An Open Letter to Matt Kaufman

Dear Mr. Kaufman:

Some months ago, I was listening to CBC radio, and I was struck by something. CBC was doing a year in review article. One part was a follow up interview with one of two lesbian partners who had appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada, so that they could both be listed as their child's mother.

The interviewer asked how their child had been affected by the case and the decision. Mum one pointed out that up until the decision was made by the Supreme
Court, their son had been completely unaware of his parent's court case, of the controversy surrounding his two mums. When the radio announced the court's decision, the family was in the car coming home from a vacation. They were listening to the radio.

One of the mum's attempted to turn the radio down, before the son realized that the radio was talking about him. The young boy insisted on listening. I remember CBC played some of the comments from Christian groups in the story. I remember the horrific vitriol spewed out by one of the Catholic commentators. She suggested that these parents were monsters, that they were evil, that this young boy must be badly damaged.

And suddenly I wondered, if this commentator knew that this young boy was listening, would she have said what she did? Something in me changed that day. I began to understand, when we have debates about the profound moral issues of our day, we need to do so assuming that the other side can hear us. We need to watch our words, be kind and humble.

So today I read your article. And I saw red. Really red. Not pink, light orange, but sheer blood red. Because I am so tired. Tired of those who reduce profoundly complex and painful debates to simple fairy tale stories. Who suggest, either implicitly or explicitly that every single woman who has an abortion is a terrible, awful person. Who deserves no mercy, who is right up there with the scribes and the pharisee's. (Oh, wait, isn't that all of us?)

Your post was based on a reader question about a "new" way of defending abortion - looking at abortion as requiring a woman to carry a baby to term, that she may not want to carry. In short, the state can't require us to donate our kidney's to someone, so why should it require us to keep a baby alive? Actually, the argument isn't at all new - It's Judith Jarvis Thompson's argument, from A Defense of Abortion, which she published in 1971. Indeed, the organ donation reference is directly taken from her thought experiment associated with the article. I wish you were able to identify the source of the argument from this book, rather than the much more controversial book Eileen McDonagh published in 1996. In highlighting one "thought experiment" that of rape, I think you quickly managed to polarize the debate on abortion, yet again. Both articles contain some interesting philosophical ideas, and while you might disagree with the authors, both are well credentialed author's, who put significant thought into their arguments. They deserved rather more respect and consideration than you gave them.

I think the language that you used was deliberately explosive, and I think that you shifted the ground of the argument to make your point, but what I'd really like to talk about is how we have debates about abortion in our society.

For me, the problem is intensely personal. My very beloved son was, quite literally, killing me. In my case, Gabriel was "the enemy". He was loved, adored, and very much wanted, but the fact that I was pregnant was killing me. Such is the very nature of Pre-eclampsia. Trust me, the irony that the baby my husband and I longed and prayed for was going to kill me, has not escaped me. It suddenly became the will of my husband and I, that I should no longer be pregnant, lest I die. In making the decision to end my pregnancy, I gave birth to my son 15 weeks early, at a time in his gestation that he could not hope to survive. I had an abortion. Sure, I wasn't a 20 year old unwed mother in a planned parenthood clinic, pregnant by her football playing boyfriend, but I had an abortion. I ended my child's life, when I chose to give birth.

And suddenly, after having to choose my life over my unborn son's, I find myself a champion for a woman's right to choose. I am suddenly aware that in many times and places in history, I would have had no choice. That the current partial birth abortion legislation contains no exception for the health of the mother. I suspect you support this legislation sir, and you need to know that you would have killed me.

Mr. Kaufman, you have blindly suggested that pregnancy is never the enemy, that "The preborn are seen chiefly as afflictions" by people who advocate for abortions, and that anyone who holds the view that the state should not be permitted to force you to carry a baby against your will is "a monster". Matters are quite clear in your world "The principle is very basic: If you are a baby's only hope to survive — if there's no one else who can do the job — you could never walk away, much less invoke your "right" to do so. Period, exclamation point".

Mr. Kaufman, you suggested some very awful things about women who choose their life over their child's. You said:
You'd have to become a monster to do something like that. If you even found yourself thinking seriously about it, you'd be horrified. You'd feel your own humanity, your very soul, slipping away. You'd be flirting with pure evil, and you'd know it.

Wow. Those are brutal things to say to anyone. And I'd like you to know, I heard you. So that you know where I'm coming from, I'd like to post this response. It comes from another debate on abortion, where yet another person tried to make abortion look black and white. I'm quite willing, Mr. Kaufman, to bring you into the most painful and horrific time of my life, to ask, are you still so willing to call me a monster? Are you still willing to tell me my soul slipped away? Are you still willing to suggest that I'm pure evil?

