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August 15, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Abortion is one of those experiences that is so private and so tragic that even in the realm of literature, poetry, and music, people often have trouble talking about it. Even those who are “pro-choice” realize, perhaps deep down, that they have discarded a gift and snuffed out a promise — a little boy, or little girl. As I wrote last year, even musicians who would headline a charity concert for Planned Parenthood have still penned horribly sad songs about what they have done and who they have lost — songs howled out at audiences that can often understand their pain all too well.

When abortion does crop up in literature, it is often presented as the hurried solution to a problematic pregnancy in sheer panic. Evelyn Waugh, a conservative Catholic, presented one such situation with his trademark dry detachment in his World War II novel Unconditional Surrender, when his character Virginia Troy discovers that her rather wanton lifestyle has resulted in a child. “Dr. Puttock, you must do something about this,” she informs her physician. Dr. Puttock, understanding her, replies icily, “I don’t think I understand you.” Fortunately for the child, the address Puttock eventually gives her of a doctor who might be willing to perform such a surgery for a steep price turns out to have been leveled by German bombs, and Virginia ends up marrying instead.

I was surprised to discover that Ernest Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants was actually about abortion, a word that the usually terse Hemingway doesn’t use a single time. The entire story is made up of a conversation between a man and a woman at a Spanish train station as they wait to depart for Madrid. The woman is reluctant to have an abortion, referred to as an “operation,” while the man, assumed by most critics to be an American, presents it as the solution to their predicament. In the end, she appears to be convinced. The story leaves the reader feeling unsettled and dissatisfied — the detached tone reminded me of Hemingway’s description of the stillborn child in A Farewell to Arms — a “skinned rabbit” that he felt no connection to.

Throughout classic literature, abortion is mentioned a few times, usually obliquely, nearly always tragically. Thomas Hardy’s 1904 poem A Sunday Morning Tragedy is one such work, tracing a mother’s delight as her daughter grows up and noting her great beauty. But her daughter becomes pregnant, and her mother goes to her daughter’s lover as whispers of scandal grow. But her lover refuses to marry her, and her mother becomes desperate, seeking an herbal abortifacient from an old shepherd she knows. Her daughter takes the herbs and becomes deathly ill — and just as her lover arrives to beg forgiveness and tell her father that he’s changed his mind and wants to make things right, they discover that she is dead when her mother calls for her:

“She's faint to-day – tired – nothing more – “
Thus did I lie, alas for me . . .
I called her at her chamber door
As one who scarce had strength to be.

No voice replied. I went within –
O women! scourged the worst are we . . .
I shrieked. The others hastened in
And saw the stroke there dealt on me.

There she lay – silent, breathless, dead,
Stone dead she lay – wronged, sinless she! –
Ghost-white the cheeks once rosy-red:
Death had took her. Death took not me.

I kissed her colding face and hair,
I kissed her corpse – the bride to be! –
My punishment I cannot bear,
But pray God NOT to pity me.

The raw pain of Hardy’s A Sunday Morning Tragedy is not the only time he dealt with abortion — he also refers to “female pills” in his novel Jude the Obscure, which are sold by the quack doctor Vilbert. T.S. Eliot mentions abortifacients, as well. In his poem 1922 The Waste Land, Lil mentions that she obtained “pills” to “bring it off” from a chemist — explaining that she already had five children and “almost died of young George.” Even so, though, poor Lil admitted that, “The chemist said it would be all right, but I’ve never been the same.”

Even further back, Daniel Defoe refers to abortion in a scene in his 1722 book Moll Flanders:

One time, in discoursing about my being so far gone with child, she said something that looked as if she could help me off with my burthen sooner, if I was willing; or, in English, that she could give me something to make me miscarry, if I had a desire to put an end to my troubles that way; but I soon let her see that I abhorred the thoughts of it; and, to do her justice, she put it off so cleverly, that I could not say she really meant it, or whether she only mentioned the practice as a horrible thing.

But perhaps nothing quite matches the raw grief of The Abortion, a poem by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Sexton, who committed suicide in 1974. The poem’s narrator is a woman who heads south to Pennsylvania to visit the abortionist, and then drives back north  — broken:

Somebody who should have been born 
is gone.

Just as the earth puckered its mouth, 
each bud puffing out from its knot,
I changed my shoes, and then drove south.

Up past the Blue Mountains, where 
Pennsylvania humps on endlessly,
wearing, like a crayoned cat, its green hair, 

its roads sunken in like a gray washboard; 
where, in truth, the ground cracks evilly, 
a dark socket from which the coal has poured,

Somebody who should have been born
is gone. 

the grass as bristly and stout as chives,
and me wondering when the ground would break, 
and me wondering how anything fragile survives; 

up in Pennsylvania, I met a little man,
not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all… 
he took the fullness that love began. 

Returning north, even the sky grew thin
like a high window looking nowhere.
The road was as flat as a sheet of tin. 

Somebody who should have been born 
is gone. 

Yes, woman, such logic will lead
to loss without death. Or say what you meant, 
you coward…this baby that I bleed.

Poetry, literature, music — all explain why so far, the abortion industry has so utterly failed at trying to make abortion something that we celebrate. There are no happy abortion songs or triumphant abortion poems, and that is because instinctively, we all recognize that something sad and ugly has taken place. The abortion industry announced a “Shout Your Abortion” campaign to get women to yell their defiance, but in song and in poetry, there is no shout of defiance — only a shriek of pain.

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Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. He has received an award for combating anti-Semitism in print from the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. His commentary has been featured on CTV Primetime, Global News, EWTN, and the CBC as well as dozens of radio stations and news outlets in Canada and the United States.

He speaks on a wide variety of cultural topics across North America at universities, high schools, churches, and other functions. Some of these topics include abortion, pornography, the Sexual Revolution, and euthanasia. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.