It seems so long ago when the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California asked the two presidential nominees this summer, just as America was starting to pay attention to the race, a pretty fundamental question: When does life begin?
John McCain answered "at conception" and went to the head of the class, momentarily, anyway. For Barack Obama, the question was above his pay grade. He looked like Mike Dukakis giving a lawyerly equivocation. It is a question that most liberals botch.
The socially acceptable mantra about abortion is that it should be "legal, safe, and rare." The late great William F. Buckley - scamp that he was - spoiled that self-congratulatory glow by asking, "Why rare?"
Should appendectomies be rare?
Remember the Life magazine spread of Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson's amazing photographs of tiny people, in utero? [An example is shown with this blog.] Amazed at seeing it for the first time, I tried to share it with a liberal reporter (but I repeat myself) that I worked with back in the day.
"Get that pro-life propaganda out of my face," he sputtered. Volumes, that speaks. Entire sets of Encyclopedia Brittanicas and Great Books. For the same reason the pro-choicers hate those graphic illustrations of the abortionist's trade.
That is why I was astounded that in the current Isthmus, on newsstands everywhere, The Straight Dope columnist Cecil Adams posits that life begins when brain function starts.
Although it is not my answer, it is an answer that is somewhere in the same ballpark. No "pay grade" stuff there. I had to look this up but it seems that brain function is detected at week 22-24 - about two-thirds of the way through gestation. (More research: Brain function ceases once you join Progressive Dane. Read Blaska's Blog for Healthy Brains!)
An alternate beginning-of-life point is Day 14 in the womb, when something called gastrulation occurs. I had to look that one up, too. Although fantastically complex, suffice it to say that gastrulation is when the basic body plan is established. The three embryonic germ layers, the endoderm, ectoderm and mesoderm, are formed and from there they form everything from, respectively, the retina, the liver, and muscle. Who knew?
Me? I'll go with the day of fertilization, when a unique genome is formed.
Either way, miracle of birth? I guess!
"The idea that a fetus becomes a person at some point between conception and birth was the prevailing view for 2,000 years. It is a reasonable basis for consensus," Cecil Adams writes. (Commish is wise!)
Then the Straight Dope-ster takes head-on the notion that the host has unfettered, Ming the Merciless authority over the life form (it ain't a cabbage) within her:
Does a woman have a right to control her own body? As a general proposition, sure. The question is whether that right trumps all other rights, including those of her unborn child. You think it does. You need to understand how foolishly radical that view is.
The logic of the absolutist position is that at any time prior to birth - presumably even five minutes before - the life of the unborn child may be ended without a pang. The notion seems primitive, like something out of the Old Testament.
That is the John Nichols/Terese Berceau position. And it may be the Obama position. In the Illinois State Senate, he apparently opposed a bill that prevents the killing of infants mistakenly left alive by abortion. Even so, I think the new president, once in office, will be much closer to Cecil Adams - and the host of Stately Blaska Manor - than Patricia Ireland.
The Left - so morally ruptured when duly convicted murderers are put to death - has championed aborting these little innocents as "a woman's right." Somehow that is said to empower women, although it leaves off the hook caddish men, freeing them to play another day.
Michael Gerson attributes this to "the absolute triumph of individualism. The rights and choices of adults have become paramount, even at the expense of other, voiceless members of the community." [Obama's Abortion Extremism]
Something is happening here; what it is is exactly clear. Pro-life is winning. Steve Chapman in The Growing Aversion to Abortion reports that in 1990, 30.4 percent of pregnancies ended in abortion. Last year, the figure was 22.4 percent. He writes:
When the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, most people had little understanding of fetal development. But the proliferation of ultrasound images from the womb, combined with the dissemination of facts by pro-life groups, has lifted the veil.
In the new comedy "Juno," a pregnant 16-year-old heads for an abortion clinic, only to change her mind after a teenage protester tells her, "Your baby probably has a beating heart, you know. It can feel pain. And it has fingernails."
"Juno" has been faulted as a "fairy tale" that sugarcoats the realities of teen pregnancy. But if it's a fairy tale, that tells something about how abortion violates our most heartfelt ideals - and those of our adolescent children. Try to imagine a fairy tale in which the heroine has an abortion and lives happily ever after.
This will give you a glimpse of Mr. Nilsson's amazing work; he took his photos with an endoscope - the same thing doctors routinely use today to explore your colon. (I've got the color pictures to prove it! They make great Christmas cards!)
Jelly of the Month Club
I was amused to hear the current occupant of the governor's office say that one way the state will dig itself out of a $5.4 billion deficit will be to deny employees bonuses. There is something called discretionary compensation awards, but they're minimal. I believe the fund managers at the State Investment Board State get bonuses. Hey, I am just happy to still have a job in this economy and this administration. Still, I couldn't help but think back to my favorite Christmas movie, Christmas Vacation, when Clark Griswold flips out.