by Gail Quinn
June 9, 2000
It is not likely that most Americans think there is a conspiracy of silence surrounding abortion. Pollsters ask questions about it, both those who support abortion and those who oppose it mail us letters, the subject is mentioned in the news, especially in recent days because it will likely be a factor in the next presidential election. But we don't sit around and talk about abortion. It's rarely discussed at family gatherings or parties. It's just not done. It's not a nice thing to talk about. And sometimes it hits a nerve we would all prefer to avoid.
A couple of year ago I wrote something that was printed in the New York Daily News. A relative from that area called to say she had seen my name in print (so far OK). But she also said, so very gently, that she didn't like to read about such things. In a way I understood; what she didn't like reading was a description of partial-birth abortion. It isn't very nice.
I just picked up a copy of Life magazine, the collector's edition with a picture of a tiny baby, cradled within a man's hands, with the caption: Born too soon. Here was Jason Michael Waldmann, Jr., born in February at 25 weeks' gestation, weighing only a 1.2 pounds. Doctors and nurses at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia had been helping him for months just to grow, which for Jason takes extraordinary effort.
He is kept in a small incubator covered with a quilt that shuts out light and muffles sound. It's kept at about 86 degrees F. Doctors and nurses treat him through "portholes" with hinged doors. His parents spend many hours each day talking to him and touching him when possible. In a inside photo, Jason's father holds him, skin-to-skin, so that the baby will stay warm. The magazine was published in May; maybe Jason is home now with his mother and father. The article quoted Jason's doctor as saying he had a 90% chance of surviving.
This same issue of Life had two other pictures which caught my eye. Pictures of Sarah Marie Switzer. The first I had seen before. It is the phenomenal photograph of a baby 's hand and arm reaching up through an incision in her mother's body, tiny fingers gripping a doctor's finger. The picture was taken during an operation to correct Sarah Marie's spina bifida--two months before she was born. The second picture was of a bigger Sarah Marie, alert, smiling and playing with her father.
So where is the silence? We see pictures of Sarah Marie and say isn't she beautiful? Those who saw her outstretched arm and fingers gripping the doctor during in utero surgery said Wow! We read about little Jason Michael's stuggle to survive, and our hearts go out to him and his parents; we admire his doctors and nurses for their skill and dedication.
But we don't think. Here are babies everyone one is doing everything possible for so that they can live. How are they are different from babies the law says it's OK to kill by abortion?
Fifteen years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor predicted that abortion was on a collision course with itself. The collision has already taken place -- and we act collectively as if nothing happened. In the 1970s (when Roe v. Wade was decided) only forty percent of babies born weighing 3.3 pounds tended to survive. Performing surgery on babies not even born yet--unheard of! Babies like Jason Michal born in the second trimester, so tiny he weighed only 1.2 pounds--and he's thriving. And still we don't talk about it.
We need to have a great conversation in this country. A conversation about the value of human life. A conversation about babies like Sarah Marie and Jason Michael and babies who die in abortion. We need a conversation about Roe v. Wade which set us on this collision path. And if Roe v. Wade is not what Americans think the law should be we need a conversation about reversing it.
Gail Quinn is executive director of the NCCB Secretariat or Pro-Life Activities, Washington, D.C.