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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 every year.

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 society?

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 cause?

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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