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Jewish World Review April 13, 2000 /8 Nissan, 5760

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'Baby in a bottle' might provoke second look at abortion -- IT ALL BEGAN with a letter from a Catholic, widowed grandmother of seven grandchildren. It was a request for me to help (via my radio program) a Christian minister and a high school science teacher get a 5-month-old unborn baby in a jar out of a high school in Deeming, N.M.

According to a Jan. 30 article in the Albuquerque Journal, this fetus was displayed in a jar on a shelf with other animal specimens in a storage section of a classroom. The grandmother, who sent me the article and the request for help, also sent a copy of a letter to the editor of the newspaper from a physician defending the presence of this "specimen" as necessary for scientific study within the classroom.

I weighed in. At first, I talked about the ever-diminishing appreciation, respect and reverence for human life, especially the lives of children, born and unborn. In spite of early protestations to the contrary, abortion has become a commonplace alternative birth control technique rather than the serious, sad, sometimes necessary, but evil, last resort to terminate a pregnancy resulting from incest or rape, or in other genuinely dire situations, such as the illness of the mother.

I believe this attitude is the necessary precursor to the general acceptance of Peter Singer's appointment to the esteemed chair of human ethics at Princeton University. Singer believes families ought to have the right to terminate the life of their newborns, up to age 1 month, if the child's medical condition is so serious as to fundamentally compromise its own or the family's long-term happiness.

Interestingly, as I began to verbalize these ideas, my position shifted. At first, I too interpreted the "baby in a jar" as yet another example of the denigration of human life. But then it occurred to me that part of the problem is we really don't want to know the truth. We don't want it in our faces. It's too vivid, too compelling, too raw and upsetting. Instead, in order to justify the increasingly cavalier attitude toward the unborn, we prefer our truth in the abstract. The "baby in the bottle" ends all that.

It's comparable, I think, to the problem facing this country about pornography, which is also becoming more and more prevalent and insidious. The actual depictions in pornographic literature, videos, etc. are so debased that mainstream print and television cannot show them. So the average American is not fully informed about how bad it really is or what our children are being exposed to.

It occurred to me that I might create a program to bottle aborted fetuses, and label and display them in every Planned Parenthood lobby in an attempt at full disclosure for women seeking an abortion. From what I read in the press, Planned Parenthood does not support legislation to enforce generally accepted medical guidelines for giving people "full and informed" consent. In the case of abortion, this would involve a 24-hour waiting period after viewing materials that clarify the progress of the pregnancy and learning the details concerning the procedure, as well as the risks and potential long-term effects associated with it.

I invited my radio audience to comment on these thoughts and ideas, to let me know how they felt about babies in bottles on display in schools and abortion clinics. The responses were impassioned and well-thought-out. Seventy-two percent agreed that fetuses should be displayed; 28 percent disagreed.

In general, those who disagreed did not have a problem with the concept of presenting displays but suggested that "plastic models could be created that looked very lifelike." Generally, the "no" votes expressed profound concerns that such displays would show a "blatant lack of respect for human life."

Terry asked: "Could your humanization plan backfire? Looking at such things as deceased human bodies tends to build up a sort of immunity to compassion. There may well be shock value that would cause someone to think twice, but where would we stop? We might have all kinds of grotesque adornings cluttering up our society simply for their shock value. Then, we would stop being shocked and just be callous. Numb."

I would agree with Terry if these displays were widespread and associated with entertainment -- videos, art exhibits, movies, television, commercials and so forth -- rather than in an educational context such as an ethics or biology classroom or abortion clinics.

Pro-life activists wrote to tell me that they use the shock value approach with pro-choice people at abortion clinic protests. They make the issue very real by displaying actual aborted babies to abortion activists. Toni reports that the sight quiets the crowd immediately. "They are speechless in the face of the reality," she wrote. "I think everyone should see these little innocents. How on earth will we ever change people's minds unless we change their hearts?"

How indeed?

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