Tina Plummer, of Westfield, Ind., demonstrates in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington during the March for Life Jan. 22, 2010. (CNS photo/Peter Lockley)
In his new book, Culture
and Abortion (Gracewing, 2013), Edward Short examines the evil of abortion
through the lens of literature and culture. “What I have sought to do,” he
writes in the introduction, is “to see if some aspects of culturewhich is to
say works of poetry, history, criticism, fiction, and the encyclicals of
popescould help make sense of this life-destroying notion, though another and
perhaps more important purpose was to argue that in order to end the evil of
abortion we need a revival of culture, true culture.”
Short, who lives in New York with his wife and daughter,
spoke recently with Catholic World Report about his book.
CWR: There’s been an abundance of writing on the horrors of
abortion over the past four decades. Most of the writing on this topic deals
with the poor legal arguments that buttress abortion rights, the emotional or
physical damage to women, and the scientific evidence that life begins at
conception. You, however, take a different approach and examine the type of
culture that allows for abortion. Why is this important?
Edward Short: In Culture and Abortion, I do three things. I put abortion in some historical context by
showing how the pro-abortion assumptions that animate our society would strike
previous societies, most of which recognized children, born and unborn, as
gifts from God, not playthings of expedience.
Secondly, I look closely at why our own culture sees fit
to reject the gift of life.
And lastly I show how life-affirming poets, popes, saints,
abolitionists, novelists, historians, and other truth-tellers can help us to
restore what ought to be the pro-life heart of our own culture. All these are
important because they help us see how our own culture has become a travesty of
culture, one which is antagonistic not only to civilization but to life
The sooner we re-humanize our culture the sooner we can
begin to show abortion the door, though I insist in the book that we can only
do this by showing our neighbors the vital relationship between the creature
and the Creator, which is at the heart of the inviolability of life. Natural law arguments are not enough. To
defend the sanctity of life we must witness to the reality of God’s love, which
comes to us anew in every gift of every child.
CWR: In Culture
and Abortion you introduce a
number of literary figures who have offered serious contributions to promoting
a culture of life. How have works of literature been important in this regard?
Short: Yes, to show how robustly
pro-life most literature is I look at the work of a wide range of very
different writers, including Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Anne Ridler, Penelope
Fitzgerald, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, James Joyce, Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Joanna Baillie, Charles Dickens, Henry James, and G.K. Chesterton. Literary
criticism conducted along pro-life lines should be pursued more aggressively. I
hope the young read what I have done so that they can follow down these
promising paths themselves. There is
much to be done in those beckoning vineyards.
CWR: Who is J.J. Scarisbrick and why has his organization LIFE
been so instrumental in the pro-life movement?
Short: Prof. John J. Scarisbrick
is perhaps best known in this country as the author of the definitive life of
Henry VIII, which was published in 1969 and recognized as a classic ever since.
But he and his wife Nuala also founded LIFE, a national and indeed
international pro-life organization, in the United Kingdom in 1970 to
counteract the baleful consequences of David Steel’s 1967 abortion bill. By
making pro-life education the centerpiece of their eminently practical work,
they have become heroes of the pro-life movement around the world. If
representatives of foundations that support pro-life initiatives are privy to
this interview, I urge them to contact Prof. Scarisbrick’s organization at www.lifecharity.org.uk.
CWR: What can we learn from Walker Percy's understanding of our
fallen nature and how we might best combat a culture that encourages
Short: This is a great question
because one of the main contentions of Culture
and Abortion is that the only way we can begin to understand the enormity
of abortion is to acknowledge and accept the terrible guilt that attaches to
our continuing to kill millions of defenseless children in the womb. And there
is no better way to grasp that vital, salutary guilt than by recognizing our
fallen nature, a nature about which the Southern author Walker Percy wrote so
eloquently in so many of his novels and other writings. Psychologists may claim
that guilt is simply something that we must learn to sidestep; the fallen heart
Your readers should also look at what Anne Lastman has to
say about the guilt of those who abort their children in her brilliant,
groundbreaking book, Redeeming Grief
CWR: William Wilberforce's
heroic campaign to abolish slavery offers a number of parallels to the present
efforts to end abortion. What are some important lessons we might learn from
Short: The two most important
lessons that William Wilberforce can teach pro-lifers is never to underestimate
the power of pertinacity. And never to
despair of converting public opinion, which, for all its incidental blindness,
can be brought round to recognizing and siding with the Truth. Mother Teresa once said, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so
that you may live as you wish.” Surely, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we
can drive home that elemental reality.
CWR: Pope John Paul II left behind some of the greatest writings
on the culture of life that we’ll likely ever have. Why have his wise words
failed to persuade so many self-professed Catholic politicians who still choose
to view the issue as a private matter?
Short: Another great question,
but one to which I am afraid I do not have an answer. I agree: we shall never
have an anatomy of the tragedy of abortion better than the one John Paul the
Great gave us in Evangelium Vitae,
but I do not know why it has failed to move Catholic politicians to honor the
sanctity of life. What can we say other than that evil is a great mystery? Then,
again, we have to acknowledge that it is not only the politicians in our Church
who refuse to heed JPII’s cri de coeur.
I put Lady Macbeth on the cover of my book because in this culture of death of
ours we are all shambling about in insomniacal guiltCatholics more than most.
CWR: A culture that promotes abortion also allows for
euthanasia, as we’re increasingly seeing here in the United States. Is there
hope that this trend can be reversed?
Short: Yes, I would say that
there is tremendous hope regarding this terrible threat and for that I would
cite the work of the heroic pro-lifer Anna Halpine and her World Youth Alliance
(WYA). Anna and her bright young things are on the ramparts every day fighting
against the culture of death. I urge all of my readers to support her
indispensable work. I went to a dinner at the amusing old Union Club in New
York the other evening and sat next to the most brilliant young pro-lifers, and
they are all being drilled by Anna and her Alliance. The advocates of
euthanasia simply have no idea what they are up against in going up against
Anna. My advice to them would be to lay down their arms while they are still in
CWR: We have the great hope that abortion will one day be
abolished. How do you believe historyand the historianswill judge
Short: Yet another incisive
question. History is crucial to the pro-life enterprise because, sooner or
later, history will witness to the Truth. And that Truth will not have kind
things to say about those who have defended the killing of children in the
womb. The fact that so few historians pay abortion the attention it deserves is
a real disgrace. After all, abortion defines our age even more than slavery
defined the 19th century, and yet most of our historians treat it as nothing
more than a milestone in the triumphant progress of feminism. I have a long
chapter on this at the end of Culture and
Abortion. Nowhere is the silent scream more reprehensibly silent than in
the pages of our historians!
Here however we must praise some admirable exceptions, including
Christopher Kaczor, John Keown, John Finnis, Erika Bachiochi, William Saunders, and Justin Dyer. When the true
history of abortion is written, these good soldiers will be singled out for
their devotion to the good fight.