Bringing Up Baby

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On a wintry day in February, I went to the Texas Senate to hear citizens and medical and legal experts testify about the sonogram bill. You know, the bill we’ve all been hearing about that requires a doctor to give a woman both a sonogram and an oral description of the fetus she’s carrying before she can secure an abortion. That bill.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who’s sponsored the bill for the past three legislative sessions, was quieter than I’d expected. He listened politely to experts talking about how the bill would interfere with the patient-physician relationship. He said little when a young couple testified about having to endure a description of their fetus’ development after they had already made the excruciating decision to abort because of grave birth defects.

It’s odd when you expect someone to be a villainous blowhard and he disappoints. Maybe, I thought, Patrick was having an introspective day now that his sonogram bill looks as if it will become law. Maybe he was wondering what kind of state this new generation of children would grow up in after Republicans slashed education and health care.

Maybe so, but probably not. Abortion is too uncomfortable, painful, and morally and emotionally fraught to be pondered too long once you have made up your mind. You choose your side and you defend it strenuously. You don’t want to hear the stories that complicate your stance. If you’re pro-choice, you don’t want to hear about casual abortions or medical advances that make the in-utero world more accessible and fetuses viable at an earlier age. If you’re anti-choice, I can’t imagine you would want to hear about horrific birth defects, pregnancies after rape or incest, or women whose lives would be ruined by an unwanted pregnancy.

So you pick your side. I am pro-choice. Even so, I can understand that people like Sen. Patrick truly believe that abortion is murder. I can respect them in a way I can’t respect the opportunists who leverage this painful, heartbreaking issue for political gain.

Listening to the Senate testimony, though, I did wonder how so many legislators can become so passionate and misty-eyed about embryos and fetuses and newborn babies—but remain stony-hearted about poor children, illegal immigrant children, children who need good nutrition, health care, housing, schools.

Maybe it’s because the sight of a baby—round-headed, tiny, adorable—is designed to make all of us feel goofy and protective. They stare up at you, so full of potential, so ready for you to project all your simple dreams and fantasies on them. They don’t argue, they don’t roll their eyes when you say something stupid; that will come later, along with puberty and orthodontia and learners’ permits. No, stay focused on the baby—and you forget how much work they are. Stay focused on the baby—and you can ignore the fact that bringing her into this 21st-century world only marks the beginning of taking care of her.

I happen to love babies, and the years my husband and I spent rearing our two children, now 29 and 25, were some of the most enjoyable and rewarding of our lives. They were also some of the hardest—years when the two of us never seemed to finish a sentence or a conversation, when faces were encrusted with pink eye and lice showed up, when we came face-to-face with our own shortcomings as human beings and parents. Those were years of more fun, heartache, love and fury than I’ve ever known; if you want a placid and easy life, babysitting for friends—and not procreation—would be advisable.

During the Senate debate on the sonogram bill, a baby in the audience cried—and Patrick seized the moment to note, “There’s the hand of God right there, the cry of a baby.”

If you believe there’s the hand of God in the cry of a baby, how can you not see that same hand in the cries of that baby as she grows to be a toddler, a preschooler, an adolescent, a teenager? Growing up, she’s no longer as adorable and pliable as a baby, but she still needs protection.

Unlike many of the zealots, I can’t tell you definitively when life begins. All I know is that, once you deliver a child into this world, your responsibilities to this new being have only started.

Focus on the baby—fine. But you don’t bring her to term, then abandon her to a world you’re stripping of education and security. Or, if you do, your definition of “pro-life” is nothing but a disgrace.