On Thursday, I will, G-d willing, be heading to Washington, DC for the annual CPAC conference – billed as the “largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world.” Below are reflections from last year’s conference.
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The room was deathly silent. The film “Unplanned” had just finished playing at the CPAC conference. A panel came on stage to discuss it. The emcee asked the crowd what it thought of the film. No one said a word. We were too disturbed to speak.
Yeshiva-educated Jews take pride in making fine distinctions. Perhaps rightfully so. The ability to distinguish – after all – is the basis of wisdom, says the Gemara. But this ability can sometimes mislead, and I believe it particularly misleads when thinking about abortion.
Many of us proudly proclaim that unlike evangelical Christians, we don’t necessarily believe destroying a one-day-old fetus is murder. We proudly announce that abortion is permissible when the mother’s life is in danger. We revel in our supposedly nuanced position.
I must admit: Until last year, I too adopted this approach. But then I saw two films: “Gosnell” and “Unplanned.” The former chronicles the true story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who for 30 years performed abortions in a filthy clinic that the state of Pennsylvania – for ideological reasons – never bothered to inspect.
When police finally raided the clinic in 2010 for illegally prescribing drugs, they found the feet of aborted babies stored in jars and learned that Dr. Gosnell had 1) aborted numerous babies long after the legal cut-off date, and 2) murdered at least several babies who inconveniently left their mothers’ bodies before he had a chance to abort them. He simply severed their spinal cords with a pair of scissors.
Unimaginably cruel? Yes, but once a person grows accustomed to killing babies five minutes before birth, killing them five minutes after birth probably doesn’t seem so terrible.
The worst part of the film, though, is not its true-to-life portrayal of Dr. Gosnell. It’s a scene from his trial (the dialogue of which comes directly from the courtroom transcript). In it, a female expert witness describes a legal abortion to the court. With an ultrasound image of a fetus next to her, she nonchalantly relates that an abortionist inserts a massive needle into the baby’s heart and injects it with a fluid that gives the baby a heart attack.
A heart attack! And that’s a legal abortion!
“Unplanned,” which stunned the crowd at CPAC, tells the true tale of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who helped facilitate 22,000(!) abortions. Confused teenagers would sometimes come to Johnson’s Texas clinic seeking her counsel, and she would convince them to get an abortion. You won’t regret your choice, she told them – even though the evidence suggests that many do. The creature inside you is just fetal tissue, she told them – even though fetuses already look like human beings at nine weeks.
The clinic would take ultrasounds to determine what kind of abortion it needed to perform. It wouldn’t, however, show the women the ultrasound images lest heaven forbid they change their mind and wish to keep their baby.
At one point in the film, a Planned Parenthood official orders clinic directors to double the number of abortions they perform (since abortions are the organization’s financial lifeblood). This scene is so unbelievable – literally so – that I later asked the real-life Abby Johnson if it really occurred. She assured me that it sadly had.
After watching “Gosnell” and “Unplanned,” I realized that the real divide between liberals and conservatives on abortion isn’t their positions on whether abortion should be legal or not. It’s their approach to human life. The Right regards life as sacred, while the abortion industry – which is responsible for the deaths of 60 million(!) fetuses over the last 50 years – treats it with an almost barbaric coldness that is both shocking and supremely unJewish.
Yes, halacha may on rare occasions (and they are rarer than most people think) sanction an abortion, but Judaism does not sanction thinking of human life – or the potential of human life – as “no big deal.” It’s an extremely big deal. We shouldn’t have clinics that function like assembly-line factories where life after life is snuffed out. It’s barbaric.
There’s a reason why the morality of euthanasia and assisted suicide is being seriously debated these days. After all, if you can give a six-month-old fetus a heart attack, why can’t you kill a useless 90-year-old man?
“B’tzelem Elokim nivra ha’adam,” the Torah tells us. According to one opinion in Chazal, these words are the most important in the entire Torah. Every human life is sacred. Destroy one life and you destroy a world.
It’s true that when it comes to the specifics of abortion, we may only agree with evangelical Christians 90 percent of the time. But when it comes to our attitude toward abortion in general, there is no question where our affinities lie. We firmly stand with the pro-life movement.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the full editorial board of The Jewish Press.