Trivializing life

Posted: Oct 04, 2000 12:00 AM
There wasn't that much to the matter, was there? Just 20 slaves from Africa -- agricultural types anyway -- bound to enjoy the fragrant tobacco fields in the colony of Virginia. Just the merest handful. Then more. And more. And more ... and suddenly, behold, a national institution built on enforced servitude and thousands slaughtered in a war whose result, among many others, was the annhilation of that, by then, deeply-rooted institution. You see how it goes with roots. No one particularly notices which way and how tall the tree is trending until you look up and say, "whoops." The Food and Drug Administration last week granted approval for the production of the medication mifepristone, a.k.a. RU/486, which produces do-it-yourself, at-home abortions. And the moment for hard and unpleasant comparisons comes. Abortion. We wince. We grimace. We head for the exits. Quiet! Don't bother me! Such comments betray the depth of the roots that abortion, like slavery, once upon a time, has put down in the culture -- roots that entwine us in almost constant deception. Slavery once was this way: A few more slaves didn't make a difference -- look how many we had already. Suffering? What suffering? Don't look. Don't notice. Mifepristone is the great Don't Notice of the abortion culture -- the medication that shoves all the life-taking out of sight and out of mind, socially speaking. Sure, we can't see in the windows of those abortion clinics, but we know what goes on there. For one thing, anti-abortion demonstrators remind us with their presence and prayers. Just to see the words "women's clinic" is to know what goes on. What goes on is the extinction of life. Entrance into an abortion clinic has about it a public specificity of intention. The act, performed inside, has its public quality. With mifepristone the act turns truly inside. A doctor prescribes; a pharmacist delivers; a woman swallows. That's it. It should be an abortion in two days. If so, the great Don't Notice will have done its work, and all's well. If not, a couple of misoprostol tablets may complete the job. What? Still no abortion? That's statistically unlikely, but it happens. At this point the doctor intervenes meaningfully. Then everything is becomingly quiet. And no one notes that the population has shrunk ever-so-slightly. Slavery, quietly commenced, burgeoned noisily out of control. Abortion, staked out as a grand constitutional right in Roe vs. Wade, looks ready to go underground, in terms of numbers and consequences. The two questions resemble each other, nonetheless. The end (a ways off with regard to abortion) turns out differently from how it probably looked at first. Roe vs. Wade was a grand constitutional gambit, meant to expand rights. Slavery was an economic undertaking. The cornerstone of both endeavors was/is disrespect for life. Only in the case of abortion, thanks to mifepristone, that disrespect grows harder and harder to detect. What you can't see, you must work far harder to abolish. But what you can't see also can become forgettable, as abortion threatens to drive from consciousness the explosive joy of new life. Abortion trivializes life, and mifepristone deepens and intensifies the consequent trivialization. A pill, such as you take for aches and pains of any kind. A pill you take in your own bathroom, or wherever. A pill that some smiling pharmacist hands you. A pill you unwrap at home. And with it, life goes out. The abortion folks always curl disdainful lips at such "sentimentality." It is no wonder. They like the clinical, the detached. It fortifies their case, whose basis is life as a choice rather than a gift. The presidential election will not be decided by the issue that gives Republicans the willies and Democrats the votes. Worth remembering nonetheless, for the record if for no other purpose, is that mifepristone, and the deepening trivialization of life, are the gifts to us of the Clinton-Gore administration and its Food and Drug Administration. Al Gore, who backs mifepristone, is complicit in the trivialization of life. For which many, sensibly, will not wish to reward him. But many others will: It shows you how deeply the roots of this tragedy, the product of Roe vs. Wade, now have penetrated, and how painful, one of these days, their dismantling will be.