Suicide: To Assist or Not? That is the Question, by Stephanie Gray

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     This past week my newsfeed filled with news of the suicides of two famous people, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.  It has struck me that there is consensus among the posts I see that these deaths were tragic, that the loss of their lives is something to be mourned, and that the cause of their death—suicide—is something to be prevented—or is it?

     As best we know, Spade and Bourdain died alone, at their own hands.  But what if they hadn’t been alone?  What if their suicides had been assisted?  What if their actions were aided by a physician?  In our confused culture, a subtle change of facts can make the thing we prevent the thing some assist. 

     Which brings to mind an experience I had on a plane last weekend.  I was flying to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to speak at a conference for physicians on the topic of assisted suicide, newly legal in Canada as well as in places like DC, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, The Netherlands, and Belgium, to name a few.  During my flight I read a phenomenal book on the subject by my friends Jonathon Van Maren and Blaise Alleyne: “A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide.” Shortly before landing, a passenger next to me noticed the cover and commented to me, “That’s certainly not light reading!” he said.  In a brief conversation I learned that he had elderly relatives and his wife worked in healthcare.  “Would you like to have my copy?” I asked.  “It’s a short read—I finished it on this flight.”  He gratefully accepted it and promised to e-mail me his thoughts.

     Van Maren and Alleyne have brilliantly distilled the assisted suicide/euthanasia debate to this central question:

     Who gets suicide assistance and who gets suicide prevention?

     When the debate is framed that way it becomes difficult to give anyone suicide assistance—which is the point.  If we believe in human dignity and equality then everyone inclined to suicide should get suicide prevention, not suicide assistance.  Van Maren and Alleyne help explain it this way: A lot of times in the assisted suicide debate people will say it’s about choice, about the freedom of an individual to choose whether she herself lives or dies.  And yet, if we would try to prevent some people’s suicides (e.g., Spade and Bourdain) then it’s not about choice at all.  By trying to stop their deaths we are overriding their choice.  Which means rather than being about choice, assisting with some suicides is about judgment—about other parties making a judgment about whether someone’s life is worth saving—or not, about whether someone is better off dead—or not.  If person X would prevent Spade’s suicide but assist with grandma’s suicide, then person X is making a judgment about each person’s life and not valuing them equally.  And that’s the problem.

     Van Maren and Alleyne write,

     “Most people who support assisted suicide also support suicide prevention. This is The Split Position… [which] considers suicide and assisted suicide as totally separate topics. People who hold to this position have often never tried to reconcile their conflicting beliefs. Our goal in responding to The Split Position in conversation is to attack this cognitive dissonance – to pit their own beliefs in preventing suicide and assisting suicide against each other, and show that The Split Position is a basic human rights violation because it splits people into protected and unprotected classes. Suicidal despair is always a symptom of some other unmet need. The desire to die is changeable, suicide prevention is a human right, suicide assistance is a human rights violation, and our moral duty to the suicidal is to prevent self-harm, never to facilitate it.”

     In articulating why the “Split Position” should be rejected (as well as the position which favors suicide assistance for anyone), Van Maren and Alleyne explain the pro-life position of total suicide prevention:

     “In a society that truly values each and every human life, we have a responsibility to view the desire for suicide as an opportunity to love that person better, and to love that person more. What someone is saying when they express the desire for suicide is that they are in pain, and that they feel unloved. We have a responsibility to respond. From a personal and social standpoint, we need to ask questions such as: What is our duty to the suicidal? Are we responsible to care for and love those who cannot love us back? How can we love this person better?

     “Opposing assisted suicide does not mean a refusal to recognize how dire situations of extreme suffering or how painful the final days of terminal illness can be. It simply means rejecting assisted suicide as an ethical, humane, or life-affirming response to those circumstances. Instead, we propose that treatment centred around the person (rather than ending that person’s life) be implemented.”

     They further observe,

     “John Paul II wrote that ‘the world of human suffering unceasingly calls for, so to speak, another world: the world of human love.’  Suffering unleashes love, it demands our creative response, and a response to alleviate suffering, but never to eliminate the sufferer. Our duty to the suicidal is suicide prevention, and even in the face of a terminal prognosis or incurable condition, never to ‘quit’ on someone and give into suicidal despair. Rather, we must work to relieve unbearable suffering and apply our creativity and imagination to improve quality of life, even when it is in short supply, even in a person’s darkest moments or final days.”

     And so, in the wake of the tragic deaths of Spade and Bourdain, let us remember that just as they deserved suicide prevention—not assistance, so do the elderly, the disabled, the sick, and the dying.  To further understand why, get a copy of Van Maren and Alleyne’s book today.  It is the best apologetic I’ve read on the subject.  

    

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Ireland: This is Your Road to Jericho, by Stephanie Gray

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     Babies are being killed in my city of Vancouver today.  And soon the Irish will say the same about their cities.  As I reflect on Friday's vote of some of the Irish people to abolish protections for the youngest, most vulnerable in the Emerald Isle, I think about those who fought so valiantly for a different outcome and what they must be wondering: 

     "How could this have happened?"

     "What about all the prayer and fasting--why didn't these work?"

     "We tried so hard."

