Anthropologists George and Nena O’Neill couldn’t be accused of thinking small. Their 1972 book, Open Marriage, was written to strip marriage of its antiquated ideals and make it more contemporary. Some of their ideas, things like sharing chores, reversing roles, and improving communications, were non-controversial and generally accepted. But one raised a whole lot of eyebrows. The O’Neills suggested that couples should keep themselves open to the possibility of extramarital sexual relationships. Their provocative concept seemed a perfect fit to the dawning of the free-love Age of Aquarius. The idea of open sexual relationships with others was “doing your thing” big-time.
Although the O’Neill’s book was a bestseller, their idea was not embraced, and thankfully so. Nena, whose husband was apparently more “open” than she, later said that she underestimated the impact of jealousy. Actually, she underestimated the impact of infidelity. Marriages failed because one spouse was victimized by the infidelity of the other. Of the 100 sexually open couples interviewed by O’Neill, only two couples survived beyond two years. Doing your thing doesn’t work for the victim.
The pro-choice attitude driving legalized abortion is the ultimate in doing-your-thing thinking: abortion may not be my thing, but it’s your thing, so let it be. It sounds all so open, all so Aquarian. But our culture doesn’t think that way when it comes to other moral issues. We have not legalized robbery or cheating and surely never will. Why? Unlike with an abortion, we can be victimized by those wrongs. Legalized theft and cheating mean that our homes may be invaded, our life savings raided. We won’t let that happen. No one wants to be the victim of someone else’s “thing.”
Legalized abortion would be gone a week if we, the born, could be surgically annihilated, but we are spared that fate. So let’s trade places with the unborn. Imagine that you are inside of a womb, threatened by a death machine that has already chewed up 49 million victims. Imagine that your survival depends on the kindness of strangers. What would you say to them in hopes of saving yourself?
Perhaps it would be the words said long ago in an after-breakfast conversation between two friends. One had just gone through hell, literally and figuratively. He had been beaten and spat upon, His body savaged by whips and nails and thorns, then left to hang before a jeering mob. He was a victim, the Victim. The other had professed to stay with Him, even die for Him. But when trouble came, so did the denials, three to be exact, one under oath. Miraculously together again, the two sat along the seashore. And there the Victim’s words came: do you love Me? Again and again He asked. And with each profession of love that His friend offered in return, the Victim wanted proof: feed My lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep . . . and follow Me. For the conversation was really not about a question at all. It was about a challenge (Jn 21:15-19).
The issue of abortion may challenge the depths of our love for others like no other social issue. We feed the hungry because we know what it’s like to miss a meal. We tend to the immigrant because we’ve been lost or stranded far from home. We shelter the displaced because we’ve been required to deal with the aftermath of natural disasters. Our ability to feel our own needs is a gift allowing us to feel the needs of others. It stirs us to show our love for them, and that’s a good thing. But we really cannot feel what it’s like to be unborn. Our abilities do not allow us to remember our existence inside the womb. We cannot consciously feel the threat from an abortion, nor for that matter can we feel an abortion itself.
The challenge of helping the unborn really is the challenge of fully loving. For love isn’t really about feeling. It’s about doing. Love is about sacrificing ourselves for those whom we will never know, at least this side of Heaven. It is about giving ourselves in willing service to those with whose experiences we really can’t identify. And it is about giving ’til there is nothing left to give. True sacrificial love rarely is easy. But then neither was dying on the Cross, where true Love was defined.
If we are going to save the unborn, that conversation between Jesus and Peter needs to be our own. If we were the unborn, Jesus’ question is the very question that we would ask to those who can either save us or let us die: do you love me? As Jesus did, we need to ask it again and again until it penetrates our hearts. And as Peter did, we need to accept it as a challenge. Do you love me? Do you love me enough to pray for my safety? Do you love me enough to witness for my life? To tell others that I am fully human and deserving of the same love as everyone else? To disagree in the public square with those who treat me as garbage? Do you love me enough to write a letter or make a phone call for me? Do you love me enough to vote for those who would end the legalized slaughter and vote against those committed to continuing it? Or will you walk away from me, you, my only hope?
If our survival depended on our vote, we know how we would cast it.
God did not intend for the unborn to be victims of abortion, let alone legal abortion. The survival of the unborn should not need to depend on the kindness of strangers. After all, they have us their brothers and sisters, the brothers and sisters of the Victim.
Or do they?
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they raise their six kids.
© 2008 Paul V. Esposito. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is freely granted.