Of Value Only if Desired

It’s becoming more and more apparent that conflicted cultural attitudes toward abortion arise from inconsistent—even contradictory—beliefs about the moral value and status of the pre-born human being. Consider two recent news items.

The whole world knows by now that wildly popular performer Beyoncé is pregnant with twins. Her performance at the Grammy Awards was dedicated to “birth and motherhood.” She’s even composed a poem celebrating the developing lives in her womb: “I’m watching life inside me grow; there’s life growing inside of me and I’m beside myself with dreams. Was it your voice I heard? You speak to me from inside me. I have three hearts.” Yet, just a few days earlier she proudly participated in the decidedly pro-choice women’s march in D.C. What is the entertainment industry to do? Beyoncé refers to the lives inside her as “children” or “twins,” not as products of conception, rapidly dividing cell masses, or even fetuses. On the one hand, the expectant mother of twins stands arm in arm with women seeking unlimited abortion rights. On the other hand, she is aglow over the “children” growing inside her own womb.

Less than a week ago, Eirianna Martins went home for the first time after four months of intensive care at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. Her mother, Entitan, was only 23 weeks pregnant when she delivered Eirianna, a “micro-preemie” who weighed in at 13 ounces. Medical advances are allowing more and more tiny infants as premature as Eirianna to survive. Beckie Deir, a NICU nurse that helped care for Eirianna, remarked: “Oh, it’s great. I mean, she looks so good. She looks like she never was a little tiny preemie.” On the one hand, nearly incalculable amounts of medical expertise, technology and resources were expended to save the life of one very tiny infant born more than four months premature. On the other hand, pro-choice advocates clamor for unrestricted late-term abortion. In their view, there is nothing necessarily wrong about aborting a 23-week-old pre-born child.

It appears to be a convoluted situation. Beyoncé lends support to an avid pro-choice march one week, yet celebrates the lives within her own womb the next week. A medical team in one hospital fights successfully to save the life of one tiny micro-preemie at great cost, and another medical team performs an abortion of a pre-born the same gestational age, with the same chance of survival, at another facility.

At first, such seemingly contradictory responses make little sense. But, upon further reflection, they make perfect sense. It all depends on whether the pre-born is wanted in a given case. Beyoncé gushes over, and invites her millions of fans to rejoice over her “twins,” her “children.” They are “children” because they are wanted. Entitan was exuberant the day she took her precious Eirianna home: “It feels like a miracle, like a blessing. I’m just grateful that we’re both here. It’s been a long haul.” A long haul indeed, made possible by medical experts, advanced technology, and a mother and medical team who would not give up hope, but fought courageously to preserve the life of one tiny infant. Why? Because she was wanted.

For many in America today, the pre-born human being does not have inherent moral value and status. Consequently, the autonomy of the woman always trumps the right of the pre-born human being to live. In their view, the value of the pre-born human being hinges entirely on whether he/she is wanted. Not wanted? Abort at will. Wanted? Wildly celebrate the “child” that is in the womb, and expend all possible medical resources to save the life of a 13-ounce micro-preemie. I guess this attitude is not surprising in a cultural context in which personal autonomy runs amok.

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