     These reactions take me back to an experience I had last October.  A friend reached out to me because one of her business associates was pregnant and planning an abortion.  I messaged my friend tips for what to say.  Then we spoke on the phone at length about how she could appeal to the heart and mind of this woman.  Then my friend met with her, listened and shared.  My friend even offered to adopt the child.  And of course we prayed.  Hard.  The morning of the scheduled appointment we didn't give up.  We went to the site of the clinic before it opened to bring prayers of light to a dark place, hoping the Holy Spirit would hold her back from killing her child.  Then we went to Mass, calling further on the intercession of Almighty God.  

     I wish I could tell you she chose life.  I wish I could tell you her baby was newly born.  I wish I could tell you the woman has sung the praises of my friend for saving her from a deadly choice.  But that's not what happened.  Instead, on the eve of All Saint's Day, a tiny soul nestled safely in her mother's womb was detached and starved by a chemical abortion, ultimately to be flushed down the toilet.

     And we, like the pro-life Irish are now asking, wondered, 

     How is it possible?  We tried so hard.  We did so much.  We called on God.  We believed.  Why didn't it work?  Why do some interventions save some lives and others don't?

     I don't have all the answers.  But I do know this: There is no appropriate alternative to trying.  We won't have to give an accounting for what others did, but we will have to give an accounting for what we did (or didn't do) to "love the least" (Matthew 25).

     When I studied the abolitionist movement led by heroes like William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, and read in-depth about the inhuman cruelty of slavery, I remember thinking, "Not much has changed in our world.  We have simply switched one victim group (Black people) for another (pre-born people); but victimization still exists.  Since Cain killed Abel humans have been killing others."  In light of this reality of the human experience, the questions each of us are left with are the questions that the robbers, the Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan were left with when they came upon a fellow traveler on the Road to Jericho (Luke 10:30):

     *Do I hurt this man?

     *Do I ignore this man?

     *Do I help this man?

     A gang chose to hurt.  Two chose to ignore.  Another chose to help.

     We don't know if the robbed victim ultimately survived.  We know he was taken to an inn and cared for; we know that the Samaritan pledged to return to cover the expenses of further care.  But we don't know if this ultimately led to the victim's restoration of health.    But we do know who helped, who harmed, and who ignored.  We do know the example we are to follow, regardless of the success of the effort.  Perhaps that's what St. Mother Teresa meant when she said, "God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful."

     That's essentially what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus said over a decade ago, and which I shared on my Facebook the morning of the Irish referendum results: 

     "Hope is a virtue of having looked unblinkingly into all the reasons for despair, into all of the reasons that would seem to falsify hope, and to say, 'Nonetheless Christ is Lord. Nonetheless this is the story of the world. Nonetheless this is a story to which I will surrender myself day by day.' Not simply on one altar call, but as the entirety of one's life, in which every day is a laying of your life on the altar of the Lord Jesus Christ being offered up in perfect sacrifice to the Father.

     "And will we overcome? Will we prevail? We have overcome and have prevailed ultimately because He has overcome and He has prevailed. There are days in which you and I get discouraged. On those days I tell myself — I suppose almost every day I tell myself, sometimes several times a day — those marvelous lines from T. S. Eliot's 'East Coker,' where Eliot says, 'For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.'

     "For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. Some people read those lines as lines of resignation, kind of shrugging your shoulders and saying, 'What can you do?' But I read them as lines of vibrant hope. The rest is not our business. The rest is God's business.

     "Thank God, we are not God. Thank God, God is God."

     And so, for those "fighting Irish" who fought with such commitment, courage, and love for the youngest among us and who are now tempted to despair, know this: 

     As you stand on the edge of your Emerald Isle turning red with the blood of innocent children, continue to make the God of St. Patrick your God and entrust the transformation of your country to Him.  This is your Road to Jericho and in this moment you are to ask, Do I harm? Do I ignore? Do I help?  And then continue to choose the one thing you chose leading up to the referendum, the one thing you can control: Choose the way of the Samaritan and help; then leave the results up to God.

 

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. Composite of three pictures showing countryside near Stratford, County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland on June 12th 2005. Photographer: Harald Hansen.

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Present at a Birth, by Stephanie Gray

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     I couldn’t have known when I said yes to a speaking commitment 8 months ago, that it would allow for a Divine Appointment that would make one of my dreams come true—a dream I had been waiting for since 2006.  On April 28, 2018, twelve years after writing my dream list in which number 37 was “be present at a birth,” I was the unexpected support person for my friend’s out-of-town—and emergency—caesarean section.  As a quote attributed to Paul Carvel says, “To witness the birth of a child is our best opportunity to experience the meaning of the word miracle.”

     Last August, I agreed to speak in Michigan this past April 24.  Being so close to Windsor, after the event I drove across the border to visit some of my Ontario friends.  As it should happen, my friend’s cousin, also a friend of mine, planned to join us for my last weekend there.  Angie came with her 4 born daughters and her 37-week baby girl in-utero.  She brought her family’s only vehicle, leaving behind in her small town her husband and 4 sons.  The plan was to go to a banquet dinner Friday night and have a girls shopping day Saturday.  But when Angie started having contractions soon after arriving, it seemed like the weekend was not going to go exactly as planned.

