Basic Confusion


When I was about 10 years old, Dad took me to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The name didn’t sound very promising. I didn’t much like science, and “industry” sounded boring. But the museum was super-cool, not old stuff behind glass like every other museum I had been to, but big, bright, talking, moving interactive exhibits.

It had an enormous human heart that you could walk through, examining the four chambers and the veins and arteries, all to the thump-THUMP of its beat. It had real ships and planes and submarines and trains. It had a life-sized Main Street from a century ago with an old-fashioned candy store. It had the most exquisite dollhouse ever, with marble and gold and carved wood.

But I spent the most time in the small room dedicated to embryology. It showed human development from conception to birth. The early stages were depicted hour by hour, then day by day, on big, blown-up microscopic images. But from about eight weeks, a real fetus floated in a glass jar, at each stage of development, with an explanation of what the development was.

In retrospect, it’s horrifying to think where those babies came from. But at the time I had no idea what an abortion was—it wasn’t something mentioned in front of children in those days. I wasn’t a Christian, and my dad was science-minded. I took a purely clinical interest. Besides, I knew about miscarriages: I grew up breeding animals. So, without any moral reflection at all, I spent a long time studying how babies go from being a single cell to having a beating heart and hands and feet, and I was filled with a simple wonder at how we are made.

A couple of years later, a friend of my parents asked me what I thought about abortion. By then, I knew what it was, and I said it was wrong. She asked why I thought it was wrong. “Because it’s a person,” I replied. “But when does it become a person?” she asked, as if she’d gotten to the really difficult part.

“At conception,” I said, in that adolescent tone that says, “Geez. How dumb could you be?” I mean, did she think it might turn into a puppy or something?

The incident stood out in my mind because it seemed so odd to me that a grown-up was confused about something so obvious. I decided she must not be very bright. Abortion wasn’t a real moral issue for me because it wasn’t something, I thought, that anyone would really do.

A couple of years after that, I learned how wrong I was. A classmate described to our little circle of friends how her parents forced her to a “family planning clinic,” where she was physically restrained while the brutality was committed. She screamed over and over, “Please don’t kill my baby!” She was 14.

When grown-ups are confused about basic things, like what a person is, people die. Lots of people.

Francis Beckwith cuts through the confusion in his fine article on page 6.

Sadly, I don’t think the museum has that exhibit anymore. I wonder why.

 


Cherie Peacock edited This Rock magazine from 2004 to 2011.  Her writing has also appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and the National Catholic Register.  She is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the Catholic Press Association. She holds bachelor and...

This article appeared in Volume 21 Number 5.