‘We aren’t the singular-autonomous individuals we think of ourselves as being’

Charlie Camosy interviews Kristin Marguerite Collier, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, on the relationship between a mother and a child prior to the child’s birth. Kristin Collier writes:

As many of your readers may know, the placenta is the organ through which the mother and prenatal child interface. The placenta is an organ that is attached to the inside of the uterus and connects to the prenatal child through the child’s umbilical cord.

What is not as well known about this organ is that the placenta is the only organ in human biology that is made by two persons, together, in cooperation. The placenta is ‘built’ from tissue that is part from mom, and part from the growing baby. Because of this, the placenta is referred to as a ‘feto-maternal’ organ. It is the only organ made by two people, in cooperation with providence. It is the first time mom and her baby come together, albeit at the cellular level, to do something in cooperation.

Whenever I think of this, I picture the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo depicts God and Man reaching out for one another, hands about to touch and perhaps entwine. In the creation of the placenta, cells from the trophoblast, which are from the embryo, ‘reach down’ towards the mother’s uterine wall while at the same time, the spiral arteries from the mother’s uterus are ‘reaching’ up towards the embryo. This process leads to the creation of the placenta.

The placenta is the only purposely transient organ in humans and unlike the rest of our organs, acts as many organs in one. The placenta functions to eliminate waste, like the kidneys would do, facilitates transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide, like the lungs would do, and provides nutrients, like a GI tract would do. It even has endocrine and immune function. What used to be discarded as just the ‘afterbirth’ is now regarded as a magnificently complex shared organ that supports the formation of the prenatal child.

The placenta is such an important organ that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has established, under its “Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development” arm, the “Human Placenta Project” (HPP). The website says “The placenta is arguably one of the most important organs in the body. It influences not just the health of a woman and her fetus during pregnancy, but also the lifelong health of both mother and child.” The aim of the HPP is to better understand, through research, the amazing placenta with the ultimate goal of improving the health of children and mothers. The research done by the HPP continues to demonstrate that a child’s prenatal and postnatal health is inextricably linked to the health of the placenta.

In addition to the placenta, mother and prenatal child interact at a cellular level in something known as ‘fetomaternal microchimerism’. In Greek Mythology, the chimera is a fire breathing monster comprised of three species in one – a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail. In science, “microchimerism” is the presence of a small population of genetically distinct and separately derived cells within an individual. During pregnancy, small numbers of cells traffic across the placenta. Some of the prenatal child’s cells cross into the mother, and some cells from the mother cross into the prenatal child. The cells from the prenatal child are pluripotent and integrate into tissues in her mother’s body and start functioning like the cells around them. This integration is known as ‘feto-maternal microchimerism’.

The presence of these cells is amazing for several reasons. One is that these cells have been found in various maternal organs and tissues such as the brain, the breast, the thyroid and the skin. These are all organs which in some way are important for the health of both the baby and her mother in relationship. The post-partum phase is when there is need, for example, for lactation. The fetomaternal microchimeric cells have been shown to be important in signaling lactation. These cells have been found in the skin, for example, in Cesarean section incisions where they are helping to produce collagen. Baby is helping mom heal after delivery by the presence of her cells! It would be one thing for these cells to come into the mother and be inert, but is a whole other thing entirely that these cells are active and aid mom for example in helping to produce milk for her baby and helping her heal. These cells may even affect how soon the mother can get pregnant again and therefore can affect spacing of future siblings.

Usually, foreign or ‘other’ cells are detected by the host immune system and are destroyed. The fact that these fetal cells ‘survive’ and then are allowed to integrate into maternal tissue speaks to a ‘cooperation’ between the mother and her child at the level of the cell that parallels that seen in the development of the placenta, suggesting that the physical connection between mom and baby is even deeper and more beautiful than previously thought. Research in fetomaternal microchimerism suggests that the presence of these cells may favorably affect the future risk of malignancy. The presence of these cells in the maternal breast may help protect mom from breast cancer years after the baby’s birth.