     First there was the hospital visit to be checked out.  Then there was the hospital admission.  Then there was the 4am assessment from the doctor that that baby needed to come out, that morning, and by C-section. 

“This is my body given for you” -Luke 22:19

     Journeying with Angie through the process reminded me of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani.  Hers was a real suffering: She was in pain; her husband was not there; she wasn’t where she lived; her own doctor was not present; she didn’t want to be cut open; she wanted to try a VBAC.   It wasn’t supposed to happen at this time, in this way.  The prayer of Jesus became her lived experience: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  So surgery would happen.  After Angie was prepped, I was brought into the operating room to sit next to her, and for those unaware of how a C-section works, the mother’s arms are stretched out like she’s on a cross.  As she lay there, riddled with anxiety about being aware while being cut open, her experience was once again like Christ’s: “This is my body given for you.”  Angie would do what motherhood has continually called her to do—to be other-focused, to lay down her life.  In short, to love.  But with the impending arrival of her baby, soon a resurrection would follow this type of crucifixion.

     I don’t know what was going through the mind of the Ob/Gyn and his resident as they performed surgery, but if I could have selected a “soundtrack” for them as they cut into the person of Angie to retrieve the person of Mackenzie, it would be these words of Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty:

     “The most important person on earth is a mother.  She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral.  She need not.  She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body.  The Angels have not been blessed with such a grace.  They cannot share in God's Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven.  Only a human mother can.  Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures.  God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.  What on God's good earth is more glorious than this: To be a mother?”

“It’s like watching fire.”

     After I got to cut the cord, I held 6 pounds and 3 ounces of pure goodness up to Angie so she could see her little one.  While the doctors were still working on Angie’s abdomen, she did what she could from her awkward angle to plant tender kisses on Mackenzie and we both just stared in awe.  Then Angie said, “It’s like watching fire.”  Having just come out of a long winter where I had sat in the presence of more fires than usual, I thought about how fire draws one in.  Fire captivates.  It hushes people to silence.  It comforts.  It leaves you in wonder.  On a cold winter evening, in the presence of a fireplace, you’re drawn into the present moment, into what is in front of you, and everything else fades away.  That’s what this silent, tiny, vulnerable little baby did for us.

Reverent Silence

     As the doctors were finishing sewing Angie up, a nurse asked me to bring baby Mackenzie and follow her to the recovery room.  After she helped me get the surgical gown off, she walked away, leaving sweet one and me alone for about 15 minutes.  Blown away with incredulity of all that had just happened, I was tempted to immediately text my 3 best friends from childhood, all of whom are doctors and have regularly experienced what was a first time for me.  But then I thought, “No, the time for communicating with others is for later.  Now is the time to just be with Mackenzie and revel in the gift of her life, in the gift of her presence.”  And so together we simply were.  Me cradling innocence and beauty.  Someone who was unrepeatable and irreplaceable.  Never was before.  Never would be again.  Perfectly unique. 

     Robert Cardinal Sarah once wrote, “Through silence, we return to our heavenly origin, where there is nothing but calm, peace, repose, silent contemplation, and adoration of the radiant face of God.”

     Was this what it was like for Mary cradling baby Jesus?

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     Mackenzie breathed gently.  Her one eye opened while the other was sealed shut by the vernix yet to be cleaned off.  At one point she rooted (“Sorry, baby girl, on that front I can’t help you!  Momma’s coming soon!”). 

     As we waited, I prayed. Tracing the sign of the cross on her forehead, praying over her future… that she would always love the Lord… that she would resist temptation to sin… that she would run to the mercy of Christ when she failed…that her earthly journey would ultimately take her to her Heavenly home.

     And then music came to my heart, and so I sang: “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works Thy hands have made…Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art.”

Love Doesn’t Divide.  It Multiplies.

     My flight to Vancouver was scheduled for that afternoon, and so a few hours later I found myself on a plane home.  Mackenzie’s birth was to finish my two week work trip which began with debating an abortionist at the University of California, Berkeley, in front of 200 of his students.  As I thought about how my trip began—and how it ended—I wished that those students could experience what I just had, that they could know intimately, personally, the pure gift of life, that they could experience the awe and wonder that comes with pregnancy and birth—if we allow ourselves to see it.  That they could understand that new life isn’t to be feared but instead to be revered.  That they could believe that when a woman becomes a mother she isn’t reduced to the status of slave but is instead lifted to new heights of love. 

     My wish for the students is that they could come to know what Angie texted me today: “Being open to life and being gifted all these babies, I believe is a testament to how God’s love multiplies. When you have one kid, you can’t fathom having enough love for another one—but you do.  And so it is with each subsequent child.  It makes it easy to understand how much God loves me!!! (And you) :).”

     Amen.

