A child’s first home

I’m heading to Dallas this morning, and as I’m leaving home for two days I want to share Haley Stewart’s recent reflection on our first home:

As my fourth baby has learned to crawl over the past few weeks, I watch her launch out across the living room to grab toys and explore. After scurrying several feet away, she will turn her head back to where I sit cross-legged on the floor and return to me, climbing into my lap to rest her head on my chest or pat my cheek with her chubby palm before going on her next tiny adventure across the room.

My five-year-old, for so many years the baby of the family, still asks to sit in my lap each day. While we eat lunch, while she does schoolwork, while we read books at bedtime, her little girl limbs find a way to curl up into the space where she found comfort for so long.

My seven-year-old wraps her arms around me many times a day for a huge hug. She touches my hair or shoulders as she walks past me. She runs into my embrace when she scrapes her knee.

My ten-year-old still snuggles up as we look over math problems and read together. He still wants a hug to comfort him when he is distressed or needs to resolve a disagreement.

While my children’s need for physical touch can be exhausting, it reminds me of a beautiful truth: my body will always be my children’s first home. My body is the space where they were woven together, where their tiny baby arms and legs kicked and swam, their first cradle that rocked them to sleep.

When I was 23 and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was struck by this truth. Already married and a new mother myself, I was in the process of creating my own home and family. And yet, the prospect of losing my mom made me feel unmoored and lost. Praise God, she has been cancer free for almost 10 years. But no matter how old I am, losing my mother someday will be the loss of home—my first home. In both an emotional and physical reality. The loss of her presence will take away from the comfort of visiting my hometown. It will not feel like home, because my first home, her very body, will not be there.

We know now that some of a baby’s cells to stay in the body of her mother (fetal microchimerism). Part of each of my children will be with me forever and they each have a piece of me. We are physically connected for our whole lives. But a mother’s connection to her child transcends DNA. We will find home in those who have been a mother to us. Our birth mothers, our adoptive mothers, our foster mothers, women who have stepped in to mother us when our own mothers may be separated from us by death, illness, addiction, or abuse.

Our need for a mother, a presence of home, is part of God’s design for human souls.

I think part of the reason I found this so moving is that it’s a way of thinking and speaking that’s presently lacking in both our politics and our conversations on life issues. It’s both tender and humane, and through it we discover a truth about where we can trace our material origins that doesn’t require argument or analysis, but simply a willingness to listen and consider. It reframes life issues from their extreme focus on rights and duties, to one of hospitality and love. And through this reframing, we might consider Roger Scruton’s belief that ours is largely “a loveless culture, which is afraid of beauty because it is disturbed by love.”

Rally Against Bullying

I was in Center City, Philadelphia yesterday for the Rally Against Bullying, organized in response to Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims’s live-streamed verbal abuse and harassment of a grandmother, mother, and three teenaged girls who were praying outside of Center City Philadelphia’s abortion center:

The “Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying” took place in front of a downtown Philadelphia Planned Parenthood facility. On May 2, state Rep. Brian Sims livestreamed video from the same location, posting two videos in which he denounced two women, three teenagers and a man.

Sims called for donations to Planned Parenthood while offering money to viewers who could provide the identities and addresses of the witnesses.

Shortly after the videos emerged on social media, the national organization Live Action organized the rally. It featured representatives from a number of local and national groups…

Several speakers directly addressed Sims’ claims that the pro-life advocates he had filmed were racist.

Richara Krajewski of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia said she stood before the crowd “as a pro-life black woman.”

Noting that “it’s so popular now to call out racism,” Krajewski wished to clarify that application of the term, particularly “in the context of pro-abortion politics.”

“Real racism,” she said, “is co-opting the language of liberation to advocate for the destruction of the lives of the most vulnerable. Real racism is a so-called white ally telling black and brown women that they need to choose between their dreams and their babies.”

Kevin D. Williamson writes on Brian Sims’s decision to stream himself harassing members of the public:

The times being what they are, perhaps we should classify political fanaticism of the social-media performance-art variety as a kind of insanity. Political fanatics such as Sims live in the shadows between the idée fixe and outright monomania. The inferior kind — and Sims is the inferior kind — fixate on terminology as a substitute for ideas, and for them buzzwords are a necessary intellectual crutch. Hence, Sims’s shouty accusations of “white privilege” in the face of a young woman who, as she pointed out with a smile, is not white. Intersectionality — it is a bitch.

