At Least Let Us Bury Our Unborn
by Timothy Villareal
(This article originally appeared in the May 20th, 2013 edition of the Tallahassee Democrat. https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/116373847/)
When the FBI raided the abortion clinic of the now-infamous Kermit Gosnell in 2010, the agents found 47 human fetuses in a freezer. Gosnell reportedly stored the fetuses in the freezer because of a billing dispute with the biohazard waste company that was hired to dispose of them.
Nowhere to put the dead babies? Put them in a freezer.
Of course, Gosnell is being tried for murdering born-alive babies. Yet the larger question society must ask is this: When will we stop treating aborted babies like garbage? Literally as pieces of junk to be tossed in biomedical waste bags or flushed down drainage systems?
The Gosnell case could be a watershed moment in America’s discourse on abortion: The full humanity of the women seeking abortions, and the babies who are aborted, are on public display like never before.
To be sure, polls consistently show public support for abortion rights, even among religious Americans. For example, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, majorities in most Christian denominations personally find abortion to be immoral, yet still do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
In January, the 40th annual March for Life was held in Washington, while a West Coast March for Life took place in San Francisco. These are marches in which some of the participants themselves, albeit unwittingly, confirm for many Americans exactly why women seeking abortions should never be criminalized. In the 39 years since the first march opposing the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than 50 million surgical abortions have taken place in the United States, according to a CDC estimate. While most women who get abortions don’t shout it with a megaphone, every year at the March for Life events, post-abortion women will come to the podium and offer their personal testimonies for the cause of outlawing abortion. They are testimonies laden with regret.
At at 2013 San Francisco event, Kelly Clinger, a former background singer for Britney Spears, gave a particularly gut-wrenching testimony. Upon returning home after an abortion, Clinger fell ill and had to be rushed to the hospital. The doctor at the hospital informed her that her baby’s hands and feet were still inside her uterus. Clinger is now a staunch anti-abortion activist.
The presence of these women underscores why the government should never try to deprive women who seek abortions of their freedom and autonomy: These women do not pose, nor have they ever posed, a threat to society. Laws that would target and undermine their freedom and bodily autonomy would likely result in the status quo ante Roe v. Wade: women seeking back-alley abortions, along with the threats to their lives and safety that accompany such procedures.
It may well be true, as many of these women attest, that in the absence of Roe v. Wade they would have never had their abortions in the first place. Yet from multiple standpoints — libertarian, feminist, as well as a conservative standpoint of parental responsibility — it can be difficult to accept such an attitude as anything other than a copout, precisely for the fact that it attempts to assign blame on the state for an individual’s previous state of consciousness.
As previous generations have spent decades arguing about what degree of state paternalism is necessary to physically restrain women from getting abortions, millions of babies have had their physical remains treated like, well, garbage.
Unlike the decision to abort, which takes place within the confines of individual conscience, the treatment of the physical remains of aborted babies — once extracted from a woman’s body — is in the hands of the state governments. Indeed, though they are dead, the bodies of the babies are nonetheless abandoned, left at an abortion facility. Something has to be done with those remains, and as much as many would prefer these remains conveniently disappear into thin air, they don’t.
The question those Christians and others who believe abortion is immoral, yet who simultaneously do not want to criminalize women seeking abortions, ought to ask is this: Is the disposal of aborted babies in one’s own state a standard that society would ever consciously allow for born persons? Recall, for example, the public outrage in 2011 when it was revealed that the Pentagon had dumped the remains of some U.S. soldiers in a landfill.
Allowing citizens to obtain state-issued licenses to recover the remains of aborted babies, specifically for the purpose of burial, would not infringe on the privacy rights of women seeking abortions.
Not allowing citizens to recover the remains of aborted babies, and provide those babies with the dignified funerals and burials that some feel they deserve as children of God, imposes the belief that fetuses are just potential human beings, not actual people.
Is not the core of the pro-choice movement that no one has a right to impose beliefs on others?
Forty years after Roe, and as aborted babies continue to pile up in trash bags, perhaps it’s time for all Americans to reconsider who is imposing upon whom.
Bribes for babies
by Timothy Villareal
The following article originally appeared in the January 26th, 2015 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Driving along Florida’s roads, one is bound to come across a distinct, colorful license plate: a yellow backdrop, two smiley faces of children drawn by children and pink lettering that reads “Choose Life.”
Though the “Choose Life” specialty license plate movement began in Florida in 1996, the plates are now available in 28 other states, including Pennsylvania. Since they first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2007, more than $125,000 has been raised to provide services for pregnant women considering abortion. According to a 2011 tally by Choose Life America, the organization behind the plates, over $14 million had been raised from the license plates nationwide.
