persons, places and things: We all started out as embryos

Barb Arland-Fye

By Barb Arland-Fye

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist whose opinions I respect, even if I don’t agree with some of them. But her latest column, which appeared in the Sunday newspaper, disappointed me deeply.

She took a rhetorical approach, wondering whether the man accused of killing Dr. George Tiller — the Kansas physician who performed late-term abortions — truly acted alone.

The implication, it seemed to me, is that the pro-life movement was to blame. Goodman wrote cynically of the pro-life community’s shock at the senseless killing. Shouldn’t they have been shocked by the “everyday mainstream rhetoric that casually refers to abortion as murder?” she asked.

There’s nothing casual about the language. Why won’t pro-choice supporters admit that abortion is the taking of a life? That each of us human beings started out as embryos?


Goodman shared a list of hateful statements that some so-called pro-life advocates have made about Dr. Tiller and other pro-choice advocates.

But I wonder if Goodman has ever observed priests and lay people, home-schooling moms and their children praying the rosary outside an abortion clinic. There’s nothing hateful in their behavior.

The columnist paints all pro-life advocates with a broad brush — the fringe element that practices hypocrisy and the mainstream that supports life from womb to tomb.

Her portrait of Dr. Tiller, on the other hand, is glowing.

Dr. Tiller, she said, was a “doctor of last resort for many women, especially those women for whom the sonogram did not bring joy but tragic tidings.”

What sort of tragic tidings? That they might give birth to a baby with Down syndrome?

An estimated 90 percent of all prenatal detections of Down syndrome are said to end in abortion, Paul Sanchez reported in a May 20 Catholic News Service story about volunteers promoting international adoptions of children with Down syndrome.

We receive other diocesan newspapers in our office, many of which have — at one time or another — published heroic stories of families who have chosen to take troubled pregnancies to term — even when they knew the baby would die at birth or shortly afterward. Now that’s a pro-choice decision, and a selfless one at that.

And yet, I can concede a point to Goodman concerning a perceived holier-than-thou attitude.

After I arrived at The Catholic Messenger seven years ago, I opened a letter that contained small pictures of aborted fetuses. The sender, anonymous, clearly wanted to get my attention. But that’s the kind of approach that turns off many people, me included.

And not all of the unborn who were aborted would have grown up to be doctors, lawyers, scientists or saints. Some would have grown up to be mentally ill, criminals or otherwise dependent on the state. That doesn’t make them any less worthy of the right to life.

What is needed now is a way to turn off the vitriol between the pro-life and pro-choice movement.

We need to talk with one another, listen to one another and pray together for a better world in which all life is welcome.

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