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Enslaved By Life As It Is

Fr. Joseph K. Horn
19 February 1989
St. Norbert’s Parish
Orange, California

The Civil War was fought over two issues, mainly: States’ rights, and slavery. For many people, the moral issue of slavery was the primary one. The entire nation was split, and almost fell apart. Even after the war ended and the Union was restored, it took over a hundred more years for the concept of equal rights to sink in.

But the strife of the Civil War is not just dusty history. Today we have exactly the same situation as we did just before the Civil War. Our country is being split apart again. This time around, it isn’t the slaves whose rights are being challenged. It’s another sector of the population that are not being considered “people” by a huge percent of Americans. The arguments are the same ones we heard 130 years ago defending slavery. But back then it was the North versus the South; the Blue vs. the Gray. Today it’s the pro-life activists versus the pro-choice advocates.

Back then, they said that slaves were their “property” and they had the “Constitutional right” to do whatever they wanted with their own property. Today, you hear people say, “But it’s my own body! I have the right to control my own body!” They are forgetting someone: the unborn child, who also has rights, and whose body is distinct from the mother’s body.

Back then, they said, “If they move into our neighborhood, it’ll ruin our lifestyle.” Today, they say, “If I have a baby, it’ll ruin my lifestyle.” They are forgetting someone, the unborn child, for whom an abortion is not merely the upsetting of a lifestyle but the termination of a human life.

Back then, they said, “It’s a private matter what I do with my slaves; I’m not hurting anybody.” Today, they say, “If I get an abortion, it’s my business, not yours; I’m not hurting anybody.” They’re forgetting someone, the unborn child, who is not only being hurt, but murdered.

Back then, they said, “If you want to treat your slaves nicely, that’s fine; I’m just defending my right to choose what I want to do with my slaves.” Today, they say, “If you don’t want to have an abortion, that’s fine; I’m just defending my right to make my own choice.” They are forgetting someone, the unborn child, who is given no choice whatsoever.

Back then, they said, “If they mix with us, we’ll lose the purity of our race.” Today, they say, “If we allow unwanted and defective children to be born, they’ll suffer from a quality of life that will make them social burdens.” What a stupid argument: they might be sad or imperfect, so kill ’em. They’re forgetting that with faith, hope and love, any life is worth living, no matter how great the suffering or burdensome the handicap. How come they never walk up to a ten-year-old child suffering from a handicap or from parental neglect or abuse, and say, “Hey kid, your quality of life is substandard; want me to kill you?” But the logic is the same!

Back then, they said, “If you don’t like what we do in the Ku Klux Klan, write a letter to your congressman and get the laws changed.” Today, they say, “If you don’t like what we do in the abortion clinics, write a letter to your congressman and get the laws changed.” They’re forgetting someone, the unborn child, for whom no letter or even radical change of the laws can do any good since for him or her it would be too late.

Back then, they said, “People always owned slaves, and always will, so to prevent dangerous social upheaval we should keep slavery legal.” Today, they say, “People are going to get abortions anyway, so to prevent dangerous quacks from performing abortions we should keep abortion legal and safe.” They’re forgetting someone, the unborn child, for whom no abortion is safe.

Back then, they said, “Slaves aren’t people! They don’t even look like people!” Today, they say, “A fetus isn’t a person! It doesn’t even barely look like a person!” What is it then; a fish? But fish never turn into people. Is it a tumor? Tumors never turn into people. There is a question that I love to ask people who have this objection. I ask them, “When did you begin to exist? At exactly what moment on which day of what year did you begin to exist, such that killing you after that moment would have been murder, but killing you before that moment would not have been?” They never know what to reply, because they have never thought these things through.

These parallels between mid-nineteenth century slavery and late twentieth century abortion are both encouraging and frightening.

The parallels are encouraging because if history repeats itself as it always seems to do, then the laws will change to preserve, protect and defend the rights of the unborn, and eventually, after many more years go by, society as a whole will slowly but surely realize that from the moment of conception, every preborn child is as fully human as the rest of us. We will come to realize that treating the preborn as medical garbage is essentially no different from the school yard bully beating up only children smaller than himself: an act that’s cowardly and reprehensible. I hope history repeats itself, because as history unfolded, slaves were finally recognized as people with full human rights; then the Catholics were; then Blacks; then women... no group ever lost this battle. The unborn are next to be accepted as people too. It is an idea whose time has come.

But the parallels between slavery and abortion are also frightening. Students of history know that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves, just certain ones. All slaves gained the status of citizenship only after a long and bloody Civil War and an almost equally violent period of Reconstruction. History repeats itself, but I pray that God spares us from repeating that violence. If this time we can get by with peaceful demonstrations of pro-life solidarity, there will be no need for violence. But it boggles my mind that there are many good people who oppose even non-violent pro-life programs. This opposition is unwise, because those who make peaceful protest impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

Last week, while discussing abortion with a friend, I was amazed to hear her say, “Well, I don’t like abortion either, but you’ve got to admit that kids are going to be promiscuous no matter what we say, so to avoid needing to get abortions they ought to use protection.”

I replied, “That’s a real vote of confidence! By saying that, you’re telling these kids, ’Hey, I was just joking about virtue and the commandments and all that, because it’s impossible to be good.’ Well, I disagree completely. If we let our lives be living proof that self control is possible, that completely refraining from sexual contact outside of marriage is possible, then they will have the courage and hope to do the same.”

And she said, “Oh, get real! Wishing never made anything happen! That’s just not how life really is!”

I was speechless (which is rare). But it reminded me of my favorite soliloquy in all of literature. It’s not even by Shakespeare. It’s in the play Man of La Mancha, loosely based on the book Don Quixote. In the play (and movie), Cervantes is in prison, telling a skeptic about his poetic vision of the world. The skeptic says, “You poets run away from reality. A man has to come to terms with life as it is!”

Cervantes replies with his unforgettable soliloquy:

Life as it is? I’ve lived for over forty years, and I’ve seen life “as it is”! Pain. Misery. Cruelty beyond belief! I’ve heard all the voices of God’s noblest creature: moans from bundles of filth in the streets!

I’ve been a soldier and a slave. I’ve seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I’ve held them at the last moment. These were men who saw life as it is, but they died despairing! No glory; no brave last words. Only their eyes filled with confusion, questioning “Why?” I do not think they were asking why they were dying, but why they had ever lived!

Life itself seems lunatic! Who knows where the madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness! To surrender dreams; this is surely madness. Too much sanity may be madness.

But maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!

The pro-abortion activists are making two fundamental mistakes. First, they fail to recognize that every human fetus is a human person. Second, they limit their minds to life as it is, and never glimpse life as it should be.

May God grant us the poetic inspiration to rise above the quagmire of modern life as it is, and bless us with the courage to joyfully seek life as it should be!

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