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What Will Make Christians Care About Abortion? by Stephanie Gray

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     Last week I spoke at Church of the Resurrection, a thriving Anglican church in Wheaton, IL, with a fantastic shepherd, Bishop Stewart Ruch.  During Q and A, I was asked about how people can appeal to their fellow Christians to take abortion more seriously; in particular, I was asked what influences Christians to respond adequately to the plight of pre-born children.  I believe there are three factors in particular:

1.      Conviction,

2.      Education, and

3.      Courage

     Conviction is a strong persuasion or belief.  It is deeper than intellectual assent.  It involves capturing the heart.  And in the context of Christianity, it's not simply knowing about Jesus, or about His commands; it requires a personal relationship with Him, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  This way, just as we care about the things that people we care about, care about, a personal relationship with Jesus will naturally draw forth from us a deep concern for what concerns Him.  As the song “Hosanna” by Hillsong United declares, “Break my heart for what breaks yours.”  Abortion destroys God's creation that is more than good--it is "very good" (Genesis 1:31); it destroys life made in His image (Genesis 1:26); it destroys the result of His command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).

     I am reminded of an allegory I once heard about two people who recited Psalm 23.  The first was a professional orator who declared “The Lord is my shepherd…” with drama and exaggeration.  When he finished, the crowd jumped to its feet and clapped with much enthusiasm.  Then a humble pastor got up.  He lowered his gaze and bowed his head; then he slowly and reverently prayed, “The Lord is my shepherd…”  When he was finished the crowd was struck with silence—the only sounds being gentle weeping from a people profoundly moved.  The conclusion?  The orator knew the psalm but the pastor knew the shepherd.

     It’s like the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: When the priest and Levite saw a half-dead robbed victim on the road to Jericho they passed by on the other side.  The Samaritan man, however, was moved with compassion and cared for the wounded soul.  It was as though the priest and the Levite knew the law, but the Samaritan knew the law-giver.  We need to foster more than simply knowing about Jesus, but actually being in relationship with Him so that the cry of our hearts becomes the cry of the blind man Bartimaeus to Jesus: “Lord that I may see” (Mark 10:51).

     Just as the Good Samaritan “saw” with his eyes, and his heart, the plight of his neighbor, we should pray “that we may see” the plight of our pre-born neighbors just as Jesus sees it.  We should allow ourselves to come face-to-face with their broken bodies and allow their dismembered limbs to communicate to us what their silent screams could not.  We should pray to “see” their beauty and fragility, and the corresponding destruction of what abortion did to them, so as to respond with the broken heart that God Himself responds with.

     Following conviction, there can arise within us a fear of how people will respond if we act on such conviction, which is why education is so necessary.  The more people are equipped to “give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) the more readily people will share.  We need to help people gain confidence in their beliefs, helping them both understand and articulate the rationale behind the pro-life claims.  The better prepared people are to rebut objections, to explain things clearly and persuasively, the more they will increase in confidence, which means they will naturally decrease in fear.

     But fear won’t necessarily be entirely eliminated.  Which is why we need courage too.  I once heard it said that “courage is not the absence of fear, but a will to do what is right in spite of your fears.”  How do we instill courage?  I firmly believe we are more likely to be courageous when we surround ourselves by people who are.  There is something inspiring about the example of people who are other-oriented, especially when there’s personal cost involved.  The courage of others is magnetic, and draws that same virtue out of those who are exposed to it.

     That’s why I encourage communities of believers to immerse themselves in the inspiring examples of heroes and role models who responded to injustice in their midst and advocated for the vulnerable.  Movies like Schindler’s List, Gandhi, Sophie Scholl, Beyond the Gates, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, and Eyes on the Prize are not about abortion, but they are about good people responding to injustice.  That’s what we need in response to abortion, and watching these examples and then discussing how the past can relate to our present, will instill the courage Christians need to make a better future.

Christians and Birth Control, by Stephanie Gray

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     When I present about abortion, I’m sometimes asked about birth control. There are those who think that if one is against abortion one should surely be in favor of birth control; after all, wouldn’t increasing the latter decrease the former? Actually it does not, as I address here. I think a more fundamental question, though, is not “Will birth control decrease or increase abortion?” but rather, “Is birth control morally acceptable?”

     That came up at a recent presentation I gave at a Christian church in my home city of Vancouver, Canada. This topic is often framed as a Catholic-Protestant debate, with the Catholic church teaching contraception is morally wrong and many Protestant churches accepting some forms of contraception. This difference, however, is a new phenomenon. And by “new” I mean the last 90 years. The history of churches of various denominations claiming to follow Christ for the previous 2,000 years has been one where contraception has been rejected—until the Anglicans first embraced it in 1930. I therefore believe a solid, Biblical case can be made for objecting to birth control—appealing to all people who claim to follow Christ, regardless of denominational differences. A series I wrote, accessible in this PDF, will endeavor to do just that.

 

Header image source: Wikimedia Commons, BruceBlaus

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When Someone is in Darkness, Your Light is Blinding, by Stephanie Gray

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     In my 16 years of full-time pro-life work I have met some of the most incredible people around the world.  For all the criticism abortion supporters have about the pro-life movement, portraying pro-lifers as having no concern for the less fortunate, as not caring about children after birth, as being mean-spirited, etc., I have encountered a movement of people that is the exact opposite.  I have met pro-lifers who have adopted children domestically and internationally. I have met pro-lifers who have adopted not one but several children, including sibling sets all at once. I have met pro-lifers who fostered children who otherwise had no place to go.  I have met pro-lifers who have welcomed pregnant women into their homes.  I have met pro-lifers who have adopted and/or birthed children with special needs and embraced these lives as pure gift.

