September 2, 2004

Costco and Mayonnaise

On Sunday, July 18, I was in Tacoma, Wash., to address and celebrate Mass for the Catholic Daughters of the Americas at their biennial convention. Hence, I did not see the Sunday New York newspapers until several days later. A pile of them were stacked up in the office of the Archbishop’s Residence. I did not get to them until the following Thursday night at around 11 o’clock.

In the magazine section of one of the newspapers, I noticed an article entitled "When One Is Enough." At first, I took it for a rather tasteless parody of the pro-abortion mentality. However, the newspaper in which it was printed is a fierce champion of abortion. Thus I realized it could not be what it seemed at first blush. Accordingly, I read the article carefully; and I was sickened.

The author of the piece was "Amy Richards as told to Amy Barrett." Amy Richards is presented as a 34-year-old woman, living with her "boyfriend" in a "five-story walk-up" in the East Village, and working as a "free-lance" writer. She reports that she had stopped using "the pill," because she was "tired of it"; and she adds that her boyfriend approved. They would let whatever happens happen.

In due course, Amy Richards became pregnant with triplets. She was totally unnerved, and she explains why. Apart from the usual inconveniences of pregnancy and motherhood, the triplets would guarantee her an altogether unacceptable future. "I’m going to have to move to Staten Island," she declares. "I’ll never leave my house because I’ll have to take care of these children. I’ll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big bottles of mayonnaise." Such was her plight, as described by the writer, Amy Barrett, for the free-lance writer, Amy Richards.

What was Amy Richards to do. She made her decision; and if I understand the tortuous prose of the article, her boyfriend agreed. She would have two of the triplets killed by a "specialist" known to her obstetrician. How the specialist would handle this is described twice in the 800-word article: "The procedure involves a shot of potassium chloride in the heart of the fetus." And when the "procedure" is completed, Amy Richards confides, "two (of the triplets) disappear."

The incredibly ugly article ends thus: "I would do the same thing if I had triplets again, but if I had twins, I would probably have the twins. Then again, I don’t know."

A few days later, in another New York newspaper we are informed that the Amy Richards of "When One Is Enough" is not at all the coarse, fatuous individual she is made out to be in the article, but rather a college-educated "consultant" to one of the most prosperous and "upscale" providers of abortion in the national abortion industry. A spokesperson for the newspaper that hosted the article was allegedly considering "an editor’s note" to clear up any suggestion that the article may have been intentionally misleading.

Whatever of this, the article, as crass and abhorrent as it might be, may have some peripheral value. It could lead decent, thoughtful people who have been frightened into silence by the pro-abortion media of communications to speak out on the subject. If so, here are some observations that may be of interest.

First, if the being that was within the mother’s womb is an innocent human being with an inalienable right to live one minute after it has left its mother’s womb, how can anyone be sure that it was not an innocent human being with an inalienable right to live one minute before it left its mother’s womb, or one month before, or nine months before?

To pretend not to understand the implications of this query is a choice: and to act on that pretense is another choice – a choice to kill what cannot be shown to be other than an innocent human being with an inalienable right to live.

Second, one may not in any civilized society kill what has never been shown to be other than an innocent human being with an inalienable right to live; and this is true quite apart from any consideration of this religion or that or, indeed, of any religion at all. A healthy religion might be expected to second and applaud such a basic principle of civilization, just as a healthy religion might be expected to second and applaud the unacceptability in civilized society of armed robbery. However, seconding and applauding does not make armed robbery "a solely religious issue," any more than it makes abortion "a solely religious issue."

To pretend not to understand this is a choice; and when the choice is made in order to cover the failure of legislators and judges to deal with the matter of abortion honorably, it is an unacceptable choice indeed. Worse yet, it is a betrayal of civilized society and the most fundamental right of humankind, the right to live.

Third, even if legislatures and courts along with kings and presidents contend that we are free to kill what has never been shown to be other than an innocent human being with an inalienable right to live, this changes nothing for the rest of us. We, as members of civilized society, are obliged to stand for what is clear, basic and true in this world in which we live. Have we forgotten how bitterly we condemned the military officers who claimed that they properly killed millions of citizens of Georgia in the former Soviet Union because Stalin, the leader of their government, favored the killing? Have we forgotten how bitterly we condemned the medical practitioners who claimed they properly killed millions of Jews in Germany because Hitler, the leader of their government, favored the killing?

If we have forgotten, why?

When I was a boy many years ago, I studied music with great enthusiasm and even dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. Among my heroes was the Polish keyboard master, Artur Rubinstein. I believed then, as I believe now, that no one in our time performed the works of Frédéric Chopin with the artistry that flowed from his fingers.

Some time ago a friend of mine sent me an old copy of Time magazine (Feb. 25, 1966), asking me to give special attention to the cover story about Rubinstein, and especially to the paragraph that he underscored. The paragraph read as follows:

"Rubinstein was born in 1887, in the shabby industrial town of Lodz, in Poland, where his father owned a small hand-loom factory. He was the last of seven children. ‘My mother did not want a seventh child,’ he explains, ‘so she decided to get rid of me before I was born. Then, a marvelous thing happened. My aunt dissuaded her, and so I was permitted to be born.’ "

My friend reminded me that I had told him that I admired Rubinstein immensely and that I had purchased all of his recordings that I could afford when I was young and had virtually worn the wax off my 78 RPM records of his performance of the Chopin Sonatas.

"Read the section of the article that I have marked and never forget it," my friend directed me. "If you are ever hesitant or embarrassed to stand up against that attack on the basics of civilization that is abortion, these few sentences will come in handy. Rubinstein’s mother had ‘chosen’ to kill him. His aunt ‘chose’ to take a stand against the killing, and the world was rewarded with one of our greatest musical geniuses.

"The promoters of abortion are going to try to convince the man-on-the-street, and the woman too, that abortion is purely a matter of one’s religious faith," he continued, "and some who have political obligations in this area are going to suggest that, while they are ‘personally’ opposed to abortion for religious reasons, they will not ‘force their religious beliefs on others.’

"All of this is manifest nonsense which by no means trumps the crystal-clear truth that, long before religion enters into the fray, abortion is, and always was, a patent violation of an altogether fundamental rule of civilized life.

"This is truth," he concluded, "and we have to trust that one day truth will triumph here in this beloved nation of yours and mine."

I put the letter down (it had been paper-clipped to the issue of Time) and took from my collection of recordings Rubinstein’s rendition of B Minor and B-flat Minor Sonatas of Chopin. With the magical art of this wondrous artist in the background, I re-read the final quotation of my boyhood hero in the Time article. Here it is:

"I’m passionately involved in life. I love its changes, its color, its movements. To be alive, to be able to speak, to see, to walk, to have house, music and paintings – it’s all miracle."

"Yes," I mused to myself, "life is a miracle. However, before we get into miracles and other matters of a religious kind, we do well to recall that, miraculous or not, to live is first and foremost a right, a right that none of us is free to leave undefended."

Edward Cardinal Egan

Archbishop of New York