Rep. Sims had offered $100 to anyone who would reveal the names and home addresses of the women he filmed himself harassing. Thankfully, that resulted in Philadelphians instead crowdfunding more than $125,000 to benefit the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia and Guiding Star home for women and children.

Women Speak

Americans United for Life hosted “Women Speak 2019: A Symposium on Life Without Roe” this morning at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC:

Women Speak 2019 brings together leaders in law, medicine, economics, and culture, to explore the current cultural and political paradigm that falsely argues abortion is necessary for women’s advancement in society.

“Women Speak” addresses itself to the heart of the presumption underlying the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe and Casey abortion jurisprudence—that is, the idea that American women have a “reliance interest” in abortion.  A few scenes from the symposium:

Paul Strand was there and reports:

Americans United for Life organized the event, with its leader Catherine Glenn Foster arguing women would no longer need to kill their unborn children if society was more accepting of motherhood.

She asserted, “It is not women who need to change, but a nation that would discriminate against pregnant and parenting women.”

Because of that prejudice, many women feel they’ll threaten their careers, their opportunities if they embrace motherhood.

Writer Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review answered, “It’s actually deeply disempowering to women to tell them that they need the right to kill their own child in order to be flourishing, in order to be happy.”

Foster told CBN News, “The Supreme Court has this mistaken assumption that women rely on abortion to succeed in society. They say that we can’t make it on our own, that we’re not enough, that we have to have abortion, legalized abortion on demand, all nine months of pregnancy, in order to succeed. And that is simply false.”

She suggests as women fill up more and more positions in the working world, businesses and the women will both be better off if institutions learn to positively accommodate motherhood. If they won’t, it sends a deadly message. …

“Since Roe v Wade, 61 million Americans are not here because they’ve been aborted,” said Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO)…

Women Speak was a great symposium and is available in its entirety on Facebook and YouTube streams:

8:30 a.m. – Registration
9:00 a.m. – Welcoming Remarks by Melanie Israel
9:10 a.m. – Opening Remarks by Catherine Glenn Foster
9:20-9:35 a.m. – Congressional Address by Rep. Vicky Hartzler
9:40-9:55 a.m. – Congressional Address by Rep. Debbie Lesko
10:00-10:30 a.m. – Law & Policy Panel
10:35-11:05 a.m. – Women’s Health Panel
11:05 a.m. – Break
11:15 a.m. – Presentation of “Defender of Life in the Media” Award
11:30 a.m. – Culture Panel
12:05 p.m. – Closing Remarks
12:15 p.m. – Lunch

Care, not suicide

I spoke this morning on Fox & Friends in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent advocacy of suicide by physician for New Yorkers:

I spoke alongside Kristen Hanson, Community Relations Advocate for the Patients’ Rights Action Fund, as well as Dennis Vacco, former New York State Attorney General. Dennis Vacco successfully argued the landmark 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case Vacco v. Quill, wherein the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that no constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide exists.

Suicide by physician was made lawful in New Jersey over the weekend, which is apparently what prompted Gov. Cuomo to suggest making it legal in the Empire State, too. We’re living through a time when we think we’re cleverer than we are. Suicide is suicide.

Visiting the Senate

Catherine Glenn Foster testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this morning on S. 160, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” It was a beautiful day for important testimony, some of which I’m sharing here:

Human life in the womb is recognized and protected in federal law and by the laws of most states against crimes of violence. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act makes it a federal crime to kill or cause bodily injury to an unborn human in utero. 18 U.S.C. § 1841(a)(1). Thirty-eight states currently treat the killing of an preborn human as homicide, with at least twenty-eight of those states criminalizing the act from conception. Nearly all fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia, have wrongful death statues, allowing recovery for the death of an unborn human or the subsequent death of an infant born alive who was injured while in utero. Outside of the context of elective abortion, the medical profession recognizes that a physician treating a pregnant mother has two patients, the maternal patient and the fetal patient, and owes duties of care to each.

The regulation of abortion after twenty weeks simply recognizes that there is substantial medical evidence that the preborn child feels pain by that point. However, the question of when a fetus can experience pain has been the subject of some debate over the last two decades. There is research to show that the sensory connections for feeling pain are present by 20 weeks gestation. In fact, there is a steadily increasing body of medical evidence and literature supporting the conclusion that a fetus may feel pain from around 11 to 13 weeks, or even as early as 5.5 weeks. Indeed, there is some evidence that fetal suffering may actually be more intense due to the uneven maturation of fetal neurophysiology. A British survey of neuroscientists showed that 80% of the neuroscientists participating in the survey felt that pain relief should be given to a fetus for abortions after 11 weeks gestation.

