“It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” This poignant quote by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta rang in my ears as I read Karen Hartman’s latest essay in the Washington Post. The piece was published on January 22, 2016, to correspond with the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion, Roe v. Wade. As thousands of pro-life advocates marched through Washington D.C. in spite of an impending blizzard the Washington Post offered its readers Ms. Hartman’s emotional defense of abortion, using her own abortion as justification.
Like any other woman who has had an abortion, Karen Hartman is a wounded woman. She rejected all maternal instincts to protect her child and willingly took the life of her child. She needs prayers and compassion, not brutal condemnation. However, she is an author and a playwright. She knows the power of words and has offered her words in support of abortion. Therefore, it is important to refute her words and expose their fallacy.
Her first argument to justify her abortion is the fact that she was 42 years old and her husband was 56. They would be in their 60s and 70s when this child graduated from high school. Giving birth to this child risked leaving him without one or both parents for a significant portion of his life. This, according to Ms. Hartman, justified an abortion.
Actually, every child who is born faces such a risk. Accidents and illnesses happen. Life brings no guarantees. If we needed assurance that both parents would be alive and in good health through a child’s teenage years before having children, no one could ever have a baby. Every parent must accept a child as is and face the cards life deals. Surely Ms. Hartman does not really believe that she and her husband could not offer this child a loving and nurturing family for whatever time they have left on earth. Isn’t the opportunity to experience this love for even a short time better than taking any chance for life away from her child?
Her next justification involves her then 6-year-old son. She had wanted another child when her son was a baby but her current pregnancy would not produce “the peer-sibling I’d advocated for five years earlier.” Instead of seeing her pregnancy as a calling to be a mother and give herself to this particular child, she evaluates the utility of her unborn child for her son. This child will not be a ready-made play date. This child just doesn’t fit the specifications for the child she wanted to complete her image of her ideal family.
I believe this is a reflection of our culture’s lost sense of parenthood as a vocation. Children are viewed as commodities for the benefit of adults. With this abortion, not only did she deny her unborn child the chance for a life, but she denied her son the opportunity for a life-long loving relationship. Certainly, in the early years her older son would not necessarily enjoy the infant and toddler games of this second child. But that does not mean he would have gained nothing from the experience of having a younger sibling. The chance to learn patience, kindness, generosity, and many other virtues is inherent in all sibling relationships. As they get older the age difference fades and true loving bonds form. Among my own four grown children there is an eight-year span between the oldest and the youngest, yet the oldest and the youngest are kindred spirits and extremely close. It is reasonable to deny your youngest child the right to life out of fear that he will not be pleasing to your older child?
Her next argument for her abortion is that it enabled her to make great strides in her professional life that would have been impossible if she had a young child. She completed three commissioned works for major theaters and took on an academic job that allowed her to complete a play that had been languishing for years. Consider that. She traded her child’s life for four plays and the accolades they bring. What does that tell her now 8-year-old son? Mommy loves and wants you as long as you don’t get in the way of my ambition? When you are an obstacle to professional success, you are disposable?
The final fallacy of Karen Hartman’s defense of abortion comes in the last paragraph of her essay. She proclaims, “I defend the right to choose in what ways, when and with whom we create life.” The problem with this assertion is that by the time she has an abortion life has already been created. And in her heart, she does know that. Why else would the sonographer turn the screen away from her when she stated that she was going to have an abortion? Why did she find it unsettling to hear her baby’s heartbeat? The image of her unborn child and the sound of her child’s heartbeat confirmed the reality of the life within her womb.
Life was present within her long before it was visible in the ultrasound exam room. At the moment of conception with the joining of the sperm and ova a unique living human being is created. This is not religious revelation. This is science. Pick up any basic biology or human anatomy textbook and look at the definition of life. There is always a list of characteristics and processes that must be present to define an entity as alive. There must be metabolism, growth, differentiation, movement, and responsiveness to stimuli. The single-celled zygote that results from fertilization meets every criterion for life. More importantly, this life is not just an extension of the mother, but a distinct individual whose growth and development is directed by his own DNA. The mother supports and nurtures this growth but she does not control it.
I do not write this to shame Karen Hartman. But she put her story out there to support and encourage other women to choose abortion. These women are often scared, desperate and unaware of alternatives to abortion. They deserve to see these rationalizations for abortion without emotion and under the bright light of truth. They do not have to embrace the poverty of sacrificing their child’s life because of either worldly fears or ambitions. They can choose life.