One Night He Heard Screams



National Review has seen better days. Their impotent flailing against Trump demonstrates that something is rotten with (at least some of) the thought leaders of the right when the orange haired man runs circles around them and builds a sizable electoral base on a shoestring budget (and that’s saying something for a fellow not short on cash). But it isn’t all bad at NR and just the other day they published a devastating piece on abortion. If the following excerpt doesn’t hit you in the gut, I don’t know what will:

After injecting the hormone into the patient’s womb, the doctor left the syringe standing upright on her belly. Then, Selzer wrote, “I see something other than what I expected here. . . . It is the hub of the needle that is in the woman’s belly that has jerked. First to one side. Then to the other side. Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish.”

He realized he was seeing the fetus’s desperate fight for life. And as he watched, he saw the movement of the syringe slow down and then stop. The child was dead. Whatever else an unborn child does not have, he has one thing: a will to live. He will fight to defend his life.

The last words in Selzer’s essay are, “Whatever else is said in abortion’s defense, the vision of that other defense [i.e., of the child defending its life] will not vanish from my eyes. And it has happened that you cannot reason with me now. For what can language do against the truth of what I saw?”


Based on polls, most Americans feel uncomfortable advocating unrestricted termination rights, and the above passage suggests why. I’m apprehensive about prediction, but I think the article (written by an ex-pro-choicer nonetheless) gets this right: “The time is coming when a younger generation will sit in judgment of ours. And they are not obligated to be kind.” By claiming to be on “the right side of history,” progressives tread dangerous terrain. Such a conceit is often corrected by the passage of time but not without great tragedy. A little reservation goes a long way. This is the nature of history with the arrogant: to be on the wrong side of it when one least expects it. As H.L. Mencken put it: “The profoundest truths of the Middle Ages are now laughed at by schoolboys. The profoundest truths of democracy will be laughed at, a few centuries hence, even by school-teachers.”

That aside, the passage bares an uncanny resemblance to another passage written decades before by Whittaker Chambers, himself an ex-advocate of violence:

Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists [ex-pro-choicers] share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. “He was immensely pro-Soviet,” she said, “and then—you will laugh at me—but you must not laugh at my father—and then—one night—in Moscow—he heard screams. That’s all simply one night he heard screams.”

A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind’s. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: One night he heard screams.

A quivering needle, screams in the night, there is a compelling spiritual logic that cuts through the systems of man that rationalize violence in the name of individual happiness and communal utopia. And as much as folks point out the evils of religion, the skeptic and atheist will never construct a more potent vision of the dignity of man than that he is created in the image of the divine being through whom we all move, and live, and have our being. Humanity cannot rise higher than its source (man: a rapidly deteriorating sack of amino acids) without the imago dei. 

That said, while I’m pro-life, I’m also uncomfortable with the heartless way the Right at times approaches the abortion issue: conservatives too often pursue legislative action at the expense of carrying for women caught in a tough spot. As one pastor I admire asks, “Voting is easy, but how many of you are willing to take in a woman with an unwanted pregnancy?” This does not detract from the pressing ethical issue of aborting fetuses, but it does broaden the scope of the discussion and moral obligation for the Right. If you’re really pro-life, take the destitute mother-to-be into your home.

And yet none of this is easy. Tragedy and suffering remains. Chambers:

My children [my children!], when you were little, we used sometimes to go for walks in our pine woods. In the open fields, you would run along by yourselves. But you used instinctively to give me your hands as we entered those woods, where it was darker, lonelier, and in the stillness our voices sounded loud and frightening. In this book I am again giving you my hands. I am leading you, not through cool pine woods, but up and up a narrow defile between bare and steep rocks from which in shadow things uncoil and slither away. It will be dark. But, in the end, if I have led you aright, you will make out three crosses, from two of which hang thieves. I will have brought you to Golgotha—the place of skulls. This is the meaning of the journey. Before you understand, I may not be there, my hands may have slipped from yours. It will not matter. For when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs always upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman and child on earth, you will be wise.

Here is a clarion call to humanity. Accept the cross. Embrace sympathy for the downtrodden. Do not excuse the decision based on circumstances. Do not let the tragedy obscure a clear vision of the good with sweet sounding words of ease: “They just let the air in and then its all perfectly natural.”

Perfectly natural screams.


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