There are two news stories in the last week or so that should alarm and rally us.
The first was a report that rose to the surface because of the quick and careful reporting work of my friends at the Catholic News Agency, who may have, in fact, saved a life. A woman in the U.K. with severe mental disabilities was mandated by a judge to have an abortion, despite her mother’s plea to let the baby live. The judge explained her reasoning that the woman, 22 weeks pregnant at the time of the ruling, wouldn’t know the difference between a baby and a doll — and during court proceedings a new doll in place of the baby was even promised to her. On appeal, the ruling was lifted, but the fact remains that in England, in 2019, there was a moment when a court mandated an abortion.
The West seems to be on a cliff, ready to plunge at any moment deeper into a grave abyss where death becomes a normalized standard of “care” when life gets too hard to fathom. In recent years, some have warned that we have been moving away from “safe, legal and rare” language when it comes to abortion — still acknowledging it isn’t anything like an ideal — to almost an expectation, and at times a preference, for abortion. Most people don’t wake up in the morning as obsessed with abortion as politics may sometimes suggest. But there has been this cultural creeping happening, where leaders of all sorts will openly express a pro-choice preference. For cultural reasons and for many other intimately painful reasons, how can women help but feel pressure when it comes to abortion?
And yet, where is the sober conversation about this? About whether this is healthy, never mind “health care”? On two Democratic presidential primary debate stages recently, there were no questions for the candidates about the latest trend in Democratic politics: support for expanded abortion rights.
The other story gripping our attention this week is about a girl named Valeria. Few of us would likely know her name if she hadn’t died with her father while trying to flee El Salvador. The photo of them lying face-down, dead, on the bank of the Rio Grande, has been seen and commented on the world over. Beyond politics, this is the kind of thing that begs for a pause, in a similar way to the mandated abortion out of England. A pause to ask: Who are we, and what are we doing?
On Twitter, I saw some instant reactions about how refugees “won’t die if they don’t come here illegally.” But for just a moment — a human moment, in solidarity with the suffering of others — consider what life must be like for a family so desperate they will do anything to come to the United States. Beyond urgent political reforms and enforcement, we need an intolerance for inhumane conditions at government facilities of any sort. (My friend and colleague at National Review, Kevin Williamson, brought up the abhorrent circumstances of American prisons, too, in a recent column. It’s not OK to treat people, even people guilty of criminal acts, like animals.)
After spending time at a Texas-Mexico border crossing, El Paso Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz warned, “We suffer from a life-threatening case of hardening of the heart.” He has been taking the deaths of Valeria and her father as an opportunity to open hearts to more loving and prayerful encounters with people in situations many of us never even consider in the daily course of our lives.
Last week, I spent part of a day in Washington, D.C. with the adoptive mother of a teenager who’d been born to a mentally disabled woman. The birth mother could have been utterly lost and forgotten, and the life within her eradicated. But she wasn’t, and the now-teenaged Anna Grace lives in a family where she is loved. One of the things her adoptive mother went to the nation’s capital to talk about is making politics more tender by allowing ourselves not to be fenced in by political sides, but moved by the heart.
You can be a Trump supporter or opponent and still weep for Valeria, and support efforts to help asylum seekers be treated with love. (The ministry of Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is becoming deservedly well-known.) You can be ardently pro-choice or pro-life, and still work together to make your community more welcoming to pregnant women who may otherwise be lost and alone.
If we are strangers no more, our politics might become a little less strange and much more humane.