If we want to change the way people think, talk, and act toward unwanted unborn children, we will need to change the way they think, talk, and act about wanted unborn children. Our approach to them either conveys the presence of a person or, well, of something less than a person. Take four simple examples:
First, even the best pro-life people will be heard saying, “I’m expecting a child.”
But if you are “expecting” someone, that person hasn’t arrived yet. Our message is that the unborn child is already here, and is fully a person. A pregnant woman is already a mother who has a child. “I’m carrying a child” is more appropriate, and in counting how many children she has, the child she carries counts as one, not as a “half” or one “on the way.”
This leads to the issue of naming the child. A pregnant mother is often asked if she has “picked out a name yet.” In the Culture of Life, every person has a name.
Delaying the practice of naming until birth only reinforces the idea that we don’t have a person there until birth. A name should be chosen and used as soon as one discovers she is pregnant. The practical problem, of course, is not knowing the child’s gender right away. I recommend, then, choosing two names. But the key is the timing of the decision. In other words, the names are definitively chosen by the time pregnancy is discovered. They are not just possible names As soon as the gender is known, one of the two will stick.
Another very common practice reinforces the notion that a person exists only at birth. Notice how we celebrate birthdays, but do not celebrate Firstdays. Actually, the Culture of Life should be distinguished by its custom of celebrating the day the person began to exist, which, of course, is nine months prior to one’s birthday. True, we do not know the day with exact certitude, but that should not mean we ignore it altogether. We all existed, lived, and grew prior to our birthdays, and the celebration of a “Firstday” nine months before our birthday would send a meaningful message to our culture.
Finally, the sad reality of miscarriage is common. The Culture of Life recognizes that miscarriage is the loss of a child who is a whole person. It is not the loss of a concept or of a possibility, but of an actual child, who has a body. Where possible, of course, baptism is administered, even if conditionally, in case the child may still be alive. Every reasonable effort should be made, furthermore, to take the bodily remains of this child and commit them to the earth by a proper burial. Here we need the generous collaboration of cemeteries and Churches so that this practice becomes more common.
Babies in the womb are real, full persons. These four steps would be good ways to continue to waken our culture to that simple fact.
Fr. Pavone is the Founding Director of Priests for Life. You may contact Priests for Life at PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314; Tel: 888-PFL-3448 or 718-980-4400; Fax: 718-980-6515; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.priestsforlife.org.