To think that a physical presence of the baby in her mother is helping protect her from cancer at the level of the cell, speaks to a radical mutuality at the cellular level that we are just beginning to understand. Some of the effects of fetomaternal microchimerism, however, may be detrimental in some cases. This research is still underway. The big takeaway is that the science of microchimerism supports the fact that some human beings carry remnants of other humans in their bodies. Thus, we aren’t the singular-autonomous individuals we think of ourselves as being.

And Michael Pakaluk writes along the same lines, reflecting on the theological implications of our contemporary understanding of pregnancy:

“Mothers around the world say they feel like their children are still a part of them long after they’ve given birth,” said a recent Smithsonian Magazine article, “As it turns out, that is literally true. During pregnancy, cells from the fetus cross the placenta and enter the mother’s body, where they can become part of her tissues.”

It works the other way, too.  Cells from the mother also cross the barrier.  But these cells are not “pluripotent”; their life spans and possible influences are short-lived.

Evolutionary biologists are fascinated by the exchange, because they view it as a symbiosis that contributes to the “fitness” of both mother and child.  Preliminary evidence suggests that fetal cells may stimulate milk production, help wounds to heal, and strengthen the mother’s immune system. …

But let’s think of Mary’s pregnancy in this way.  Jesus was “perfect God and perfect man,” like us in all ways except sin. Therefore, let us suppose that cells from the unborn Jesus migrated into Mary’s blood and lodged in various organs, where they took on the functions of those organs, and remained until Mary was assumed into Heaven. They were not Mary’s cells, but the cells of the Lord, alive within Mary’s body and playing the same function as Mary’s cells. …

Human rights and human violence

Today the District of Columbia moved closer to embracing the fiction the human rights can ever include a right to end human life. David Grosso, DC Council At-Large, described the Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019, which he co-sponsored, this way:

To amend the Human Rights Act of 1977 to recognize the right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization and to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term to term, to give birth, or to have an abortion, to prohibit the District government from interfering with reproductive health decisions and from imposing a punishment or penalty on an individual for a self-managed abortion, miscarriage, or adverse pregnancy outcomes, and to prohibit employment discrimination against health care professionals based on the professional’s participation in or the fact that the health care professional is willing to participate in, abortion or sterilization procedures.

But this description obscures what the legislation would do. Katie Glenn, Government Affairs Counsel at Americans United for Life, testified against the Act and highlighted some of its key deficits:

  • Although council members may say that their intent to cover a limited range of employers with this Act, it extends broadly across the spectrum of health care without exception for faith-based providers. This includes school nurses, care for the elderly, and pregnancy care centers.
  • The Act would violate the 1st Amendment rights of many service providers because they’d be forced to choose between violating their conscience or violating the law.
  • DC already has some of the most extreme abortion laws in the country, yet this Act would make it even more difficult to regulate health and safety in the abortion context in any meaningful way.
  • DC is one of just three jurisdictions with an affirmative right to abortion for minor girls, and this Act would double down on that bad public policy.
  • Clearing the way for abortionists to perform abortions on minor girls without regulation or oversight is not “women’s health.” It is dangerous and wrong.

I offered my own testimony as a District resident, particularly on the issues of conscience and protection of the vulnerable. Because public witnesses are only provided three minutes, I had to deliver an abbreviated version of the remarks submitted in writing below:

Testimony on DC B23-434, the “Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019.”

Committee on Government Operations
The Council of the District of Columbia

December 19, 2019

Dear Chairperson Todd and Members of the Committee:

My Name is Tom Shakely. I am a resident and voter in Ward 2. I moved to Washington a little more than a year ago from Philadelphia, and have grown to love this place. While I have not been very involved in local politics so far, when I heard about the issue being considered today, I felt a need to speak up from a place of love.

What are we doing here today? We’re not here to discuss sustained delays on the Red Line, or stifling congestion, or rising crime. We are here because some wish to wipe out whatever abortion oversight remains in the District of Columbia, a place which already has the most pro-abortion regulatory regime in the entire country, as far as I know.

