Vintage Pro-Life Essay From 1970: “The Dove At The Window”

I found this amazing bit of writing buried in the Congressional Record. It was written by an otherwise anonymous doctor from Massachusetts named Henry G. Armitage. Representative John G. Schmitz (who introduced the first ever pro-life Constitutional amendment in 1972) read it into the Record. As you’ll see, it’s a heartbreakingly poignant and prophetic piece, which touches on not only abortion, but the wider social milieu of the late ’60s and early ’70s which allowed genocide to somehow become acceptable within the land of “liberty and justice for all.” A lot of the essay is extremely ethereal, pretentious, and hard to understand, but I didn’t want to cut anything out (although I’ve bolded some of the best snippits).


Coming from the Andrew Wyeth exhibition at the Boston Museum, one realizes again how it is possible to believe that, in the long run, it is the artist – the poet and the dreamer, and not merely the rational man, who will have the last word with us. Known as a realist, for want of a better word, Mr. Wyeth at his best reveals, beneath the surfaces of commonplace things “worm smooth with usage,” a timeless, interior world of order, natural harmony and quiet breathing. It is a world in which there is a single tension, sometimes perplexed, of hushed expectation, as if, for a moment, all waiting creation is cocking its head to listen to an intimation of the ineffable.

            I turned the corner outside the museum and surprised a grinning boy, not about twelve, in sardonic play holding the edge of a straight razor against the throat of his friend; and his eyes mocked me with the symbolism of the gesture. Was this reality and is what is seen in the paintings illusion; or is it the other way ‘round?

            Two paintings alone are disquieting. Both show a killed deer hanging outside a farmhouse.

            Unaccountably, on keeps remembering another, not especially distinguished, almost fragmentary paining which shows a part of the interior of a dilapidated, abandoned church in which pigeons have made their roost. Close to the ceiling, by a window, flutters a dove. It is not in the vacant church that reality is to be found. It is in the dove at the window.

            At the present time, in the state of New York, a woman may go to the doctor and ask for an abortion and, barring lateness of arrival or not being pregnant, or choosing a contrary physician or hospital, she shall have it. This is so because she lives in a country where what she is demanding is being established as a right as, in successive states, the abortion laws are being declared unconstitutional. The trend began in the Supreme Court of California and came east when the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit in Federal Court in New York City. State medical societies and the American Medical Association have voted abortion essentially to be a matter for a woman to determine with her physician. A not unimaginable suit in the Supreme Court, aimed at voiding the abortion law in all states where abortion is prohibited now, would remove the question from the legislative arena and the reach of public opinion, thus federalizing the whole abortion issue. The Pentagon has authorized abortion of military personnel and dependents at installations in states where abortion is prohibited.

            Where abortion has been legalized, if a woman is eligible for benefits, Medicaid will pay the bill. At the present time, there is nothing to indicate that what was first argued as a private right may not soon become a public duty and end, perhaps, as a compulsory obligation. Writers already have pointed out how a welfare worker might pressure a recipient toward an abortion with the implication of curtailment of benefits.

            So, it seems that, weary as we may be with the fatigue of supporting freedom, we have now to contend with the notion that corporate humanity is about to turn over the custodianship of its life energy to the state. I submit that while we go on worshiping the national idols we are being bewildered by the national bureaucracy. Conditioned by a full ten years of concern about population, we are experiencing a shift in emphasis away from programs for the care of the unwell toward others for the limitation of the well. Dr. Lee DuBridge, until recently Science Adviser to President Nixon, has advocated fixing United States population at 250 million, world population at six billion, and achievement of zero population growth by the year 2000. From United Nations, where we have never been noted for modesty, he has been endorsed soundly by Gen. William Draper, our representative to the U.N. Population Commission. Gen. Draper adds that five or six billion “should be quite enough for everyone.” One can almost hear all those little people chanting “Yankee imperialist, go home!”

