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The elephant in the room: The child in the womb

That common denominator between miscarriage and abortion


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The elephant in the room: The child in the womb
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Two female law professors wrote an op-ed on the New York Times recently, calling for the pro-abortion camp to stop alienating women who have suffered from miscarriage. The pro-abortion rhetoric, Professors Greer Donley and Jill Wieber Lens argued, has minimized the loss that women with the grief of miscarriage know all too well.

Call it the elephant in the room—but miscarriage means, pray tell, the loss of what, exactly?

If the loss is of a clump of cells, the grief of miscarriage makes little sense. But of course, if it’s the loss of a baby, quite the opposite. The woman—the mother—grieves because she has lost none other than her child, who died before ever seeing the light of day. And if it’s indeed a child in the womb, his killing in abortion is abhorrent.

Clearly, the baby is human from the moment of conception. Embryology affirms common sense: The creature in the womb will be the same creature as a newborn, the same one who toddles around as a toddler, swings in the playground, gets married—lives and moves and has his being as a person. Or, moving backwards, the person I am today was the same person making dinner for the family yesterday, the same person graduating from school years ago, the same person attending kindergarten before that, the very same person in my mother’s womb.

Because it’s the same person throughout, the strongest pro-life argument places the right to life not in accidental attributes like size or accomplishment, but in the baby’s essential nature. The baby has the same inherent nature as the rest of us. Each of us is endowed with the capacity for reason, for freedom, choice, judgment, deliberation. (That’s some of what partaking in the divine nature, being made in imago Dei, means. We participate, while of course in a limited manner as befitting our creaturely being, in God’s power to be an uncaused cause.) It is not the ready execution of reason that determines a person’s moral worth. Otherwise, the wisest and smartest among us would have more worth than a young child, or an aged patient with dementia. Rather, it is the root capacity for reason that confers the moral worth and dignity inherently and equally on each of us. That worth is objective, as the basic good of life is objective.

If the creature in the womb is a human person, whose loss in a miscarriage is grieved and whose killing in abortion should be proscribed, what, then, do the authors propose the pro-abortion camp do to stop alienating women?

Our feelings, rightly ordered, should be subject to reason—not the other way around.

Affirm the feelings, they say. If the woman subjectively feels grief over the loss, affirm that. If she doesn’t know what she subjectively feels or doesn’t feel much, affirm that. If she has an abortion and subjectively feels “emotionally uncomplicated” about that, affirm that too. “Attachment is entirely subjective,” the authors said.

That may be, and it is surely good to make generous room for differences in how grief may be experienced. But our feelings, rightly ordered, should be subject to reason—not the other way around. And reason requires that we affirm instead the right to life of the babe in the womb, who has equal inherent worth and dignity as the rest of us, being a member of the human species.

The authors criticize pro-lifers for grounding the value of the baby on an objective standard. They argue that the value of the fetus should be grounded merely on the strength of the pregnant woman’s attachment to the unborn baby. But that can’t be right. The unborn baby’s humanity can’t be dependent on the mother’s subjective feelings. Surely the baby’s self-evident right to life has a firmer foundation than feelings, for it stands on the objective truth that the baby is made in God’s image.

The authors criticize pro-lifers for erasing the “pregnant person’s perspective” by focusing on fetal value. Does not the pregnant woman have her rights? She does have rights, but those rights do not include the right to abort the life within her.

It is to the credit of these authors that they recognize that the rhetoric of abortion alienates grieving women. They are certainly right. But they contradict themselves when they deny every baby’s inherent and objective right to life. The grief of a woman suffering a miscarriage points to the person, the human life lost. The personhood of that baby also points to the evil of abortion. It’s up to us to make that connection clear.


Adeline A. Allen

Adeline A. Allen is an associate professor of law at Trinity Law School.


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