We’re hearing some this morning advocate for Planned Parenthood and abortionists in basically religious terms. And we’re hearing about abortion as if it were the highest sacrament of this religious ideology that seeks to reshape American law.

Who is this bill meant to satisfy? What constituency is this measure designed to serve? One of the core parts of this bill, the “Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act” would allow abortionists to sell their products to underage women. And whether we view abortion as a human right, a public good, an economic choice or even a religious right, let’s be clear: abortionists are paid to provide only one product—dead human beings. There is no way around this scientific and medical reality. No abortion is safe, because no abortion permits both patients to thrive.

Who has decided that it is politically important for underage girls—for children—to be targeted and marketed by abortion practitioners? (And whatever DC law says, we can know by common sense that a 14 year old pregnant girl is a child and is not an adult.) We define certain persons as “under age” precisely because we used to recognize that these persons are particularly vulnerable, and deserve a unique protection, from those who would exploit them.

Is it not our responsibility to stand up for, and to do everything we can to protect, those who need it most? And if we can’t recognize that underage girls—that our little sisters, that our nieces, that our daughters—don’t deserve protection, we should have enough humility to remain silent today.

Empowering mothers and fathers to play a role in the decision over whether their child should abort their grandchild cuts to the heart of pro-patient, pro-family, pro-child law and policy. How can the District hope to have strong families, strong households, and strong neighborhoods if it severs the bonds of relationship between related persons?

But let’s step back. Why would a minor attempt to obtain an abortion, or why an abortion would be sought on her behalf? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children underscores that the average age of sex trafficking victims is 15 years old. We’re talking about a 15 year old—or younger—child. We’re talking about a victim of human trafficking. We’re talking about a type of slavery.

We’re confronted by this girl. She may as well be here standing beside us. She’s 15 years old. She’s being trafficked as a sex worker. She becomes pregnant as a consequence of her abuse. And now, today, if the District enacts this legislation, her abuser will be empowered to bring her to an abortion center precisely in order to erase any evidence of his crimes.

I cannot believe the District would rather empower human traffickers than patients themselves, alongside their mothers and fathers, in exercising authentic conscience rights.

Today’s legislation would strength neither reproductive health nor patient protections. It would strength the interests of an abortion lobby whose own amoral interest in expanding its customer base would ultimately serve to further human exploitation and grave harm to vulnerable persons.

If we’re truly concerned about fostering a hopeful future for women and children who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and who feel there are no obvious solutions, we can do far better.

Democratic Gov. Robert Casey said “it’s less a question of when life begins than when love begins. We can do better than this loveless culture.

Advising abortion based upon a guess

Gina Christian reports on the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia’s 38th Annual Stand Up for Life Dinner, which took place last month in Philadelphia:

When Rachel Guy was just 22 weeks old, several doctors urged her mother to have an abortion.

They explained that a “chromosomal abnormality” would very likely leave Rachel blind and deaf.

Guy’s parents advised that abortion violated their deeply held religious beliefs, and sought out a new team of physicians who supported their decision to bring their baby to term. Arriving via Caesarean section, and with a birth weight of just over one pound, Guy spent five and a half months in neonatal intensive care.

Now a young adult with full faculties of sight and hearing, Guy recently shared her life story at a major gathering of the area’s pro-life organizations.

Guy was the keynote speaker of the 38th annual “Stand Up for Life Dinner” held Nov. 24 at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel in Center City.

Sponsored by the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, the event drew more than 1,250 attendees, including dozens of high school and college students who were honored during a “roll call” of represented Catholic schools by Father Christopher Walsh, chairman of the Pro-Life Union’s board and master of ceremonies for the dinner.

Father Walsh, the pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia, welcomed guests by showing images of babies that had been assisted by the Pro-Life Union’s member agencies during the past year. Among them, Philadelphia-based Guiding Star Ministries, which now partners with archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, has cared for about 240 single pregnant women since its opening in 1992, said Father Walsh.

He added that more than 400 calls and texts had been exchanged last year through the Pro-Life Union’s pregnancy hotline (484-451-8104), and he urged attendees to keep the number handy.

