Two videos popped up back to back on my Facebook newsfeed this week.
First, a sweet little home video of three golden haired boys dressed in matching plaid shorts on a beach, each with a big bag in front of them. “What’s in the bag?” asks Daddy behind the camera, and each of the boys opens their bags – releasing three pink balloons into the summer sunshine. “It’s a GIRL!” they all squeal. Mom is 20 weeks pregnant and they had just had their gender-reveal ultrasound. When I saw the video, the post already had 227 “likes” and if memory serves correctly, I was the 88th person to write a comment wishing them love and excited congratulations.
20 weeks along and it’s a baby! a girl!
Just after that little video, another popped up: the latest Planned Parenthood video which includes an interview with a former PP technician. In the video she follows up on what previous PP videos documented: that abortion practitioners are intentional about preserving certain body parts intact, because they are
used sold for medical research. “Intact calaveriums” (by which they mean baby heads) are particularly valuable. In the latest video, the tech describes one procedure in which the doctor held the extracted fetus and showed her “something cool”: the heart was still beating. It was a good specimen: the head was intact and the brain could be extracted. So the doctor made an incision in the baby’s chin and instructed the tech to finish the job: cutting upward through the baby’s chin so they could harvest the baby’s brain.
A good day at the office, apparently: the client gets to choose not to have her baby, and the clinic gets a credit in their “line items”. The doctors talk about how they perform abortions up to 20 weeks (the legal limit) under ultrasound guidance: it helps them to extract the fetus more accurately and preserve the more valuable parts.
20 weeks along and it’s a fetus. a line item.
I couldn’t watch all of the latest video. Ten minutes of the twelve and I was keening: a very visceral howl of grief. I cannot get my head around it. But when the initial waves of anger and revulsion pass, the question remains: what should I do? What can we do in response?
For sure: we can pray. (I am.) Oh Lord, have mercy.
For sure: we can protest against Planned Parenthood – sharing the videos and lobbying with #defundPP tags. Thousands protested against PP this past Saturday, and I was glad to see it.
But here’s another thought. We can think about how to engage those around us in discussing the video.
Direct anger, rage and grief is probably not going to help us: few people are able or willing to engage in the face of a flood of negative emotion. Added to which, there are more than likely people immediately around us who have had abortions and for whom this conversation may trigger significant regret, grief or shame. They need our compassion, not our wrath.
So, what could we say? How could we engage meaningfully and helpfully? It seems to me that one of the results from this video is that there are people who have been pro-choice who are genuinely rethinking their position on abortion. Cognitive Dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or value. The videos seem to be increasing many people’s distress: pointing out that, for example, they might hold contradictory beliefs on what is going on in a pregnant woman’s belly at twenty weeks. Baby? Or intact fetal tissue?
So I’m wondering: where are the opportunities for us to point out that the 20-week-and-younger lives are worth honoring?
How can we show support for those who miscarry early? One of the most meaningful things to me when we lost out first baby were friends who brought us a funeral wreath. At first the flowers seemed over the top for such an early loss, but their acknowledgment that this was a funeral—a burying of a child—was significant to me. What if we showed big support, acknowledging not just that they have experienced loss, but what (or more accurately, who) they have lost.
How can we talk with people about prenatal testing? There are opportunities and questions there.
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of themed parties, but perhaps we should make a big deal of those gender reveal parties. What if we practiced looking at ultrasounds, and trained our habits to notice and celebrate the details: the eyelids, the fingers, the shape of the ears. At our 20 week ultrasound with our last baby, not only could we see our baby’s heart – the image was so clear we could see the four chambers of our baby’s heart, with blood pulsing between them.
Maybe the fact that 20 week ultrasounds are the norm–and are celebrated—provide us with a specific benchmark to talk about the humanity of life at that stage. Maybe we could be as blunt as sharing the videos on social media and saying “this baby was the same age as my Mary-Louise when we first saw her fingers and toes!”
Those 20 week old babies may not be “viable” yet (the world’s most preemie baby was born at 21 weeks), but maybe we need to think and look for opportunities to celebrate them as we have opportunity. Because, were it not for a different choice on the part of the parent, that 20 week old could, quite legally, be facing such a different outcome.
Let’s talk about it. Let’s engage. Let’s show compassion and wisdom in how we approach this. The videos are horrific**, but I believe they provide us with a opportunity to advocate and build compassion. To do nothing, and to say nothing, is not a viable option.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about how we can respond well in the comments below.
**[An aside about the videos: Yes, the videos are highly edited and were published with a specific agenda (but then again – so is all media we see and read. Every interview we read was transcribed and edited for length. Every bit of investigative journalism curates the sound bytes: from Fox News to CNN to 60 minutes to Al Jazeera. And, the fact that we know certain publications or channels have a “character” to them—specific things they cover and specific angles they take—tells us they have an agenda too in their news selection). But the question is: what will we do with the information that is clearly there?]