In a recent column, pro-life writer David French recounts a moving story. Early in his marriage, he writes, he and his wife, Nancy, found out to their great joy that she was pregnant. Shortly thereafter, however, Nancy began to bleed. French remembers the heart-rending words of their family physician: “You might need to call off the celebrations.”
After days on bed rest, however, Nancy stopped bleeding, and the couple went back to the doctor, to check if they had lost the baby. The news was better than they had dared to hope. “When I close my eyes,” writes French, “I can still hear that wondrous noise—the unmistakable high-pitched sound of our daughter Camille’s heart beating fast and strong. Words can’t describe our relief and delight.”
French’s position on Texas’ new Heartbeat Law is complicated. As it turns out, he has serious reservations about the law, not because it is pro-life, but for other tactical and legal reasons. My purpose in mentioning him is not to endorse or even debate the details of his position. I mention his story simply because it is an almost perfect illustration of a great truth that is being actively obscured in the heated debate about the new Texas law.
Every year, millions of expecting couples go into their OB/GYN’s office. While there, the nurse or doctor places a device on the abdomen of the woman, which then broadcasts into the room (if all is well) the rapid, pulsing sound of the heart of her unborn child. For many people, that sound is the first, most-palpable proof that their child exists and is alive. For many, as for Nancy and David French, it is a profoundly emotional experience. Others, however, are devastated when instead of the thump-thump-thump, they hear nothing but silence.
Texas’ Heartbeat Law, the first heartbeat law to actually go into effect anywhere in the United States, speaks directly to this profound and moving reality: the reality that a baby’s heartbeat begins far, far earlier in pregnancy than most people realize, giving testimony to the existence of another, unique, fully alive human being. Even though we know that the life of that child actually began weeks earlier, at the moment of conception, the heartbeat is a concrete proof for us of the child’s existence – a proof that we can actually hear with our own ears.
French puts it movingly, when he writes: “[W]hile Nancy and I were overjoyed to hear Camille’s heart, our joy and our desperate desire for Camille’s health and well-being did not make her alive or grant her life meaning. Her little heartbeat signified the existence of a human being in a temporarily dependent state who possessed immense independent worth. From a legal perspective, a just nation recognizes that worth and protects that life.”
Texas’ new law has effectively outlawed almost all abortions in the state. The fact that, as I wrote last week, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to grant an emergency injunction suspending enforcement of the law, means that it is saving the lives of unborn children, right now. Today.
Naturally, this unprecedented situation has attracted the rage of every pro-abortion organization, media outlet, and politician in the country, who are pulling out the stops in their effort to ensure that this situation does not last: that unborn children in Texas are protected for the shortest period possible.
As is typical of the abortion movement, they are using all manner of obfuscations and lies to distract attention from the fundamental question posed by this law: i.e. is the unborn child alive? And, if so, should he or she be protected in law, like every other living human person?
As LiveAction documents here, many pro-abortion media and activists are peddling absurd lies claiming that the unborn child doesn’t really have a “heartbeat.” One abortionist, Dr. Nisha Verma, typified this tactic, claiming that what pro-lifers are calling a heartbeat is merely “electrical activity” and that the sound of the heartbeat is “actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.”
In reality, as the LiveAction writer notes, the heart of the unborn child is the first organ to develop, for the simple reason that the development of the rest of the child’s body depends upon the circulation of blood. Certainly, like every other organ, the heart will continue to develop throughout pregnancy. However, the fact that an organ is less-than-perfectly developed is no proof that it isn’t there. Our brains, after all, don’t stop developing until our late teens, or early twenties; and even then, they continue to form new connections as long as we live. Does this mean that we are not “fully human” until we are twenty years old? Obviously not.
All of this quibbling by pro-abortion activists about what really constitutes a “heart” or a “heartbeat” is simply an effort to obscure an inconvenient truth: that, even if, at the earliest stage, the unborn child’s heart does not yet have all the characteristics of a fully developed heart, it is unambiguously the heart of a separate human, which is doing what every heart is designed to do – keep the child alive by pumping blood.
The problem for abortion supporters, is that all of this talk about hearts and heartbeats clearly contradicts all of the propaganda about a “blob of tissue” or even a “parasite,” which pro-abortion activists have used to dehumanize the unborn child for so long, thereby blunting the consciences of abortionists, society, and the parents who have aborted their children.