     This striking contrast reminds me of a podcast interview I recently listened to where Patrick Coffin and Jordan Peterson discussed Peterson's viral interview with Channel 4 journalist Cathy Newman.  Peterson described Newman's approach to him as "grilling [an] imaginary opponent."  He said, "She was interviewing a figment of her imagination and not noticing, even for a moment, that it bore no resemblance to me.”

     I have seen that same phenomena in how some abortion supporters represent pro-lifers--seeing the pro-lifer not as he or she actually is, but as a figment of the abortion supporter's imagination.  Why is that?  Perhaps it's because when you're wrong about something and don't want to admit it, that by demonizing those who hold the opposite perspective, you can feel justified in maintaining your false views.  Perhaps it’s also because when someone is in darkness they close their eyes at light, and that prevents them from seeing things as they are.

     That is what came to mind a couple weeks ago when I presented in Oregon.  An audience member mentioned that she had two children with special needs.  She expressed that complete strangers have walked up to her and said they would have aborted children like hers.  She has been hurt and taken aback by such rude remarks and wondered how to handle them.  This was my response:

     "What comes to mind as I'm hearing you speak is that when someone is in darkness, your light is blinding.  When someone is in darkness your light—and you have light—is blinding.  If this room was pitch-black dark and I flicked on movie-studio, high-beam lights, what would you do?  You'd say 'Ouch, that hurts, shut it off' or you'd close your eyes.  But eventually what happens when we wake up in the morning and we kind-of experience that with our bathroom light?  Our eyes adjust, right?  So there will be that initial reaction of rejection, but ultimate adjustment.  And I would say when someone says, 'I would have aborted that child' it's very possible what they're non-verbally saying to you is, 'I did abort that child and how dare you remind me of what I did.'  Because your light hurts in their darkness. 

     "And so what I recommend is that we never take this hostility personally, that we pray for these people and we sit in their pain by allowing them to tell us their stories without any agenda to try to convince them of anything… [So when] you're ever in a situation where someone says, 'I would abort' …ask open-ended questions like, 'Why is that?' or 'What would scare you most?' or 'Do you know anyone who's aborted in this type of situation and what has that experience been?' And just let the story be told.  And what they will remember is your light and how you reacted to their darkness, with gentleness and with compassion—and that will draw them out to where you are."

To watch that particular answer click on the video below and go to 59:07:

 

Image source at top of blog: Wikimedia Commons, Feliciano Guimarães, Guimarães, Portugal, Light at the end of tunnel

 

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When Does Parenthood Begin? by Stephanie Gray

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     In a recent debate I participated in against the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Nadine Strossen, we were asked to respond to the question “Should abortion be legal?” As is my usual practice, I believe the best way to teach people is to answer one question by asking more questions.  Typically I would ask my audience to first consider questions like, “When does life begin?” and “How ought we treat humans whose lives have begun?”  But instead I framed my message this way:

Q: What do civil societies expect of parents? and

Q: When does parenthood begin?

     If you google the terms “Parents abuse, kill, starve, children” you will come up with news stories like these:

·         From California: “Parents arrested after cops find 12 siblings shackled to beds”

·         From Denver: “Abused children's cries for help were ignored”

·         From Iowa: “Baby found rotting in swing; parents charged with murder”

     As I told my audience, I know there is consensus in the room that these are horrifying headlines.  We all agree on that because we all agree that in civil societies parents do not harm their children; instead, they help their children, they meet their children’s material and emotional needs.

     Moreover, I suggested, we all know that the more vulnerable a child is, the greater a parent’s responsibility is.  I asked the students to imagine they go home for the holidays and ask their parents to feed them three meals/day.  If the parents refuse we might be sad for the college student, but we would not pursue criminal charges against the parents.  But what if, I asked the students to consider, the child requesting food isn’t a college student?  What if the child is four years old?  What if the 4-year-old asks her parents to feed her and the parents continually refuse—at that point do we think the parents should be charged with neglect?  Absolutely.  So what is the difference between a child who is a college student and a child who is four?  The latter is a dependent, and by virtue of the neediness, weakness, and vulnerability of such an individual, we expect more of the parents—not less.

     Again, I said, I do not believe this is a point over which we have a dispute.

     Therefore, if we can agree on a civil society’s expectations of parents, then I think we can agree that the response to the debate question, “Should abortion be legal?” ought to be one simple answer: “No.”  In order to elaborate on that, I asked and answered the question, “When does parenthood begin?”

     A basic understanding of reproduction tells us that the next generation of a species which reproduces sexually will begin at sperm-egg fusion.  When a man’s body produces sperm or a woman’s body produces eggs, we know these are mere parts of the body from which they came.  But when those parts are combined, what is produced is something entirely different from that which is a part of a female or a part of a male.  In fact, what is produced is a female or a male.  What is produced is not something but someone.  What is produced is a whole new individual who can be genetically traced as the offspring of the parents—a part of their lineage, but not a part of their person.  What is produced is a separate person.

