Ashley E. McGuire is a Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association, the Richard John Neuhaus Fellow at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a staff writer for Acculturated.com, a contributing editor at the Institute for Family Studies, a Policy Fellow with the American Conservative Union, and a founding editor of altFem Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post, USA TODAY, TIME magazine, RealClearPolitics, The Federalist, and the Weekly Standard among others, and she has appeared on CNN, FOX, PBS, CBS, Al Jazeera America, and the BBC. She has testified and spoken about religious liberty, the pro-life movement, and feminism in a wide range of venues including the United Nations, Yale Law School, and rallies around the country. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
It sounds like a pro-life slogan. In fact, it’s just a line from Dr. Seuss’ 1954 classic, Horton Hears a Who! In the story, an unsuspecting elephant is bathing himself when he hears a cry. The cry is originating from a speck, which turns out to be an entire planet of tiny people floating about vulnerably and desperately seeking protection. Though they shout at the top of their lungs, they are not heard. Horton, just a clumsy elephant, becomes their advocate, and quickly becomes the most loathed animal in the jungle.
He is called a “fool,” “out of his head,” “a rot,” and a “big dope”; his fellow animals are upset by his “carryings-on in our peaceable jungle” and his “bellowing bungle” about the poor people on Who-ville who cannot be seen or heard. “It’s full of persons!” he exclaims. “They’ll prove it to you.” But he is thwarted and threatened at every turn.
Dr. Seuss did not intend for the book, written for children, to relate to abortion. When the pro-life movement adopted one of its refrains as a slogan, his widow was upset and said she didn’t like for “people to hijack Dr. Seuss characters or material to front their own points of view.” When he was alive, he threatened to sue a pro-life group that used the line on their stationery.
And yet sixty years later, the story perfectly captures the ethos of the modern-day pro-life movement with stunning, childlike simplicity. “I’ve got to protect them,” Horton realizes. “I’m bigger than they.” He pleas, “Please don’t harm all my little folks, who have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!”
While the ranks of anti-abortion advocates have been swelling in recent years and the pro-choice movement is well-funded and loud, plenty of Americans have been content to avoid the issue altogether. As one major talk radio figure told me, “When the topic of abortion comes up, we know for a fact, people change the station.”
But recent events have made Hortons of all of us. It started with Gosnell. Gosnell broke the law. But he also broke Americans’ concept of abortion as something happening to microscopic and unformed blobs of tissue in hygienic, metallic rooms. The collective American gorge rose as the details emerged of full-term babies being torn apart while their mothers were left bleeding in filth.
Then came undercover videos that caught things like a well-known, late-term abortionist laughingly comparing his tools to an “ice pick” or Planned Parenthood staffers cheerily helping what they believe is a pimp looking for an abortion for his underage prostitute.
And now David Daleidin’s sting. Crushing abdomens. Evacuating skulls. Organ menus. Thanks to social media, there is nowhere to hide anymore. While abortion proponents want to keep the debate on the legality of things, America is left staring, mouth agape, at the reality that a baby whose form is hardly visible underneath the slightest curve of a blouse a can be crushed to death and sold for parts.
For millennia, the greatest writers and thinkers have debated mimesis, Aristotle’s proposition that art imitates life. The uncanny resemblance of Horton Hears a Who! to today’s fight over abortion has brought that debate that much more into focus. And while there is no way Dr. Seuss could have written the book anticipating the struggle to end abortion, he did write it at a time when one class of people after another was struggling to be heard, to be protected, to be incorporated into the broader social order.
Increasingly, Americans are coming to see that the struggle is ongoing. Despite the denial, finger-pointing, and euphemisms of the Goliath that is Planned Parenthood, it’s ironically because of their own emboldened sloppiness that it is growing harder to deny the humanity of the unborn child. And America is increasingly unable to turn away from the reality that there is an entire group of people that are systematically denied rights because they cannot be heard.
But, with all due respect to Dr. Seuss, there is a rising generation of advocates, renegades and rebels who, like Horton, have seen what so many don’t want to see and aren’t afraid to turn this entire peaceable jungle on its head.