Let Them Stop, Listen, and Look

By Paul Greenberg

Editor’s note. We could not possibly do a year-long series “Roe at 40” without including at least a couple of columns by Paul Greenberg, the Pulitzer Prize winning editorial page editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He is as fine a writer as there is in American newspapers. The following appeared in the April 8, 1999, edition of National Right to Life News. If you are not a subscriber to the “pro-life newspaper of record,” please call us at 202-626-8828.

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg

LITTLE ROCK — Why do the abortionists rage? Because here in Arkansas, the state House of Representatives has just passed a shocking bill: It would require women to get a sonogram of their baby — excuse me, fetus — and then wait 24 hours before aborting it. As if they were making a decision of some medical importance — and moral consequence.

We can’t have that, says the abortion lobby. You can understand its position. More women might stop and think before they do this thing. A light might click on, or something click in. More poor children might even be born, or just inconvenient ones.

If a woman stops to think about it, the nature of what is being done, and what all of us are acquiescing in, might dawn upon her. What has become a standard form of birth control in this country — abortion — could be endangered.

Abortion has become `the slavery issue of this era. Like slavery in the last century, this institution has inspired various bills that, while unable to abolish it, are designed to restrict it. Referring to the raft of antiabortion bills being introduced — and passed — at this session of the legislature, state Representative Jim Lendall of Little Rock complained, “They’re nickel-and-diming us to death.” Well, to life, anyway.

What’s more, argued Lendall, “This is nothing more than an attempt to take away a woman’s right’ to choose.” Well, the right to choose hastily. If abortion is such a great idea, surely it can withstand another 24 hours of thought. Or is that what worries the abortion lobby?

In medical circles, at least where other procedures are involved, the policy now being proposed in the legislature would be called informed choice. But in certain political circles, to insist that the patient be well informed, and even be presented with a sonogram, is denounced as outrageous, insulting, and unacceptable.

Even to ask that the mother stop, listen, and look before doing this thing is considered heretical, a threat to the true faith. It might lead people to question the established culture-the pervasive, state-approved, conventional culture of death. It’s the culture all of us advanced, enlightened, sophisticated products of the 20th century are supposed to endorse automatically, without thinking.

It seems, at such moments, that this has also been the bloodiest and most barbarous of centuries in man’s technologically advanced history. That’s what happens when knowledge outruns wisdom, when life is desacralized and we do things we’d really rather not contemplate, certainly not for 24 hours.

Yep, stomp that sucker flat. And whatever you do, don’t think about it. Above all, don’t call it by its right name. Call it, as Lendall did, “choice.”

Despite all the euphemisms, this issue won’t go away. Even two decades after Roe v. Wade, the fitful American conscience refuses to be anesthetized. It keeps flaring up with every scientific advance. And now we have ultrasound, the wondrous captured on film. How to euphemize that? It’s a problem.

For who says science and religion are opposed? In fields as far apart as medicine and astrophysics, from the microscopic genetic code to the farthest flung galaxies, creation is being mapped, measured, filmed … and our awe increases despite ourselves. Keep it up, and we might want to preserve creation, not destroy it. Especially after seeing it swirling about like the globe itself in outer space, or the developing fetus afloat in the amniotic sac, already fearfully and wonderfully made.

Is it unreasonable to require a sonogram before approving a surgical procedure? By now that’s an ordinary precaution in the practice of medicine. But when it comes to this peculiar specialty, such a requirement excites opposition, even denunciation. Which ought to tell us something about the difference between abortion and medicine. There was a time not long ago when that difference was recognized.

We’re about to require children to Buckle Up for Safety in this state (good idea), but we hesitate to require a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion. Something is terribly out of kilter here, and terribly accepted. For we live in a time when it is considered bad taste to display a picture of the fetus, but perfectly acceptable to kill it.

Is it too much to ask for one sonogram before the deed is done? That’s all this bill requires. Make it part of the patient’s bill of rights. Who could object? Well, to begin with, 19 members of the Arkansas House. They voted against this simple precaution.

But with each legislative session, and every scientific insight, the forces of life grow. A majority of the Arkansas House, 54 state representatives, voted for this bill last week. And I wouldn’t give up on those 19 aginners. They, too, have eyes to see, hearts to feel, minds with which to reason. Surely they cannot forever deny the evidence of science and faith.

If you don’t draw `em a picture, human life may remain only an abstraction, and an expendable one at that. Maybe that’s why death now goes unchallenged, while life inspires fierce opposition. Just when did the life sciences become the death sciences? It started sometime around 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade. But life is a stubborn thing. It is hard to separate it from our sense of awe, of reverence, of delight, of affirmation. Not when we can actually see it.

[Editor’s note. Unfortunately, the measure was killed in the state Senate.]

This was originally reprinted with Mr. Greenberg’s permission.