I have not watched the Planned Parenthood videos for the same reason that I do not watch videos of ISIS beheading its victims. It is the same reason that I limit viewing documentaries about the Holocaust. There are certain images that I do not want seared into my brain. However, not watching the videos doesn’t mean not acknowledging the very real presence of evil.
Abortion occupies an unusual place in American life. The image that persuaded many good people to support abortion a number of decades ago was that of a young, innocent girl raped (possibly by her father) and dying after an illegal, unhygienic, back-alley abortion. The picture expanded to include happily married women who were on the verge of physical collapse as a result of too many pregnancies, girls-next-door whose lives were about to be ruined by one night’s mistake and other images of female victims. The women were visible and portrayed sympathetically; the fetuses were unseen and dismissed as no more human than discarded fingernails.
Scientific advances destroyed the invisibility of the baby while abortion undeniably became an act of frequent irresponsibility and apathy rather than a rare solution for extreme situations. The American public’s views on this issue have moved more conservative, with younger people supporting more restrictions on abortion than the now aging Sixties activists for whom this issue above all others dictates how they vote.
Why is it so difficult for those who uphold the abortion banner to say, “We need to reconsider,” at least acknowledging that a second look is needed? For some, abortion rights has become their religion. For others, it is a callous political calculation that keeps Democrats in office. Liberals in general prefer to focus on intentions rather than results. Admitting that ideas that sound kind and compassionate can end up causing unintended cruel consequences puts a brake on quickly implementing the next kind and compassionate sounding notion.
However, for some, I think another factor comes into play, even subconsciously. Women, in particular, replay scenes in our heads. I can still visualize a time when I tiredly snapped at a four-year-old and watched her innocent face crumble. Many women remember in detail wrong decisions and bad judgments. Imagine having to admit that you demonstrated, articulated and voted for a policy that caused pain and suffering to the most innocent of beings? If abortion has been the backbone of your political leanings for decades and it turns out that in doing so you supported the dismembering and sale of newborn babies’ body parts, what sort of nightmares will you suffer? What if there is an abortion in your past that will give you nightmares if examined too closely?
When slave-trader John Newton’s newly awakened religious sentiments led him to see Africans as human beings rather than cargo, he did not simply start transporting spices rather than people. He changed his entire life, composing the stirring hymn, Amazing Grace. When Whittaker Chambers recognized the evil of the communist master he served, he changed his entire life, helping to destroy the communist infiltration of the American government. When self-examination caused a gynecologist I know to recognize that the abortions he was performing were a form of sex-selection by wealthy, accomplished professional women, he not only stopped doing abortions, but embraced a serious Jewish life.
Saying, “I thought support for abortion was an expression of my kind nature, but I didn’t have all the facts,” doesn’t allow one to say, “oh, well,” and continue life as usual. Changing one’s view of Planned Parenthood to seeing it as more Lizzie Borden than Clara Barton demands a sea change in thinking. For gentle souls, it means an entire re-evaluation and harsh introspection. Few of us are able to bear that type of pain and the change it necessitates. It is easier to accept President Obama’s claims that the videos are examples of right-wing extremist editing than to watch them and face the truth. Yet, after six decades, the truth is relentlessy emerging.
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