Friday, June 5, 2020 -
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Is the baby crying inside?

Probably the most pure image in the world is that jelly bean or kidney bean shaped image of a baby in utero, cozily nestled in its mother’s womb.

When I heard the outcry in response to the new abortion law passed in New York this week, in my mind’s eye that sacrosanct image was now punctured with blood.

With the passage of this new law, it is now legal for a woman to abort her baby all the way through the final trimester. I read an article or two, and I was incensed. Additionally, it seemed, performing an abortion is no longer limited to doctors. From here on in, in New York State any healthcare practitioner can now perform an abortion. Disturbing to say the least!

To add salt to the abortion wound, one of the women involved in the legislation was quoted as saying something to the effect that finally passing this law is a dream come true. I was beyond appalled.

Third trimester. A full term baby can just be disposed of as if it were were an inanimate object, just like that. How is that any different from murder, I mused to myself. What’s the difference between nine months in utero and nine months outside of the womb? Nine months is nine months.

And the dissonance.

Pre-term babies are being born earlier and earlier, and saved by prenatal care. These babies go on to survive and thrive.

If, when wanting to save an early-delivery a fetus is defined as a life worth fighting for, and in fact is a life saved, what changes biologically that does not deem a fetus human enough for aborting not to be deemed murder?

These are two sides of the same coin.

When does life start? If a baby in utero is full term, fully developed, with a face, hair, its own full features, and hands and toes and a heart, and can be alive in the world on its own in a second, how is killing it at that point not murder?

How is this new law not an accessory that condemns us all to supporting a society of infanticide. Just because something is legal does not make it right. And when we think of the kind of society we want to have, we think of building it upon principles that ought to stand for what is right — or at the very least for being a voice for a voiceless: a full term human baby.

As all these thoughts swirl in my mind, I think to myself, I just don’t understand how a law like this can pass unrestricted, without caveats, without qualifiers, such as a late term abortion is legal only if a mother’s life is in danger or if the baby is not healthy or viable.

Obviously, choosing to abort a baby at any point is probably one of the most ethically and emotionally complex conversations to be had. But that is a separate discussion.

Of course, Jewish tradition and theology approaches abortion differently from the Christian faith. But emotionally it is such a fraught topic no matter what we believe intellectually.

As I am processing the news of this law, one thing I keep wondering about, regardless of whether one’s political views fall on the political right or left, or whether they are religious or secular, one thing we all realize: By nine months, a baby is a baby. It is as developed as it will ever be in utero.

It can feel pain.

That we can all agree upon.

None of us would ever dare think of pricking a day old baby with a pin. Yet I start thinking horrible thoughts and picturing horrible scenarios. My imagination runs with me. How does the baby first feel whatever method it is that will be aborting it? How much pain for the baby is involved? I wonder . . . the first sounds and sights we associate with a live baby is that of a baby crying. So, when it’s being aborted, is the baby crying inside? I wonder . . . realistically, I assume a drug is injected that prevents these kinds of experiences for the baby inside, but who knows . . . I keep thinking these agonizing questions as I see the strong reactions of joy and rage unfold in response to this new law.

What’s wrong with the original Roe v Wade, that limits abortion to the first 24 weeks? I wonder. Coping with a difficult situation where carrying a baby to term is not possible, that is what abortion should be for.

Instead, in our culture, it seems to have just become another form of birth control; the phenomena of one person having multiple abortions exists.

But as I keep thinking about it, I wonder, what if someone is struggling with a fetus who is ill, has decided to keep it, but then later in the pregnancy has change of mind and feels the baby is something they can’t handle? What if a danger to a mother only presents itself later in a pregnancy — wouldn’t that constitute a proper medical emergency, and under a doctor’s care the decision to save the mother’s life would take precedence, whatever procedures that entails?

I decide to take a look at the actual wording of the law.

“The law for the first time allows abortions after the 24 weeks mark to protect the mother’s health or in case where the fetus won’t survive.”

So the later term abortions are regulated and are limited in scope for those two extenuating circumstances. Somehow all the articles I read neglected to mention that. As a woman who does believe in a woman’s right to make decisions about her reproductive health, I was glad to read that.

While such a law and such a view actually fits, in part, with Jewish law: In rare instances, when an agonizing situation presents itself that threatens the life of the mother, be it physically or psychologically, the life of the mother trumps that of the baby, and it is permitted to terminate a pregnancy.

To think of such intimately harrowing situations that couples endure together, or a woman might face alone, are so profoundly painful.

I came across a powerful graphic.

It’s a black and gray sketch of a woman’s body. Her heart stands out because you immediately notice its red color among the grays and blacks, and it’s a bit larger in proportion to her body.

Then the Banksy vibe hits me. Wait a second. A little jelly bean shaped baby is nestled inside her womb, but instead of having that passive relaxed closed eyes look, it looks panicked. It’s umbilical cord becomes like the string of a balloon that attaches to the red heart above — hence the Banksy vibe.

Suddenly I see sharp shears underneath the baby, threatening to cut it’s life force to death.

This Banksy baby is such a powerful image of a plea for help in utero. Sure, it’s biased. Drawn in an exaggerated way to make a point. Humanizing the baby with a facial expression of terror — oh wait, it is actually human. But it makes the point that should make us all stop and think.

When I saw this image, where the umbilical cord was transformed into a string and the heart into a balloon, the verse that popped into my head was a phrase from Adon Olam, “Tzur chevli be’et tzara, [G-d] is my cord in my moments of distress.” Only in this visceral image G-d is the mother, the baby pulling on the string to be rescued by her loving and compassionate maternal heart.

This law marks a supremely painful stepping stone in the life of anyone who endures this. Or at least, it should be.

Instead there is this detached discourse, emotionally and ethically glib, about late term abortion. You would never know the emotional and ethical struggles this law unleashes. It’s passage is simply described as “a dream come true.”

It’s more like a painful nightmare come true.

It’s one thing when something difficult is necessary, gut wrenchingly necessary, but mischaracterized and distorted to mitigate the emotional and ethical impact of it.

While sometimes, painfully, for various personal reasons, abortion might be necessary, in which case there are times when it is the right decision to make, the culture of abortion in the United States is wrong. The staggering number of abortions on record is horrendous and nothing to be proud of. The lightness with which abortion is discussed and oftentimes executed is terrible and speaks volumes about our culture.

Now that the procedure is not limited to doctors only, I feel like the system is set up to be abused. While the law qualifies and limits when a late term abortion can be performed legally, I worry that with the cavalier attitude toward abortion, this aspect of the law will also be abused; will cause reckless decisions in later term pregnancies that don’t meet the law’s definition. Now it will be possible to find a way to abort a late term pregnancy, i.e., a fully developed baby!

A mother’s womb, growing new human life, truly is the holiest of sanctuaries.

In today’s progressive culture where talk of a “safe space” is an obsession, to the point of limiting people’s right and ability to express their opinions lest someone be offended, there is dissonance now.

Because if there’s one space in the world that should absolutely be deemed the safest of spaces, it ought to be for a voiceless baby in its mother’s womb.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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