Before You Were a Twinkle in Your Father’s Eye
The other night while dial-surfing on FM radio for some music, I came upon a talk-radio guest sputtering excitedly: “The people behind the 15-week ban on abortion in Mississippi are trying to change the definition of viability!”
The nerve! Not only an assault on abortion rights but on the dictionary as well! Egad, the Merriam brothers and Noah Webster must be rolling over in their graves! Except that prior to 1973 and the Roe v. Wade decision, the legal definition of fetal viability, dating back to the 1300’s, was defined in English Law (which American law is based on) as “proof the pregnancy is progressing,” and recognized by quickening, or feeling the baby move. In other words, viability used to mean simply that there was a living human being in the womb, not that the baby could survive outside of it. The definition of viability was changed alright; it happened virtually overnight 48 years ago when the Supreme Court threw out six centuries of accepted legal standard and what was once a slam-dunk diagnostic tool.
Was the hyperventilating talk-radio guest’s timeline tunnel vision due to a ragged grasp of not-so-distant history, or does she prefer to believe that “In the Beginning” seven men in robes (but not sandals) created our world and named everything, so that’s that. If so, she lives in a space-time continuum reality with its own set of physical laws, and she’s not alone. She has company on the other side of the gender aisle, and sometimes even on the other side of the abortion debate, when it comes to imagined realities.
“Before you were a twinkle in your father’s eye”—it’s an old expression, charmingly raffish, and could bring the “life-begins-at-conception” discussion up to a whole new level, if it weren’t so charmingly raffish. And inconvenient. A twinkle in his eye is a metaphor for male desire; making his move; the first step in a seduction dance. What comes after, whether it’s bearing the child, getting rid of the child, or making sure pregnancy doesn’t happen in the first place, is “women’s work.” But it starts with him and the twinkle in his eye. Of course, women seduce too. And have had a bad rap ever since Eve. Funny thing about that offering the apple business, though. Somehow the apple became a metaphor for sex, and she initiated it. But the narrative up to that point was that the apple came from the Tree of Knowledge, and eating of it would grant such knowing that it would put one on par with the Almighty. In any case, Eve, although supposedly only a supporting actor, talked Adam into it. Twisted his arm. Or . . . maybe Adam was just jealous? He figured: “If she eats from the Tree of Knowledge and I don’t, then this woman will be smarter than I am!!!” But I digress.
Woman’s work. The moral imperative is for her to recognize that it’s not just her own life she’s making a choice about but the child’s as well. And that the choice is absolute. Because it is. Once she is pregnant a woman has the moral obligation to give birth. Because she can. She’s physically all set up for it for it. The fact that in order to become unpregnant she has to destroy what exists is proof that something does exist, and if left alone, sooner or later will have a driver’s license. Just because Roe v. Wade made it legal for a woman to neglect the moral imperative doesn’t mean that the moral imperative doesn’t exist. Himself may have impregnated her, but now that she is with child she’s alone with conscience and consequence, which is not only the basis for her moral responsibility, but, ironically, also the rationale for today’s My Body My Choice credo. But what about before she gets pregnant? Where does his raffish twinkle fall in this timeline of events?
Sometimes, for me, pro-life writing issuing from men has a veritable Harumph—an impatient dismay for women whom they feel either miss the obvious and absolute moral truth about responsibility for life in the womb, or ignore it. But dispatching this responsibility to the great laundry pile of what’s considered “woman’s work” is also missing an obvious moral truth: Men should help end abortion, not by focusing only on what women should do but by changing themselves. How about this: A man could make a solemn vow never to have sex until after he has wed a woman who wants children, and to raise his sons the same way. There may be a few men living like this already, quietly, but how about going national? Not just tentative outreach programs through the Elk’s or Rotary Club, but a massive social media and internet campaign funded by grants. Go big, get really famous with it. Become a pest. And if you do, understand that, at first, other men will laugh at you. You will be a running joke. An object of ridicule. Then, you’ll be despised and mocked. You will get the cold shoulder when you amble up to the water cooler to talk about last night’s game. They’re going to hate your guts and walk away from you. And, let’s face it, it’s probably all for nothing anyway. But maybe, just maybe, over time, it might have a very, very positive effect on women—“If guys are going to step up to the plate, we can too.” A revolutionary shift in the social contract, a massive behavioral change no amount of preaching or police could ever hope to achieve. Abortion clinics from coast to coast go out of business simply for lack of clientele.. Is that too much to ask? Harumph.
Amen! And also… harumph!
I appreciate this article. You have shaped more intelligently several arguments I use (often in the form of questions asked). “The moral obligation” is a phrase to be pondered and oft repeated.
Fr Mike Schmitz recently framed this idea another way in his 10 minute talk capping the Rally for Life in DC before the March. He said this to a woman who found herself pregnant and considering abortion because she did not want yet to be a mother. He told her, “But you already ARE a mother.” She kept the baby.