Last week the New York Times published an op-ed by Meghan Markle. Markle revealed that she had a miscarriage in July. The op-ed, much like anything involving Markle, generated a wave of media coverage, albeit a fleeting one, across the Anglosphere and probably beyond. Miscarriages are far from uncommon occurrences. One out of five pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. According to the Miscarriage Association of Ireland (MAI), every year approximately 14,000 women in this state have a miscarriage. The vast majority of miscarriages occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Miscarriage, despite the harm and pain it causes and its significant incident rate, is rarely publicly discussed.
In her op-ed, Markle writes:
I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.
She goes on to say:
Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning.
There is a contradiction in how society approaches miscarriage and abortion. Central to both elective abortions and miscarriages are the deaths of unborn humans and the premature ending of pregnancy. In the case of abortions, death is intentional and it is brought about by deliberate human action.
Contrastingly miscarriages are not human-led events. They are spontaneously occurring tragedies. In Britain, Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research pursues the commendable work of researching the ‘root causes of miscarriage to prevent it happening’. All efforts to determine and combat causes of premature death deserve support. Science should be used to proactively prevent miscarriage, an obvious cause of premature death.
When Markle identified the human she lost to miscarriage as her second child, she recognised his/her humanity and the innate and unique relationship between her and her baby. Advice in a section of the MAI’s website titled ‘Helping a friend overcome miscarriage’ reads:
Never say “You can try for another child” or “You’re young yet, you have plenty of time”. Assuming they can have another child, it could never replace the baby they have just lost.
Whether they intend to or not, both Markle and the MAI speak to the simple reality that every unborn human is a unique individual in their own right. Recognising the significance of each individual human, the MAI organises an annual remembrance service for humans lost to miscarriage.
Tommy’s chief executive Jane Brewin has said, ‘[b]aby loss is often dismissed as “one of those things” and something that “wasn’t meant to be”.’ Rather than society accepting and portraying miscarriages as part of ‘the way things inevitably are’, increased attention and resources should be invested in preventing loss of life through miscarriage. Every life counts. Few people would disagree with the merits of discovering ways to minimise the occurrence of miscarriages.
Here is where we arrive at the nub of one of our society’s most pronounced contradictions. On the one hand, society broadly acknowledges miscarriage as the loss of an unborn human’s life and will at least make positive sounds about the need to take steps to reduce the miscarriage incident rate. Governments actually investing sufficiently to achieve such an end is another matter, but at least it would be difficult to envisage politicians saying that it would be wrong to pursue a reduction in the number of miscarriages.
On the other hand, nearly every western state has not only legalised abortion, but also funds it and to varying extents integrates it within national health systems. Abortion systems of course necessarily involve the killing of unborn humans. Abortion systems obscure or outright deny the very humanity of abortion victims. If the foetuses whose lives are violently ended by abortion were to die instead as a result of miscarriage, their humanity would be much less contested and much more widely acknowledged. For example, much fewer people would raise an objection to Markle’s description of her miscarriage as her losing her second child than would raise an objection if Markle were to denounce abortion as a means of killing unborn children.
This is to do with the fact that recognition of the humanity of the unborn in an abortion situation makes the ‘choice’ to abort a much heavier one than if one thought of abortion as having no impact on any human other than the ‘freely-choosing’ mother. Whether it is acknowledged or not, a clash of claims to competing rights is the backdrop to every abortion. Refusal to acknowledge the entity-to-be-aborted as human or degrading the level of his/her humanity vis-à-vis a born human’s or a ‘wanted’ unborn human’s are prominent means used to brush aside an ‘unwanted’ human foetus’s claim to a right that would trump his/her mother’s ‘right to choose’. We should of course remind ourselves that in this State there is no de jure ‘right to choose’. However, a de facto ‘right to choose’ has been put into motion and the longer it is accommodated and serviced, the more embedded it will become. In effect, the distinction between de jure and de facto will matter little to the lives lost and our society’s devaluing of human life.
It is true to say that the means by which one dies have no bearing on the essence of what one is/was. Whether a human is killed by a gunshot or dies from cancer, it is a human that has died. Yet many people at some level pretend that abortion and miscarriages are an exception to this rule. The reality is that whether a human is killed by an abortion or dies in a miscarriage, it is a human that has died. So, if we recognise that the approximate 14,000 miscarriages in the Irish State every year involve deaths of human beings, and if we are being honest, we must recognise that each of the Irish State’s 6,666 abortions in 2019 were individual acts that ended individual human lives. The manner of one’s death does not affect the essence of what one was. In the Irish State’s first year of legalised abortions 6,542 abortions took place within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the same timeframe in which the vast majority of miscarriages occur.
If, as a society, we are committed to reducing the number of miscarriages, understanding that every miscarriage involves a human death, we must be equally resolute in aiming to reduce the number of abortions for the same reason. If we are to acknowledge miscarriages as involving the loss of human life, we cannot maintain that abortion does not involve the same. It is a glaring contradiction to maintain that we should do what we can to stop lives being lost to miscarriage while doing nothing to stop lives being lost to abortion, or indeed, worse than that, facilitate, fund and promote abortion, as the Irish State does.
Core to the efforts of making sustainable such a stark contradiction is the invoking of the ‘right to choose’ an abortion and the absurd, anti-scientific notion that the supposed extent to which a foetus is ‘wanted’ determines whether a foetus is human. The latter feeds into a belief that there is a right to arbitrarily classify others as human or not. A human is human not by virtue of whether another person, even their mother, wishes them to be human. Equally, a human is human regardless of how much they are ‘wanted’. A preborn human that is ‘unwanted’ and aborted at ten weeks is no less human than a preborn human that is ‘wanted’ and dies in a miscarriage at ten weeks also.
As organisations like the MAI and Tommy’s highlight, miscarriage remains a taboo topic and women often endure the aftermath of miscarriage in a state of lonely bereavement. Their loss often goes unappreciated or, worse, is greeted with a degree of puzzlement. In a society where ‘Shout Your Abortion’ has become a mantra, it is not difficult to see how there is a reluctance to acknowledge and address the impact of miscarriage on women. It is worth considering whether the taboo around miscarriage is linked to society’s underlying awareness of the contradiction that it tries to navigate between recognising the tragic loss of human life in cases of miscarriage where the mother is clear about having lost a child, and maintaining that there is nothing substantively objectionable about aborting another human. Perhaps it is a determination to avoid confronting the contradiction that feeds the taboo around miscarriage, compounding the tragedy of baby loss for women who have suffered a miscarriage.
We owe it to all women and families that have suffered miscarriages and to all unborn humans that we confront this most glaring contradiction that society has manufactured. When we acknowledge contradictions as significant as this, we have to decide whether we change something fundamental or attempt instead to reconcile ourselves to lies of convenience. Let us strive for the former.