Learning from Bodies

By Nora Calhoun at First Things:

The baby in my arms lacks the majority of his brain. He was born just fifteen minutes before this moment, and he is likely to die before another fifteen minutes pass. He has taken no first breath and will give no first cry. He cannot see. He cannot hear. He does not feel the warm weight of my hand as it rests on his chest and belly. I quietly weep and pray as the last gift of oxygen his mother’s body gave him dwindles and his rosy newborn glow fades to gray. His soul gently slips out of his body, and his life ends.

Ability is not what makes death significant. At birth this baby had capacities below that of a healthy fetus at ten weeks. Holding his body, living and then dead, proves to me that it doesn’t matter how early the human heart beats, how early it is possible to feel pain, or when the senses develop. No ability or strength confers human status—not being viable or sentient or undamaged or wanted. Being of human descent is enough; you cannot earn or forfeit your humanity. If this baby’s death does not matter, no death matters.

I have not always seen this so clearly. A gut repugnance and horror of abortion, which I felt from the time I first heard of it as a nine-year-old, kept me from ever being fully pro-choice. But even after my conversion to Christianity at eighteen, I didn’t want to express full opposition to the opinions of almost everyone I knew, my family, teachers, and friends. I wanted to avoid the taboo of “judgmentalism,” widely imputed to those who oppose abortion, and to maintain credibility among the feminist friends I cherished.

I might eventually have reasoned my way into truths about life, death, and human dignity—perhaps, given the right information and friends and graces, but probably not. A jumble of allegiances, caricatures, arguments, and fears dictated my opinions. But bodies speak a different language; they teach in different terms. The images and touch memories of the small body of that severely damaged baby boy whom I held as he died only minutes after being born could not be explained away, caricatured, ignored, or debated.

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1 Response to Learning from Bodies

  1. toadspittle says:

    “(Women) don’t need doctors to violate their wombs in order to “save” them from the “burden” within.”
    If doctors performed abortions without the woman’s consent, than that would indeed be a very great violation. Otherwise, this is more than a little over-dramatic, I suggest.

    It’s wrong to think, “Because I cannot access something, it does not exist.” “
    Yes, and that’s why nobody ever actually does think that way.
    We all know we can’t ‘access’ any other creature, let alone another human being.
    Of course, it may depend on what the writer means by “access.”


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