October 11, 2007

One Escaped

This past August, a pregnant woman was brought to a hospital in Milan, Italy, to have one of the twins in her womb killed. The child’s offense was that an amniocentesis test had indicated it might be suffering from Down Syndrome. The abortionist who conducted the "intervention" did not realize that the twins had switched places within their mother. Thus, the "healthy child" was mistakenly put to death, while the "unhealthy child" was allowed to live.

A few days later, a second "intervention" took place in the same institution of healing. This time it was the "unhealthy child" that was killed. The institution issued a press statement declaring that the entire episode was "unfortunate."

Shortly after I learned of the "unfortunate episode," I found myself in a conversation with a friend who had just returned from a business trip in Italy where he had read about the killings in several Italian newspapers. He thought it was "sad" that both children had been put to death but expressed the hope that the media here in the United States would continue to keep the ugly story from the public, "so that we don’t have another ruckus about abortion." I told him that I would not be so concerned about the public’s feelings and frankly felt it would be a great blessing if a "ruckus" ensued. He asked why, and I replied immediately and as briefly as I could.

My response was not at all complicated. Nor was what I had to say a matter merely, or even principally, of religion. It was rather a matter of civilization in its most fundamental and essential expression.

There is, I noted, something alive within a pregnant woman. One second after it leaves the womb, I observed, it is recognized in all civilized societies to be a human being with an unimpeachable right to live. Indeed, I went on, it is also recognized in all civilized societies that the governments of such societies are duty-bound to protect that right with all the powers at their disposal. This is their first and absolutely inescapable obligation, I asserted, adding that about this all serious legal scholars have been agreeing for centuries.

Why then, I inquired, do some governments claim that they are not duty-bound to protect the right to live of a being within a pregnant woman one second before it leaves her womb? Is there some magic, I wondered, some mystical "hocus pocus," some metaphysical legerdemain whereby in a single second a less than human being devoid of all human rights is transformed into a full-fledged human being endowed with a host of human rights? And if there is not, I asked sincerely, though a bit rhetorically, "How uncivilized has our society become?"

I might, of course, have pointed to the dreadful fact that in the United States one is free to kill the being in question even while it is leaving the womb. However, I felt that I had made my point focusing on one second before birth, just as I might have made it no less effectively focusing on one hour before birth, one week before birth, one month before birth, indeed, nine months before birth.

My friend adjusted himself in his chair and made a confession. He admitted that he had often thought to himself exactly what I had just said and could never find an argument to refute it. "Anybody capable of earning a high school diploma would have to agree with you," he declared. Still, he went on to say that he is convinced that the killing of the yet-to-be born will continue in our country because it has become the "one unifying cause" of a large segment of the populace and, in his judgment, the rest of us have "thrown in the towel." I assured him that I was keeping my towel firmly in hand and proceeded to tell him a story.

I 1887, in a shabby district of the industrial town of Lodz in Poland, I reported, a pregnant woman arranged to have the being in her womb aborted. "She decided to get rid of me before I was born," her offspring declared 79 years later in the February 26, 1966, edition of Time magazine. "However," he added, "a miracle happened"; and the miracle was that "my aunt dissuaded my mother, so that I was allowed to be born." His narrative, according to Time, ended with these words: "Think of it! It was a miracle!"

My friend asked me the name of the person in the article. I offered him a clue by stating that in the opinion of many he was the greatest interpreter of the piano music of Frederic Chopin in our time, and maybe one of the five or six greatest pianists of all time. My friend, who knows as much about classical music as anyone in my acquaintance, leaned forward. "Not Artur Rubinstein," he whispered.

"Artur Rubinstein," I whispered back. "Thank the Lord in heaven that his aunt held on to her towel."

Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York