Education and Art to Change Perceptions about the Unborn

Once when I was about eight, my younger brother did something, perhaps involving physical pain for me, for which I felt that retaliation was fully justified. As I ran after him, I was intercepted by our mother. I was outraged that she would so unfairly interfere. She in turn was shocked by the desperate fight that I put up, and finally resorted to lying down on top of me, as the only way to keep me from breaking free. I can still remember my impotent rage. I hated it.

No one likes to be restrained from doing what they want, even when what they want is to harm another person. So though unborn child-protection legislation may be unavoidable if we are to save all the lives that can be saved, it will always be problematic. It will never be completely successful. (Among other things, what we could call a “kitchen-ingredients week-after pill” might be just around the corner.) And such legislation will have bad side effects.

Parents who decide to kill their unborn kids may rarely if ever be motivated by anger as I was at the age of eight. Even when the abortion is unjustified, their motivations are normally more thoughtful, and sometimes offset by hesitation and guilt. Some factors may make them less resentful of restraining authority than I was, some even more resentful. But in any case, clearly a deeper solution is needed than mere legislation.

If we can unlock the love and protectiveness for the unborn that already lies within us as part of our deepest nature, this will not only shield the unborn better than any legislation, but will represent the biggest breakthrough yet in the slow process of unfolding our own humanity.

As we begin the process of facilitating in society an appreciation for the unborn, one of the foundations of that process should be a non-technical but thorough course in embryology — “Getting to Know Our Unseen Neighbors,” we might call it — for all children at the fifth- or sixth-grade level. The emphasis in such courses should be on the wonder of the life that is transforming itself, reinventing itself, hour by hour, deep within the body of a somewhat senior and more-developed member of our human family.

One of many sources to give us a hint of how prosaic science can tug at the heart in the right way is this one:

To make vivid to children that a human life is a seamless process, students could be given thought experiments such as: “Pretend that Mary the embryo can speak and tell the world about her hopes and dreams — how she longs to begin to beat her heart, to pump her lungs, to touch from the outside, for the first time, the skin of the mother who has nurtured her inside . . . to learn to stand up, to learn to throw a ball . . . What would Mary say to the world, if she could?”

What we’re up against: We may have to admit that the default viewpoint, the mental starting point, for many people, likely is that the unborn are of little significance. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Many people may not be able to see the humanity and personhood of the unborn without going through a process of mental development. But if education can to a great extent create a salutary aversion to the limited destructiveness of smoking, can’t it create a salutary aversion to the extreme destructiveness of killing unborn babies?

Little girls, in particular, should hear as they grow up some viewpoints, and perceptions of the unborn, that all too often go unheard, such as this dialogue between the president of Feminists for Life and one of her correspondents.

Serrin Foster: “Women aren’t stupid. We know it’s a baby that is growing just like we did in our mother’s wombs. . . . For years, abortion advocates have been pitting women against their unborn children, dehumanizing the growing child with misleading phrases like ‘blobs of cells’ and ‘products of conception.’ . . .”

Michelle Stewart: “I am a prolife feminist. Abortion before 20 weeks is equally wrong. The founding feminists understood this truth. Women are strongest when they engage as warriors to protect the most vulnerable. What is more vulnerable than an unviable human being in development?”

Children are likely to start hearing at an early age the view that women should be free to kill their unborn babies. In a small example of the effectiveness of art, Neil Young once satirized almost this same kind of “free world”:

That’s one more kid that’ll never go to school
Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool
Keep on rockin’ in the free world . . .

As children grow up, they will hear all the messages that different groups want to bombard them with. We cannot and need not, and even should not, prevent this. But if children first come to understand the realities that lie deeper than the messages, they will be able to discriminate. Certainly children as they grow should learn to understand the heart-rending plight of many pregnant women, and to consider deeply all the possible solutions. But the plight of the unborn is a plight that is easier to overlook than any other, and that therefore requires a more proactive education. The prevailing positional disadvantages of the unborn can be summarized very well by three old proverbs: “Out of sight, out of mind” (already mentioned), “Might makes right,” and “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

And for adults: Just as Uncle Tom’s Cabin made vivid, to people unable to see it before, the human yearnings of slaves, a blockbuster book or movie could make vivid the yearnings of the unborn to live and realize their potentials. Some of those yearnings are very undeveloped or unconscious, but they exist (they are in the genes), and could be portrayed imaginatively by art. We need a suspenseful movie portraying an unborn baby imminently threatened by abortion.

To conclude, let’s elaborate a little on “the slow process of unfolding our own humanity,” mentioned above. It humanized us (those of us who are white) to come to see other races as persons; it humanized us (those of us who are men) to come to see women as persons; it humanized some of those of us who are Americans to come to see the Vietnamese as persons; and it will humanize us to come to see the unborn as persons. That step, crossing that last civil-rights frontier, will humanize us more than any other, because of the subtlety of thought involved. But that may only be possible through education and art.

© 2013


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Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Only a Potential Person?

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World