Moreover, medical information on fetal neurological development and a child’s consequent ability to feel pain in the womb is a concern of women considering abortion, and therefore providing this information is relevant for a woman to make a fully-informed choice on whether or not to obtain an abortion. In light of this, six states have laws requiring abortion facilities to give women information on fetal pain. Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oklahoma require physicians to inform women of the possibility of fetal pain at 20 weeks gestation. Additionally, Georgia requires abortion facilities to inform women orally prior to an abortion that fetal pain information is available on a state-sponsored website.

Insofar as the existence of pain in the preborn infant at or before 20 weeks is firmly established in the congressional findings of S. 160, and reflects a reasonable reliance by Congress on current medical science, protecting infants in the womb from intense pain felt during an abortion is an appropriate and constitutional state interest in restricting abortion beyond this time frame. Gonzales, 550 U.S. at 163 (“The Court has given state and federal legislatures wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”).

‘Bearing Witness’

I spent last night at the Catholic Information Center for “Bearing Witness: Nurturing a Culture of Life through Love and Encounter,” which featured Catherine Hadro and Mary and Bobby Schindler:

Join Catherine Hadro, host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, and Mary Schindler, co-founder of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, for an evening of prayer, remembrance, and hope.

Catherine Hadro and Mary Schindler will sit down for an intimate conversation on the topic of nurturing a Culture of Life through love and encounter. Mary Schindler will share positive and life-affirming stories from the fight for the life of her daughter, Terri Schiavo, a prominent victim of the culture of death. Catherine Hadro will speak on her experience as host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, sharing some of the most touching personal stories she’s experienced after hosting 100+ episodes of Pro-Life Weekly, and closing with reasons for hope amidst a culture indifferent to the intrinsic dignity of human life.

Bobby Schindler, President of Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network and brother of Terri Schiavo, will also be in attendance. All attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the book, “A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo, A Lesson For Us All.”

The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network co-hosted “Responsibility to Care: What Euthanasia Victims Can Teach Us” at the Catholic Information Center last year, and last night’s “Bearing Witness” conversation followed in that tradition of life-affirming conversations.

Inspiration from Morehouse College

Eric Stirgus writes:

Morehouse College visiting professor Nathan Alexander said he was just trying to help when he not only allowed a student to bring his infant daughter to his class on Friday, but volunteered to hold the child as he taught.

Pictures of the unconventional situation have garnered such attention on social media, with many hailing Alexander’s efforts to assist the student, Wayne Hayer, when he couldn’t find childcare.

“I’m not an exception,” Alexander said in a telephone interview Saturday afternoon with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We have teachers who (assist students in similar ways) every day.”

Alexander said he initially discussed the idea of the student bringing the child to class a few weeks ago when Hayer said he couldn’t stay for office hours because he needed to pick her up.

To the professor’s surprise, Hayer took Alexander up on his offer. Hayer arrived to Alexander’s algebra class with the baby girl dressed in a pink outfit. The professor said he was “gleeful.”

Alexander, though, noticed Hayer was distracted watching the child during the beginning of the 50-minute class and offered to hold her.

“Hey, I’ll take her so you can take some good notes,” Alexander recalled saying.
Alexander said he rocked the child with his left hand and lectured with his right hand. The child, the professor said, was quiet through the class and fell asleep near the end of his lecture. …

Alexander, who joined the Morehouse faculty in 2017, said this was not his first experience allowing a student to bring a child to class. He recalled a student once brought a child Alexander believes was 8 or 9 to his class.

Alexander said such allowances, to him, are part of the mission of colleges such as Morehouse, the nation’s lone college for African-American men  — men finding ways to help other men. The Atlanta college’s most famous graduate is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When I’ve written about the need for a broader, authentic spectrum of choice, this is the sort of thing I have in mind beyond law and policy reforms. We should be able to respond in better ways to the natural needs of mothers and fathers than to promote extreme choices like abortion or expensive childcare, both of which are sometimes impossible or anathema to many people—and both of which, by the way, are economic in nature.

We want more Americans to feel more able to thrive in the world, with children regardless of particular circumstance. Professor Alexander provides a good model for what sort of response contributes to a more humane culture. It’s the little things that make the big differences.

Pro-choice Americans oppose late-term abortion

Tyler O’Neil writes on our recent Americans United for Life/YouGov poll that indicates that majorities of pro-choice Americans oppose late-term abortion:

The vast majority of Americans who consider themselves pro-choice oppose the kind of radical abortion provisions proposed by Democrats in New York and Virginia, according to a new Americans United for Life (AUL)/YouGov poll released Tuesday.

