Let’s Talk About 20 Weeks

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Let's Talk About 20 Weeks

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?]

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12 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About 20 Weeks”

  1. Look back in history, it has always been easy to slaughter an innocent child, born or unborn. They are defenseless. It takes courage to spare the child and rear it into a person of worth. It doesn’t take much courage to dispose of a lump of tissue, as they see it. The slow way back is for Americans to once again have a strong family structure and moral values. Education is so important. Most of all, the moral values found in the pages of Holy Scriptures are the only thing I know for certain can change a person.

    1. Thank you for sharing the piece. I think you are so right: it is a SLOW way back to reclaiming a view of the unborn as valuable lives… I wonder if the way we have spoken about the unborn will, in years to come, not be eerily familiar to the way people spoke about slavery not so long ago: “unfortunate choices we have to make”, “valuable”, “economically viable” etc…

  2. A couple of thoughts regarding this topic:

    I once heard a fellow student say that being “prochoice” is not the same thing as “pro-abortion.” She explained to us (I was in class) that some people aren’t “comfortable” with abortion but still feel that women should have a choice regarding their reproduction. For them, it’s an issue of choice versus no choice. They don’t necessarily view abortion as morally good, but as an unfortunate but necessary choice to be made in private by the individual woman.

    Later, I thought that I should have added to this by pointing out that being pro-life and being anti-abortion are different as well. Many (most) pro-lifers would not resort to some of the extreme tactics of certain groups–bombing abortion clinics, killing abortion doctors, etc.–because those run counter to the idea that life–EVERY life–is valuable.

    Where one side views the issue in terms of choice/non-choice, the other side views the issue in terms of life/death. Where one fell on this continuum of possible positions was mostly determined by what ideology mattered most to them and choosing one (Life/death or choice/no-choice) necessarily meant rejecting the other. Her remark helped me understand those I disagreed with a bit better, and helped me stop thinking that ALL people who were pro-choice actually liked abortion. Those on the choice side who are pro-choice (but not pro-abortion) may see these videos and be most likely to change their position. It’s easier to engage with people on a topic when I try to understand why they hold that position, no matter how misguided (or even abhorrent) I find that position.

    Second thought, regarding supporting those who miscarry: When I miscarried our second child, my parents and grandparents made a donation to the local Choose Life clinic and noted that it was for our lost baby. We received a lovely handwritten note from the clinic as a memento in honor of our child. That meant a lot to me. I wouldn’t have wanted a big fuss–I didn’t tell very many people about the miscarriage at the time–but I loved the thought that someone else who was in an unplanned pregnancy or who had lost their child through abortion might be helped through that donation.

    Third thought: One thing that has disturbed me in certain pro-life circles is the tendency to see being pro-life only in terms of abortion and not the multitude of other related issues. I’ve read and heard pro-choice people castigate pro-lifers for wanting the child to be born, but not wanting to help financially support the single women who struggle to raise those same children. Or to help that child have access to good schools, good heath care, etc. Or what about the issue of the death penalty? Is it contradictory to be against abortion but for the execution of criminals (especially in light of the racial inequalities existing on death row)? If we’re going to make the case that all life is valuable, then we need to reconsider all the ways our other positions say that only certain lives are valuable. (I hope that makes sense.)

    1. @ Laura Droege

      I once heard a fellow student say that being “prochoice” is not the same thing as “pro-abortion.”

      People love to play this word game. That’s all it is, a word game.

      We don’t have a choice to rob, rape, kidnap, molest a child or murder others. (At least, not without legal consequences.)

      “She explained to us (I was in class) that some people aren’t “comfortable” with abortion but still feel that women should have a choice regarding their reproduction. For them, it’s an issue of choice versus no choice.”

      No one should be comfortable with murder. Substitute the word “abortion” with the word “burglary” or “rape” or “assault”. Still think people should have the “choice” to do those acts without legal consequences?

      “They don’t necessarily view abortion as morally good, but as an unfortunate but necessary choice to be made in private by the individual woman.”

      That’s nonsense. Murdering a baby is never “necessary”. Murdering a baby is not a “private choice”.

      “Where one side views the issue in terms of choice/non-choice, the other side views the issue in terms of life/death.”

      The first side plays word games so that they don’t have to face what’s actually being done. The second side deals in the reality of what’s being done.

      THAT is the difference.

      (That’s as far as I read.)

      1. Mo, did you think that I was pro-choice myself or that I necessarily agreed with the pro-choice student’s rhetoric? Maybe you should read the rest of my comment. I’m pro-life, but I do want to understand the other side’s views to find how best to engage them in discussion (and hopefully change their minds). I also don’t want to demonize those who disagree with me, who may have had an abortion, or who have worked in abortion clinics. It’s unhelpful and counter to how Jesus engaged with others in his culture.

      2. @Mo,

        I think you raise a really good point that people do play terrible word games on ethical issues. Whether we refer to a baby, or a fetus, or a pre-born child, or an embyo, or human tissue… each of those terms takes on a different slant when they are used in the discussion.

        I didn’t understand Laura as saying that the words don’t matter, or that abortion is anything less than the killing of babies. I understood her to be saying that, as is her habit of trying to understand where people are coming from, that realizing that those on the “other side” are not seeing this as a life/death issue, but as an issue of our rights to control our own bodies (as opposed to slaves, who 200 years ago had no control over their own bodies. Or trafficked women, who have no control either.) There are reasons that people are emotional about defending that right, too, and while we may STRONGLY disagree that choice over our own bodies is the most important issue at hand here, just acknowledging that it is an issue at hand, and differently weighted by opposing sides of the debate, helps us to be better listeners, and hopefully – better communicators with those who disagree with us.

    2. Laura, I so value your input. “Her remark helped me understand those I disagreed with a bit better, and helped me stop thinking that ALL people who were pro-choice actually liked abortion.” This is such a helpful distinction. I think you’re right: the cognitive dissonance is most likely being experienced by those who are pro-choice but may not necessarily be pro-abortion. The videos are highlighting some of the horrors of abortion in a way that may tip them to think this is less about the mothers’ choice than they thought.

      On the third thought about being holistically pro-life and committed to caring for single women who are not choosing abortion: YES! I have sometimes wondered whether our church could put up a sign somewhere in our college town (where I KNOW from just a few minutes at the student healthy center that there are students getting pregnant… and yet I never see any baby bumps on campus.. where are those babies going?)… anyway – the sign. I’ve wondered whether we could put up a sign on campus which said “our church will care for you and your baby!” I believe our community would rise to the challenge… if only we could make those connections in time.

      1. Years ago, there was an older couple at the church I attended who always brought a young boy with them. I thought he might be their grandson. I found out that this couple had met his mom when she was newly pregnant at a very young age. (Fourteen or so, I believe.) They told her that they would help her raise her child if she chose not to abort. And they followed through on that promise!

  3. It would be interesting, if it hasn’t been done already, so see a group formed of people whose mothers’ exercised their “right to choose” and chose to give their babies up for adoption instead of abortion. To show what the right to life can do – I have many friends who were adopted, and who adopted themselves in return. How many thousands of lives are saved by adoption, and what has become of them? What adopted adults have advanced medical research, science and physics? What adopted adults have go into ministry and saved souls?

    1. One of the things I have loved in the church’s more recent years is the highlighting of many stories of adoption. It has given me new eyes with which to see the world, and I hope it has given hope to many who felt there was “no other way” in their situation. May many more keep telling their stories!

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