As a prolifer in the United States, I was haunted for years by the staggering number of dead. The children who never see sunlight. The mothers who carry the ghosts of these murdered little ones in their wounded hearts. The toll of abortion, the stories of death and misery that repeat day after day after day by the thousands—such are the shadows that fall on pro-life work in America.
In America there are wonderful pro-life clinics providing at-risk women with ultrasounds and ob-gyn care, as well as other outreach organizations where women and their young children can stay for free while trying to start a new life away from abusive fathers. There is also a veritable army of adoptive and foster parents, loving families who open their hearts and homes to the most vulnerable in need.
But still, the shadows remain. The dead pile up. The horrors of an abortion mill on the pro-life front lines can darken even the brightest day. For every child saved, how many hundreds, thousands, more perish?
Living in Japan, I have gradually come to appreciate a different way of thinking about being pro-life. In Japan, prolifers count the living. The number that one sees most often is the number of babies who made it, whose parents chose life.
This different way of counting certainly isn’t because the culture of death has sunk its talons less deeply into Japan than it has into the United States. Last week I met with members of the Seimei Soncho Center (Respect Life Center), a major Japanese pro-life organization. One of the members told me that Sono Ayako, a famous Catholic novelist, estimates the number of children aborted since the procedure was legalized in 1948 to be over 100 million. Many abortions here are done for cash and kept off the books, so official statistics, Sono argues, should be at least trebled if one wants to approximate an accurate number.
The culture of death is, as it were, alive and well in Japan. But as I spoke with the Japanese prolifers, I noticed that they highlighted how many children pro-life volunteers had saved. For example, the latest number I saw, as of last month, was 932 babies saved by the “Enbryo” program, a non-profit organization separate from the Respect Life Center which collects donations as small as one yen (“en” in Japanese) to help at-risk mothers carry their children to term. There’s financial support available for women, but what seems to help even more is the encouragement which Enbryo volunteers provide to mothers who are facing desperate situations all alone. Nine-hundred and thirty-two children saved by people across Japan working together to offer hope to women who often have none.
The number 932 pales in comparison to 100 million. But then, in a way, it doesn’t. I noticed a photograph on a recent Enbryo flyer of a happy mother with her elementary-school-age daughter. That one little girl is a light shining like a supernova in the darkness. In a country where nearly all of the current population have an aborted counterpart—where, in other words, the population would be nearly double were it not for the culture of death—perhaps the need to focus on those who survive the threat of abortion is stronger than the need to focus on the death count.
Counting the living also seems to have the power to reach even the hardest of hearts. Dr. Hasuda Takeshi works at Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto, the hospital with the so-called “Kounotori no Yurikago” baby hatch. (“Kounotori no Yurikago” means “stork cradle” in Japanese.) Mothers who wish to give up their babies for adoption may do so anonymously by placing their child in a special door in the hospital wall, which opens on a clean, warm, safe chamber. When the mother closes the door, a chime alerts on-duty staff, who quickly tend to the child. Dr. Hasuda is a prolifer. He could count the dead and leave it at that. But he uses the medical gifts God gave him to help the living, whomever he can. Not by the millions. One by one.
On August 25, Dr. Hasuda announced that he and his Jikei Hospital team had carried out another “naimitsu shussan,” an “off-the-record birth” in which the mother’s identity is known only at the delivering hospital. This act of mercy allows an expectant mother in a crisis situation to save the life of her child without exposing herself, or her baby, to potential harm, such as at the hands of violent partners or family members. The “naimitsu shussan” at Jikei Hospital concretely saves lives.
And when one life is saved it inspires others to do the same. On August 29, Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu announced that the central government in Tokyo would like to formulate guidelines for “naimitsu shussan.” Dr. Hasuda’s pro-life witness is making waves across the country. Thanks to him, babies who might otherwise be dismembered in utero are born, and thrive.
In June of this year, there was another piece of good news thanks to Jikei Hospital. A young man named Miyazu Kōichi, eighteen, recently graduated high school and began university. He comes from a happy family with many siblings. But things were not always happy for Kōichi. He was about five months old when a family member placed him in the “Kounotori no Yurikago” at Jikei Hospital. His mother had died in a traffic accident—his relative must have wanted the boy to know the love of an adoptive family that could give him the care he needed.
A warm-hearted family took the young baby in and raised him up to be a respectful young man. Another life saved. Another shaft of light breaks into a darkened world. Kōichi’s story was featured at the NHK website. NHK is a government-run network and, as with secular institutions in America, not exactly famous for being pro-life. But no one can deny Kōichi is alive because of Dr. Hasuda and his team.
And no one can deny that, to date, the “Kounotori no Yurikago” has saved 161 other children.
Last month, a pro-life friend here, Vincent Katō, told me something about himself that I will never forget. Vincent is a tireless voice for the unborn. He is a faithful Catholic, so I always assumed that that was what motivated him to speak up for the defenseless. But now I know there’s more. When Vincent was in his mother’s womb, his mother considered abortion. She didn’t think she was strong enough to carry her baby to term and give birth. His father talked her out of it. Vincent came into the world and, like Kōichi, grew up healthy and strong. And now, like his father, he tries to convince women to keep their babies. His life hung on an encouraging word. He knows how thin the line is between life and death, and so he helps others make the same choice that saved him long ago.
Vincent is one of the success stories, too. I never realized it, but I would have lost a friend to abortion and never even known it. The culture of death is right there next to us, and each human being is a testament to someone’s decision to choose life over the easier and even preferred road of convenient death.
It can quickly overwhelm one to think of the tens of millions gone in the abortion cataclysm. The hundreds of millions worldwide, the generations that were erased from the human family before they even had names. Better, perhaps, to count the living. Better to look at the face of the child who made it, and to give thanks to God, and to prolifers, for the good that evil failed to overcome.