A full 68 percent of pro-choice Americans oppose abortion the day before a child would be born, the poll found. Sixty-six percent of pro-choice Americans oppose abortion in the third trimester and another 77 percent of them oppose removing medical care for a viable child outside the womb. A majority of Americans (53 percent) identify as “pro-choice,” while a large minority (47 percent) identify as pro-life.

Americans as a whole proved even less likely to support the killing of a baby in these circumstances. Eighty percent oppose abortion the day before birth, 79 percent oppose abortion in the third trimester, and 82 percent oppose removing medical care for a viable child after birth.

“This survey vividly reveals both the American people’s common-sense appreciation for the sanctity of life and the widespread horror, even among self-identified pro-choice Americans, of new laws like New York’s that effectively allow abortion up until the moment of delivery,” Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of AUL, said in a statement on the findings. …

Last month, Gov. Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed the Reproductive Health Act (S.B. 240) on the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973). The law allows abortion throughout pregnancy — even up to the baby’s due date — in the name of protecting a woman’s health. It also repeals protections for babies who survive abortion and removes New York’s protections for wanted babies killed if a pregnant mother is physically abused. …

Few Americans realize, however, that the current legal system is indeed this radical. Under Roe v. Wade and later Supreme Court precedent, if a doctor considers killing an unborn baby vital to save the life or health of a woman, an abortion can be performed up until the moment of birth. The Court’s precedent has an extremely vague definition for “health,” enabling a wide loophole for late-term abortion.

“Few Americans realize that when Roe v. Wade enshrined abortion into American law, it did so with practically no limits,” Tom Shakely, chief engagement officer at AUL, told PJ Media. “Abortion is often justified based on the alleged basis of maternal health, but for most of America’s post-Roe history, there has been no consistent definition for what constitutes a legitimate health reason.”

“In practice, the sort of permissive abortion law that New York has adopted simply enshrines a peculiar public right to private forms of violence upon the most vulnerable members of the human family,” Shakely declared.

According to a Knights of Columbus poll released last month, a whopping 65 percent of Americans support changes to the law that would involve repealing Roe v. Wade.

We commissioned this poll precisely to discover where Americans stand on some of these fundamental life issues. What we’ve found is that late-term abortion is a nonpartisan issue: large majorities of Americans on both sides of the traditional pro-choice/pro-life spectrum reject late term abortion, not to mention the sort of acts that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has legalized in New York or that Gov. Ralph Northam would legalize in Virginia.

Human nonpersons and human rights

Bobby Schindler writes on the consequences of the logic of thinking of human life and human persons as severable:

Wesley J. Smith, author and bioethicist, wrote nearly two decades ago, “Practitioners of bioethics say who should live, and who should die.” Smith cautioned of an alarming and insidious trend within the modern bioethics’ movement known as “personhood theory.” He described how some bioethicists were asserting that what matters “morally” is not that one is “human,” but that one has a legal status as a “person.”

What makes someone a legal person with human rights worth respecting? One must possess, those bioethicists argued, mental competencies, such as “self-awareness” or having the ability to “engage in rational behavior.”

Consequently, those who did not fit this criterion would fall into the category of being defined as a human “non-person.” These “non-persons” would include embryos, the unborn child, infants (up to the first few years of life), those with Alzheimer’s disease, cognitively disabled individuals, and individuals with significant developmental disabilities. Indeed, if one fit the definition of being a human “non-person,” a philosophical determination, then bioethicists would accordingly be able to shape the social, cultural, judicial, and medical criteria for any one person enjoying basic human rights—including the right to life itself.

Peter Singer is perhaps the most infamous of this bioethical cohort. In 1998, Singer was appointed to Princeton University’s Professorship of Bioethics and has since served as a prominent advocate for personhood theory. His advocacy of the notion of human “non-persons” has been attractive to many and he enjoys a sort of celebrity status among bioethicists and ethicists generally.Today, personhood theory is part of ethics taught in countless colleges, and it’s having a significant impact on those most vulnerable to its dehumanizing logic.

It was not long ago, for instance, that to intentionally starve and dehydrate someone to death for any reason would have been thought of as barbaric and inhumane. Yet, Terri Schiavo, my sister, became just one of the more prominent of the countless victims of Peter Singer’s logic. Terri lived with a brain injury and was cognitively disabled, but her husband and, ultimately, judicial decision makers came to accept that her life lacked sufficient value to continue feeding her. Take note of this 2005 exchange between Smith and Professor Bill Allen, bioethicist at the University of Florida, debating Terri’s life:

Wesley Smith: “Bill, do you think Terri is a person?”

