Four years ago, the Washington Post published a report on the highly secretive system of capital punishment in Japan. By some unknown process, prisoners are randomly selected for execution, including some whose appeals are still pending.
The day of execution remains a mystery to both the inmate and his family. The prisoner only learns of the execution once it is imminent: the guards come to his cell to escort him to the execution room. Blindfolded, a noose is placed around his neck. In another room, about five guards whose identities too are secret (perhaps even to their own families) are each poised to press a button. One button operates a trap door through which the prisoner falls to his death. Not even the guards know who among them pressed the button that actually commenced the hanging. After the execution, the inmate's family is notified, "We parted with the inmate today."
Each day in the United States, 3500 women hold in their hearts a very secret pain, "We parted with our unborn children today." After healing and reconciliation through programs such as Project Rachel, some do speak out about their personal tragic stories. But most walk alone with this pain. They might be among our family members, colleagues, friends and casual acquaintances.
It is now thirty-two years after the United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, mandating that abortion be legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy nationwide. But we know little about the children who are killed, when and why their short lives were ended or about the circumstances of the women who are harmed by the practice. As a society, we spend little time reflecting on what this vast social experiment has done. Has it coarsened us? Has it actually worsened the social standing of women? Why has the "freedom to choose abortion" so often become the expectation to choose abortion? Is it a boyfriend's wish or economics or school and career advancement?
Physically, do women suffer from their abortions? The Centers for Disease Control reports that hundreds of women have died from legal abortion but no one knows the true number. How many more experience complications, such as uterine perforations or incomplete abortions? And what of the psychological impact? Some women have offered their personal stories but no large scientific study has been undertaken.
Their unborn children remain a mystery to us. 1.3 million are aborted each year. 19,500 abortions occur after the twentieth week, the second half of pregnancy. At least 2,000 are killed by the partial-birth abortion method. Why were they selected for such a grisly procedure and so late in pregnancy? Some children are targeted because they are disabled, but what are their disabilities? A cleft palate? Down syndrome?
Why do we keep abortion – perhaps the most common surgery performed on women today --- shrouded in secrecy? Is it because we can't handle the truth?
Maureen Bailey is a public policy analyst with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops