Little fingers, on a little hand, on a little arm … A leg in the bottom corner, the heart amidst the remains, but no brain—it was “blasted out with the water.”
“Was that crack the little bits of the skull?”
“Mmhmm … I just want to see one leg. Here’s a foot …”
“It’s a baby.”
Start your day with Public DiscourseSign up and get our daily essays sent straight to your inbox.
And then, the now infamous declaration: “Another boy!”
These are not scenes from the latest slasher film, though graphic content warnings did precede the fourth undercover video released by the Center for Medical Progress. This is the footage of a Planned Parenthood team picking through the remains of an aborted baby to show the alleged buyer harvested body parts. This is the video that must shift the Planned Parenthood controversy away from legality to morality. The body parts of a first-trimester baby are sifted through with as much respect for life as an eighth-grader has for the frog he dissects in biology lab.
Good people know that killing and dismembering an innocent human is evil. Yet many continue to defend the funding of Planned Parenthood because they believe and perpetuate the lie that abortion is not the killing of a human. When faced with the injustice of killing an innocent life, they look away, hiding from the truth and calling death by another name.
Having carried life in my womb, I cannot look away. I cannot cloak reality in another name: Early pregnancy loss is death, and willful termination is killing.
The “Products of Conception” and our Culture of Silence
Judging by her article in The New Republic, Dr. Jen Gunter would argue that I simply fail to understand medical terms. To her, when I suffered two miscarriages, I did not lose my children; I only lost the “products of conception.”
In her view, if everyone simply accepted the “medical” terms of fetal development, we would then be able to stomach the picking apart and harvesting of organs as just another distasteful but necessary act of medical science akin to treating “broken limbs, rotting flesh, and cancers that smell.” But Dr. Gunter misses an important distinction. While all of the activities she lists are indeed gross, only abortion purposefully and expressly eliminates life.
Dr. Gunter has betrayed her Hippocratic oath. As a physician, she pledged to “remain a member of society with special obligations to all [her] fellow human beings,” yet she denies the humanity of the unborn. While in utero, she explains, the terms embryo and fetus are used; the word “baby” does not apply till birth. Thus, she argues, an abortion is not the killing of a baby.
This cold calculation is a lie. Whether embryo, fetus, baby, toddler, college student, or senior citizen, the product of a successful human conception is a human being.
But perhaps there is reason that Dr. Gunter’s lies can be perpetuated. In one way, she is right: As a culture, we fail to understand the truth about early pregnancy. The public conversation is hushed at best, leaving room for falsehoods and misconceptions. The absence of public discourse concerning early pregnancy diminishes the thing itself, leaving women confused and unprepared for the worst.
This culture of silence was challenged last August as loud whispers shot out across the internet at Jill Duggar’s announcement she was pregnant. The announcement came only a few months after she married Derick Dillard. The math just didn’t make sense: Either they were sexually active before marriage or (gasp!) Jill and Derick had “made the shocking decision to announce her pregnancy at just eight weeks.” This early announcement was so atypical that it called for follow-up articles for Jill and Derick to explain themselves. Jill told Page Six: “Understanding that the majority of miscarriages happen within the first trimester, and believing that every life is precious no matter how young, we decided to share our joyful news as soon as we could.”
Our Culture Doesn’t Understand Early Pregnancy—and Neither Did I
While Jill was announcing her pregnancy, I too was pregnant. I sat quietly admiring her bravery, still afraid to break the cultural norm. I had already lost a child to miscarriage only a few months earlier.
At that time, I did not understand the inadequacy of the public conversation concerning early pregnancy and my responsibility to be a life-affirming part of this conversation. I did not see how this gap in discourse hurt women and families. By not talking about early pregnancy, we fail to understand it. It’s easier to avoid the topic. It is easier because early pregnancy is hard to see: a woman’s body has hardly changed in appearance, she cannot feel any kicking, and the only evidence of life is a strange aversion to vegetables and a new relationship with the closest toilet.
Last September, as I read Jill Duggar’s Facebook updates about her pregnancy, I thought back to only a few months before. That April, my sister-in-law and I were pregnant together. Our due dates were only eleven days apart. After we both announced our pregnancies to our families, my head filled with hopes for the cousins we were carrying. My hopes only remained for three days before I was diagnosed with a miscarriage at 10 weeks 6 days.
Before that doctor’s visit, we had decided that we would publicly announce our pregnancy when we left. But afterwards, instead of taking cute pictures for our Facebook pages, we found ourselves telling everyone we knew about our loss. “I cannot come to work this week, I have miscarried.” “No, I cannot help you, I have a D&C that day.” Surrounded by a wonderful support system, I was affirmed in my grief. My mother, having suffered a miscarriage of her own, assured me that it was okay to grieve, for I had lost a child. Yet I still didn’t know what she meant.
Eager to move forward, I got pregnant again in July. This time, I told friends and family right away. However, because we had just moved to a new community, I kept my pregnancy a secret from my husband’s colleagues and our new friends.
At the end of September, we were diagnosed with a second miscarriage at 10 weeks 5 days. Experience now affirmed that pregnancy only leads to a couple months of horrible sickness, insufferable tiredness, and crippling food aversions, to be completed by grief and disappointment. I could not understand the simple truth: pregnancy = baby. Again, I found myself telling everyone about my loss. Keeping my pregnancy a secret did not protect me or my husband; it only robbed me of a support group for the two months I suffered pregnancy symptoms.
Laboring Through Grief
Still raw from the experience of my second miscarriage, I spent Thanksgiving with my husband’s family as everyone eagerly awaited the birth of our nephew. That Friday night, as my sister-in-law labored to birth a son, I labored through grief, oppressed by death. It was this laboring that produced full awareness that my miscarriages were the deaths of my children. I returned to those three short days we celebrated the cousins we were carrying. Each had been a “product of conception”: an embryo, and then a fetus. In those moments, my sister-in-law and I were experiencing the same reality. The difference was not that at some time later in her pregnancy life had been created. The difference was that, in my pregnancy, life had ended.
Having compounded my grief from both miscarriages my thoughts suddenly were focused on our first, the one we should be holding right now—the one we called “Baby.” That night I missed Baby. I missed Baby like I had never missed Baby before. I didn’t miss the thought of Baby, the hope of Baby, or even future babies. I deeply missed Baby—and my heart cried out to hold Baby. Suddenly, I was not grieving two tragic experiences, I was grieving the lives of two children. Determined not to undermine their lives, I carefully set out to talk about miscarriage more seriously with other women and families.
Nearly a year after Duggar’s announcement, in the midst of a vibrant public conversation about abortion, Mark Zuckerberg announced his wife Priscilla’s pregnancy on his Facebook page. His announcement did not include pictures of cute little baby shoes. There were no puns, riddles, or rhymes. Instead, he celebrated the life of their child and reflected on their three previous miscarriages. He noted the loneliness surrounding early pregnancy and pregnancy loss: “Most people don’t discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you—as if you’re defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own.”
Zuckerberg then drew attention to the poor public conversation and called for something better: “In today’s open and connected world, discussing these issues doesn’t distance us; it brings us together. It creates understanding and tolerance, and it gives us hope.”
With an estimated one in four confirmed pregnancies ending in miscarriage, people were ready to answer his call. TODAY Parents ran an article: “Women applaud Facebook founder’s call to be more open about miscarriages” and the Huffington Post cried: “Thank You, Mark and Pricilla, for Sharing about Pregnancy Loss.”
It’s Time to Talk about Early Pregnancy
Jill Duggar and Mark Zuckerburg are right; it is time to talk about early pregnancy. I will go even further: It is time to understand the loss of early pregnancy as a death and allow a space for women to grieve this loss of life. The lies perpetuated by pro-choice advocates tell families that they did not lose a child but only a “product of conception.”
This hurts not only the woman who miscarries, but the woman who finds herself in the position to abort. I second Kathryn Jean Lopez, who says to women who have experienced abortions:
I am so sorry. That we cannot go back to that moment and get you the help you needed, the information you wanted, the hope and love you craved. I am so sorry about what you’re learning now, what you’re seeing, what you’re reliving. Our culture didn’t let you mourn—we pretend you weren’t a parent, that you’re not. What’s hidden is laid bare. Know you’re loved and not judged. I’m so sorry the law let this happen. I’m so sorry we let this happen.
Our current ways of discussing early pregnancy has confused both our understanding of the woman who has miscarried and the woman who has aborted. From both women, we have taken away their ability and their right to grieve by denying the death of their child.
I beg you: Do not turn your head from death. The purposeful destruction of fetal tissue is the destruction of an innocent life. Regardless of the legalities surrounding Planned Parenthood’s participation in the sale of fetal tissue, the Center for Medical Progress has called our attention to the disgusting practice of abortion, and we must answer. When a woman is in the tragic situation of unwanted pregnancy, we have to offer her more than death. If she is considering abortion, we must meet her with something better. Death will not free her from her misery. We must meet her with life.
As Jill Duggar and my sister-in-law hold their sons, as Priscilla carries her child with hope mixed with fear, and as all the mothers who have lost early pregnancies cry out with a longing pain that pierces the heart, it is time for a cultural change. It is time we serve these women by acknowledging early pregnancy loss and affirming their motherhood. It is time to have a new conversation about life knowing the reality of death—for Baby, for #AnotherBoy, and for the millions more we’ve lost.