Listen to the Beat
Few things are more amazing. Few things are so taken for granted. When we say or write any word, we are using an intricate code created to convey thoughts and ideas, a code more complicated with each word we add. Yet we do it without much thought at all. This is God’s gift of language, a gift used throughout the world billions of times every minute of every day. There are even different codes that work in one location but not necessarily in another. How’s your Mandarin? But every language does the same thing: it allows people to connect.
Given the number of words in our language, what’s almost as amazing as the words themselves is that someone would ever try to collect them — then to define them. That’s the critical part. Language doesn’t help much if people defined words however the mood strikes them. Samuel Johnson Jr, the editor of the first English dictionary, proved that point as well as anyone. A big man prone to profuse sweating, Johnson was minding his own business when a passing woman exclaimed, “Sir, you smell!” Precision being important, Johnson calmly retorted, “Madam, you smell. I stink.” Johnson had a nose for definitions.
When it comes to abortion, definitions seem to become quite meaningless. Consider the word “human.” A human is a mammal, but unlike other mammals walks on two legs, not four. We humans have complex brains that allow us to think and feel and differentiate and decide. We can reproduce within our species. All of our amazing abilities develop over time. Infants do not immediately walk and talk upon leaving the womb. Three-year old cannot have babies. Yet they are fully human; they’re just not fully developed. They are fully human because they have all the potential that a human should have — and none that they shouldn’t. We won’t grow a tail or horns or fins or wings or hooves.
But to those who support abortion, a developing unborn baby is merely a “clump of cells.” Those are the words that have sold many women, fearful of what is happening to them, on abortion. Of course, in a very basic way the statement is true. We are all clumps of cells, no matter how old we get. But the clump-of-cells notion is just the premise of the further argument that those cells do not constitute an independent living organism. The “clump” is just part of a woman’s body, a part that a woman may destroy at will.
It has long been known that human life begins at conception. The list of supporting studies is an arm long. But some scientist argue that the new organism cannot organize itself apart from the mother, and so it remains just a clump of cells. That argument has now been debunked. Scientists in the UK thawed a previously frozen embryo that had never been implanted in a mother’s uterus. The single-cell embryo was placed in an experimental dish and put in an incubator in a closet. Though not in a mother’s womb, the embryo began to divide, and more importantly, began to organize itself. Without any connection to the mother, without any interference from scientists, the organism began to develop. Even if no one wanted the organism, the organism wanted to live. A mother may provide the nourishment, but the organism — a developing human — provides the desire to be independent.
Some abortion supporters argue that scientific discovery should have nothing to do with the claimed right to abortion. They contend that until birth, a baby’s rights are subordinate to those of the mother. Basically, they tell pro-lifers, most particularly in the Catholic Church, to butt out. “Keep your rosaries out of our ovaries!” is how the saying goes. But they ignore a crucial word: “dignity.” It goes to the core of what we Catholics believe about human life. Dignity means being worthy, honored, respected, esteemed, and valued.
So why does the Church proclaim the inherent dignity of every human being from the very moment of conception? It’s because dignity comes from God, not from our DNA, and not from a decision of a man, woman, or government. Our value comes from the fact that God loved us enough to create us. And so whatever our situation in life — whether healthy or ill, diseased or deformed, wanted or unwanted — we are worthy. We have value.
How do we know this? By listening to someone once “unwanted.” Josiah Presley, a 21-year old college student, is an abortion survivor. For reasons that only God knows, the doctor missed him, or at least mostly missed him. His left arm was mangled in the process. In 2014, Josiah and friends created a video, Listen to the Beat. Every beat of a drum stands for a baby killed by abortion in a single day. Josiah understands full well that he could have been one of those beats. It’s what makes his message so much the more powerful. It needs to be seen and heard. Without delay. Right now. For the beat continues.
Our Church understands Josiah’s value and the value of all unborn human life. And it understands that if we don’t protect the unborn, we cannot protect the born. If we are allowed to determine another’s value, it certainly will not stop with the unborn. What about the disabled? What about the elderly? What about the emotionally cross-wired? What about anybody who just doesn’t meet the standards of those in power? Welcome back to the Holocaust. Welcome back to legal slavery. Welcome to living hell on earth.
To win the battle for life, we must not forget another word: “witness.” It means to publicly affirm what we believe. We, as Church, must be heard and seen in the public square. From top down, we need to distance ourselves from politicians who sentence others to death so they may maintain power. We need to tell the abortion profiteers they will no longer get taxpayer money to fund their killing machines. We need to let women know that they can get from us the help they will never get from those preying on their fears. We need to be the constant drumming that others hear and see. May they say of ua, “Listen to the beat!”
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 and have six children.