     Since parenthood begins at fertilization that means the responsibilities of parents begin then too.  From the moment a child exists, parents have a responsibility to ensure the safety and care of that child.  And if one day they wish to relinquish those responsibilities, the only moral way to do so is to ensure another party takes care of the child.  In the absence of a proper “transfer of care” (e.g., adoption) the parents would be neglectful in their duty to help, not harm, their children.

     So should abortion be legal?  The answer to that question is obvious once we ask, “What do civil societies expect of parents, and when does parenthood begin?”

The Joy and Pain of Love, by Stephanie Gray

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     The other evening I babysat my nieces and nephews while my sister and her husband had a date night.  Their littlest guy, who is 17 months old, took their departure remarkably well (it helped that he didn’t notice they left).  But when I was getting him ready for bed a couple hours later, he was captivated by the picture of his parents that hangs above his change table: “Mommy,” he said, “Daddy.”  “Yes,” I responded, “They’re at Costco,” knowing he was familiar with adventures there (and yes, my sister and her husband consider that a date night; go, Costco!). 

     But as Carl kept repeating “Mommy” and “Daddy” and reaching up to the photo, his eyes began to fill with tears.  You could see that his little one-year-old heart felt the special connection any child should feel to his parents.  He felt desire for the presence of the two people he has the deepest bond with.  Because of that, he also felt the profound ache of separation.  As I reflected on this, I thought about both the joy and pain of love.

     That concept is brought to light in the 1993 film Shadowlands, the real-life story of author C.S. Lewis finding love.  Upon a friend’s recommendation I watched it last year and was profoundly moved by its message.

     Lewis, played by Anthony Hopkins, didn’t marry until his fifties.  At that time, an American woman came into his life and initially their relationship was a non-romantic friendship based on shared intellectual interests.  In fact, although Lewis civilly married Joy Davidman Gresham it was simply so she could legally remain in Great Britain.  At that time they did not live as husband and wife.  When Joy was diagnosed with cancer, however, Lewis realized how he truly loved her and, in the presence of a minister, they married around her hospital bed.  In a mercy, Joy recovered—unfortunately, though, for only a few short years before cancer would take her from this earth. 

     In one poignant scene where Lewis and Joy travel around the scenic countryside of England, they discuss what inevitably will come:

Joy: “I’m going to die.  And I want to be with you then too.  The only way I can do that is if I’m able to talk to you about it now.”

Lewis: “I’ll manage somehow; don’t worry about me.”

Joy: “No.  I think it can be better than that.  I think it can be better than just managing.  What I’m trying to say is that the pain then is part of the happiness now.  That’s the deal.”

     The pain then is part of the happiness now. 

      There is a trade-off inherent to love—to truly embrace it means to also embrace loss.  One can only avoid the suffering of loss by refusing to enter into love—but the experience of not loving is much worse than the experience of loving and losing.  Lewis explains this in his book The Four Loves, which was published just months before Joy died:

     “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

     To be deeply happy with Joy while she was alive, Lewis had to let his heart deeply love.  Yes, what would await him at her death was the tragic loss that only a heart that loved would feel.  Certainly, no love would mean no loss.  But no love would also mean no life.

     I have written before about John Paul II’s statement that “Suffering unleashes love” (here and here).  And when someone is loved, it unleashes life, whether literally or figuratively.  But in our imperfect world, life will also end, which will lead to loss, which will lead to suffering, which can lead to unleashing more love and life if we let it.  Perhaps that’s what the person who penned these words had in mind: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

     Could a situation be created where my nephew Carl would not have felt the (temporary) loss of his parents?  Yes—but that would mean ensuring he didn't bond, ensuring he was not loved.  And we know where a story like that leads: the orphans from Ceausescu’s Romania say it all.

     Does separation from those our hearts have loved, whether through death or life circumstances, result in anguish?  Yes, but as Joy wisely observed, “The pain then is part of the happiness now.  That’s the deal.”

 

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Thankful for Fertility? by Stephanie Gray

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     It was shortly after 10pm on a summer night and I was texting with my sister.  As a mother of 5 under 11, her days are long and full.  And in our brief exchange she conveyed that she was so very tired.  Having visited her earlier in the day I saw that her house was a total disaster.  When I walked in she announced, “This is what a house with 5 children looks like.”  It made sense that she’d be exhausted.  At one point in our text exchange I messaged her, “5 things you’re grateful for?  First 5 that come to your mind.”  When she responded I was struck by the final item on her list:

     5. Fertility

     Her answer provoked me to pause because amidst challenge she could see gift, and because we are living in a culture where the default is not my sister’s answer; instead, it is to suppress fertility.  Actually, our culture’s default is more than to suppress fertility, it is to be downright hostile toward it.  I have spoken to so many abortion supporters who hate that fertility is a part of sexuality.  But what could be more incredible than being so intimate with one human soul that in doing so you produce another human soul who had never before existed?  One plus one equaling three in a way that defies math.

