Karen Sew is an expectant mother in Calgary.

"It’s a baby, and has been since conception"

By  Karen Sew, Catholic Register Special
  • May 4, 2012

Funny how carefully we choose our words. Working in the hospital, I see it all the time. If a woman is excited about the life in her womb, we call it a baby. With my own unborn child, my doctor, the ultrasound technician, a lady who greets me at the grocery store, they all use the same word: baby. Its very name implies it is human and it has worth. If it is not wanted, we call it a fetus.

It makes us feel better to talk to the post-abortive mother and ask, “How many weeks was the fetus?” rather than using the word baby. Somehow using the technical word removes us from the personhood of what it really is, but it doesn’t change anything.

As an emergency room nurse, I wonder if this is why even my pro-choice colleagues shake their heads when they triage a woman who has had multiple abortions. They mutter under their breath that abortion is no form of birth control, and begrudgingly finish their assessment.

It’s obvious to me that they don’t see the fetus as simply a ball of tissue, because something unnerves them and a truth pulls at their hearts.

At some level, they see the innate value of these once-living beings.

Still, we carefully dance around with our words in an uncomfortable discourse where we try to protect the women, perhaps ourselves, from humanizing a life that has been prematurely taken. Jesus’ words echo in my mind, “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

Some days, the injustice of it all comes to a head. One moment I’ll be listening to a woman cry as she miscarries at 12 weeks, and the next I’ll be caring for a 19-year-old girl who is suffering from an infection post-abortion. It saddens my heart because both of these women suffer deeply and both are in need of love and compassion.

I have said to tearful women in both situations, “It’s okay to cry, there is a real loss and there is real suffering — there was a real life.” Acknowledging life is the first step.

I am frustrated that this debate is so often stereotyped as being a religious debate. It isn’t — it’s a life debate.

For too long, Canadians have avoided the question that demands being asked: when does life begin?

I am thrilled that Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth introduced a motion in late April calling for a committee to address this very question.

It appears that our 400-year-old definition is a little out of date, and that the majority of Canadians disagree with our current definition as it stands. It states that life begins the moment a child fully emerges from its mother’s birth canal.

This trivial marker sadly leads to a lack of legal protection for the unborn.

While technology affirms the beauty and complexities of human development from the moment of conception, our legal system does no such thing. Regardless of what comes of Mr. Woodworth’s motion, it has sparked a tremendous conversation that has left people unsettled and talking. Hopefully this discussion will continue and hearts will be changed. 

I am 30 weeks pregnant and there is no doubt in my mind that what is moving inside of me is fully human. It responds to my touch, it feels pain, it can hear noise and react to light. This didn’t happen magically when he developed a heartbeat at 18 days, entered the second trimester or became an age that is considered viable outside the womb. He became a child, miraculously, when he was conceived. I call him my baby because that is who he is, and that is what he was from the very start.

(Sew is an expectant mother in Calgary.)

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