“... And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
— Richard Mourdock, GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate
Life is sacred.
That, Mourdock would later insist, was what he was trying to say last week during a debate with his opponents. Instead, he became the latest in a growing list of conservatives to trip over women’s bodies. The Indiana Republican said he didn’t mean it the way it sounded, i.e., that rape is something God intends or approves. Rather, his point was that “Life is precious. I believe (that) to the very marrow of my bones.” His party agrees. This year, the GOP adopted — again — a platform under which no woman could ever legally have an abortion. Not if she was impregnated by her own father. Not if she was raped. Not if the abortion were needed to save her life. Never. Because life is sacred.
And that leaves you wondering: what about the 12-year-old girl who has grown up dreading the midnight creak of her bedroom door, the weight settling above her, the whispered assurances that “This is our secret.”
What about this sixth grader whose barely adolescent breasts are suddenly swollen and who wakes up racing for the toilet every morning, sick to her stomach? Is her life sacred?
What about the co-ed who can still feel the stranger’s hands forcing her knees apart, still feel his hot breath on her cheek, the lashing whip of his curses, that terrible moment of penetration, invasion, violation and bitter, impotent rage?
What about this student who now holds the home pregnancy test strip in her hand, watches it change colors and feels, as she slips to her knees on the bathroom floor with that hateful seed growing in her womb, as if she was just raped all over again? Is her life sacred?
What about the mother of three, just diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, the woman whose doctor says she needs chemotherapy immediately if she is to have any hope of survival. What about the agonizing decision she must now make, to refuse chemo, knowing it will mean dying and abandoning her existing children, or to take the drug, knowing it will kill the child she carries inside? Is her life not sacred?
It doesn’t seem to be, at least, not in the formulation embraced by the Grand Old Party. In that formulation, women are bystanders to their own existence, their individual situations subordinate to a one-size-fits-all morality, their very selves unimportant, except as vessels bearing children.
For that matter, the children themselves, once born, are not particularly sacred, especially if they have the misfortune to be born into less-than-ideal circumstances, situations where they might need help from the rest of us. But you see, “life” is not just the fact of existence. The term refers also to the nature and quality of that existence. So if we truly hold life sacred, we do not balance budgets by denying funding to programs that feed hungry children. We do not look the other way when kids have no access to health care. We do not countenance easy gun availability that makes the playground a war zone. We do not put up with child welfare agencies where tragedies routinely befall children who are always said to have “fallen between the cracks.”
Mourdock and other conservatives frequently tout the sacredness of life, but they seem to have a rather narrow definition thereof. They seem to consider life sacred only until the umbilical cord is cut. So for all its moral earnestness, their argument against abortion rights always manages to go too far and yet, not nearly far enough. If life is sacred when it is in the womb, well, it is also sacred when it is not.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a Pulitzer Prize winner and is a columnist for the Miami Herald.