The ‘Whoville’ cases

Massachusetts’ most famous and now deceased writer of children’s books, Theodore Geisel, known otherwise as Dr. Seuss, immortalized the phrase “A person is a person, no matter how small,” in his 50-year-old story about how “Horton Hears a Who.” To the reported chagrin of first the author and then his family (Lifesite News, Aug. 10, 2007), the “no matter how small” line has become a potent sound bite for the pro-life movement.

The 1954 book involved an elephant named Horton that detects with his huge ears the tiny cries of the Who, a miniature tribe inhabiting a dust speck on a clover. Horton agrees to protect them, and begs his disbelieving friends in the jungle to “Please don’t harm all my little folks, who/ have as much right to live as us bigger folk do!” When his friends threaten to boil the dust speck in “a hot steaming kettle of beazlenut stew,” Horton pleads with the mayor of Whoville to enlist every Who’s voice so that the disbelievers could hear them too.

Just in time, the mayor finds “A very small, very small shirker named Jo-Jo,” and urges him to join in the other Whos’ shouts because “every voice counts.” Success was achieved when Jo-Jo’s added cry of “YOPP! . . . put it over!/Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover/Their voices were heard,” and Whoville was saved.

The fate of the Whos in Whoville has risen again to national prominence with the current success of a Broadway production called “Seussical,” of late making the high school rounds, and this year’s movie release of “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who.”

Two recent legal developments, one involving a South Dakota abortion law and the other concerning a Massachusetts woman who died from a legal abortion, might well be called the “Whoville” cases of 2008.

On June 27, 2008, in a lawsuit titled “Planned Parenthood v. Rounds,” a federal court of appeals gave preliminary approval to a South Dakota measure requiring doctors to advise women in a written consent form that an abortion “will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being.” The form must also state that the abortion will interfere with the pregnant woman’s legally protected “relationship with that unborn human being.”

These requirements provoked Planned Parenthood’s complaint that the statute would violate the free speech rights of doctors not to be compelled to speak ideological falsehoods. The state defended the statute by submitting scientific affidavits from medical experts, including the author of the nation’s leading textbook on embryology, showing the biological truth of the required statements about unborn human life.

In a remarkable decision, the majority of the court rejected the complaint, observing that even one of Planned Parenthood’s own expert witnesses admitted that “to describe an embryo or fetus scientifically and factually, one would say that a living embryo or fetus in utero is a developing organism of the species Homo Sapiens which may become a self-sustaining member of the species if no organic or environmental incident interrupts its gestation.” In other words, witnesses from both sides agreed that, scientifically speaking, an unborn child is a human life that begins a separate existence in the womb at fertilization.

In light of the evidence before it, the court found the statutorily required language to be biologically accurate. Thus there was no violation of free speech rights in requiring doctors to tell pregnant women what is scientifically true. Though the case is not final, the June ruling is significant. It appears that federal judges are now, finally, beginning to acknowledge that “no matter how small,” life in the womb is at stake in abortions.

In the second case, on July 16, 2008, a grand jury in Barnstable, Mass., charged Dr. Rapin Osathanondh for manslaughter in the death of 22-year-old Laura Hope Smith during an abortion in Hyannis in September of last year. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Laura’s mother, Eileen Smith, who did not even know that her daughter was pregnant, the tragic details were eventually made public.

The Massachusetts Board of Medicine found that the abortionist and his only staff person did not have proper resuscitation equipment or CPR training to deal with Ms. Smith’s cardiac arrest while on the abortion table. District Attorney Michael O’Keefe told the press that he presented evidence to the grand jury indicating “willful, wanton and reckless conduct with respect to how this procedure was carried out.”

The July edition of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life News reports that Eileen Smith now “has made it her life’s mission to share Laura’s story in hopes of sparing other young women, and their babies, a similar fate.” She told MCFL reporter Leslie Bond Diggins that “I thought abortion was here to stay--that change couldn’t happen. Now, my passion is to speak out against abortion.”

Every voice counts. A grieving mother who lost both her daughter and grandchild on the same day as a result of a procedure trumpeted as “safe and legal” now has the courage to tell a difficult story so that others might hear, and learn.

For in every abortion there is the loss of a “who,” not an “it,” and the harm affects more than just the unborn child: “I know there’s a person down there, And, what’s more, /Quite likely there’s two. Even three. Even four./Quite likely.../...a family, for all that we know!/A family with children just starting to grow.”

Daniel Avila is the Associate Director of Policy & Research for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.