When someone tells you who they are, believe them.
In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump told us exactly who the modern-day abortion opponents are — and exactly what they think of women.
This revelation came more than halfway through the speech Tuesday, and probably by accident, when President Trump told a story that was, at least nominally, about human kindness as a cure for the opioid epidemic. As Mr. Trump described it, a 27-year-old Albuquerque police officer, Ryan Holets, happened upon a pregnant woman who was homeless and was “preparing to inject heroin.” The president continued: “When Ryan told her she was going to harm her unborn child, she began to weep. She told him she did not know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby.”
The president said that Officer Holets “felt God speak to him,” that he took out a picture of his wife and their four children, and “went home to tell his wife Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope.”
You might have been wondering — I know I was — what happened to that homeless woman? Was she offered treatment? Was she given a chance to reunite with her newborn baby, which could have been a powerful incentive to get clean? Can she be part of the baby’s life? Where is she now? Is she O.K.?
The woman’s name is Crystal Champ, and her history is sad, and, at this point, to anyone who’s been paying attention to the devastating opioid epidemic, sadly familiar. And, according to a December CNN report, she has been addicted since she was a teenager, and on the street for the past two years.
“I did give up. I just decided this was going to be my life,” Ms. Champ told CNN. Her previous attempts to get clean all ended in failure. “It just keeps coming back and ruining my life.”
Once the story went public, Mr. Holets set up a GoFundMe page to help support Ms. Champ as she sought treatment. Donors, who saw Ms. Champ as a person in need of respect and care, gave their money. A rehab facility offered a scholarship.
According to Officer Holets, who spoke to CNN on Wednesday, Crystal Champ has now been sober for 40 days.
Happy endings all around. Still, it’s revealing that, in President Trump’s telling, we never learned Ms. Champ’s name, and that, once the Holets family made their offer, she simply vanishes from Trump’s story.
This wasn’t accidental.
Abortion opponents know what they’re up against. In spite of years of debate, of pickets and protests and Marches for Life, the majority of Americans continue to support abortion rights. I imagine that means that most Americans understand, instinctively, that there’s a difference between a 6-week-old embryo and a 6-month-old baby, and that forcing an unwilling woman to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term is different than protecting the life of an existing, living child.
In order to make abortion illegal, abortion opponents have to change our minds. They have to get Americans to believe that a fetus or an embryo is the same as a baby, only smaller, and that a mother doesn’t matter as much as that “pre-born” baby does. If, in fact, she emerges from their rhetorical sausage grinder as barely a person at all, that’s all to the good.
Think of the posters often brandished at anti-abortion marches and rallies, with the image of a fetus in utero, floating free, like an astronaut, with the umbilical cord, untethered, trailing off into the darkness. The spaceship — a woman — was, of course, nowhere to be seen, an important framing. With the woman literally out of the picture, abortion foes can advance the claim that a fertilized egg is just as much a unique human life, deserving of protection as a living, breathing, toddler.
They can argue that the only difference between an embryo, a newborn baby, and a kidney patient on dialysis is age, size, location and circumstance.
In this formulation, a pregnant woman, a living, breathing, thinking person, becomes no more than an environment, or a tool, whose story ends once she’s given birth.
Once we put the woman back in the picture, once we insist on seeing her as a person, not a place or a thing, we’ve got to acknowledge what is, for abortion opponents, an inconvenient truth. A tiny baby can survive and thrive under the care of a biological parent, or an adoptive one, or even in a neonatal intensive care units, with no parents around. Her survival is not tied to a specific person any more than a patient in kidney failure depends upon a specific machine, or a diabetic’s life is tied to a specific batch of insulin.
It’s different for a “pre-born” baby, which does not just need care, or medicine, or machinery. That embryo requires the support, the partnership and the body, of one specific individual: the woman carrying it.
The way around that is for abortion opponents to simply take the woman out of the story, to erase her from the picture, or to characterize her as nothing more than the place that “pre-born baby” happens to reside.
Abortion opponents call a woman, as did an Oklahoma state representative, Justin Humphreys, an unborn child’s “host,” who deserves to be punished, if she becomes pregnant, for being “irresponsible,” and “inviting that in.” Steve Martin, a Virginia state representative, once used similar language, writing on Facebook that a pregnant woman is “the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers.)”
President Trump’s decision to refer to Crystal Champ only as “a homeless, addicted pregnant woman,” to identify her with a series of unpleasant descriptors, to not include her as a main character in Baby Hope’s story, is the extension of that language.
If she’s an invisible, nameless nonperson, she’s nothing more than Tupperware for the next generation, a thing that exists and matters only in service to her baby, a woman undeserving of sympathy or rescue or even a name.
Those of us who support the right to abortion cannot let women be pushed to the margins, erased and unnamed. We must insist, in the face of an administration that sees us as less-than and not-there, as empty vessels or wily seductresses that we are fully present, entirely human, that we, too, have lives, and that we, too, have rights.
Baby Hope’s biological mother is named Crystal Champ. Insist that she, and all pregnant woman, stay in the picture.
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