            Sen. Robert Packwood, who has advocated limitation of tax exemption to two children in a family, has stated that, if voluntary controls do not work, we may have to resort to mandatory controls; and he has been supported by Sen. Barry Goldwater. Dr. Alan Guttmacher, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, one of the plaintiffs in the New York suit, has said: “Each country will have to decide its own form of coercion. At present the means available are compulsory sterilization and compulsory abortion. Perhaps someday a way of enforcing compulsory birth control will be feasible.” He acknowledges that, “in a democracy, introducing compulsory measures or incentives awards to control fertility would admittedly present awesome difficulties.” Presumably, in a non-democracy, it does not.

            While “His Truth is marching on” abortion is becoming the law of the land. Sixteen states have adopted abortion-on-demand laws; and five are awaiting U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the constitutionality of their therapeutic abortion statutes. While millions of citizens are going to, coming from, saving for, paying off at their shopping centers, in a never-ending litany of getting, “His terrible, swift sword” is being bent into a curette; and the 91st Congress of the United States has before it more than forty legal proposals dealing with the limitation of life, before and after conception.

            Not without comment shall it come to pass that a state, so fretful for the preservation of the praying mantis but holding an unborn baby to be of no account, can send a spark of immortality swinging out into limbo and conspire with citizen and physician to turn a fragile, living object of simple innocence and complex wonder into a pathetic pulp and to consign it by rude and peremptory passages to the furnace or sewer – unknown, unwanted, undefended, without benefit of clergy.

            Not without comment shall it be made falsely to seem that the fertile adornment of our race can be deluded into the notion that she is a mere portress of unwanted luggage or be by blandishment seduced into believing that she has dominion over life not her own. Nor shall it be accounted a virtue to exploit the natural fallibilities and weaknesses of troubled women and girls.

            Not without comment shall it be made falsely to appear that any political procurer who takes it into his head can, with impunity and every probability of success, dangle a coin before a profession whose members were pledging, “I will not give a woman a pessary to produce an abortion” before the birth of Christ.

            Not without comment shall it be that the poor, the weak and the helpless of this land, whose only vice is they are so many, shall, for a mess of pottage and a ballot, yield over to the state their privacy, their dignity and their liberty to increase. Is it to be here, among these, where the grapes of wrath are stored, that society is to wield its own terrible swift sword? Out where the harbor of New York begins, there is a big statue which proudly proclaims to Europe:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to be free

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

            The golden door to what? A charnel-house? Were we only putting them on, after all; and is that what we are to teach to our children?

            It has been estimated that 50,000 abortions will occur in New York City in the first year of the program; and guesses for the entire state range from 110,000 to 500,000. When viewed on a mass scale like this, abortion becomes a great deal more than a quarrel over the moral issues of isolated cases – more, even perhaps, than another lonesome stand by the Judeo-Christian ethic, truncheoning with the yeomen of a pluralistic society. At this level of intensity, it is a social phenomenon of profound significance for every citizen, an ultimate imperative which, whether we like it or not, is forcing us to a moral plebiscite that will determine for the indefinite future the spiritual cast of our people as a nation and as a world force.

            What I am discussing is not a state of disease nor some surgical stunt but the deliberate interruption and destruction of a natural process, an act of rape against the internal environment of man. Supporters of the idea argue that it is necessary in order to avoid the diseases of over-population. The question seems to be whether we shall succumb to over-population with our morals more or less intact or to spiritual suicide with our population balanced.

            Neither the simplistic canticles of English Common Law nor the nonsensical cadenzas of American Uncommon Law are adequate to this question. If there was little need in the past to defend what once must have seemed self-evident – namely, that an agent of the principle of life is entitled to life – this is no longer the case. Gradually, the state is removing a line once drawn at the outlet of the womb and is, in effect, at one and the same time, bringing what has been ruled to be outside the compass of the law under the effect of the decisions of the law while failing to make provision for a right of defense. Either an unborn infant is a human being or it is not; or there is a reasonable doubt that it may be. Either an unborn infant is beyond the scope of the law and immune from any decision which would affect its natural state of existence or it is under the law and entitled to a defense of that existence. We do that much for seagulls, flamingos, and whooping cranes.

