Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
The mainstream media's strikingly different response to the killing of Cecil the lion and the undercover videos that appear to show Planned Parenthood's trafficking in fetal body parts highlights the challenge the pro-life movement continues to face.
But here's a glimmer of optimism from Mary Eberstadt, who urges pro-life activists to grab the opportunity to explain why Cecil the Lion should inspire Americans to think more deeply about the treatment of human animals in abortion clinics, where they are killed and dismembered, and sold for research.
In National Review's upcoming print issue, Eberstadt writes:
To point out the obvious similarities between pictures of callously destroyed fetuses such as those in the videos and pictures of other callously destroyed animals already out of the womb isn’t to posit moral equivalence. Nor is it to expect moral change overnight.
But this moment should be seized for what it is: a new opportunity to reach people of good intentions who are concerned for animal well-being, and to show them why they should want no part in the industrial bloodbath that is abortion on demand.
Though it may seem as if legal abortion has upended our moral compass, Ebersdat is betting that the undercover videos will establish a pro-life beachhead in new missionary terrain.
"Because if worrying about Big Farm is enough to keep you up at night, worrying about Big Baby-Parts Farm should give you insomnia for the rest of your life," she predicted.
Eberstadt points out the striking similarities between apologists for Big Farm and Big Abortion:
- they draw attention to the fact that their practices are "legal";
- they deflect criticism by constructing false arguments and demonizing the messenger;
- they employ semantic terms that spin unethical practices.
In an age where ultrasound technology has introduced a radical transparency that sheds light on human development, Eberstadt thinks it will be very tough for progressive Americans to express shock at the mistreatment of an animal and shrug off the callous disregard for the dignity of a unborn child.
Efforts by progressives to keep their pro-animal sentiments from softening their 'pro-choice' intentions become harder as science itself keeps documenting the extraordinary and ever more intricate inner workings of both animals and human beings even from the earliest stages of development.
Eberstadt wants "pro-animal people who haven’t considered themselves pro-life before this to say goodbye to all that cognitive dissonance."
The irrepressible Mollie Hemingway, who has led the charge against media silence on unpleasant matters like the Gosnell trial and now the undercover videos, also takes up this topic in a First Things essay that acknowledges the special power of beings who are "known" and "named"--like the children and animals we know--as opposed to those who are hidden--in the womb and elsewhere. Hemingway, who is a Lutheran, writes:
It is important that religious people learn to argue against the manifest evil of abortion on purely secular, rational grounds. We must take care to explain the medical and scientific fact that embryos and fetuses are human beings and the necessity of recognizing the intrinsic value of all human life. We must also provide real support to women and children so that unplanned pregnancies can be faced without the fear and desperation that leads to the abortionist’s office.
Yet perhaps what we most need to do now is to proclaim a truth that is unavoidably, unapologetically religious: Every single human being, from the moment of his or her conception, is known, loved, and named. It’s not the rational arguments that make me feel sick watching the videos of abortion doctors munching salad and sipping wine while talking about crushing skulls, or that make me weep at the sight of that 'tissue.' It’s that I see those little ones just as Jimmy Kimmel sees Cecil, or just as I see Cecil for that matter. I see them as known and loved.
Hemingway concludes that it is impossible for us to have the same feeling for every person or creature on the planet, but we image God when we seek to share in his love for the person, born and unborn, known and hidden, made in his image. Writes Hemingway:
Even before each and every one of us emerges from the womb and gains official “baby” status, we are already known, named, and loved; as in Isaiah 43:1, God says to us, 'I have called you by name, and you are mine.'
Finally, here's a column by Charles Camosy in the Los Angeles Times that suggests our outrage might be better deployed by strengthening bonds with those who defend animal rights. Of Cecil the lion and Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stepping up to defend her organization's reputation, he has this to say:
The confluence of these two stories, instead of creating even more right/left polarization, could actually work in the opposite direction. They are an opportunity for understanding and even common ground. Consider the views of those who care deeply about animal rights. What drives them? Animals are helpless creatures, often subject to terrible violence, and they cannot speak for themselves. Their dignity and value are quite inconvenient for those who want to exploit them, and their needs are pushed to the margins of our culture. Indeed, we are rarely forced to confront the dignity of animals, especially animals we eat. This is what drives the passion of activists in their attempts to speak for voiceless animals. And in their zeal to bring us face to face with animal suffering, tellingly, they regularly use undercover videos. These videos have been quite successful in bringing some terrible realities to light – for example, the conditions of chickens in the worst factory farms.
Meanwhile, the pro-life movement also seeks to speak out on behalf of the voiceless, who are accorded no rights.
Prenatal children are also helpless and often subject to terrible violence. They obviously cannot speak for themselves. Their dignity and value are inconvenient for those who want abortion to be broadly legal and who want to use fetal tissue for research. They too are largely invisible, though this is changing because of ultrasound imagery and smartphone applications that can listen to a baby's heartbeat in the womb. Words like “fetus,” “tissue” and “products of conception” help keep the reality of abortion at bay. But as we have now seen with the Planned Parenthood story, anti-abortion activists have also been successful in using undercover videos in bringing terrible reality to light – what in one setting is called the "products of conception" in another is a "baby bump," and the antiseptic "tissue" means functioning organs.
Read the rest of the brief column to understand its conclusion, and be assured that its author does not suggest a moral equivalence between the destruction of am unborn human being and the illegal killing of a lion.
Yet the timing of these two media events just might point to a new opening in the battle to defend the inviolable right to life of the human person, from conception to natural death. And my friend Gayle Trotter suggests a pithy name for this new campaign: People for the Ethical Treatment of People.