“God might be using you to save a life,” he said.

I had been familiar with the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia through my family, and it was Fr. Chris Walsh who first invited me to join the board of the Pro-Life Union. One of the people I’ve met along the way has been Dr. Monique Ruberu, whose witness to human life is incredible:

Dr. Monique Ruberu, a Montgomery County-based obstetrician and gynecologist, echoed Guy’s observation by sharing a painful example from her own medical training.

While still in her residency, Ruberu was asked by a professor and mentor to assist with an abortion. After reminding him that her beliefs would not permit her to perform the procedure, she allowed the professor to convince her the abortion was necessary due to a “fetal anomaly,” and she would not directly participate but only provide confirmation that the procedure had been completed.

Speaking through tears, Ruberu said she was tasked with “putting together the pieces of this child” to ensure it had been fully removed from the mother’s womb.

“I stood there and put the small arms and legs and body back together,” said Ruberu. “And with tears pouring down my face, I knew then I would never again put anyone in front of God or these sweet, innocent children.”

Now a board member of the Pro-Life Union, Ruberu speaks extensively in support of the pro-life movement, and in 2018 co-founded Sidewalk Servants, whose members volunteer one or more hours per month to pray and to offer pro-life resources to women visiting abortion centers.

‘The biggest issue will be population collapse’

Maureen Malloy Ferguson writes on anti-natalism, the idea that having children is to be avoided or minimized as much as possible:

Ever since the Garden of Eden, we have been told to be fruitful and multiply. Affirmation of this commandment is now coming from the strangest places.

The quirky futurist Elon Musk recently issued a dire warning. “Most people think we have too many people on the planet, but actually, this is an outdated view … The biggest issue in 20 years will be population collapse. Not explosion. Collapse.”

The New York Times normally devotes considerable ink to the supposed problem of overpopulation, but is now sounding the alarm about declining fertility in a fascinating article headlined “The End of Babies”. Demographers agree that global fertility rates will fall below replacement levels by 2070, a dramatic prediction with devastating implications.

What, then, is to be done? A simple and beautiful place to start is to contemplate the wisdom of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.” …

Newlyweds today often seem somewhat startled at the mention of babies, as if children are a separate endeavour to be considered after many other milestones are met. Jack Ma, the visionary co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (double the size of Amazon), tells employees: “Marriage is not for the purpose of accumulating wealth, not for buying a house, not for buying a car, but for having a baby together … Have more children!” …

I’ve taught in these Pre-Cana programmes for years, and there is surprising receptivity to the Church’s vision for marriage and family. It is often the first time couples hear that children don’t need to be planned like a business plan. Sometimes the best things in life are surprises. Joys are multiplied in large families, and the sorrows are shared with more loving hearts. Studies show that having sisters and brothers makes you a better person (middle children – known for being peacemakers – are an endangered species). You will never regret the children you have, but it is common to regret the children you never had. It is good to say yes to God when He wants to give you a gift.

“You will never regret the children you have, but it is common to regret the children you never had.”

Supermajorities in favor of common sense

Michael New writes on our recent Americans United for Life/YouGov national poll:

Last month, the pro-life group Americans United for Life (AUL) released the results of a survey on abortion clinic regulations commissioned through YouGov. The results indicated that super-majorities of Americans favor common sense regulations abortion facilities.

Specifically, it found that 75 percent of respondents think that abortion doctors should be held to the same medical standards as any other physicians.  Similarly, the poll also found that 70 percent want to hold abortion facilities to the same standards as hospitals. Finally, the results indicate that 78 percent of respondents believe physicians performing abortions should be able to transfer patients directly to emergency rooms.

These new polling results are welcome addition to the ongoing national debate over sanctity of life issues. While there is probably more polling data on abortion than any other public policy issue – many specific abortion policy questions have often received little attention from pollsters or survey research firms. …

This October, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear June Medical Services v. Gee,  a case involving the constitutionality of a Louisiana law which requires that any doctor performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. This will certainly increase the salience of health and safety regulations for abortion clinics in the coming months.

Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that Supreme Court decisions about morality policy issues are often sensitive to public attitudes. As such, AUL should be commended for commissioning this poll, which demonstrates that regulations of abortion clinics enjoy widespread public support.

We want to continue to do more polling like this, if for no other reason that the importance of documenting American attitudes on this issue—regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court ends up ruling in June Medical Services v. Gee next year.

State-level purity tests

Noah Brandt writes on the decision of the Democratic Attorneys General Association to make abortion on demand a litmus test for any future endorsements:

President Donald Trump likes to say he’s going to win so much, you’ll get tired of winning. Maybe Democrats have taken the president too literally.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association is leading the charge to excise all abortion moderates from the good graces of the party. It announced it will not endorse or assist any candidates who do not support unfettered abortion access.

While state AGs may not seem incredibly relevant, they are an important stepping stone toward governors’ mansions in many states. So, considering the Democrats’ weak bench for plausible candidates in red states, the decision not to compete for attorney general is significant. That is what national Democrats are doing by supporting only abortion absolutists in pro-life states — they are deciding not to compete. …

Consider this state-level purity test in light of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ recent reelection. In a time of increasing state polarization, it should have been a huge victory for the Democrats to retain the governor’s mansion in ruby-red Louisiana. But it wasn’t the Democratic Party that ultimately secured Edwards’ reelection.

What makes Edwards different from the sea of losing Democratic nominees in a myriad of red states? It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure it out. He won on the strength of his abortion position.

Edwards was running against a well-funded, if somewhat uninspiring, Republican challenger. Edwards won a tough race, exceeding expectations and clearly illustrating how a Democrat can win in a challenging atmosphere. And he did so by defying what is now the litmus test of another official organ of his party.

The imposition of this state-level purity tests for Democrats ensures that the national party will become less representative of American attitudes in many states. It will contribute to a growing rift between the roughly two-thirds of states that are broadly pro-life and the remaining states which aren’t simply permissive of practices that most Americans view as extreme, but are increasingly moving to enshrine as a publicly-funded right. Why would the Democratic Party want fewer leaders like Gov. John Bel Edwards in states they would otherwise certainly lose?

Americans want abortion clinics held to same medical standards as hospitals

Earlier this year we commissioned an Americans United for Life/YouGov national poll in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signing late-term abortion into law in New York, and we found that a supermajority of self-identified pro-choice Americans oppose New York-style late-term abortion.

And earlier this month we released another Americans United for Life/YouGov national poll in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to consider Louisiana’s Democratic-sponsored 2014 “Unsafe Abortion Protection Act,” which ensures that no woman can be abandoned by an abortion practitioner, and that when a woman’s life is threatened from complications arising from an abortion, emergency transfer laws will ensure her access to life-saving medical care. Madeline Fry puts this issue into context:

For some abortion supporters, regulations that require certain medical standards from abortion clinics are a trap — literally, a TRAP: targeted regulation of abortion providers.

Included among this supposed scheme are laws requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. A paper in the American Public Health Association calls them “stringent” and “medically unnecessary.”

Yet a majority of Americans aren’t buying it. The pro-life organization Americans United for Life commissioned a poll by YouGov, a non-partisan polling firm, which surveyed more than 1,300 adults last month to ask them about these medical standards.

What did we find? We found that supermajorities of Americans supporting common sense life-affirming law and policy:

  • A vast majority of Americans (78.2%) believe that physicians performing abortions should be able to transfer women who experience complications directly to the emergency room;
  • 70% agree that abortion facilities should be held to the same medical standards as any ordinary hospital;
  • 73.8% support states being able to pass safeguards that ensure abortion facilities are in compliance with basic medical practices and sanitation;
  • Three out of four Americans agree that abortion doctors should be held to the same medical standards as ordinary physicians; and
  • Of those surveyed, 43.3% were self-identified pro-choice, 35.5% were pro-life, and 23.9% were neither.

