On New Year’s Eve 2006, my wife and I took the train into Manhattan from New Haven to see a Broadway show in celebration of our first wedding anniversary. As big fans of the late Stephen Sondheim, we could not pass up the chance to see a revival of Company, even though it is not exactly the most encouraging piece of art for newlyweds. Following a set of New York couples through the eyes of Robert, a 35-year-old bachelor, Company captures the aimlessness of modern matrimony among the wealthiest and best educated people in America. Many of this lot may live by the motto, “If it feels good, do it;” but even more importantly, when it doesn’t feel so good for them anymore, they just take a powder.
Amid both humor and despair, Company nears its end with “Being Alive,” a beautiful showstopper about what love, marriage, children, and family are really designed for: not me, but someone else. The hard stuff is really the good stuff. Originally played by Dean Jones, Robert realizes that being inconvenienced in every imaginable way is what real love is all about. “Somebody, need me too much,” he cries, “somebody, know me too well.”
In Company, Sondheim finally shows us a man willing to bear the cost of someone else sitting in his chair and ruining his sleep. But we also know Robert is just looking at the tip of the iceberg. Being alive – being for others – is at once the most devastating and euphoric mystery of all. It’s hard to imagine, but maybe Robert won’t have any chair at all someday, or any home, but he will still have the duty and joy of caring for his dependents who, “like it or not, will always be there.”
When my wife and I saw Company, our hearts were just beginning to expand to make room for all the wonderful and difficult things we would pick up on the way of the cross that is Christian marriage. And then came our children, for whom enormous sacrifices of money, energy, and even mental stability and physical health began the second we felt the thrill of looking at the plus sign on the home pregnancy test. We freaked out when we were told our son might have a serious birth defect. Our obstetrician, who was a well-known medical school professor, was incredulous when we told him we were not interested in amniocentesis to find out for sure. Nor were we interested in any “options” he might recommend in his best medical judgment. Whatever our son’s condition was, he would be ours. As it happened, he was fine. Instead, we continue to face all the “normal” difficulties of child-rearing.
As America holds its breath waiting to find out whether the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health will indeed overturn federal abortion law when the final ruling is published, abortion activists have been in a panic to restate their arguments. We have all heard the intractable, ages-old ideological concern about the sovereignty of a woman’s body (with or without another body inside it), the philosophical and theological questions about when human life begins, and perhaps on the fringes, an occasional ethical case for abortion on the grounds of prioritizing women’s physical and emotional well-being over the undesirable reality of her pregnancy.
But the most revolting defenses are the more practical ones, which are so bald-faced in their selfish pseudo-logic that they would make Aleister Crowley blush; but they seem to make sense to today’s version of Sondheim’s 1960’s elites. A recent exchange in the United States Senate sums it up. During a Banking Committee meeting, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen stated, “in many cases abortions are of teenage women, particularly low income, and often Black, who aren’t in a position to be able to care for children, have unexpected pregnancies, and it deprives them of the ability, often, to continue their education to later participate in the workforce.”
Yellen concluded, “It means that children will grow up in poverty and do worse themselves.” Visibly shaken by Yellen’s comments, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, fired back, “As a guy raised by a Black woman in abject poverty, I am thankful to be here.”
Scott’s personal testimony echoes the mainstream view of the Pro-Life movement. It’s all about being alive, with all the trials life brings. In contrast, Yellen and the Pro-Abortion side declare that it is better to be dead than poor. And thanks to medical professionals like the one who counseled me and my wife, the near disappearance of babies with Down Syndrome and other birth abnormalities prove the horrifying consensus that it is better to be dead than disabled.
At its best, the Pro-Life movement does not turn a blind eye to poverty or disadvantage, and works to protect life outside the womb as much as inside it. The other side never gives us enough credit for this. But Pro-Lifers also know that any baby, but especially one born in difficult circumstances, is “someone to force you to care,” as Robert says in Company. Whether a child is conceived with the utmost intention or by “accident,” he or she immediately becomes a burden, which is precisely the divine gift for the mother, and for the world. Thus, we should all be forced to care.
Abortion, on the other hand, is the equivalent of snapping our fingers like Thanos in the Avengers movies – forcing women to disappear our problems as much as theirs. The Pro-Life side knows that not wiping out millions of lives will result in problems that we must solve; but that’s life, and we’re here for all of it. “Somebody, hurt me too deep,” Robert demands in Company. Bearing and raising any kid is difficult, and we are holier for it.
As we look ahead to a radically different landscape for abortion access, and a true victory for generations of selfless advocates of the unborn, the new challenge of articulating the virtue of sacrificial living begins. With abortion law potentially about to be reset to pre-Roe standards, we are now at the start of what is arguably the real Pro-Life movement.
It’s about being alive. And it’s tough for everyone.
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