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Two stories from the recent issue of Human Life Review

One of the only paper journals I subscribe to is the Human Life Review. (See here for another post on this journal.) I subscribe to the paper journal despite the fact that they do post much of their material on their web site. In fact, what I now do is to make brief notes about the articles I especially liked and to find and save the URLs; that way I don't have to keep the physical issues around long-term. However, receiving the physical issues reminds me to read the material and gives it to me in a form that is more comfortable to read, so it's a good deal. Plus the Human Life Foundation is a worthy organization to which to contribute.

In the spring 2014 issue, which I've just now gotten around to perusing, there were two stories that I thought readers of W4 might profit from hearing.

I say "profit from" rather than "enjoy," because the first is quite sad.

I had never heard of the late journalist William J. Reel of the New York Daily News. He died just a few years ago, and it surprises me that I never learned his name until now, because he was not only a beloved New York City human interest columnist but also a staunch pro-lifer--a rare combination.

In this issue of HLR, his son, John Julius Reel, tells of an abortion in which he was involved back in college without his father's knowledge. The article in HLR is an odd combination, jumping back and forth between type-fonts to indicate what was just written for this issue and what has been translated into English from Spanish. The younger Reel (who is apparently in his early forties) lives with his wife and children in Seville, Spain, and writes a great deal in Spanish. The HLR article strings together several columns originally written in Spanish dealing with the subject of abortion. Reel is deeply remorseful for the abortion he participated in years ago and hopes that telling the story will be of some value to someone led astray by selfishness and permissive abortion laws.

What emerges in the course of the article is troubling in a slightly different way: Apparently just a few years ago Reel and his wife conceived their third child and were then pressured by the Spanish medical establishment into having a "procedure" to terminate the pregnancy. So naturally uncommunicative and peremptory are Spanish doctors that the parents were not even told whether their child's heart had ceased to beat or whether the doctor merely saw some sort of abnormality that caused her (the doctor) to recommend termination. In other words, they were not told whether what was being recommended, and what they went through with, was a real abortion or not! (The words for "miscarriage" and "abortion" are the same in Spanish, increasing the ambiguity.) Reel admits that he could have insisted on knowing this information and could have convinced his wife to continue the pregnancy if the child was alive. His wife, he says, places herself unreservedly in the hands of doctors, and any resistance to their dictates would have had to come from him. For this failure, too, he feels guilty.

The article, called "My Darlings," is simultaneously a tribute to Reel's father, a meditation on the art of writing, a mea culpa, and an indictment of abortion-permissive cultures. Difficult reading, but worthwhile.

A more triumphant and in its own way humorous story concerns a recent fight in the New York State legislature. As best as I understand it, the legal set up goes like this: New York State's abortion law contains some on-paper restrictions on late-term abortions that may well be unenforceable under the regime of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. However, the very existence of such apparent restrictions creates a sufficiently ambiguous legal climate that late-term abortions (after 24 weeks) are not as easy to obtain in New York State as the pro-death camp would like them to be. So in 2013 they added a change to this part of the state abortion law to a "Women's Equity Act." There was the usual wrangling and maneuvering, and in the end the question of whether this particular provision would pass came down to a close state senate vote on a single amendment to a different law. In that vote, one pivotal person was a Democrat who was planning to vote with the Republicans against more unrestricted late-term abortion. That Democrat, Simcha Felder, is an Orthodox Jew who had to be back home on a Friday evening before sundown to celebrate the Sabbath.

The Democrats, displaying their usual class, played all manner of delaying games so that Felder would have to leave and the vote would go their way. Kathleen Gallagher, a pro-life lobbyist, tells of pointing out to Felder that it was June 21, the longest day of the year, and offering to drive him home with a "heavy foot" immediately after the vote. Still it wasn't clear whether he was going to be able to wait. So what does a good Orthodox Jew do?

Why of course! He seeks a rabbinic ruling. (I really can't help smiling at this point.) His rabbi ruled that, because abortion is a matter of life and death, he should stay for the vote even if it meant traveling on the Sabbath afterwards. Although the article does not use the term, this ruling appears to have been based on the principle of pikuach nefesh--namely, that saving human life overrides ceremonial religious obligations. So Felder stayed and the vote went the right way.

The article warns that the fight is far from over even on this narrow point. The bad guys are not going to give up. But still, even a small victory like this is worth celebrating, and all the more so when it happens in such a quirky way.

I continue to recommend Human Life Review to readers. That doesn't mean I agree with every article that appears in its pages, but it's well worth subscribing and donating to.

Comments (2)

Thank you so much Lydia for your thoughtful comments and for sharing our work. It is such a struggle to keep paper journals in business these days, but we will do so as long as we can. Of the most importance of course is getting people to read and think ... and I am so grateful to you that you are sharing these difficult but important articles. John Julius Reel has a blog follow up on our site ...

Maria McFadden Maffucci, Editor

Thanks, Maria. I imagine it must have been a difficult decision whether to post the content on-line. One argument is that that lowers the motivation to get a subscription. The alternative argument, of course, is that your overriding purpose is to make the material available. Some journals try to split the difference by putting the content behind a paywall for a year or some period of that kind, thus encouraging people to get a subscription so as to have the articles when they are most timely. HLR has gone the route of putting the content on-line immediately, which makes sense in light of the educational purpose of the journal. I also use it myself in the way described--reading the paper journal initially and then making notes of articles I want to re-read for further reference on-line rather than keeping the paper journal indefinitely. (This is my hat-tip to my anti-clutter obsession.) I have worried a bit, though, for the sake of HLR that you might have cut too much into your subscriptions by such a generous willingness to put articles on-line at the time of publication.

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