I'd like to bring you to my hospital room on December 2, 2007, if you are willing to come with me. Please imagine that you are in a major teaching hospital here in Alberta, Canada the best of its kind for this situation, there’s you, a perinatologist, your husband and your mother. It’s a Saturday, in the evening, you have been waiting for hours. The window looks out on a concrete wall, you can’t concentrate on the hat you are knitting. The perinatologist comes in, she runs another ultrasound. The resident wasn’t pleased about the results of the first. Wanted a second opinion. You hear the words "you are dying and the baby is not doing well". There's an ultrasound machine, the floor is littered with strips of fetal monitoring paper. The room is cold and cramped, and you are frightened beyond where you have ever been. They can't give you any guarantees. Is there a few days? Maybe, but your kidneys are starting to fail. They will start giving you aggressive drugs but you could seize any moment, you could die of a stroke. If left untreated, you will die. There is no doubt. The baby is underweight for gestation, the odds of survival for a baby this size are very slim.

Would you like a c-section, that's the best way to get the baby out? Yes, you will always have to have a c-section now, because the incision will have to be so low. No, the baby is very likely to have significant neurological defects, not just blindness. Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy, possibly no brain function. That means that the baby will likely never come home, would have to be in a place that could handle the care of a baby with a feeding tube, a tracheotomy, could perform almost constant manipulation of muscles to try and stave off atrophy, can't give pain killers to those kids, that depresses respiration. Well, 6 weeks after a delivery, when babies make it that long, we do an ultrasound, most of the time there are no brain waves. We ask parents if they want to remove the respirator, hold their baby, often for the first time, while they die. No, you wouldn't see your baby right after it was born, Mom would have to be anesthetized for a c-section. No, an epidural isn't an option with your blood pressure. Well, we would bring the baby back to you if it died. You can see it in NICU otherwise. Well, chances of survival, if I have to give a number, are about 10%.

Let me tell you what we did:
We laboured to give birth to our son. His midwife caught him. I rocked him, and sang a lullaby, told him how much he was loved. His father rocked him, carried him around, we phoned our families’ who spoke to him, and told him they loved him, and told him they would see him in Heaven. Our parish priest drove like the wind to be at the hospital before he died, so that she could baptize him. He died in his daddy's arms. His grandmother bathed him and dressed him in the smallest clothes she could find and tucked in a newborn cap that I had sewn. Everything was far, far too large for him. We prayed as a family, thanked God for the life that had been Gabriel, for the gift of 30 minutes, for the prayers and compassion of others. My husband and I kissed him goodbye, told him that we loved him and that we would see him at the Last Day. His grandmother walked him down to the morgue. We gave him back to the Creator that gave him to us.We choose a funeral home, tucked white roses in with him, brought his tiny urn of ashes to his funeral, with the book his father read to him in utero, the stuffed bunny I bought him, a small vase of roses from mummy and daddy. Our family, our friends, our church community, our co-workers gathered together to mourn the short, sweet life that God gave us. We gave him back to the creator that gave him to us, proclaiming the bodily resurrection and that our Redeemer lives.

Say you don't agree with my choices, say that would have tried any and all measures to save your child, say that you would have died to try and give him the faint hope the last days might have given him. Make that decision with your family, I respect your right to do that. Know that I would have sat with you and your wife in that room and allowed you to make the choice that you felt God meant you to make, that you felt was the best path for your family. Know that I would weep for you, for the tragedy that has taken over your life. Know that whatever choice you make, I would believe that you made the choice with thought and care, and made the best choice you could.

I have tried to bring you, a complete stranger, into the most painful, raw time of my life. I hold this pain in two hands to try and show you, there are no easy answers, life isn't a quick fix, there are no test cases in real life. It's not always so clear about what our moral imperitive is, is it?

We can have a dialogue, and we should talk about abortion, about euthanasia, about welfare, about genocide, about poverty. But please know this, there are words that are so cruel, so cutting, so mean spirited, that they shouldn't be used. That they rip, and tear and mutilate and destroy. Please, choose your words wisely. Acknowledge that others bear burdens and pain that are so deep, and so vast there are no words to describe it. Deal kindly with the broken. There but for the Grace of God go all of us.

And please Mr. Kaufman, remember, I can hear you.

Update: I can't find an address for Matt Kaufman at Boundless. I have forwarded the letter to their editor, and received an automatic reply indicating that they read every letter personally, "but regret they are rarely able to reply personally".