Last week, an article on CNN reported that, at three years old, the “most premature baby” ever born is now thriving. Born at just 21 weeks and four days gestation (possibly the earliest any baby has ever been born and survived), baby girl Stensrud is now a “fun-loving, spunky” little girl who shows no ill effects from being born so early. Her premature birth and subsequent survival without any noticeable ill effects is giving doctors hope that, as Dr. Kaashif Ahmad, baby Stensrud’s doctor, says, they will be able to push the boundaries of “how premature a baby can be born and not only survive but have a positive developmental outcome.”
— CNN Health (@cnnhealth) November 8, 2017
But something is wrong here. In the entire CNN article — which celebrates baby Stensrud’s good health, and what it means for premature birth — there is one word that is glaring in its omission: abortion. If baby girl Stensrud is a miracle — whose life is to be lauded and celebrated, and whose survival gives doctors hope that others like her might live as well — then what does that say about other babies just exactly her gestational age whose lives were terminated?
Abortion is one of the most contentious issues in our country today. Because of what each side believes, there can be no compromise. For a long time I was pro-choice. But a miscarriage I had after nine weeks of pregnancy convinced me, for a variety of reasons, that what I had lost was not a clump of cells, but a baby. Which necessarily caused me to flip suddenly (and somewhat reluctantly) from being pro-choice to pro-life.
But I can certainly understand the other side of the issue. And I feel intense compassion for people who find themselves faced with this terrible choice. Not the women who choose to abort their babies because, for example, they wanted a boy and they were having a girl. But surely we can all feel for someone who became pregnant after rape, or who has learned that her baby has some terrible condition, or may not live much past birth. But just because the issue is thorny, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask hard questions. In fact, I believe it means we must.
Pro-abortion advocates want us to believe that the fight over abortion rights is one of women’s freedom. “My body my choice!” they chant, letting us know that government should have no say over what is done to their bodies. And, on principle, this makes sense. Women should have the final say over what medical procedures to have or not have, which tattoos to get or not get, which men to have sex with, which clothes to wear. And since, to them, an unborn baby is not a human being, this is a logical statement.
But anti-abortion advocates believe that an unborn baby is a baby, and that killing it is ending a life. That’s why “my body my choice” means nothing to them. It isn’t the mother’s body they’re concerned with, it’s the baby’s. Yes, the baby’s body is inside the mother’s, but they believe it is distinct and important in its own right. For them, a death is a death no matter where the dead person happened to reside.
No one knows for certain when life begins. And that is why (barring further information) this issue will never be definitively resolved. But that is why baby girl Stensrud’s case is such an important one to discuss. Not as a “gotcha!” to all pro-choice advocates. But simply as a difficult moral question that bears examining. Because 21 weeks four days — the gestational age of baby girl Stensrud — is within the legal limit for abortion in some states. So if, at birth, baby girl Stensrud was a human being whose survival was hoped for and prayed for, and medically intervened for, then shouldn’t any baby of that gestational age be a human being as well? Can a person only be a person when you want him to be?
If, instead of desperately wanting her to live, baby girl Stensrud’s parents had wanted to abort her, they could have legally done so. Courtney Stensrud could have had a procedure known as a D&E — dilation and evacuation. After being placed under general (or sometimes only local) anesthesia, a doctor would have removed baby girl Stensrud from Courtney’s uterus in pieces. The very same baby that, instead, was born, was loved, and lived. How can this be?
If baby girl Stensrud’s mother had believed that a baby of 21 weeks four days gestation was not a human being, baby girl Stensrud would not have lived. There, in the hospital room, her doctors advised her that the baby should not be resuscitated. Instead, Courtney Stensrud says, “I just felt something inside of me say, ‘Just have hope and have faith.’” She told the doctors she wanted them to do everything they could to save her baby girl. And they did. Shouldn’t we be talking about this?