We also spoke with Alexandra DeSanctis on “Life, Liberty, and Law” about the AUL/YouGov poll and SCOTUS as we look ahead to 2020 and its planned hearing of oral arguments in late winter.

Peter Singer and friendship

Charlie Camosy writes on his relationship with Peter Singer, Princeton’s infamous analytic philosopher:

I saw that, even if Singer was a committed atheist, he had a lot of common ground with Catholic social teaching, Thomas Aquinas, the church fathers and Jesus himself. More surprising to me, I began to find his views on abortion and euthanasia more interesting.

Though I considered him clearly wrong about moral status and who counts as a person, he was wrong in interesting and informative ways. And, again, he was one of the few in his camp who was willing to follow his arguments wherever they led him — even if it was to a deeply uncomfortable place.

After I arrived in my current place at Fordham University, I began to think about a book project exploring Singer’s work, which would eventually become “Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization.” …

We have never papered over our differences. Indeed, as one does when one is an analytic philosopher, he honored our friendship by inviting me to debate him in various places, from his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, to his classroom at Princeton. …

As I reflect back on our 10 years of friendship, I’ve come to realize that, especially in our current context, Singer’s significance arises from his unwavering commitment to facts and arguments. Despite decades of attempts to “cancel” him (an audience member once leapt on stage, ripped off his glasses and smashed them with his foot), Singer refuses to bend to the temptation to use raw power to marginalize those with whom he disagrees.

His approach is the only way out of our current mess of a public discourse. Indeed, as far as I can tell, it is the only way to give the vulnerable and marginalized a shot at having their point of view taken seriously by those who hold power over them.

I spoke with Charlie a few weeks ago, and we touched on Singer and the value he had as one of the rare opponents of the human right to life who was willing to “follow the logic” where it leads. When Singer advocates for lawful infanticide and other barbaric practices, he’s following the logic of a culture that rejects human dignity as innate. And at least to the degree that he’s being honest with where the logic of that attitude toward human life leads, we should be grateful for his willingness to say what others will not say.

Charlie’s friendship with Peter Singer is instructive in another way, too. Without instrumentalizing friendships, it bears keeping in mind that only through friendship can we hope to soften or change another’s heart.

Procreation v. reproduction

Agnes Howard writes on “moral labor” in First Things, in a piece that’s of evergreen value:

There are conflicting Christian opinions on childbearing. But a good place to begin is with the idea of procreation. It is an archaic-sounding word, and though sometimes made to stand in as a synonym for “reproduction,” there are crucial differences between the two. Reproduction depends on industrial and mechanical metaphors, making copies of the human species. In contrast, procreation roots sexuality and childbearing deeply within two relations: that of the man and woman, and that between the couple and God. In the first, the sexual embrace of husband and wife opens them to receive a child. In the second, procreation places human intimacy in the context of a divine work, with husband and wife as co-workers alongside God in the creation of a unique human soul.

While procreation implicitly defines the whole process from conception to birth, most often the word is used particularly for the parents’ physical union. Given the profundity and physical character of pregnancy, though, a woman’s continuing efforts to nurture a fetus should also be described as a moral act, her cooperation with God in bringing forth life. Indeed, the woman is particularly burdened and particularly honored in the process. She is the first to witness the creation of the new human being, never before introduced to the created order but present in her. “God creates the soul of the new child in her body,” Alice von Hildebrand writes of this maternal privilege. “This implies a direct ‘contact’ between Him and the mother-to-be, a contact in which the father plays no role whatever.” …

The transformation of our embryology has immense implications for human experience, but a reductive scientism should not have the first and last words in describing human life. A sperm-meets-egg-makes-cluster-of-cells narrative is inadequate to explain our origins: not false, only not sufficient. As Pope John Paul II emphasized in his 1994 Letter to Families, “Man’s coming into being does not conform to the laws of biology alone, but also, and directly, to God’s creative will, which is concerned with the genealogy of the sons and daughters of human families.” Our aim should not be to reclaim folk beliefs about how babies are made, but given the biological and clinical frameworks of maternity today, return to philosophy and theology to help describe the import of what we are doing.