     It doesn’t mean fertility is always easy.  I lived with my sister and her family for a season and I saw the toll that pregnancy takes on the body, let alone the challenges of forming and rearing (several!) little human beings.  But I think it’s helpful to step back and think about what the word “toll” means.  It’s a charge for use or access to something (think bridge toll).  We pay the toll because the benefits outweigh the cost.  And we recognize the greater the value of something, the greater the price. 

     The same day I visited my sister, I drove out to see my parents and to help my dad weed his magnificent garden.  In reflecting on my time rummaging through dirt and in-between flowers and bushes, I was reminded again of the gift of fertility—the fertility of the soil, of the flowers that bloom each year—of new life, which brings an array of colors, types, sizes, and smells.  And it’s the beauty and diversity of fertility that makes the garden so awe-inspiring.

     But the oasis of my Dad’s garden did not happen overnight.  It took years of careful cultivation.  It took work.  It took weeding, watering, digging, and pruning.  It still does.  It took, and takes, a toll.  But it’s more than worth it.

     Mother Teresa once declared, “How can there be too many children?  That is like saying there are too many flowers.”

     So should we be thankful for fertility?  It is fertility that resulted in a sweet 1-year-old nephew nuzzling into my shoulder as I lifted his sleepy body out of the van.  It is fertility that resulted in my delightful 4-year-old niece giving me a long hug before saying goodbye.  It is fertility that has given me a 6-year-old nephew whose sensitive spirit teaches me to go gently with people.  It is fertility that has given me an 8-year-old nephew who loves to challenge my competitive spirit with his own over a game of checkers.  It is fertility that has given me an 11-year-old niece who is learning to play the ukulele with me.  It is fertility that has given me a sister I cherish as a best friend.  It is fertility that has given me my parents and their combined 17 siblings.  It is fertility that has given me a brother-in-law, cousins, and friends around the world. 

     When I logged onto Facebook recently I noticed a friend made this post: “I have made a million mistakes in 14 years of parenting... but one thing I know for sure we did right was being open to life and giving our children siblings. That in itself has not been easy, but we are blessed by it every day.”

     Thankful for fertility?  Yes.

 

 

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What Do Rape Victims Say About Their Pregnancies? by Stephanie Gray

 Image source: Mliu92, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pregnant_profile_IV.svg

Image source: Mliu92, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pregnant_profile_IV.svg

     “Abortion is needed in cases where women are pregnant from rape.”  Of all the justifications I have heard for abortion, that, by far, is the most common.

    Remembering my recent blog and review of the book “A More Beautiful Question,” I’d like to address this claim with a series of questions.

     What is this support for abortion based on?  Is it based on rape victims who have gotten pregnant and parented their children?  Or is it based on rape victims who have either never gotten pregnant or who have had abortions?  Is it possible to be pregnant from a much-hated sexual assault and yet be grateful for the resulting child?

     Consider the stories of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight.  These women were kidnapped (at the ages of 16, 14, and 21, respectively) and subjected to daily rapes and other horrifying torture by Ariel Castro.  They survived more a decade of inhuman abuse in his home in Cleveland, Ohio.  Amanda became pregnant by Castro three years into her captivity.  What was her reaction?

     In the Spring of 2006 Amanda learned from the news that her mother had died from a massive heart attack.  Soon after she discovered she was pregnant and wrote in her autobiography, “I think my mom sent this baby.  It’s her way of giving me an angel.  Someone to help pull me through, give me a reason to fight.”

     Indeed, in the book Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland that she penned with fellow survivor Gina, they wrote about Amanda's child conceived in rape: “We are inspired every day by Jocelyn Berry, who was born on a Christmas morning in the house on Seymour Avenue.  She made a dark place brighter, and in many ways helped save us.”  

     Amanda also wrote of her daughter Jocelyn, “I used to worry that if I had the baby it would remind me of him [Castro] for the rest of my life.  But I don’t anymore.  This is my baby.  I’m so close now.  I am still pretty small, maybe a hundred and fifteen pounds, less than when I arrived here, but my stomach looks huge to me.  I already feel more like ‘we’ than ‘I.’  Whenever I’m sadder or more depressed than usual, or when he does something especially mean and my hope starts slipping away, I rub my belly and talk to my baby.”

     After giving birth in the torture chamber she wrote, “I crawl into bed with my new baby.  As he fastens the chain around my ankle, I think about my daughter being born into this prison, and who her father is.  But I try to focus on happier thoughts: She seems healthy and she’s beautiful.  I am going to protect her, and the rest we will figure out as we go.”

     The experience of fellow survivor Michelle Knight was very different.  She became pregnant 5 times by Castro and he beat her each time, successfully killing her pre-born children.  In fact, Castro was charged with four counts of aggravated murder for this.

     The jury’s decision on these charges leads to important questions: Is killing wrong based on who does the killing or based on who is killed?  If it was wrong for Castro to kill the children conceived in rape, wouldn’t it be wrong for anyone to kill the children conceived in rape?  Is the human right to life grounded in being human, or grounded in the circumstances under which a human was conceived?

     In her autobiography Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed, Michelle writes that when he attacked her with a barbell because she was pregnant she screamed, “Stop it!  Please don’t kill my baby!”

