Ultrasounds, the “smell of death,” and the legacy of William Wilberforce

By Dave Andrusko

“God sometimes does His work with gentle drizzle, not storms. Drip. Drip. Drip.”  — John Newton, from the film, “Amazing Grace.” Newton, at one time a slave trader, penned that great hymn following his conversion.

Each day I check in various sites to see “what happened this day in history.” Many online recollections also include the names famous people born on that day.

William Wilberforce was born this day in 1759 in Yorkshire, England. Unfortunately, Wilberforce is not known today nearly as well as he should be. In a small but powerful way, in 2006 the film Amazing Grace helped partially fill that historical void.

At the time I wrote at some length about this powerful movie. It was an inspirational story of the British abolitionist William Wilberforce who led what seemed to be an utterly quixotic campaign to end the British slave trade in the waning years of the 18th century.

The scene in Amazing Grace that I will absolutely never forget permanently and provocatively conveyed to a small assembly of MPs and their wives the misery, the sheer inhumanity of slavery.

The elite of the elite, they are out on a ship, eating the finest foods and pastries, serenaded by a four-piece string quartet, thinking this is an expression of gratitude by the MP who arranged for this prim and proper “tour of the estuary.”

Without their having noticed, the ship is deliberately steered near a docked ship. Wilberforce suddenly appears on the deck and tells them that the Madagascar is a slave ship. He tells them how hundreds of slaves had set out from the Caribbean but half to two-thirds died during the passage. As he speaks the assembled members of the aristocracy begins to put handkerchiefs to their noses.

Wilberforce tells them the awful smell is the smell of death, “slow, painful death.” He insists that they take their handkerchiefs away from their faces.

“Remember that smell. Remember the Madagascar. Remember that God made men equal.”

What does that have to do with us? Those men and wives of privilege knew no more about the brutality of slavery, the “smell of death,” than most women (or men) know about the humanity of their unborn children.

Even in a world where ultrasound photos are plentiful and public, unborn children remain an abstraction to many. It is the ultrasound of someone ELSE’s child they’ve seen attached to a refrigerator door or tucked away in an album or featured on television.

When it is their helpless unborn child who is about to be “terminated,” death becomes a kind of abstraction. The impending demise of their baby is reduced a procedural issue culminating in pain to the mother and, if the child is older, pain beyond imagination for her or him.

Pro-abortionists insist it is “paternalistic” to make these ultrasound images available to a woman contemplating an abortion. They simultaneously argue that overwhelmingly women have already firmly made up their minds—and therefore few will turn back from their decision—and seethe that anyone “got away.”

We think otherwise. We know otherwise. Babies can and are being saved when mothers behold the beauty of the little one with them.

But what if only a single unborn baby were saved? Would all the effort of all the legislators in all the states and all the saintly work of all the pregnancy centers in communities around this great nation have been worthwhile?

Yes.

Why?

Because every—every–life matters.