            The Supreme Court has ruled that a young man may be exempted from military service by virtue of moral convictions developed as a result of “readings in the fields of history and sociology” and that he need no longer claim status as a conscientious objector solely on the basis of religious training and belief. Particularly in light of so relaxed a view of military exemption, I question most seriously whether it is just, good or wise, to oblige a citizen to contribute health and welfare taxes, which he can think of only as blood money, to pay for birth control practices which he believes to be immoral and for abortions which he believes are murder, based on his moral convictions or his religious training and beliefs. And I think that every citizen must ask whether onto the piled-up rubbish of the national merchandise cultural are to be strewn the shells of the littered hopes and the broken promises of a false and fallen republic.

            It has been said often enough to amount to an aphorism that morally cannot be legislated; but there is something out of plumb about a society carrying a motto “In God We Trust” in its pocket and portraying that what is legislated is neither moral nor immoral and that what is not legislated, to that extent, simply doesn’t exist at all. Inherited from an age of right and wrong, the motto is out of place in an era of right and non-right; and it is likely to remain so, barring some upsurge of the spirit which, at this time, is nowhere to be seen.

            In the pressures of an expanding population within a shrinking environment are to be found the origins of all the dissonances which are vibrating in our membranous society. Man out of tune with his environment is disoriented. Man out of tune with himself is demented. Man out of tune with both has been destroyed. Only an uncorrupted spirit, operating thorough an inflexible will, fastens us to a little apex between animal and robot. In the entire human epoch, no crisis has made a greater demand upon our will and spirit and perhaps never have they seemed less able to respond. That is our great sin – that we see, that we suffer and that we do not act.

            What is to be said about the population problem? There is one observable fact. The population is increasing. The rest is hypothesis and speculation. Since we are observing a first-of-its-kind phenomenon, something which has never happened before, who is a population expert? You, I, our neighbor? In the entire existence of the human race to date, we are still only somewhere on the first curve of one cycle of which no man on earth knows the shape. Nor does any man know that it is not merely the first cycle of many yet to come. It would be outside the range of probability, in a universe otherwise so rigidly governed by laws that there should be none governing the ebb and flow of human existence. That we have not discovered one testifies that we are early travelers on the curve. That we should set about changing the shape of the curve is as presumptuous as that we should undertake to change the orbit of the earth.

            In the present circumstance, the first duty of the scientific community is to observe and record, with absolute detachment, total objectivity, and scrupulous accuracy, what happens next. I submit that it is not its first duty to proclaim a disease of which no one has ever heard and, without verifying that it exists, rashly to undertake an arbitrary, empirical, radical, artificial, and unnatural form of treatment – all, I might add, without the consent of the patient or a license from the granting authority, who happen to be one and the same, to wit, corporate humanity. In this matter, I fear, part of the scientific community and an agonizing proportion of my own profession are forgetting the cardinal principle of treatment – “First do no harm.”

            That most rational of scientists, Rene Dubos, writes at length, in Reason Awake, of the need for an informed body of scholars capable of critical evaluation of science and of translating the evaluation into language that society can understand. He warns that “Freedom can be maintained only if citizens understand the intellectual basis of scientific expertise sufficiently well to differentiate between persuasion and manipulation by experts” and that “a society that blindly accepts the decisions of experts is a sick society on its way to death.”

            In a chapter entitled Willed Future, Dr. Dubos writes of the risks and shortcomings of forecasting, which, “for reasons that are not clear and in any case are not justified by actual performance,” “now enjoys the dignity of an academic profession.” He comments at length on the comparatively undeveloped nature of the behavioral and social sciences and the difficulties and dangers inherent in trying to adapt the constitutive principles or the concepts and methods of the natural sciences to the social sciences. He points out the need for the behavioral and social sciences “to go through a phase of slowly accruing a core of concrete facts relevant to the mind and society before they can arrive at meaningful abstract formulations of their problems.” He concludes, “when this stage has been reached they may re-examine their relation to natural sciences and perhaps become partly anchored on physiology, ecology and other biological sciences.” He refers to the contrast between the problems of physical sciences, involving usually one or two variables at a time, with those of rudimentary social sciences dealing with the enormously intricate complex of variables of human society. I would like to cite as a single example (my own, not Dr. Dubos’) that the failure of social scientists to take into account a relatively simple perturbation – that some citizens believe that many of these babies ought to be baptized – could result in serious and lasting social divisions – a consequence which no alert and loyal American citizen, consciously or subconsciously, would ever desire. A social force, or any system of bureaucracy, which can, with reckless insensitivity, ride roughshod over this consideration, merits the searching attention of every sober-minded citizen.

