The post-Christian West is woefully confused and conflicted about the status of unborn human beings. Consider a striking illustration provided by two recent articles from the BBC News website (surely no friend of the pro-life cause).
The first article is entitled “What’s going on in the fight over US abortion rights?” and seeks to explain to non-Americans “what’s behind the push … for anti-abortion bills across the US.” (Note the terminology used in the article: “abortion rights,” “anti-abortion bills,” “reproductive health,” etc.) If you read through the article, you’ll find that the human being within the womb is consistently referred to as a ‘foetus’ (the British spelling of ‘fetus’). Nowhere in the article is the word ‘baby’ used.
But the word ‘baby’ does appear elsewhere on the webpage — just once, in a link to another article in the ‘Features’ sidebar. This second article uses a paraphrased quote as its title: “They called my baby biowaste – it broke my heart in pieces.” It tells the heart-wrenching story of a woman who suffered nine miscarriages over a five-year period and how she and her husband created nine “spirit houses” in a landscaped garden to commemorate their lost children.
Read the whole thing, but here are some notable quotes from the article (bold added for emphasis):
“I lost Victoria at 21 weeks in 2013,” remembers Debbie.
Five of the babies were lost in the first trimester of pregnancy and four in the second.
What do you do with the remains of a child lost during pregnancy? How do you honour their memory?
[Debbie] visits her nine houses regularly. “I go on their birthdays – their due dates – and the days that they passed. I go there for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, Valentine’s Day. My husband and I need to connect with the children we would have otherwise celebrated with,” says Debbie.
Babies. Children. Victoria.
One word conspicuous by its absence, however, is ‘foetus’.
These two articles reflect two fundamentally different narratives about unborn human beings, two narratives that cannot be logically or ethically reconciled. The first narrative invites us to think that what inhabits a pregnant woman’s womb is merely “fetal tissue,” a dispensable part of a woman’s body that can be surgically removed like an appendix, while the second assumes that the inhabitant is a precious child, a fully human person with dignity and rights. The juxtaposition of the articles is jarring. It would be comical were it not so tragic.
There is one way to resolve the contradiction: simply assert that a ‘fetus’ is a ‘baby’ only if it is wanted. I suspect that’s the stance adopted, at least in practice, by a large proportion of the population. But it’s a position that has quite absurd consequences, because it makes the nature and rights of the unborn dependent upon someone else’s mental attitudes.
Imagine this scenario: a woman has sought an abortion and the surgical procedure has already begun. As the reality of what’s happening dawns on her, she suddenly has second thoughts and changes her mind. Now she wants the child. Are we to think that the abortion doctor was at one moment merely engaging in a “reproductive health procedure” and at the next moment killing a baby? Suppose further that the doctor immediately reassures the women and she changes her mind again. Now the ‘baby’ has been magically transformed back into a ‘fetus’! Phew — that was a close one. Stand down, officers.
The idea that the moral status of an unborn child depends on the desires of its mother (or anyone else) is absurd on the face of it. (Try applying the same logic to other human rights issues, such as slavery or racial discrimination.) There’s no middle ground here. There’s no way to harmonize the two competing narratives reflected in these two BBC News articles. Every morally serious thinker must endorse one of the narratives, reject the other, and act accordingly.
Addendum: In the time I took to write this post, the title of the second article has been changed to the following: “The garden helping to heal the pain of pregnancy loss.” (See the screenshot above for confirmation.) It’s hard not to speculate about why the change was made.