Intellectual Giants, Moral Midgets

(Note: This post has been edited from the original to include citations from the original article, which is no longer available free of charge).

Amy Richard’s article on her selective fetal reduction in the NY Times Magazine (registration required) has recently been discussed on National Review Online (see also here) and elsewhere. It should be read by everyone with an interest in the abortion debate, or the general state of the culture wars in 21st century America.

Richards begins her story:

I’m 34. My boyfriend, Peter, and I have been together three years. I’m old enough to presume that I wasn’t going to have an easy time becoming pregnant. I was tired of being on the pill, because it made me moody. Before I went off it, Peter and I talked about what would happen if I became pregnant, and we both agreed that we would have the child.

I found out I was having triplets when I went to my obstetrician. The doctor had just finished telling me I was going to have a low-risk pregnancy. She turned on the sonogram machine. There was a long pause, then she said, ”Are you sure you didn’t take fertility drugs?” I said, ‘I’m positive.’ Peter and I were very shocked when she said there were three. ‘You know, this changes everything,’ she said. ‘You’ll have to see a specialist.’

My immediate response was, I cannot have triplets. I was not married; I lived in a five-story walk-up in the East Village; I worked freelance; and I would have to go on bed rest in March. I lecture at colleges, and my biggest months are March and April. I would have to give up my main income for the rest of the year. There was a part of me that was sure I could work around that. But it was a matter of, Do I want to?

I looked at Peter and asked the doctor: ‘Is it possible to get rid of one of them? Or two of them?’ The obstetrician wasn’t an expert in selective reduction, but she knew that with a shot of potassium chloride you could eliminate one or more.

Having felt physically fine up to this point, I got on the subway afterward, and all of a sudden, I felt ill. I didn’t want to eat anything. What I was going through seemed like a very unnatural experience. On the subway, Peter asked, ‘Shouldn’t we consider having triplets?’ And I had this adverse reaction: ‘This is why they say it’s the woman’s choice, because you think I could just carry triplets. That’s easy for you to say, but I’d have to give up my life.’ Not only would I have to be on bed rest at 20 weeks, I wouldn’t be able to fly after 15. I was already at eight weeks. When I found out about the triplets, I felt like: It’s not the back of a pickup at 16, but now I’m going to have to move to Staten Island. I’ll never leave my house because I’ll have to care for these children. I’ll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise. Even in my moments of thinking about having three, I don’t think that deep down I was ever considering it.

At every level, Ms. Richard’s story displays the moral vacuousness of the contemporary secular mindset. First, there is the impermanence of the relationships which will bear and raise children. She never indicates any consideration of marriage to her boyfriend, either while anticipating a pregnancy or after her child is born. Then there is the casual nature of the decision to have a child. She stops the pill because of hormone-driven moodiness, nobly deciding to keep the inevitable trophy child rather than suffer the agonies of monthly menstrual misery. She never once considers the implications for her child, or the society he will inhabit, inherent in her decision to raise him in an intrinsically unstable and uncommitted parental relationship. Finally there is the stunning reflex decision to terminate one or more of her unborn children when the serpent jaws of a self-gratifying lifestyle arise. No thought of a moral or ethical dilemna ever crosses her mind as she clutches for the salvation of a potassium chloride syringe.

Ms. Richards sees her specialist, and relates the experience of her selective reduction:

The specialist called me back at 10 p.m. I had just finished watching a Boston Pops concert at Symphony Hall. As everybody burst into applause, I watched my cellphone vibrating, grabbed it and ran into the lobby. He told me that he does a detailed sonogram before doing a selective reduction to see if one fetus appears to be struggling. The procedure involves a shot of potassium chloride to the heart of the fetus. There are a lot more complications when a woman carries multiples. And so, from the doctor’s perspective, it’s a matter of trying to save the woman this trauma. After I talked to the specialist, I told Peter, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’ He replied, ‘What we’re going to do.’ He respected what I was going through, but at a certain point, he felt that this was a decision we were making. I agreed.

When we saw the specialist, we found out that I was carrying identical twins and a stand alone. My doctors thought the stand alone was three days older. There was something psychologically comforting about that, since I wanted to have just one. Before the procedure, I was focused on relaxing. But Peter was staring at the sonogram screen thinking: Oh, my gosh, there are three heartbeats. I can’t believe we’re about to make two disappear. The doctor came in, and then Peter was asked to leave. I said, ‘Can Peter stay?’ The doctor said no. I know Peter was offended by that.

Let us not forget about the professional, clinically detached physician who delivers the death syringe to carefully selected unborns. The lifesaving miracle of high resolution ultrasound and fetal intervention selecting those twins whose crime was being several days too young.

Despite the high-minded rhetoric about “choice” in the abortion debate, at its heart abortion is about unfettered sex, or in the larger moral context, the pursuit of self-gratifying behavior while refusing to accept its inevitable consequences. Spiritual principles, much like the laws of physics, cannot be violated without consequences. No matter how fervently I believe I can fly, flapping my arms while jumping off tall buildings will always make me an undesirable client for my life insurance company. Violating spiritual laws results in even more pervasive effects, since the spiritual tsunamis roll not merely through our own lives, but those of everyone we touch, both near and far. Unlike the violation of physical laws, however, the consequences are far more easily denied, rationalized, and minimized when they are in the realm of the spirit.

In the secular mindset, sexual “freedom” trumps all; the death of the unborn fruits of this behavior is not considered too high a price to pay. Any moral qualms about the ghastly consequences to the child can be mitigated by redefining language – an unborn child becomes a “fetus”, a “product of conception” – to move us a few steps farther away from the uncomfortable and convicting truth. Then we change the subject to a more defensible arena: abortion is about “freedom”, and “choice”, and “women’s health”, and “rights” – all straw-man targets far harder to attack than the crumbling and indefensible edifice at the core of the issue: snuffing out a unique, defenseless human being to promote and enable a self-centered, self-gratifying way of life. Amy Richards has given us a rare, inadvertently honest look into the dark soul of secularism. We should look long and hard, and never forget, what the inevitable outcome of contemporary secularism will produce: shallow, empty humanity, exterminating our young to preserve our shopping preferences.

Our culture is advanced beyond the wildest imaginations of those even a century ago. We clone sheep; take stunning pictures of Saturn from its rings; perform surgery robotically; retrieve information in seconds with web browsers that formerly took years to acquire, if ever. We as a society are intellectual giants in history. Yet as our knowledge increases exponentially, our wisdom withers: we are just as truly moral midgets.

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