Steph Herold, a “reproductive justice advocate,” wrote a short article in the aftermath of the horrors at Dr. Gosnell’s Philadelphia office. She recounted an episode from years ago when a woman whom she calls “Stella” came to her Pennsylvania office for an abortion after 28 weeks of pregnancy. Stella had been raped and had no idea she had gotten pregnant from it until very, very late in the pregnancy. Pennsylvania law disallows abortion well before 28 weeks.
Stella was determined to “get rid of this baby,” even threatening to throw herself down stairs. When Herold, trying to be compassionate and helpful, suggested Stella try going to another state where abortions at that late stage were still legal, Stella got up and walked out of the office, unsatisfied. She had been desperately seeking a non-legal solution to her problem. Herold never heard from or of the woman again.
Herold then goes on to consider the injustice of abortion laws that restrict the “compassionate, respectful, quality medical care” that abortion providers can offer to women who seek a “later abortion.”
The problem, as she sees it, is a preoccupation with philosophical principles, hypotheticals, and judgmentalism, even among those in the pro-choice movement. She laments, “we get distracted by philosophical disagreements or hypothetical situations. We lose the stories of individual women seeking our services and focus on the what-ifs instead of the realities.”
With regard to Stella, she wonders, “What happened to her? What is my responsibility to her? What is the movement’s responsibility to her?”
Naturally, on the pro-life side, our answer would be, “To love her and her baby and support both lives as the gifts of God that they are, hopefully bringing her to see the beauty of the new life, the child, her child, inside of her, in spite of the horror of being raped.” Hopefully in the little child she is carrying she will eventually see that God can and does bring good and beautiful things out of even the worst evils.
Yes, the child was conceived due to an act of violence, but the child’s worth is not dependent upon the choice the mother made to become pregnant or the circumstances in which the conception occurred: the child’s worth is derived from her unique existence as a separate, new human being who is alive and real and just needing love, care, and protection. Rape, I’m sure, can make this more difficult to see, but does not make it untrue.
But Herold is not pro-life. When she talks about focusing on “realities” rather than “what-ifs” she means the flesh and blood woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy. She sees a pregnancy as a medical condition. She sees abortion as a medical service to solve the problem the mother has with the pregnancy. Those are her realities.
She says, “The only answer that makes sense to me, that corresponds to my value of reproductive justice, is to demand better access to safe abortion, as late in the pregnancy as necessary.”
She rightly has compassion for the distraught woman. That is laudable. But she reduces the existence of the child in the womb to a question of “reproductive justice.” She doesn’t see the child in the womb as her own person with her own right to live, laugh, love. She sees the distraught woman and has compassion for the woman. That compassion is good in itself, but it is incomplete.
Her concern for the distraught woman without regard to the vulnerable, innocent, voiceless child leads her to determine that:
even if we don’t personally agree with a woman’s reasons for abortion, if that’s what she needs, we help her access those services. Even if we wouldn’t have an abortion in her situation, we provide her with safe, affordable, medically sound treatment anyway. The job of the pro-choice movement, of abortion providers, is not to condemn or judge women for their reproductive health decisions.
And thus we have the life of the child reduced to a “choice” about “reproductive health,” and the woman’s perceived need for an abortion is her “reproductive health decision.” Our judgment doesn’t matter with regard to another person’s decision about their own health, therefore if a woman presents herself for an abortion it would be wrong to question her motives or discuss other options.
The real reason for the choice of abortion may be as ridiculous as an argument with the child’s father, a bad breakfast, not fitting into a favorite pair of pants, heartburn, concern that a kid will hamper one’s social life, or something like a bout of depression, concerns about finances, career concerns. But it doesn’t matter: what matters is the woman *chose* to abort the pregnancy, kill the kid, and carry on with life, and no one should judge the woman for making that decision.
Honestly, I laud Herold for being so honest. It’s clear that she agonized over the poor woman’s plight, and reasoned well that, given that the wishes of the mother trump any rights some may ascribe to the contents of the womb, there is no logical reason to deny women any and all abortions up to the date of natural delivery.
Herold closes, “Our job is to support them, as best we can, and make sure that they can access the services they need. I only wish I could’ve done this for Stella.”
Indeed. She wishes she could have sent her to a sanitary place that would have correctly applied anesthesia, carefully induced labor, and then snipped the baby’s spinal cord with sanitary scissors.
The irony is that she wrote this as a response to the horror of Kermit Gosnell’s clinic. She saw that mind-numbing story, and her solution was to make the “service” Gosnell provided legal, so what he was doing (minus the deaths of the women, of course) could happen in a medically sterile environment with proper biohazard disposal.
Unfortunately, Herold does not take this opportunity to consider the implications of abortion vis-a-vis the valuing of human life. She doesn’t reexamine the life of the child, especially with regard to late-term abortions when the mother and doctor can no longer fool themselves that the kicking, moving, fully-formed baby “is just a mass of cells.”
(And yet, “the fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God above'”; the ability to self-delude is well nigh limitless)
I believe Herold and many like her really do have compassion and an intention to care for the woman. I believe she truly has agonized over the situation of Stella for these many years, wishing she could have helped that woman according to her deeply held principles of “reproductive justice.” I respect that she is sincere when she says completely liberalizing the right to abortion “as late as necessary” is the only answer that “makes sense to her.”
But it is such a life-denying, nihilistic way to look at the world.
We really need to reach out to these people and help them see that it is possible to help the distraught mother while also affirming the beauty and glory of the life dwelling inside them. They need prayers, especially the intercession of Our Lady, she who heard and believed the message of the angel, and conceived Our Lord in her womb at the moment of her “Let it be done to me according to your word.”