.

Like my students, most Americans would pass the Omelas test when it’s posed as fiction. But a majority fail it in the real world, supporting the elective killing of unborn children. Even popular conservative candidates like Donald Trump and Kari Lake have disassociated themselves from the pro-life cause. Opposing abortion has become politically toxic since the Dobbs ruling nearly two years ago. Although pro-abortion arguments haven’t changed, three shifts in American life help explain the renewed infatuation with the Omelas arrangement.

First, too much time spent in disembodied cyberspace has detached potential parents (among Millennials and especially Zoomers) from physical reality and degraded their moral imaginations. Because of the hiddenness of abortion, it is easier for them to think of it as an abstraction, a “right,” rather than as the live dismemberment (or starvation, in the case of medical abortion) of a human baby.

At the same time, pro-life campaigners have become reluctant to display the full horror of abortion. It’s considered poor form to carry around pictures of aborted children or explain in clinical detail what happens to an aborted child. Most media outlets, even ostensibly conservative ones, prefer to censor such accounts. A film like Juno (2007), in which a pregnant teenager chooses life after learning her fetus has fingernails, could never be made today. People with neutered imaginations are thus asked by pro-lifers to imagine and reject an abstraction.

Secondly, religion has retreated from public consciousness since Covid. Most Americans, particularly women of childbearing age, do not go to church and lack the moral framework necessary to recognize the dignity and value of all human life. Instead, most people have adopted a utilitarian ethic that deems some lives more valuable than others and views bodily autonomy as paramount. 

This is why they will oppose late-term abortions but demand legal abortions in the first half of pregnancy. Even if there isn’t any moral difference between a fourteen-week-old baby and a twenty-week-old baby, there is a practical difference. In those first fifteen weeks, the mother will know whether the baby is handicapped, whether she can afford to raise another child, and whether she will have sufficient help from the father. Moreover, if she decides she doesn’t want to have the baby, these first few weeks are the safest to have an abortion.

A competent priest or pastor could correct this sinister calculation and show how it violates the sanctity of life and upholds an oppressive culture of death. But, as Carmel Richardson puts it, “church is not cool” for most young women today.

Thirdly, most Americans are buying into the “Omelas argument.” Pro-abortion voices in mainstream media propagandize abortion as essential to prosperity and freedom. They warn that if abortion is limited or prohibited, women will die, and the economy will crash. The upshot of relentless propaganda is that when Americans hear about restrictions on abortion, they think of poor women in the slums having dozens of illegitimate, neglected children. They think of older women in rich suburbs socially hamstrung by their unwanted handicapped children. They imagine all women being forced into tradwifery. The specter of red habits and white bonnets looms. Progressives in the federal government are so committed to this belief that they abuse their power to persecute pro-life activists, while pro-abortion fanatics are already terrorizing pregnancy centers

But the idea that abortion contributes to American prosperity is belied by blue state chaos and discontent, and even more so by the success of red states that restrict abortion. Texas is the signal case. Even after effectively banning abortion, it continues to grow and flourish. No one walks away from Dallas or Houston or Austin as they do from Omelas. Quite the contrary.

Moreover, Texas’s laws against abortion have already saved nearly 10,000 babies. Although presumably “unwanted,” their existence has not destabilized society. With the exception of eugenicists like Kate Cox, who used the trisomy diagnosis of her unborn child to challenge the state’s abortion laws, parents are making peace with their unexpected responsibilities.

Pro-lifers should trumpet the success of the Lone Star State. Call it the new Texas Miracle: not only does my state’s economy survive downturns better than other states, but it also benefits from choosing the reality of new life over the illusion of bodily autonomy. 

Nor should the case end there. Because permissive attitudes about abortion are fostered by immersion in social media, prohibiting social media use for minors, like Florida is currently doing, would help to ground the young in physical reality and cultivate empathy. Texas and other pro-life states should follow Florida’s lead to fortify their position.

Omelas’s sacrifice of a single child makes it an ineluctably pagan society. How much more pagan is a society that sacrifices millions of children? If abortion ever contributed to American prosperity or social solidarity, it was only through its role as a pagan scapegoating ritual. And, ultimately, if America is ever to defeat this grave evil, it will be through a revival of Christianity, which declares all scapegoats innocent.

A society that protects its most vulnerable will necessarily become more virtuous and thus more excellent. Politicians may cater to the moral weaknesses of their constituents, but those committed to defending life should recognize the rhetorical opportunity presented by the success of states that have rejected the way of Omelas.

Auguste Meyrat is a high school English teacher and freelance writer in North Texas.

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