How poetry highlights the humanity of the unborn–and the barbarism of abortion

By Jonathon Van Maren

Editor’s note. This appeared at The Bridgehead and is reposted with permission.

Nobody is really in any doubt about what takes place in the womb during pregnancy. It’s why we don’t ask expectant mothers what it is they’re expecting, and why we never wonder whether the child she is carrying is a human. We don’t wonder because we know. Only in the contemplation of extinguishing that life are people suddenly gripped by willful ignorance and captivated by murderous, unscientific philosophies. We know that the child in the womb is a child, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. To justify tearing that flesh and cracking those bones, we perform absurd and deadly mental gymnastics in defiance of the truths screaming at us from our hearts.

We see this innate truth reflected almost everywhere in our culture. In a heartbreaking but beautiful piece on her miscarriage in the New York Times, Meghan Markle wondered why women are often so silent about this hidden pain. The sad answer to that is simple: Abortion. How can women mourn their miscarried children as their children when NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the Democratic Party, and an unhealthy portion of academia are fighting tooth and nail to prevent our culture from recognizing pre-born children as human? We want to grieve with those who have lost children by recognizing the obvious: That they have lost a child. But to do that is to inadvertently expose abortion for what it is.

In art, song, and literature, the unborn child is often a theme. Leonardo Da Vinci created breathtaking sketches of children in the womb. Artists frequently release songs addressed to their unborn children, filled with hope and anticipation. And poets, too, have been irresistibly drawn to the subject. 

One of the most beautiful examples of this is Ultrasound, by A.E. Stallings. I first heard this poem read by Ben Domenech on his podcast “A Year of Dying Gracefully,” as he memorialized the loss of his pre-born child through miscarriage (his wife, Meghan McCain, wrote about the experience for the New York Times.) Ponder this for a moment:

What butterfly—
Brain, soul, or both—
Unfurls here, pallid
As a moth?

(Listen, here’s
Another ticker,
Counting under
Mine, and quicker.)

In this cave
What flickers fall,
Adumbrated
On the wall?

Spine like beads
Strung on a wire,
Abacus
Of our desire,

Moon-face where
Two shadows rhyme,
Two moving hands
That tell the time.

I am the room
The future owns,
The darkness where
It grows its bones.

Sarah Estruch, a freelance writer and poet, penned her chaotic, free verse “Sonnet for the Unborn Child” when she discovered that she was pregnant with her first child. “I wanted to explore questions such as: where does life come from? How, when and why does life begin?” she wrote. “I chose to use the universe as an extended metaphor in order to link the conception of a child to the mysteries surrounding the beginnings of all life.” Conversely, it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that if the mother writing the poem were to choose an abortion, she would be ending an entire world:

Yours is a curious spaceship: a stick
of pink plastic, urine-dipped – a blue line
and the numeral five blinking on the side
of the stick. So you arrive into our world –
though you were there already, had been
for a month (or more, who could tell?)
amid the nebulae of blood and cells
a constellation of heat and light
waiting for the night to ripen – and me
as ignorant as a black hole. Now I stand
beneath the moon, waiting for the sky
to split open and reveal you, constellation
dancing in liquid space. I want to see you –
I want to see your shape.

Even G.K. Chesterton, who never had any children of his own, penned a poem titled “By the Babe Unborn”:

If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,
If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.
In dark I lie; dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.
Let storm clouds come: better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.
I think that if they gave me leave
Within the world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.
They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.

Nobody reads any of these poems and grows indignant by the authors’ attribution of humanity to the unborn children, because it would not cross our minds to do so. These poems affirm what we already know. The pro-life case is backed by science, human observation and instinct, and consistent human rights philosophy. But more than that, even the art world can be marshaled in defence of the indisputable truth that our lives begin long before we are born. 

As the great German poet Günter Grass observed in his poem “Family Matters,” a look at the secular attitudes of Sunday culture-goers from the perspective of aborted babies placed in formaldehyde-filled jars, secularization and the sexual revolution have infected our minds:

In our museum – we always go there on Sundays –
they have opened a new department.
Our aborted children, pale, serious embryos,
sit there in plain glass jars
and worry about their parents’ future.

Perhaps Leonard Cohen, the Montreal poet and troubadour, put it more succinctly:

Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby: It is murder.