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….

9 responses »

  1. I will go one step farther. There are indeed two lives to consider. But if people can’t swallow the idea of a fetus being life, then how about the promise of life? If a person has a bag over their head, gasping for air, and I simply watch them suffocate without helping them free, I am liable for thier death. Any court would convict in such a situation. It is no different for someone who begins a process to prevent a life from coming to be. Sure, maybe you could argue that the fetus is just a glob of tissue, but you know that it will become a full-fledged creation. By knowingly allowing a doctor to place a bag on that person’s head, you are willingly preventing their inevitable life. And this makes you responsible for their death, or non-life as it may be in your head. SHAME to all who have no remorse. Great thoughts, Katrina.

  2. I don’t think it takes physical or mental limitations to be dependent on someone else for life. How many of us, if dropped on a deserted island – without a load of UPS deliveries – could survive for long. We depend on each other everyday – for food, heat, light, everything. So, logically, then, we are all expendable, huh? By the way, kudos for stating your opinion – even if it wan’t well received.

  3. I’d like to comment on the other side of this issue, and maybe open some eyes. It is your belief (and mine as well, although I doubt that you will believe me) that life begins at conception, and therefore abortion is murder. I happen to agree with you, and I don’t agree with abortions except in limited cases. On the other hand, other people believe that life starts at birth (including a couple large world-wide religions). In matters of determining when exactly “life” and “soul” occur, a person’s indivual beliefs, mainly decided by their religion, are the only basis for a decision. What gives you the right to dictate to those people that your beliefs are correct and theirs are wrong? I believe that women should have the ability to chose whether or not to have an abortion, based soley on her beliefs, and not have access to an abortion restricted by those who have different beliefs. That all being said, if a woman I knew was considering an abortion, I would most definitely talk with her, and try to open her mind to other choices, such as open-relationship adoptions. If she still chose to have the abortion, I would continue to support her with my whole strength and NOT bring up issues such as murder.

  4. Watercat–thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue. I certainly believe that an open exchange of words and ideas is important in any society that addresses controversial issues.

    I understand your point that not everyone agrees on when life starts, but mere disagreement and a plurality of beliefs doesn’t change an absolute truth. In the not-too-distant past, the world was divided among those who fervently believed it was flat and those who believed it was round, each with equal passion. Those beliefs had no bearing whatsoever on the actual shape of the world.

    To extend the logic of your position to another example, some people truly believe that there’s nothing wrong with sex between adults and children, but we don’t allow pedophiles to act on their impulses simply because we have no “right to dictate to those people” that our beliefs are correct and theirs are wrong. There IS a right and a wrong. Not everything is subjective.

    Truth doesn’t change; only our understanding of it does. I firmly hope that our understanding of the origins and sanctity of life will become ever clearer as science and open dialogue progress.

    I will continue to oppose abortion with complete conviction, but I will also continue to see each woman as an individual in need of love and support, whatever decisions she makes. I just believe that the unborn are people, too, and worthy of the same love, support, and protection.

  5. I just got here by chance, and wow I agree so much with you:
    1) for me, the right to live is a natural right, it’s not subjective, EVERYPERSON HAS THE RIGHT TO LIVE, I think it goes like that. I think this: who am I to determine’s one fate? I mean, who made some of us “Gods” that can decide what’s best or worse for ANOTHER person (or proyect of a person, if someone believes a baby is a human being only when they are out of the uterus)…I think it’s a little pretensious to be more “popist than the pope”, as the saying goes.
    2) I read a story from a priest one, that was the following: a really poor woman came to talk to the priest, really worried: she was pregnant, AGAIN (she had something like 6 kids, but reaallly poor), so she was thinking of having an abortion, because she didn’t have the money to feed or take care of so much kids. The priest said “but why don’t you kill your oldest son instead, he makes you spend a lot more money than the future baby: he wears bigger clothes, eats A LOT more, etc. The woman, shocked, said to the priest “but what are you saying!!!! it’s my son, I wouldn’t even think of killing him” the priest said: it’s the same with the baby…so then the woman got it…
    3) another story that I don’t remember all that well (maybe it’s the same one)…the baby almost-aborted turned out to be Beethoven.
    4) Related with the stories, we don’t know what will come out of that fetus…could be the one who discovers a cure for cancer, or could be the one who stops war forever…who knows!! As bad as the perspectives are, no one knows the future (and well, I believe God does EVERYTHING for a reason, but ok, not everybody thinks that way), so I insist, no one should take a decision for the other. OK, it’s the mother’s body…but it’s a life for Christ Sake!!
    Sorry, I got a little carried away, but it’s an important issue for me. (and I didn’t get to the adoption part!! that’s a really good choice, so much people would do ANYTHING to have a child, give them the chance!!)
    best wishes from Chile!!

  6. Josefina–Thank you for your post! I thought the illustration with the priest and the pregnant woman definitely put a new spin on the arguments that are often put forth to support abortion. After all, there are other, older children who are also unwanted or inconvenient or mistreated or handicapped–how do those things cancel out the right of a child to live?

    In my opinion, the only point that bears debating is whether or not a fetus is equivalent to a human life. Obviously, I believe without a doubt that it is.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  7. Decided to go back and read a bit. This is an absolutely wondeful post. It was posted just a month before I gave birth to our third beautiful little blessing. It’s amazing that someone could think that the child that I was carrying then and now snuggle in my arms had no right to live unless I chose it for him. He had the right regardless of my desires and rights (though, for the record, he was very much wanted). Great post.

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