Daily Archives: September 17, 2005

Yes, I’m a Leper



Well, so much for keeping it light and non-controversial.

It all started at the gym. There I was, on the arc trainer, gasping for breath and sweating out of all of my pores while a cadre of wall-mounted television screens simultaneously taught me how to redecorate my bedroom for pennies, reminded me that the faux alligator skin clutch was a limited time offer, and served up Judge Roberts to the judiciary committee to be drawn and quartered (or at least that’s what one might assume happens at a confirmation hearing, judging from the expressions on the committee’s faces.)

Next to me, a friendly brunette in a pair of black jogging pants and a Clemson t-shirt beat her own heart-pumping cadence on the other arc trainer. We engaged in idle chitchat between ragged gasps, discovering that we were both teachers, commiserating over our shared pain in exercise, and swapping dessert recipes guaranteed to nullify, in two bites, all of our excruciating hours on the cardio equipment.

I’d been paying scant attention to the judiciary proceedings, being more occupied with my own selfish concerns, like getting oxygen to my brain, but at a lull in the conversation, I started reading the closed captions and realized that the inevitable Roe v. Wade discussion had started. I commented as much to my new buddy.

“I know!” came the indignant reply, “Can you believe we’re still arguing about this?” I pointed out that until the vast majority agreed on the issue one way or the other, it would always be a source of conflict. “But I can’t believe any senator would vote for a judge who would tell a woman what to do with her body!” She went on for a while in this vein, in the conspiratorial tones of someone who does not, for a moment, consider that her views would not be shared by anyone of even moderate intelligence. Not wanting to deceive her, I mildly remarked, “Well, I believe that the unborn are human beings, too, so to my way of thinking, a pregnant woman has two lives to consider, not just one.”

I thought I used a conversational tone, a non-threatening tone, a tone intended to assure all hearers that I was not in any way aligned with the crazies who shoot doctors and blow up clinics. (By the way, how insane is that? “Let’s kill all the abortionists! That’ll teach ‘em about the sanctity of life!”) But in the world of Clemson-girl, claiming to be pro-life must be roughly on par with announcing that you’re a leper. Her arc trainer ground to a halt, she made a guttural grunt of surprise, and without another word she retreated as if I’d confessed to having a contagious skin fungus. I saw her a few moments later, madly gesticulating to two spandex-clad compatriots. I caught a couple of words and a glance or two at me, enough to guess at the conversation. “Look at her,“ she seemed to say. “She looks so normal, doesn’t she? Who would guess she has a contagious skin fungus?”

I had ample time to think it over on the way home, and I still don’t get it. What’s so untenable about the belief that human life begins in the womb? How can we not see the inconsistency of a policy that allows one baby to be killed at six months gestation for the simple crime of being unwanted, when another, born prematurely at the very same age, is nurtured and embraced, given every chance to live that medical science can devise? Is one life worth more than another? Is the measure of worthiness now whether or not one is wanted? (If so, then how long is it before law is changed to purge our society of other “unwanted” individuals—like the mentally handicapped or the physically deformed? It would be for their own good, of course, to spare them the pain of going through life less-than-perfect. After all, we would tell ourselves, we wouldn’t want to live like that.) Is this the mark of a “civilized” society? Am I really the barbarian here?

Life only begins at birth, proponents of abortion say. Does that seem arbitrary to anyone else? I wasn’t a great biology student, by any means, but I’m pretty sure there’s no magic line in the birth canal that, when crossed, suddenly flips the baby’s switch to “on” or imbues him with a soul. Perhaps, then, the measure of less-than-humanness is based on dependence. After all, a fetus is reliant on another for all of its warmth and nourishment. But then again, so is a newborn. So is a whole cross-section of humanity with physical or mental limitations that make them unable to care for themselves. And yet, ask anyone who knows one of these people and they’ll tell you that the measure of their life’s value isn’t in their ability to get up and pour themselves a bowl of corn flakes.

It makes far more sense to me to believe that life begins at the beginning–when all of those marvelous, inexplicable genes, half from each parent, come together in a complete set to form a tiny, monumental miracle: a whole and unique person. From that moment, this tiny person’s experiences will begin to affect him, to change him. From that moment, he has a developing physical body, a soul, a future. From that moment, he has a life. I can only hope that it’s a long one.

Signing off from the leper colony….