None of these funds is recycled into the political process, thus ensuring that the entire charitable endeavor is insulated from the rougher politics of the pro-life and pro-choice movements. So, what’s a pro-choice person to complain about?
Answer: absolutely nothing.
Not only are the funds raised from the plate sales separated from abortion politics, the plates themselves underscore — in the plainest way possible — a chief tenet of elective abortion philosophy: that human beings, not God, are the authors of human life, and are therefore morally endowed to “choose” whether to abort their babies or not.
Those purchasing “Choose Life” license plates are unwittingly playing their own part in the furtherance of the wider elective abortion philosophy. Their moral appeals via license plate may cause some women to consider an alternative to abortion, but at the direct expense of a larger moral principle: namely, that the mere contemplation of killing a defenseless human being, simply because he or she is unwanted, is where the act of violence originates.
Unfortunately for unborn babies, the illogic of much of the modern-day pro-life movement doesn’t stop with just the “Choose Life” license plates.
From the very get-go, when women considering abortion encounter so-called “crisis pregnancy” counseling centers, they will be told about the array of goods and services that they will be furnished with if they choose not to abort. Everything from diapers to cribs to social services, sometimes even maternal housing, are offered as inducements to the women not to abort their babies.
By providing charitable goods and services expressly as a means to impact a behavior choice — in this case a woman’s legal choice not to have an abortion — those goods and services become a form of de facto bribery; bribing for the lives of unborn babies.
Employing such material support, specifically as a tool to deter an abortion, provides a de facto moral imprimatur to the wider philosophy that undergirds elective abortion in the first place: namely, that the elective killing of human beings in utero can be morally justified when the expectant mothers and/or fathers are in dire economic straits. Such an imprimatur is music to the ears of those who wish to make elective abortion culturally normative, or part of the “continuum of women’s health care” as the resident Orwellians in the pro-choice movement so often like to describe it. As if aborting a baby and getting a pap smear belong in the same sentence.
Buying off one person, including through non-cash means, to prevent that person from terminating the life of another is an atrocious practice that should be outlawed at the federal level. Our society would never tolerate bribing for the lives of born persons.
The singular evil of elective abortion cannot possibly be conveyed when the principal architects of the abortions — one or both of the parents — are placed in the morally twisted role of either giving a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on God’s inviolable command not to kill. Crisis pregnancy counseling centers, through their efforts to ingratiate themselves to expectant parents, and through the use of material goods, do exactly that every day: They place expectant parents considering abortion in the role of demigods who must somehow be convinced to show mercy to their own defenseless babies.
If the newly elected Republican-led Congress did the right thing by passing legislation to outlaw this atrocious practice of already-born people effectively bribing others not to kill unborn people, elective abortion-seekers might realize that having their constitutional right to govern their own bodies does not change the fact that God is the author of human life — not them.
Burying the Aborted Dead
by Timothy Villareal
The following is an abridged version of an article titled “Burying the Aborted Dead: Can Pope Francis and Spiritual Progressives Find Common Ground?” which was originally published on September 22nd, 2013 at Tikkun Daily.
As a Catholic, as a liberal, as a spiritual progressive, one of the most frustrating things to witness in this world is the extent to which both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, both of whom essentially govern the two poles of abortion discourse, have lost sight of the human and, yes indeed, have become “afraid and deluded” about being human.
Plainly speaking, those who would use the power of the state to criminalize abortion-seeking women – women who pose no threat whatsoever to society – have utterly lost sight of the human. They want punishment for these women, and the doctors performing abortions at the these women’s direction. Justice, this crowd believes, is for them to mete out; God, for this crowd, is little more than a team coach.
Equally tragic, those who in their fervor to keep the government out of women’s lives and off their bodies routinely degrade the lives, and reality, of unborn babies – flatly denying that those babies have little hands and feet, and human heartbeats. For this crowd of little hand and little feet deniers, they are quite literally “afraid of the human” or “deluded” about what it actually is to be human, which includes having hands and feet, and a head.
Hopefully, those of us who believe that abortion-seeking women should never have their lives and liberty threatened by the state, but who also believe that the lives of our unborn brothers and sisters are precious, will stop permitting the two aforementioned political movements to shape the formulation of our moral thought on this subject: collectively, they have all lost sight of the human. They have become “afraid and deluded” about the human.
Treating the physical remains of aborted babies with proper respect, and affording them the proper burials they deserve as children of God, not children of a lesser God, would be one way for the rest of us to assert that we are not afraid of, or deluded about, the reality of the human.
