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Allowing the Mask to Slip

February 19, 2009


 Allowing the Mask to Slip
By Rev. Robert Barron

A bizarre and deeply disturbing story surfaced this past week. A young woman named Sycloria Williams came in 2006 to an abortion clinic outside of Miami run by a Dr. Pierre Jean-Jacque Renelique. She was twenty-three weeks into her pregnancy, and she wanted to abort her child. The eighteen year old Williams was medicated in order to prepare her for the procedure, and then she waited for the doctor to arrive. But he was delayed so long that she gave birth to a baby girl. What followed beggars description. According to witnesses, a clinic employee, who had no medical background or license, took the child, placed her in a red biohazard bag and threw the bag into the dumpster behind the office. When Dr. Renelique finally arrived, he was told that the young woman had already given birth and that the baby had been disposed of. A few days later, police, following anonymous tips, found the decomposing remains of the child.

As this terrible tale came to light, there were cries of outrage on all sides. Predictably enough, pro-lifers expressed their deep dissatisfaction, but pro-choice advocates bemoaned the situation as well. The head of the Broward County chapter of the National Organization for Women said that she was deeply saddened that there still existed clinics where this kind of “botched abortion” could take place. Dr. Renelique himself was brought up for malpractice and just this past Friday his medical license was revoked.

Now here’s what I find puzzling: given their convictions in regard to abortion, why should pro-choicers object to what happened in this case? And given the law of the land, why should the government or the medical establishment feel particularly compelled to take any punitive action against the doctor? Sycloria Williams came to that clinic for the express purpose of terminating the life of her child, and as far as pro-choicers are concerned, she was perfectly within her rights to do so. More to it, American law allows a mother to decide to end her pregnancy at any stage, as long as she is able to demonstrate that bringing the baby to term would threaten her (the mother’s) physical or mental health. If things had gone according to plan, Dr. Renelique would have dismembered Ms. Williams’s child in the womb, extracted the pieces of the child’s body, and then disposed of them, presumably in a biohazard bag. Again, neither abortion advocates nor American law would have had any objection whatsoever to these steps.

But simply because child was killed and disposed of after she was born, the police are alerted and commence a homicide investigation, the Doctor’s medical license is revoked and even pro-choicers are outraged. Can anyone explain the logic of this to me? Of course no one can, because this case vividly reveals the deep incoherence of the pro-choice position. It is, presumably, perfectly unobjectionable for a doctor to murder a baby while it still lives in her mother’s womb, but horrifying for that same doctor to murder that same baby when, moments later, it emerges from her mother’s body. I suppose that pro-choice advocates think some mystical transformation occurs in the birth canal, whereby a disposable lump of tissue becomes a person endowed with inalienable rights and worthy of the protection of the law. I find the statement of the Broward County NOW spokesman actually quite telling. She spoke of a “botched abortion,” and what she meant was an abortion that showed itself publicly, that didn’t take place in the darkness and privacy of a mother’s body but that appeared in the full light of day for what it really is. Her complaint against the clinic employees was not that they had killed a human being, but that they had, embarrassingly enough, allowed the mask to slip.

An aspect of this story that I believe is worthy of note is that Ms. Williams herself, the mother of the discarded child, has brought charges against Dr. Renelique. One might be forgiven for finding this puzzling, since she came to the doctor precisely for the purpose of ridding herself of her baby. And one might not feel any particular sympathy with this woman. But the decisive factor seems to have been this: when the young mother actually looked into the face of her new-born baby, she realized that this tiny being was not a lump of tissue but a person. Significantly, she has given her murdered child a name.

Perhaps in God’s mysterious providence, this terrible series of events has served a purpose: to make us feel, viscerally, the illogic of the pro-abortion position and to steel us, once more, to fight for innocent life.