            Members of a played-out demi-culture endlessly repeating our last lines, we are missing an opportunity to realize an undreamed-of renaissance. We are dying “inch by inch in play at little games.” We are missing the ultimate question on earth of our era – how to expand our environment. Given the spirit and the will, we are capable of unimagined prodigies. Given the imagination and creative thinking, one could doubt that we have enough workers to accomplish what we are capable of achieving. We can bring about a massive re-ordering of our priorities. With coordinated high-level planning and a systems approach we can re-create and recycle our industries, our commerce, and our transportation. We can make earth, we can make forests and streams, we can even make one environment above another, if we have to. Through austerities, economies and sacrifices we can develop a natural population in harmony with a natural environment and feel joy again, in an act of gratitude to our past and of generosity to our future. Sooner that we should die trying that that we should try dying.

            Like population control in general, abortion is a slovenly short-order, a retreat from thesis to anti-thesis, an assertion that it is for the good of mankind to stop up the wellspring of mankind. But an abortion is never a commonplace. For the world holds no heartbreak like the death of innocence. Whenever and wherever it occurs, we all suffer another loss from the little that sustains us and holds us together. Not alone because I believe it is murder do I oppose abortion. Not alone because it is a frustration of nature, because it is a degradation of humanity, because it violates that innate respect for life of my profession do I oppose abortion. I oppose abortion also because I believe that, in the sophisticated barbarism of a nation destroying its offspring, can be sensed the stirrings of despair in a people who are lost and disoriented in a disputative, speculative, innovative wilderness. I oppose abortion because it is fullness emptied, innocence defiled, song unfinished, beauty discarded, dream cloven, hope unsprung. It is the deer, hanged by the neck beside the house of man. It is the razor against the throat of the dove at the window.

            I pay homage to those thousands of innocent souls, so rudely deflected from an earth which they shall never inherit. Not for nothing, once before, did a great Church number first among its saints other slaughtered innocents, unreasoning and unblessed, who died for a God whose name they have never heard. Flowers of martyrs, it called them. It may yet be that we are going to have a Second Spring of new flowers and martyrs, terribly to awaken us before there can be only madness and blackness.

            Now, in this time of the Big Flinch, a carnival has come to the Republic. Drawn on by the pied-pipers of peace, the populace is thronging to see the show. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot tootle the flute and pound the drum and the publican gapes in awe. In the midway, the prophets of parturition and pleasure are huckstering for the souls of mothers and daughters. The academician and the journalist have come down from Olympus, the clergyman has come up from Bethlehem, the social scientist has come out of the classroom – and all have gone into the marketplace to barter for the minds of men and boys. At the animal show, bright and charming children thrust sticks through the bars to goad the captive, bewildered servants of the law. Along the sideshow, transmuted in the flickering light of a flaming republic, the bureaucrat displays his contortions and a magician makes a whole baby disappear in the air. Buy a souvenir! Three monkeys set all in a row. Hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing.

            It is late and the din rises. In the gathering darkness of a bemused evening, one barely hears the faint echo of “freedom” come back from the surrounding hills – dark hills, where a stealthy bear watches and silently waits. For he sees what we do not yet know – that, in our absence, housebreakers are robbing us of everything that we own, of virtue, honor, integrity, trust, innocence, truth, beauty, justice, and liberty.


One response to “Vintage Pro-Life Essay From 1970: “The Dove At The Window”

  1. Pingback: Another Retro (and Prophetic) Pro-life Article | Pro-lifist

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