Embrace the Hard Cases

A friend of my wife’s was visiting the other day and said, “When I was pregnant, I knew I was carrying a baby, and if a doctor had told me, he could only save me or the baby, that wasn’t even a question: save the baby.

To which I thought: of course.

My wife’s first pregnancy never put her life at risk, but she did – after a lengthy, arduous labor – have to undergo an emergency c-section because the baby had gone into distress. If, at that moment, she had been asked, It’s either you or the baby, I have no doubt how she would have answered.

Our fifth child was a Down Syndrome baby. We had no warning beforehand – and it was quite a shock. The doctor took me aside and told me that, in addition to other complications, our new daughter would need heart surgery when she was about four months old. She had that surgery, and her recovery was longer and more difficult than expected.

Indeed, it was very touch and go. The doctors and nurses were great. But in a different place, a mother and a father might be counseled, “You didn’t ask for this. Years of sacrifice lie ahead for you. We could, gently, release this child from life. She will suffer no pain. Indeed, she will never feel or know anything.”

Such counsel is being offered right now, in hospitals around the world. It’s commonly offered whenever Down Syndrome turns up in a prenatal screening.

And it certainly seems de rigueur these days for actresses to proclaim that their abortions enabled their careers; they expect applause for this announcement. Getting rid of those unwanted babies has allowed them to star in commercials selling toothpaste or cell phones or in movies about superheroines walloping men twice their size (thanks to special effects). The girl bosses have ascended on a stairway of children’s skulls.

This is progress – or so we’re told. But progress needs to be defined, and in this context is merely progressing away from Christianity. Child sacrifice is hardly a new thing. Sacrificing children to idols is typical of pagan societies. Today’s idolatry of choice is making idols of ourselves. Christianity abolished child sacrifice and the old idolatry. If we are to abolish child sacrifice again, we will need Christianity to triumph over the new idolatry.

Today’s pagans still take some Christian morality for granted, even as they reject it and undermine it. That is why many still understand that being a parent – that being a moral person – is about self-sacrifice. It is why we expect a Secret Serviceman to put himself in harm’s way in front of an attacker’s bullet. It’s why when a crazed drug addict charges you with a knife, you – as a man – step towards the attacker to defend your family. You don’t block him with your wheelchair-bound daughter saying, “Take her! She’s just a useless mouth to feed!”

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Caravaggio, c. 1597 [Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome]
When we talk about the moral fiber of a people, this is really what we’re talking about, and we should see how the unraveling of Christianity in the West is unraveling our moral fiber as individuals and as peoples at the same time. It’s why the morality of previous generations rebukes us (when we pursue anti-Christian courses), and why progressives are so keen on rebuking the past (as racist, sexist, colonialist, and Christian).

To the Christian, life is a gift, it’s good, and not to be taken lightly. If we are to win the world for Christ, if we are to win the pro-life battles to come, we need to embrace the hard cases, which really aren’t so hard. Not all pregnancies may be “planned,” but we know how pregnancies happen, and that is why previous generations taught that first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.

We’ve progressed beyond that, of course, beyond chastity and virtue and all those other old-fashioned words. But pregnancy almost invariably comes from a willed, consensual act, an act, we might say, of a woman controlling her own body. Abortions performed because of rape or incest account for less than 2 percent of all abortions (and maybe much less than that). In each and every case, the child in the womb is a life; and if the mother does not want to bear the burden of that life – well. guess what? There are plenty of parents willing to adopt that child and take on that burden.

That burden has no guaranteed return on investment. The child may turn out to be a saint or an unrepentant sinner, the adolescent may turn out to be grateful or ungrateful, the grown adult could turn out good, bad, or ugly. But there are still plenty of parents willing to take on self-sacrifice so that these children have their chance.

Now, I have worked in politics, in one way or another, my entire life, including on electoral campaigns and in government. I understand and appreciate that politics is the art of the possible. We should expect politicians – even good ones – to propose and accept necessary compromises. But politics exists on many levels, and the constraints that bind the elected official do not bind the rest of us, who should defend and promote the gospel of life to the fullest.

Margaret Thatcher, no mean politician, famously said, “First you win the argument, then you win the vote.” It is up to all of us, in our separate states, to win the argument.

It’s an argument we must win. If we are to be a good people, we need to be a Christian people. We need to be a people who value life from conception to natural death. In between, there can be – there will be – all sorts of travails. But life, as my wife keeps reminding me, is good; and we, as Christians, should know that, and proclaim that, better than anyone.


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H.W. Crocker III is a popular historian and novelist. His classic history of the Catholic Church, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church - A 2,000 Year History, updated and expanded, has just been reissued in hardcover, and his classic history of America’s military, Don’t Tread on Me, updated and expanded, has been reissued in paperback.