     On another occasion, after he kicked her in the stomach to kill another child she had conceived by him, she wrote, “I stood up and stared into the toilet.  I reached down and scooped my baby out of the water.  I stood there and sobbed….Death would have felt better than seeing my own child destroyed.  I looked down at the fetus in my hands. ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you,’ I wailed. ‘I am so sorry.  You deserved better than this!’”

     Or consider the story of Jaycee Dugard.  She was kidnapped in California at eleven years old and held for 18 years by Phillip and Nancy Garrido.  Also subjected to rapes and other unspeakable torture, she gave birth to her first child at 14 and a second at 17.  She writes of her daughters conceived in rape (in the book A Stolen Life: A Memoir): “I had my girls to give me strength,” and “I am thankful for my daughters.”  Of her first pregnancy she said, “The connection I feel for this baby inside of me every time I feel it move is an incredible feeling.”

     Jaycee also wrote, “How do you get through things you don’t want to do?  You just do.  I did it because that was the only thing I could do.  I would do it all again.  The most precious thing in the world came out of it…my daughters.”

     Some might point out that because these women were still held captive while enduring rapes and pregnancies, that new life was a comfort and light in an environment of darkness and suffering, but for rape victims who are no longer enduring victimization, a child is an unnecessary reminder.

     In response, consider my friend Lianna.  She was kidnapped and raped at age 12 and found out she was pregnant after being released from the torture.  When a doctor offered her an abortion, she asked whether it would help her forget the rape and ease her pain and suffering.  She explains her thought process when he replied no: “If abortion wasn’t going to heal anything, I didn’t see the point.”  She carried through with the pregnancy and chose to parent her daughter, who she is so grateful for.  In fact, Lianna was so traumatized by the sexual assault itself that she considered suicide—but didn’t kill herself because she didn’t want to kill her child.  In effect, then, the child conceived in rape became her motivation to continue living, and she credits her daughter for saving her life.

     Certainly there is no denying not everyone will react the same way in the moment.  Consider the Rwandan genocide where mass rapes occurred—one estimate being over 200,000 women raped and approximately 20,000 pregnancies as a result.  One survivor, Jacqueline, was gang-raped and became pregnant with her daughter Angel as a result.  Although she was initially so traumatized by the assault (as well as the murder of her husband and children) that she tried to poison herself and Angel when her daughter was a baby, she eventually entered counselling and “started to love her” and now feels Angel came from God.

     With the right support and help, it is possible to distinguish the innocence of a child from the guilt of a father.  After all, what does the test of time show us when it comes to the presence of children conceived in rape?

     Another question to consider is this: Will abortion un-rape a rape victim?

     The answer to this is obvious.  When I once remarked that whether a victim of rape gets pregnant or not, that the assault itself is a trauma that an abortion won’t take away, a child-molestation victim said in response, “Yeah, 10 years and counting.”

     So the next question to consider, then, is this: What is more difficult to come to terms with: Being an innocent who is hurt, or hurting an innocent?

     My friend Nicole Cooley got pregnant from rape and she had an abortion.  Nicole said, “For me, having an abortion was like being raped again, only worse—because this time I had consented to the assault.”

     Or consider Penny Ann Beernsten: In 1985 she was raped while running along Lake Michigan.  Unfortunately she incorrectly identified an innocent man, Steven Avery, as her attacker.  He was imprisoned for 18 years until the actual rapist, Gregory Allen, was identified using DNA-testing technology. 

     Penny wrote, “The day I learned of the exoneration was worse than the day I was assaulted. I really fought back when my attacker grabbed me. I scratched him, I kicked him. I did not go gently. After the DNA results came back, I just felt powerless. I can’t un-ring this bell. I can’t give Steve back the years that he’s lost.”

     While both these women went through horrifying traumas no human should ever have to endure, they acknowledged a worse pain when they realized their decisions hurt other people.  Of course, there is no denying the impact their traumas had on their judgement, and the failure of those around them, who were emotionally removed from the situations, to better guide them, but the point still stands that it is more difficult to come to terms with hurting an innocent than in being an innocent who is hurt.

     Since the child conceived from rape will ultimately need to come out of the rape victim’s body one way or another—which is better, to remove the child dead or alive?

     In a survey done of 192 women who got pregnant from sexual assault, almost 80% of the women who had abortions reported that abortion had been the wrong solution, and of the women who gave birth to their children, none of them expressed regret and none of them said they wish they had aborted.

     The documentary “Allowed to Live: A Look at the Hard Cases” shares powerful stories of a) people who regret abortions after rape, b) people who are grateful they carried their children to term, and c) people who are thankful their moms protected their lives.

     Which brings to mind my friend Ryan Bomberger.  Ryan’s birth mom was raped and he was conceived.  As it says in his biography, “He was adopted at 6 weeks of age and grew up in a loving, multi-racial Christian family of 15. With siblings of varying ethnicities, he grew up with a great appreciation for diversity. Ten of the thirteen children were adopted in this remarkable family. His life defies the myth of the ‘unwanted’ child as he was adopted, loved and has flourished.”

For the Spanish translation of this article, click here.

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Final Note: Live Action has an excellent, short response to abortion in cases of rape here.  Moreover, years ago I wrote here about a Chilean case involving pregnancy from rape.

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