This summer, Monica, a 20-week-old premature baby, was laid to rest in New York City after a funeral Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn. She had been found dead under a tree in Brooklyn in February. No one knows where she came from, and whoever her mother is, she’s chosen to remain silent thus far.
Born at only 20 weeks, Monica was a “non-viable” fetus, and the medical examiner believes she may have been the result of a secret miscarriage. On June 29, baby Monica was laid to rest in the Guardian Angel section of Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island, her casket carried by six of New York’s finest. Mourners said the service was beautiful and lamented the circumstances that may have led her mother to abandon her.
During the period Monica’s funeral arrangements were most likely being finalized, I was communicating with a woman in New York City who was seeking an abortion of an unborn baby old enough to have been born and saved by medical care. The mother was also being counseled by a number of New York pro-life activists and religious advocates in hopes she would change her mind, but on the Wednesday preceding Monica’s funeral, she ended her unborn baby’s life. She was 26.5 weeks pregnant.
The procedure took four days to end the life of a child she even named, whom I’ll call “Baby K.” This abortive mother was leaving the hospital the same time Monica was being interred.
What a contrast. Baby K was older than Monica, and could have survived outside of the womb. There was no reason she couldn’t have been delivered alive. Her mom just didn’t want to have a baby this summer. She was concerned about a number of issues she might face if she delivered her baby, and ultimately “chose” to commit a senseless act of violence against her child because of convenience and fear.
Baby K received no funeral Mass, no interment in hallowed ground, no newspaper write-ups and no tearful mourners lamenting her fate. If prolife workers hadn’t been speaking with Baby K’s mom, no one would be bearing witness to her short life.
Baby K most likely wouldn’t have been eligible for abortion if it hadn’t been for New York’s new Reproductive Health Act. Its “health” exemption for mothers made it incredibly easy for Baby K’s mom to obtain an abortion at such a late stage because health means whatever you want it to mean.
When passing the act, politicians in New York spoke of “codifying Roe” without clarifying that codifying the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade meant codifying “Doe” as well: a less referenced Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand using a loose “health” exemption.
While an outside physician assured her Baby K was physically healthy and twice confirmed a gestational age that would have made Baby K 26.5 weeks on that Wednesday, doctors who were counseling her to have an abortion stoked her fears and covered themselves by telling her the baby was “measuring small” and either had a birth defect or wasn’t as far along as they’d originally believed. In fact, the abortion provider dated the pregnancy to a conception date that would have occurred after mom had a positive pregnancy test and had already begun receiving prenatal care.
The reality is, neither Monica nor Baby K were “clumps of cells,” except in the most technical terms. Their humanity was unmistakably apparent in their physical form. Monica was recognized as a person and bystanders called 911 when she was found.
No one disputed this was a baby. Baby K was seen in ultrasounds by mom and the multiple doctors who scanned her, as well as prolife advocates who attended her prenatal appointments. Both were conceived by women who could not, or would not, care for them, both abandoned in death by the one person who should have protected them regardless of the circumstances.
But because one is assumed to have been “lost” rather than “aborted,” our empathetic society responded to her humanity. We used our rituals to make sense of her passing and spoke her name to the entire world, forcing recognition of her humanness. We made her one of us.
Because of an unjust law that has classed one segment of the population as “non-persons,” Baby K was tossed in a dish and filed away as medical waste. She never knew the gentle touch of human hands. She was the “products of conception,” the end result of “women’s health care,” the fruits of “reproductive justice.” She was classified as not one of us.
I remember the party atmosphere when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the “Reproductive Health Act” into law. Women surrounded him, clapping and whooping. They were excited about gaining the freedom to end their children’s lives. They rejoiced because they believe women like Baby K’s mom were going to be empowered by their ability to purchase later-term abortions.
This belief goes against everything we know to be true: only the weak use violence as proof of their strength. Baby K was silent, unable to form a defense or plead for her own life. The law, which is supposed to protect those who can’t protect themselves, failed her.
Sadly, I think it’s safe to assume Baby K’s is just one story among many. The only headlines focused on babies like her will be headlines celebrating “women’s rights.” How many more Baby Ks will it take before the law changes?
We all have an opportunity to assure babies like K are never “terminated.” We all have the ability to fight against systemic brutality. We can do so on a personal basis, by aiding and counseling families at risk both before they face a crisis pregnancy, and during times they see their situation as untenable. We can give our time, talents, and money to projects that encourage families to choose life. We can do so by supporting life-affirming legislators and legislative actions so the most vulnerable are protected.
What we can no longer do is sit back and pretend like these things aren’t happening because we aren’t hearing the stories, and we can no longer stick our heads in the sand and pretend “health of the mother” doesn’t include anything a woman is negatively responding to, on a purely emotional level, during pregnancy. We can do better for babies like Monica and Baby K.