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The Bought Grace of Life

As I—peculiar person that I am—see the world, few things could be more readily understandable than a person’s expressing gratitude that her mother didn’t choose to abort her. And that’s what the #unplannedparenthood hashtag on social media is all about: people telling their own stories of gratitude—gratitude to pregnant women who, in the face of fear and uncertainty, decided to take a chance on life; gratitude also, in many cases, to friends, family, churches, and community organizations who supported the women who took that risk. Who wouldn’t be grateful in such circumstances?

But for Olga Khazan, writing at The Atlantic [1], such expressions of gratitude are “bizarre,” “odd,” and “disastrously illogical.” I fear that I too must be disastrously illogical, because I fail to understand why Khazan then goes on to explain how “during the Great Depression, women who wanted to avoid having babies they couldn’t afford used ‘disinfectant douches’ that burned their genitals.” Is the point that people should not only be grateful for not being aborted but also grateful that their mothers weren’t faced with the prospect of singeing their genitals with corrosive chemicals? The relevance of this excursus escapes me.

At one point, groping to understand these alien minds, Khazan suggests that “the larger purpose seems to be to put many happy faces on the pro-life movement. All those people weren’t aborted! Isn’t that wonderful?” And she goes on to say,

Of course it is. But it also assumes that the only reason for an abortion would be that you’re mildly surprised by your pregnancy status, and uncertain what to do next.

But the #unplannedparenthood hashtag assumes no such thing. It is grossly insensitive and uncharitable of Khazan to assume that every woman who decided to keep an unplanned baby was only “mildly surprised” to be pregnant. And incurious of her too: her assumption won’t survive two minutes’ scrolling through search results for the hashtag [2], which show again and again the harrowing circumstances in which many, many, many women decided to bear unplanned children. That they made such an immensely consequential decision is amazingly courageous—there is nothing “of course” about it.

And often, at the time, these were unwanted children as well. Khazan notes that “there is a big difference between an unplanned pregnancy and an unwanted one”—which is indeed true. But one of the chief points that emerges from the #unplannedparenthood stories is that a great many children who were unwanted at first became very much wanted, very much loved later—either by their birth parents or by those who adopted them. Khazan’s moral world is so impoverished that in it only first thoughts count; by contrast, the people who are grateful for #unplannedparenthood are also grateful for second thoughts.

Khazan tries to draw our attention to a world in which abortion is illegal, as though that’s likely to happen any minute now, but it’s not likely, and that’s not the world that the #unplannedparenthood stories come from. In every case that I have seen, these stories commend women who could have chosen abortion, but chose life instead, even when it was costly to them. In a famous phrase, Edmund Burke spoke of an “unbought grace of life,” but the people who celebrate #unplannedparenthood know that the grace of life that experience was bought at a price—in many cases a very high price. Olga Khazan’s disdain for their expressions of thanks is contemptible.

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors [3] Program at Baylor University [4] in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography [5].


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5 Comments To "The Bought Grace of Life"

#1 Comment By Johann On August 7, 2015 @ 10:47 am

Thank you. Its refreshing to see a rational and objective article on this subject.

It reminds me of a verse in the Steve Earle song “Nothing But a Child”.

“Every woman kind, every father proud, look down in awe to find, another chance allowed.”

#2 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 7, 2015 @ 5:22 pm

I must say I find this a complete waste of time. Those of us who have been born were not aborted and never can be. If our mothers had chosen to have an abortion, when pregnant with what has grown to be us, we would never have known. This sort of ex post facto gratitude seems rather pointless.

As Aslan said so man times to Lucy, “What would have been? No one is ever told that.”

#3 Comment By a commenter On August 7, 2015 @ 6:42 pm

I did not like that her column seemed to say that those who have had unplanned pregnancies and kept the baby should not be allowed to participate in the conversation because they are unfairly warping the debate. I guess we should only be allowed to hear from those who had an abortion and were happy with it? It is this kind of surreptitious-but-not-really attempt to silence part of the population that has really made me think less of the Left. Seriously? Do they think we do not see what they are doing? I used to take their blogs, commentaries, and editorials seriously. Now I just read them so I can practise picking out the straw men, ad hominem attacks, and appeals to emotion.

#4 Comment By Alan Jacobs On August 7, 2015 @ 8:02 pm

Siarlys, haven’t you just made an argument against being grateful for anything at all?

#5 Comment By Pilgrim On August 9, 2015 @ 4:53 am

” But it also assumes that the only reason for an abortion would be that you’re mildly surprised by your pregnancy status, and uncertain what to do next.”

This sounds to me as if it comes from a woman who’s lived her life under a rock. She hasn’t known a very wide range of women.