October 13, 1985
"Burial of Fetuses became Exploitation of Tragedy"
San Jose Mercury News
By Timothy Taylor
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THE burial of 16,000 aborted fetuses in Los Angeles last Sunday was a sad
event, but not for the reasons given by either opponents or supporters of abortion.
Opponents of abortion -- such as the Right to Life League -- had fought for
the burial as a public assertion of their belief that abortion is the murder of
a child. Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich attended and spoke of a
"resting place" for "these little boys and girls."
But officials like Antonovich are in an untenable position. If abortion is
murder, they serve as elected officials of a society that kills 1.5 million children
If abortion is the murder of children, the wholly inadequate response of Antonovich
and a few other politicians was to attend a service where approximately 2,500
fetuses were buried in each of six coffin-shaped boxes, in six mass graves that
disguised the size and nature of what was buried. Their response to genocide was
to hold a press conference and a publicity event.
Ronald Reagan, who wrote a eulogy for the service, suffers from the same inconsistency.
If he truly believes that abortion is child-murder, then he is president of a
country that kills 1.5 million children a year. Reagan's response is to write
a few articles, give a speech or two and back some lawsuits against abortion.
How can Reagan conceivably speak of a "shining city on a hill" or a
"second American revolution" while serving as elected leader of a genocidal
If abortion is a genocide against children, then top American officials can
no more escape blame than top Nazi officials can escape blame for the Holocaust.
Attending a mass burial outside Auschwitz and holding a press conference would
not exculpate a top Nazi official. The argument from public officials that abortion
is murder reeks either of hypocrisy or moral blindness that allows compromise
with heinous crimes.
Of course, one can honestly oppose some or all abortions without believing
them to be murder. One can be deeply troubled by the fact that 30 percent of American
pregnancies end in abortion and that abortion is too often used as birth control.
I don't know what laws should be passed to encourage couples to accept the
responsibility for their sexual behavior. Personally, I would not support expanding
the right to choose an abortion into the third trimester, and I might support
restrictions on when abortion can be chosen.
The pro-choice forces that fought against the burial in Los Angeles did not
distinguish themselves, either. Led by the Feminists Women's Health Center and
the American Civil Liberties Union, they argued against the fetus burial because
it violated a woman's "right to privacy."
That defense sounds peculiar, but it is taken from the logic of the 1973 Supreme
Court decision that legalized abortion. The court decided that early in pregnancy,
a woman's right to the privacy of her body comes ahead of the state's interest
in preserving potential life.
The implication of the ACLU argument, also made by some feminists, is that
aborted fetuses should be treated like appendices, tonsils and other removable
body parts. That claim rings false, and leads to uncomfortable public positions.
For example, New York City requires establishments selling liquor to post a
sign that reads "Warning: Drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy can
cause birth defects." The ordinance was fought by the National Organization
of Women as an infringement on a woman's right to the privacy of her body. After
all, why list only birth defects, instead of the many other problems liquor can
The ordinance doesn't deserve much defending, but it raises a relevant question:
Is there a moral difference between a liver and a fetus? Both are within a woman's
body, both can be healthy or not, liquor and surgery can affect both.
But people recognize a difference by their behavior. Most women, progressive
feminists as well as traditionalists, do not treat a fetus as one more organ --
either in their thoughts, their diet, their work, or their exercise. If a patient
took her appendix home in a jar, that would be peculiar or gross. Taking an aborted
fetus home in a jar would be grotesque.
A fetus embodies the potential to become a person. That does not make a fetus
a person, but it makes a difference. A dead fetus need not be buried -- cremation
strikes me as more appropriate -- but it deserves more respect than body parts
that do not have that potential.
Of course, one can support a right to choose abortion without seeing abortion
as a morally neutral choice, like an appendectomy or a face lift. In many cases
-- rape, incest, the failure of birth control, ignorance, extreme youth or poverty
of the mother are some -- I would defend a mother's right to choose an abortion.
Neither extreme of the abortion debate will recognize publicly what actually
happened in Los Angeles. Sixteen thousand fetuses were buried. That is not sixteen
thousand children, nor is it sixteen thousand appendices or livers.
Choosing abortion is sometimes the right choice, just as taking a child from
an abusive home or dissolving a marriage is sometimes the right choice. Because
children, family and marriage can bring such great joy, acts that shut off those
possibilities are properly a time of great sadness, even when they are appropriate.
The grief that properly surrounded the burial in Los Angeles was distorted
by shameful rhetoric that exploited fetuses or ignored the pain and uniqueness
of abortion in the name of a political cause.
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