Much like their counterparts in the pro-life movement, pro-choicers routinely and grossly underestimate the ability of others to hold together two core moral constructs simultaneously: one, that the lives of unborn babies are sacred, and two, because the lives of abortion-seeking women are also sacred, they should not have their own safety and freedom threatened by the state.
An acknowledgement of the sacredness of unborn human lives – particularly by providing aborted babies with dignified funerals and burials like any other human being – would indeed be a major blow to those who, despite seeing little hands, little feet, and little heads, are so deluded that they would declare such people as nothing more than a “mass of cells.”
And yet by allowing for burials of aborted babies, citizens who have no desire to prosecute women, or to otherwise enmesh the state in women’s lives and bodies with government mandates like transvaginal probes and the like, would be allowed to acknowledge and mourn the loss of unborn human life just as much as the loss of born human life. Abortion, no matter the month of gestation or method, is about death. It is precisely the wholesale segregation of aborted fetal remains from the rest of society that obscures that fundamental reality.
Aborted babies are also created by God and made in His image and likeness. And yet in this country, if they are small enough and deemed “semi-solid” they can be flushed down the drainage systems of abortion clinics. Babies too big to be flushed get “compacted” with other aborted babies in so-called biomedical waste bags, before being sent off to an incinerator.
One way to end this ghastly treatment of human remains would be for Congress to incentivize state legislatures to create state-based licensing programs, akin to driver’s licenses, to allow concerned citizens to recover the remains of aborted babies for the express purpose of providing them a dignified burial. Such a program would have no bearing on the status of Roe. v. Wade.
Constitutional law professor, Jonathan Entin, of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio said of such a state licensing concept, “I don’t think that licensing people to access fetal remains would violate Roe v. Wade or, perhaps of greater relevance, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Such statutes [governing fetal remains disposal] don’t directly involve the government in restricting access to abortions, and both of those cases are about that question. The state would be allowing third parties to access the remains, but this arrangement would not directly prevent women from obtaining abortions.”
Under such a fetal remains access licensing system, abortion providers would be required, once a fetus has been extracted, to individually place each fetus, irrespective of gestational age – yes, even those babies the size of a grape – into a separate container, never into a biomedical waste bag, and never “compacted” with the remains of other fetuses.
The remains of the babies, again each in their own container, would be collected by officials from state departments of health, and subsequently be brought to department-designated recovery centers – centers that would be at long distances from abortion providers. In other words, the fetal remains license holders would have no proximity to post-abortive women or abortion providers.
There at the recovery centers, members of the public holding the health department-issued licenses would be given access to the dead babies in their containers. The licensees would be required to take state-approved certification courses in the medically-safe treatment of fetal remains.
Moreover, licensees would be required to sign a written oath that they understand that they are authorized to take possession of fetal remains strictly for funerary and burial purposes, which must occur within a set amount of days from the time of access. Just as with state-issued driver’s licenses, those found in violation could have their licenses suspended or revoked.
If state agencies implemented the aforementioned rule that requires the physical recovery of the fetal remains to take place at long distances from each abortion facility, any argument that a woman’s constitutional right to privacy established under Roe v. Wade, and affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey simply does not hold. Renowned constitutional scholar Andrew Koppelman, professor of law at Northwestern University, concurs with that assertion.
Koppelman, a staunch supporter of abortion rights, holds that a constitutional right to abortion can actually be found in the Thirteenth Amendment, the amendment that outlawed slavery. According to his Columbia Law Review article on the subject:
The Thirteenth Amendment, properly read, declares that one cannot do to human beings the precise things that were done to slaves under antebellum slavery. Those things include compulsory childbearing. An originalist reading of the Amendment focuses on the wrongs that the Amendment sought to break from and forbids their reenactment. The original meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment supports a constitutional right to abortion.
Asked about a state-based licensing program to access fetal remains that would include a “first claim” provision for grieving post-abortive women, and then allow other state-issued license holders to claim access should a post-abortive woman decline, Professor Koppelman said, “As long as there were no interference with women’s ability to control their fertility, I don’t see a constitutional difficulty with either of these proposals.”
To be sure, a woman who chooses not to access the remains of her aborted baby for the purpose of burial, and more fundamentally, a woman who simply does not believe that the fetus who came out of her body is an actual person, may very well take offense to someone else recovering those remains.
But the government is obligated to protect her rights, her safety, and her privacy; it ought not be obligated to respect the ideology of the broader abortive belief system that the remains of aborted babies, like an appendix, deserve nothing more than to be tossed into biomedical waste trash bags.