A Long Night’s Journey into Dehumanization and the Moral Incoherence of Abortion

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. Elsewhere today, we reposted an excerpt  from an article that ran in the now-discontinued Weekly Standard about abortionist Lisa Harris. The following about Harris  ran years ago but in a time when pro-abortion Democrats  brazenly, openly defend abortion up until birth, what this says about the capacity of the human heart for self-deception is more relevant than ever.

 “Doing second trimester abortion is clinical care at the boundary between life and death and in the context of political and social controversy, and, likewise, commitment.” 
         — Abortionist Lisa Harris

Over the last few days I have been transfixed by several accounts, each one more eye-opening than the one before, that attempted to do justice (so to speak) to abortionist Lisa Harris’ “Second Trimester Abortion Provision: Breaking the Silence and Changing the Discourse.” 

Harris’ argument is not merely another tiresome iteration of the pro-abortion dictum that by “claim[ing] abortion”–including its violence–they will “strengthen our movement.” As a woman who dismembered huge unborn babies at the very same time she was pregnant, Harris’ account offers tragic insights into the human mind, heart, and soul. That she aborted an 18 week old unborn baby when Harris herself was 18 weeks pregnant makes this nightmarish exercise in rationalization and self-deception all the more poignant.

The “ideas” for this essay, which appeared in “Reproductive Health Matters,” were first presented the “Future of Abortion Conference” held in London in June 2008. Pro-lifers got wind of Harris’ argument just recently when Harris posted on http://abortioneers.blogspot.com.

Since the entry has since been conveniently excised from the blog, I don’t know how much of the original article from “Reproductive Health Matters” was included. Judging by quotes from other sources, it appears Harris, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, offered more than enough.

No dummy, Harris understands that sawing off hands and arms–especially later in pregnancy–is tough sledding for anyone whose conscience has not been amputated. So Harris’ gambit is to first frankly deal with such issues as “personal and psychological considerations” as well as the undeniable violence of abortion (and its seeming incompatibility with what she sees as an essentially non-violent feminist movement). 

Then she offers “answers” that are not only morally incoherent and circular but also evade the very gut-wrenching red-flags Harris told the reader she would confront.

She accomplishes the latter by trying to create group solidarity by offering to transport them to a kind of Land of Oz for death peddlers, otherwise known as the “middle ground.” Needless to say that middle ground is not to distinguish “acceptable” from “unacceptable” abortions ; there are no unacceptable abortions. Rather it is to explain how “owning” the violence, and the discomfort, and the nightmares makes killing kids at any stage of development not only acceptable but “rewarding.”

Let me offer two long quotes. Harris begins with a category she calls “Visual and visceral differences” between first and second trimester abortions.

“When I was a little over 18 weeks pregnant with my now pre-school child, I did a second trimester abortion for a patient who was also a little over 18 weeks pregnant.  As I reviewed her chart I realized that I was more interested than usual in seeing the fetal parts when I was done, since they would so closely resemble those of my own fetus. I went about doing the procedure as usual…. I used electrical suction to remove the amniotic fluid, picked up my forceps and began to remove the fetus in parts, as I always did. I felt lucky that this one was already in the breech position – it would make grasping small parts (legs and arms) a little easier. With my first pass of the forceps, I grasped an extremity and began to pull it down. I could see a small foot hanging from the teeth of my forceps. With a quick tug, I separated the leg. Precisely at that moment, I felt a kick – a fluttery “thump, thump” in my own uterus. It was one of the first times I felt fetal movement. There was a leg and foot in my forceps, and a “thump, thump” in my abdomen. Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes – without me – meaning my conscious brain – even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling – a brutally visceral response – heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics. It was one of the more raw moments in my life.”

“Raw,” indeed, and as eloquent a passage as you could imagine. I felt like I was there in the room with her. 

Then there is this, which fell under the category “Violence.”

The last patient I saw one day was 23 weeks pregnant. I performed an uncomplicated D&E procedure. Dutifully, I went through the task of reassembling the fetal parts in the metal tray. It is an odd ritual that abortion providers perform – required as a clinical safety measure to ensure that nothing is left behind in the uterus to cause a complication – but it also permits us in an odd way to pay respect to the fetus (feelings of awe are not uncommon when looking at miniature fingers and fingernails, heart, intestines, kidneys, adrenal glands), even as we simultaneously have complete disregard for it. Then I rushed upstairs to take overnight call on labour and delivery. The first patient that came in was prematurely delivering at 23-24 weeks. As her exact gestational age was in question, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) team resuscitated the premature newborn and brought it to the NICU. Later, along with the distraught parents, I watched the neonate on the ventilator. I thought to myself how bizarre it was that I could have legally dismembered this fetus-now-newborn if it were inside its mother’s uterus – but that the same kind of violence against it now would be illegal, and unspeakable.

After two such powerful passages, how can Harris possibly reconcile the instinctive revulsion, the bizarre inconsistencies, and the violence? If we mean by that a ladder of logic that leads to a resolution of these tough issues, all I can say is there are a lot of rungs missing. As best I can understand Harris explains away everything with two arguments.

One, location. The unborn kid is inside the mother, the premature baby outside. (So much for complexity.) Two, owning the violence. By that Harris means a couple of things.

First, to decline a woman’s request for abortion is also “an act of unspeakable violence,” so in Harris’ moral economy there is violence either way. Now THAT is moral equivalency with a vengeance.

Second, if you focus on the “difficult aspects of second trimester abortion” you “may further entrench abortion as morally tainted.” In other words, you can’t because you can’t. Honestly confronting the grotesque hideousness of abortion opens the door to the “stigmatisation and marginalisation of those who do abortions.”

As I got to this point, I asked myself, is that all there is? I re-read the conclusion of Harris’ essay.

No, there is the all-purpose excuse that covers not only all sins but all inconsistencies. It’s what Harris calls the “gradualist” position. 

This simply means the older the baby is, the more “respect” she/he is owed. Harris insists this will “close the gap between pro-choice rhetoric and the reality of doing a second trimester abortion.”

Really? At this point the reader is still left with the uncomfortable truth that we are disarticulating babies whose “resemblance” (my word) to born babies is impossible to deny.

Harris gets out of the corner she has painted herself into by arguing in circles. There must be good reasons why a woman waits until late, late in her pregnancy to abort. And only the pregnant woman can understand the “texture and complexity” of her life. 

“Therefore, rather than see the gradualist demand for ‘good reasons’ as a threat to choice,” Harris cheerfully concludes, “we can see it as helping to focus the terms of the abortion debate on women themselves, in the contexts of their lives.”

It is as if she is saying that the more that most morally sentient people would revolt at the abortion, the greater the pass that must be extended.

Harris’s final conclusions are that the abortion set needs more opportunities to bond and that, for all her talk of the “burdens” of second trimester abortions for abortionists, a “robust evaluation of these [broader] perspectives should focus on the unique rewards it brings as well.”

You can’t help but ask yourself how someone–anyone–could go from writing that “tears were streaming from my eyes” when her own unborn baby kicked at the same time she was snuffing out the life of another unborn baby to bragging about lobbying her own abortion clinic to move the outer edge of their “practice” from 14 weeks to “inching up to 22 weeks”?