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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Cutting Loose Baby

"Fetus Cut From Slain Woman's Body" the headlines screamed, as schizophrenia became the order of the day. Virtually every article on the latest incident of in vivo tissue-knapping vacillated on correct terminology. Should they refer to the contents of the uterus as a fetus or a baby? Was Bobbi Jo Stinnett, the murdered woman, a mother or a mother-to-be? The Amber Alert, an emergency response developed to help find missing children, was issued "for the missing fetus." But, within a day, the little one had become a "baby… named Victoria Jo." Fox News showed the most wildly inventive mix of terms in a single sentence, "Montgomery was in possession of the infant believed to be the stolen fetus when police found the baby on Friday, ending a day of frantic searching. DNA tests will confirm whether the girl is Stinnett's."

Whew. You’ve got to wonder how many editors threw their two cents in on that sentence.

Unfortunately, however, given all the hoopla, none of the news agencies took the opportunity to clarify exactly when the child transmogrified from fetus to baby. It clearly didn’t happen when Bobbi Jo Stinnet’s belly was sliced open, as the Amber Alert testified. It didn’t happen when the umbilical cord was cut. It didn’t happen when the child was carried away. Perhaps it happened when the little girl was named Victoria Jo, but that’s open to debate.

The number of issues inadvertently raised in this case are legion. The news media seems to be in a consensus on at least one issue: a fetus clearly doesn’t become a child upon taking first breath, despite what the unconstitutionally clear federal law on partial-birth abortion says. Fair enough.

After all, we are supposed to have a separation of church and state in this country. The rule that a child only exists at first breath is based in Jewish belief. Thus, for the secular media, the idea that the fetus becomes a child simply because it is breathing outside the womb is ridiculously Jewish, just as the idea that a child exists at the moment of conception is ridiculously Christian. Christianity and Judaism, gutter and ghetto faiths respectively, must be kept out of the discussion.

But once the fetus becomes a child, the issues keep coming. For instance, it gives a whole new dimension to the "every child a wanted child" conversation. After all, Victoria Jo was wanted very much, and by multiple people: Mr & Mrs. Stinnett, the Stinnett grandparents, Lisa Montgomery, the police – the list is rather longer than usual. Oddly enough, even though she was arguably the most wanted baby in the nation, that quality doesn’t seemed to have worked out well for any of the people involved. Montgomery killed a mother and aborted the wanted child (fetus?) precisely because she wanted the little one. Wantedness doesn't seem to reduce the incidence of abortion after all.

And that’s the most interesting part. The charge against Montgomery is not illegal abortion – although that is clearly her crime – the charge is kidnapping with a death involved, which makes a lot less sense. How can you kidnap something that isn’t a kid until after it is taken? Why issue an Amber Alert for a child who isn’t a child? And where is Planned Parenthood on all of this? They grumbled, albeit quietly, over the Laci Peterson case, but they seem to have gone completely silent on this most newsworthy event. It reminds one of the Columbine Public High School massacre, when the ACLU famously refused to utter as much as a peep of protest against all the government-sponsored prayer that public school teachers and students engaged in (on government property, no less) during the school day. It is deeply saddening to see such stalwart institutions fail to fight for the important issues.

One can only hazard general guesses as to why Montgomery is not being charged with illegal abortion. We might begin by noting that with this abortion, the mother died, not the baby. But this is not all that unusual. If only Montgomery had been an abortionist puncturing a uterus or sucking out a woman’s intestines at her clinic, none of this would have hit the front page. But the terrible tragedy resides in her lack of medical credentials, which just goes to show how important college degrees are.

We could also hazard the guess that a forced illegal abortion is not a crime. After all, the US Supreme Court ruled in Buck vs. Bell (1927) that the nation had a right to forcibly sterilize its own citizens, and that ruling was never overturned. On January 23rd, 2004, the United States’ Eleventh Circuit Court ruled that an abortionist could forcibly abort a woman as long as he felt medically justified in doing so. The refusal to prosecute Lisa Montgomery for performing an illegal abortion is, in a certain sense, merely an extension of that principle. Montgomery is not being prosecuted for murder or abortion, but only for kidnapping. If she had simply left the child (fetus?) to die after performing the abortion, if she had only been a doctor, she would presumably be in a much better legal position. She certainly wouldn't have made front-page news.

Of course, the greatest irony lies not in the event itself, but in the juxtaposition of another news story with this one. Just five days after the Bobbi Jo Stinnett’s forced abortion, readers were treated to the gushing December 21st headline from CNN about the birth of a premature twin at Loyola Medical Center in Chicago, "Smallest baby a 'great blessing', says mom."

The 8.6 ounce premature twin was never once called a fetus in all the news articles that appeared, and it is again only with greatest difficulty that we can hazard guesses as to why the differences occurred. One might display enormous cultural insensitivity by pointing out that the Amber Alert fetus was torn from the body of a Christian, while the "smallest baby… a blessing" was born to a Muslim couple, so we won’t mention that little irrelevancy. Still, the mystery appears impenetrable unless we conclude that Christian women only carry fetuses, while Muslim women carry children.

Hmmm.... Science can be quite confusing, it seems.


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