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Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Imagine you’re seven months pregnant and start bleeding. You have no idea what is wrong so naturally you rush to the doctor. However, you also happen to be poor and so the only doctor you can afford isn’t very reputable. He botches the procedure and you lose the fetus. You of course are devastated and decided you can’t handle burying the fetus, so you never claim the body.

If I heard about your actions I would likely be outraged on your behalf. I would carry picket signs, join watchgroups to make sure the DA prosecuted your case, maybe even be driven to write a check to groups trying to get better healthcare for poor people. I might privately think you callous for not wanting to bury the child that had been growing within you for seven months, but I hope I would have the humility to know I didn’t completely get your situation. Now, say some group was so devoted to the cause of helping poor women that they wanted to have a funeral for all of the fetuses killed through the incompetence of this quack and they claimed your fetus’s body without your permission. They named it, carried him through their church, and used his death to shame the doctor. If you approved of this funeral, I would probably think that was a good thing. But what if you didn’t? If you thought it was politicizing your tragedy? I really hope in that case I’d think the group was wrong to use what had happened to you this way.

Now, imagine you’re seven months into a high-risk pregnancy. This doctor has warned you that you need to stay off your feet as much as possible, but you’re poor. You’re working in a low-wage janitorial job, and you definitely don’t get much maternity leave. You’re actually married but your hubby’s job is similarly low-wage and so you guys can’t make ends meet on a single salary. Your doctor has told you that riding the subway all day, spending so much time kneeling, exposing yourself to all those cleaning chemicals makes your high-risk pregnancy even riskier. But you can’t afford the rent if you quit, you need to work at least a few more weeks before you can step off, so you say a prayer, hold your breath and go on working because you think you have to. Then one day you start bleeding on the subway and rush to that same doctor the only one you could afford. He does his best, but because he’s not very good or doesn’t have the necessary instruments or whatever, you miscarry. And again you can’t bear to claim the body. Here you have some culpability, but if someone else wanted to claim that body and give it a funeral to serve their own political goals? I’d still not be at all comfortable with it.

And if you were more culpable? If you’d actually, intentionally killed your fetus? I would most likely feel heartsick because to me, as someone who’s not pregnant two months doesn’t seem so long after you’ve already been pregnant for seven, and there’s always adoption and groups to help with pregnancy and birth expenses, etc. But I also like to think I’d still be humble enough to know maybe I don’t know all the reasons that drove you to have an abortion, and have it so late. While I might disagree with your choice, I’d still think of it as your choice. And if the abortion doctor was splashed on the national news and you were named in indictments and had this painful choice be the focus of your life for far longer than it would otherwise have been? I’d feel genuine pity for you.

And if someone tried to take your baby and use it to advance their cause? I’d fight to stop them. I’d be outraged on your behalf, particularly if it was a cause dedicated to saying the choice you made was murder, and shouldn’t be your choice at all. Not because I approve of your abortion but because this would hurt you. As a Christian I believe we give sympathy and mercy and love to people, not because they are good but because they are my neighbor and this is what it means to be good. This is the great commandment my religion commands me to follow, on which the law and the prophets hang: love your neighbor. Not love your good neighbor or love your neighbor when it’s comfortable; just love your neighbor.

This isn’t all academic. Tomorrow Fr. Frank Pavone will hold a funeral for the live-birth babies and late-term abortions committed by Dr. Gosnell. (I haven’t heard whether the mother who also died will be included.) And this is wrong. It’s really very wrong for all the reasons I said above. My evaluation of these women’s decision to go to Dr. Gosnell, even if I knew enough facts to make one, don’t matter. I’m reminded of the parable of the unforgiving servant, about the one servant whose master forgave his debts and then turned around and demanded full payment from his fellow servant.

And I know I’ve had people give me sympathy and consideration when I don’t really deserve it. I’d be a poor Christian and a poor neighbor if I didn’t offer the women involved in this scandal the same consideration.


This will be my last political thought of the day for a while. Things are busy in RL and I need to focus there for a while. I started these because I was frustrated by the way so often we just pass on talking points and memes we’ve heard from other people; I wanted to react to the news of the day on my own terms.

I like doing that, but it does take time. Maybe I’ll pick it up again on a slower timetable (maybe one thought or two a week) when things settle down again. But in the meantime I wanted to thank people for reading and reacting. Also, to challenge folks to do the same on their own. It’s really rewarding I’ve found, and I’ve had some good discussions about things I care about. I’ll miss it, that’s certain!


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 8th, 2013 09:56 pm (UTC)
My immediate, gut reaction was that that's a really, really offensive thing to do without the consent of the mother/parent.

When I stopped and thought some more, though, I could see that from a Catholic standpoint (not my own) it might make sense, and indeed feel deeply necessary. If I believed that as a Catholic it was my duty to commit to God the soul of a baby which would otherwise receive no such commital, and that I was thus somehow restoring the human dignity of that dead foetus, I can see that it might feel very wrong to leave that undone.

I don't know any of the details of this case, so I don't know whether efforts have/could be made to trace the mothers. But while I can see a viewpoint from which I can understand why people of faith might feel a funeral to be very important, I share your indignation about such a sad situation being used to score political points (whatever one's views on abortion).
May. 8th, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC)
You know, I think I'd feel a bit different if it was some local parish doing it, or any parish at all. I do understand you can feel a religious motivation and while I don't think I'd agree with it, I think I'd at least sympathize with the motive. But the guy carrying out this funeral isn't a parish priest; the articles coming out of "friendly" press (news sites friendly to the social conservatives) describe him as the leader of a large Catholic pro-life group. I don't know exactly what that means, whether they do political activism or picketing of clinics or even try to support women through their pregnancy. But it does give the event much more of a political flavor.

I do want to feel sympathy because I don't do outrage very well and just don't like being angry. But here, I'm not sure I'm seeing it.
May. 8th, 2013 10:22 pm (UTC)
As a Christian I believe we give sympathy and mercy and love to people, not because they are good but because they are my neighbor and this is what it means to be good. This is the great commandment my religion commands me to follow, on which the law and the prophets hang: love your neighbor. Not love your good neighbor or love your neighbor when it’s comfortable; just love your neighbor.

Bless you, dear, for saying what ought to be obvious to every Christian, but so often is not!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )



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