Bill Allen: “No, I do not. I think having awareness is an essential criterion for personhood.”

Fast forward to 2014: An article by The College Fix’s Mairead McArdle exposed “anecdotal evidence” that more college students support post-birth abortion, suggesting that children up to 5-years-old could be put to death because they are not sufficiently “self-aware” and thus they do not constitute “persons.”

In 2018, a video surfaced of a University of Tennessee Knoxville student who rationalized support for infanticide of two-year-olds based on the fact that the child is not sufficiently “sentient.” The student offered that “without communication, we have no way of knowing if you are sentient or not. It’s no different than this tree. It’s alive, but is it sentient? I don’t know. I cannot communicate with it.”

Can we really accept that we are, at any time, simply one accident away from being deemed by an overzealous bioethicist a “human nonperson” who unwillingly forfeits basic human rights?

‘Tales as wondrous as Homer’s’

As a follow-on from the Life Magazine cover I shared recently, here’s Joe Sobran:

Tone is the immediate expression of values, and the tone characteristic of abortion advocates is that of the sneer. And for a natural reason: their position is reductionist, value-denying. It intentionally minimizes the worth of the incipient human life; and let us bear in mind that for a long while it minimized the facts themselves. It is a prejudice, in the fundamental sense that it springs from the will in advance of any knowledge; it is not a conclusion from the available evidence, nor a perplexity caused by inordinate communion with complexities …

A very different tone was sounded by Newsweek in its January 11, 1982 cover story “How Life Begins.” Written by Sharon Begley, it began:

“If newborns could remember and speak, they would emerge from the womb carrying tales as wondrous as Homer’s. They would describe the fury of conception and the sinuous choreography of nerve cells, billions of them dancing pas de deux to make connections that infuse mere matter with consciousness. They would recount how the amorphous glob of an arm bud grows into the fine structure of fingers agile enough to play a polonaise. They would tell of cells swarming out of the nascent spinal cord to colonize far reaches of the embryo, helping to form face, head and glands. The explosion of such complexity and order — a heart that beats, legs that run and a brain powerful enough to contemplate its own origins –seems like a miracle. It is as if a single dab of white paint turned into the multicolored splendor of the Sistine ceiling.”

Miss Begley went on to speak of the abortion question as “scientifically unanswerable,” and yet she implicitly answered it herself, in her accents of stunned wonder. The very facts of fetal development, far from inducing value-free detachment, inspired her to remarkable eloquence.

Her whole article, though merely descriptive, was suffused with the reverence of a mind free of self-interest and absorbed by the unfolding reality before it. Reading it one felt that rare and sublime sensation of beholding, of sharing the intellect’s love of its object. “The five-week embryo, only one-third of an inch long, is a marvel of miniaturization: limb buds are sending out shoots whose dimples mark the nascent hands and feet, and the hindbrain has grown stalked eye cups.”

Stalked eye cups! This is not a “pretty” description, but an enthralled one, and it takes a certain nerve to insist, in the face of such data, that description has no bearing on prescription, or that the thing described is no more than a “blob of protoplasm.”

And we allow such things to be killed. They are destined to be men and women; they are what we once were. Is not our indifference to them, our official denial of our kinship with them, a judgment on ourselves?

As if to balance the undeniable import of Miss Begley’s article with a kind of moral disclaimer, Newsweek supplemented it with a shorter piece titled “But Is It a Person?”

“It is unquestionably alive,” wrote Jerry Adler, “a unique entity . . .” But, he continued, “The question is one for philosophers, not scientists; . . . the problem is not determining when ‘actual human life’ begins, but when the value of that life begins to outweigh other considerations, such as the health, or even the happiness, of the mother. And on that question, science is silent.”

From the heights to the depths. This was pretty near absurdity. Science, in the sense of physical analysis, is silent on every moral question, for the simple reason that science is not ethics.

We’ve got to recapture the capacity to conceive of the youngest members of the human family in the true and epic terms that Sharon Begley did in her Newsweek piece; in the sense of human beings emerging into the world, who though lacking autonomy and self sufficiency and independence for years upon years nonetheless have already are adventurers with “tales as wondrous as Homer’s.” Thinking in this way might help get the rest of us out of ourselves, and help get us thinking about more than our own ego and our own concerns and instead be content simply to be in the presence of the extraordinariness of others in the sense that C.S. Lewis invites us to think of others:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”