The knowledge (and self-knowledge) imparted by medicine alters the way women view and live pregnancy. Even before that knowledge informs action, it is morally significant. Human gestation resembles the same process in other mammals except for this distinction: We are very much aware of it and we, in some measure, understand what is happening. Carrying a baby is a conscious act. …

What medicine reveals about the mechanics of gestation, rather than stressing woman’s passivity, instead allows us to see pregnancy as a moral act. “Feeling fine, just tired,” a mother-to-be might politely answer when asked how she is doing. Just tired: bone-tired, spent as though having performed a strenuous task. A mother is doing something strenuous, not “making” a baby directly, like hammering out a shape in a forge, but growing tissue, crafting a placenta, carrying weight.

Pregnancy is not just waiting but real work. Exactly what kind of work is it? Terms offered by the market are not much help: It is not evaluated like salaried tasks, and phrases like “maternity leave” construe the event as though it were vacation or hiatus from meaningful employment. We might better avail ourselves of theological categories to help make sense of women’s labor in this phase of procreation: Hospitality describes the mother as welcoming a needy guest, self-denial honors the pains and costs of that nurture, and stewardship observes the boundaries of her agency in respecting Providence.

Scripture and the early Church enjoined hospitality as a duty, and St. Benedict commended it in his Rule. Believers were to extend kindness, such as the acts of charity itemized in Matthew 25, to strangers as though to the Lord himself: “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” An expectant mother welcomes and serves a child as a stranger. Ultrasound pictures notwithstanding, the fetus is a person she does not yet know but whom she is uniquely qualified to help. Doctors may not encourage “eating for two” any more, but an expectant woman comes to live as two. Her whole being is stretched to accommodate another person. Her body, clothing, time, rest, and food are shared, and the most intimate areas of life reflect the presence of another person. Consider those notorious food cravings. Women develop aversions to edibles formerly counted as favorites, or desires for things normally detested, or for great quantities or in strange combinations—as in the venerable jokes about pickles and ice cream. These cravings point to something fundamental about pregnancy. Wanting something you usually do not like attests to this: You are not yourself. At least, you are not only yourself. You are acting on behalf of someone else, wittingly and unwittingly.

We devalue when we reduce human life and human experience to only its biological aspect, as if we are not ethical and moral creatures. Agnes’s piece helps recover a richer sense of ourselves as moral agents—as father and mother—at the same time that she helps make the distinction between our reproductive and procreative powers clearer.

Abortion before the court

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the issue of abortion for the first time in three years:

The U.S. Supreme announced today that it will hear the petition filed by June Medical Services, a Louisiana abortion business, and the cross-petition filed by the State of Louisiana. The cases provide the Court with the first opportunity to speak to the abortion issue since the Hellerstedt decision three years ago, and potentially the continued viability of the constitutional right to abortion announced in Roe v. Wade (1973) and affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

“Americans United for Life welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to review both the commonsense Louisiana admitting privileges law and the legal question whether an abortionist should be able to stand in the shoes of his patients to challenge a medical requirement that is designed to protect them from him,” said AUL’s President, Catherine Glenn Foster. “Louisiana’s long and sordid history of dirty and dangerous abortion businesses being shuttered one by one in order to protect women from fly-by-night and dangerous abortionists should tell the Court all it needs to know, both about the legal benefits of this law and the dubious right of abortionists to sue to overturn laws designed to protect their own patients.”

June Medical’s petition seeks review of the constitutionality of a Louisiana law requiring all abortion doctors to have admitting privileges – the ability to directly admit a patient from the abortion clinic into a nearby hospital when emergencies arise – within thirty miles of their abortion facility. The U.S. Supreme Court held a similar Texas provision unconstitutional in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, but did not rule on the overall validity of such provisions. Louisiana now argues that since its admitting privileges law would leave abortion centers open in both population centers in the state, it does not create an “undue burden” on abortion access in Louisiana in violation of Casey.

Abortion law has been a mess for decades. We’ll see how things look in 6-9 months.