Whenever we think of the forces arrayed against the pro-life cause—and they can sometimes seem rather formidable, especially when we take into account that they include what St. John Henry Cardinal Newman nicely referred to as the “aboriginal calamity” of original sin—we must remind ourselves that the powers of conversion are always with us, which is to say that the Holy Spirit is always with us—with us and with our opponents.
And with an ally of this august order there can be no cause for anything but faithful perseverance. We will win and the other people, God help them, will lose. The Holy Spirit, after all, was with Dr. Nathanson. He was with Abby Johnson.
These, as we all know, were abortion zealots. They saw nothing wrong with killing children in the womb. Until they were converted to the altogether stark, consequential truth that such killing denies children the gift of life. Then they repudiated their advocacy of abortion. They chose life over death. They were given the fruit of conversion. They recognized that abortion was indefensible—and surely this was a glorious gift of the Holy Spirit.
Nathanson and Johnson are not alone: There are millions more like them who will follow in their footsteps, who are following in their footsteps as we speak.
Here, to illustrate my point, is something by the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), something that chronicles—in the span of a fairly short poem—one of these conversions. It is not a perfect conversion. Hardy suffered from agnosticism, the same desolating, irrational agnosticism from which so many suffered in Victorian England and beyond. But it was a conversion all the same. And it should confirm our hope—even amidst our encircling gloom, to borrow another phrase from Newman—because, where the Holy Spirit is, there is no hard case too hard for conversion. Here now is the poem entitled “To an Unborn Pauper Child.”
Breathe not, hid Heart: cease silently,
And though thy birth-hour beckons thee,
Sleep the long sleep:
The Doomsters heap
Travails and teens around us here,
And Time-wraiths turn our songsingings to fear.
Hark, how the peoples surge and sigh,
And laughters fail, and greetings die:
Hopes dwindle; yea,
Faiths waste away,
Affections and enthusiasms numb:
Thou canst not mend these things if thou dost come.
Had I the ear of wombèd souls
Ere their terrestrial chart unrolls,
And thou wert free
To cease, or be,
Then would I tell thee all I know,
And put it to thee: Wilt thou take Life so?
Vain vow! No hint of mine may hence
To theeward fly: to thy locked sense
Explain none can
Life’s pending plan:
Thou wilt thy ignorant entry make
Though skies spout fire and blood and nations quake.
Fain would I, dear, find some shut plot
Of earth’s wide wold for thee, where not
One tear, one qualm,
Should break the calm.
But I am weak as thou and bare;
No man can change the common lot to rare.
Must come and bide. And such are we—
Unreasoning, sanguine, visionary—
That I can hope
Health, love, friends, scope
In full for thee; can dream thou wilt find
Joys seldom yet attained by humankind!
The first five stanzas of the poem may be given over almost entirely to the pinchbeck pity of the abortionist but the last redeems matters with a genuine show of fellow feeling, an empathy which must always reject the impulses of false pity—the pity of those who behave as though God were somehow missing from his created universe, as though they themselves were gods, as though they had some self-appointed right to choose who lives and who dies.
If Hardy, a sworn rationalist and agnostic could dimly see that fellow feeling is preferable to abortion, that life is better than death, that hope is better than despair, there is hope yet for all of those who oppose the cause of life, even the otherwise unspeakable public men and women who clamor for it in our legislatures and in our public squares.
But before ending this impromptu effusion, I must share with you another jollier poem from Hardy, a poem in which his delight in God’s handiwork presides. It is called “Former Beauties,” from a sequence entitled “At Castlebridge Fair,” which appeared in Time’s Laughingstocks, a book of poetry he published in 1909 when he was nearly 70 years old. William Butler Yeats included the poem in his Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1936 (1937). Here is the poem, which is very beautiful, like a lovely old tune that sounds lovelier and lovelier every time we hear it.
These market-dames, mid-aged, with lips thin-drawn,
And tissues sere,
Are they the ones we loved in years agone,
And courted here?
Are these the muslined pink young things to whom
We vowed and swore
In nooks on summer Sundays by the Froom,
Or Budmouth shore?
Do they remember those gay tunes we trod
Clasped on the green;
Aye; trod till moonlight set on the beaten sod
A satin sheen?
They must forget, forget! They cannot know
What once they were,
Or memory would transfigure them, and show
Them always fair.
Again, Hardy might not have had much use for the Christian heaven. Anyone who reads his fiction knows that he could not leave off quarreling with God for allowing, as he saw it, so much suffering in the world. But Hardy did have some vision of eternity, one in which the “young things” of God’s handiwork are forever “fair.” And this is another ground for hope when it comes to the fight for life, for the hunger for heaven is in all of us, even the abortionist, and there can be no heaven for those who clamor unrepentantly for the destruction of God’s unborn.