In this sense, the Texas Heartbeat Law is a remarkably potent counterpunch to the pro-abortion propaganda. Thanks to this law, everyone is talking about the “heartbeat” of the unborn child. Already, six other states are looking into passing laws similar to the Texas one. The unborn child is no longer the silent, invisible, forgotten person in the abortion debate. The unborn child’s heartbeat is reverberating throughout our nation, speaking more eloquently on his behalf than any political speech could do.
Moving Towards a Culture of Life
One of the more bizarre responses from pro-abortion activists in Texas has been to urge women to go on a “sex strike” as a kind of protest until abortion is legalized again. Actress and singer Bette Midler, for instance, recently tweeted, “I suggest that all women refuse to have sex with men until they are guaranteed the right to choose by Congress.”
Democrat Pam Keith tweeted out: “It would be AWESOME if all over TX, there was a mass exodus of women from all dating apps. By the million, TX women should delete Bumble, hinge, tinder, match and all the others. TX men need to see the women’s profiles go dark.”
To which every true pro-lifer has responded: Great. Do it. This is what we’ve been saying for decades now. This is how we create a Culture of Life. Get off the dating apps. Absolutely refuse to have sex with any man who is unwilling to step up to the plate and accept the natural consequences of his behavior. This is how we ensure that every child who is conceived is a wanted child, a child who has the highest possible chance of being loved by a mother and a father.
The sexual revolution promised unfettered sexual pleasure, proclaiming that a great moment of emancipation had come: the moment when people could enjoy sex without any guilt, without any consequences. Perhaps in the ’60s, when the pill was just becoming widely available, that promise sounded – to some people, at least – plausible. Now that we had “reliable, cheap” contraception, for the first time in history, it seemed that sex and babies could be two separate things.
To anyone who knew the first thing about biology and human nature, however, it was always obvious that these utopian-sounding promises were bound to shipwreck on the shoals of reality. As it turned out, “cheap, reliable” contraception has never been as reliable as its advocates have promised. But by rewriting our cultural sexual mores, what contraception did do is ensure that many more people engaged in casual sex than before, without the least thought of the possibility of conceiving a child. Combine an explosion in casual sexual behavior with the contraceptive failure rate, and the result was an explosion in unwanted pregnancies. Which, inevitably, led to an explosion in abortions.
By calling for a “sex strike” pro-abortion activists are tacitly admitting that, despite all their fantasies about “safe sex”, sex is never truly “safe” – in the sense of being consequence-free. Even with the most reliable contraception, there is always the chance that it leads to the creation of human life. After all, that’s what it is designed to do. Sane civilizations have always recognized this reality, and for this reason have done everything in their power to encourage the relegation of sex to marriage, maximizing the chances that any child that came into being would be brought into a loving, stable home.
As David French writes: “[T]he only way to truly and comprehensively protect life [is] to build and foster a culture in which mothers and fathers greet new life with joy, not fear. With delight, not despair…Not only is there no other way, it is the best way—the way that most ensures that children grow up in homes full of love.”
Certainly, there are various ways to go about creating such a culture. One way, of course, is to ensure that women who become pregnant – single or otherwise – are protected and cared for, so that they can feel confident and unafraid bringing a child into the world. As I mentioned last week, Texas has taken meaningful steps to provide practical resources to women, to ease the way into parenthood. Rather than throwing money at Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers, the state is giving significant resources to pregnancy help centers and the like.
But while judicious government programs and non-profits aimed specifically at providing concrete help for pregnant couples are an absolute must, the most reliable safety net still remains the intact family. Whether they realize it or not, this is what pro-abortion activists calling for a “sex strike” are admitting. And they’re right. As the Church has always put it, the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality should not, and cannot, be separated. The Church, in fact, has always recognized that in some sense the procreative end of the conjugal act precedes the unitive, since the intrinsic biological teleology of sex is towards the creation of new life. The beautiful unifying powers of sexual union are built upon this biological foundation.
Fortunately, this Texas law has sparked a national discussion about all of these issues. The law has drawn the nation’s attention to the undeniable humanity of the unborn child. It has also drawn our attention to the fact that, if we are to protect the child (as we must, if we are to be a truly humane nation), then we must also order our society in a different way. We cannot only begin to think about the child when he or she is already conceived; long before that, we must be working towards creating the conditions to ensure that every conceived child will be welcomed and loved. And that means recovering the old, sane view of sexuality, accepting reality as it is, instead of peddling the fantasies of the sexual revolution, which have turned out to be little more than nightmares.