For Privacy's Sake

At the risk of undermining my reputation for manliness (stop laughing), I will admit that on reading this New York Times article I felt like weeping.

In all seriousness, the tragic nature of the acts described nearly brought me to tears right at my desk. If you can read this and not feel similar emotions then you are stronger than me:

Amalia Dominguez was 18 and desperate and knew exactly what to ask for at the small, family-run pharmacy in the heart of Washington Heights, the thriving Dominican enclave in northern Manhattan. “I need to bring down my period,” she recalled saying in Spanish, using a euphemism that the pharmacist understood instantly.

It was 12 years ago, but the memory remains vivid: She was handed a packet of pills. They were small and white, $30 for 12. Ms. Dominguez, two or three months pregnant, went to a friend’s apartment and swallowed the pills one by one, washing them down with malta, a molasseslike extract sold in nearly every bodega in the neighborhood.

The cramps began several hours later, doubling Ms. Dominguez over, building and building until, eight and a half hours later, she locked herself in the bathroom and passed a lifeless fetus, which she flushed.

But those emotions were soon followed by anger at the way the Times – and too often our culture at large – treats this tragedy as if if were just another cultural story about reproductive rights and how important they are to women.

What to you or me is a tragic situation that should result in serious moral and spiritual re-evaluation – both for the women and for our society – is to some people “certainly understandable;” something to worry about only in so far as there may be adverse side effects:

“Some women prefer to have a more private experience with their abortion, which is certainly understandable,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, an obstetrician with Ibis Reproductive Health in San Francisco, which joined Gynuity Health Projects in New York in conducting the larger study. “The things they mention are, ‘It is easier.’ It was recommended to them by a friend or a family member.”

You see, the whole problem here is that these women do not feel comfortable with the medical community that would provide them with an traditional abortion:

“It turns an abortion into a natural process and makes it look like a miscarriage,” said Dr. Mark Rosing, an obstetrician at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx who led the 2000 study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association. “For people who don’t have access to abortion for social reasons, financial reasons or immigration reasons, it doesn’t seem like this horrible thing.”

And there lies the tragedy. Because this is a horrible thing. To kill a child and flush it down the toilet is a horrible thing. The proper reaction is horror not medical or cultural curiosity.

This doesn’t mean simply condemnation for the women involved as they are part of the tragedy as well. But it does mean a recognition of the seriousness of these acts. It may be inexplicably linked up with the cultures involved, but those culture’s moral traditions and instincts are in many ways healthy and good. The problem is not that these women feel uncomfortable with the medical community – although that is a legitimate issue to be addressed in a wider context – the problem is that instead of seeing options that would allow them to avoid this tragedy and protect life they see only a clandestine and dangerous act as the way out. Instead of seeing the reason behind the prohibitions and social stigmas they seek a way to avoid them.

Terms like “Party of Death” and “Culture of Death” are frowned upon by many as divisive and mean spirited. But how else to describe the doctors and so called experts in this article who dismiss induced abortion as understandable? Who seem unconcerned that life is so easily dismissed.

That said, this article reveals how much work we as the Party of Life have to do. A healthy culture would react to these stories with revulsion, compassion, and a deep sadness rather than academic statements about cultural traits and political notions about reproductive rights.