Lauren McLaughlin

Lauren McLaughlin
Brooklyn, New York, USA
March 26
I'm the author of the young adult novels, Cycler and (Re)Cycler. I used to produce movies but that's all behind me now. I live in Brooklyn and London.


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JANUARY 5, 2012 6:17AM

The Santorum Disconnect

Rate: 30 Flag

Rick Santorum may have saved his wife’s life, but he doesn’t want you to know that. Here’s his version of what happened after he and his wife chose to perform fetal surgery on their baby, as told to NPR’s Terry Gross:

Like many medical procedures, there’s a risk of infection, and when the procedure was done-obviously you open up the womb to outside instruments and other things when you have a surgery done. And unfortunately, as a result of that, several days after the surgery she-my wife had an infection in the uterus which caused her to go into labor. And the baby was delivered, and Gabriel was 21-plus weeks old and he was born alive. And he lived for two hours, and he was not old enough or well-developed enough to have survived beyond that. And so we gave comfort care to him for those two hours in which he lived.

It’s possible that the above represents the sum total of the story. It’s also possible, as others have claimed, that once the infection took hold, Senator Santorum and his wife elected to administer antibiotics in order to save her life, knowing that to do so was to bring on labor before the baby was viable outside the womb. In other words, Rick Santorum chose a procedure which would terminate his wife’s pregnancy in order to save her life.

Can you blame him?

Much has been made of the fact that the Santorums later brought the baby, which they named Gabriel, home so that their other children could see him and say good-bye. A mass was performed at their home, which Santorum believed would be more personal than sending his baby directly to a funeral home. I know that some people find this gruesome, but I completely understand it. Clearly, the Santorum’s loved this little baby and were heartbroken at his death. People cope with grief in a variety of ways and personally I have no trouble empathizing with the Santorums in this matter. I hope it gave them and their children some comfort to know that they took care of little Gabriel in the best way they could. And I hope that afterward they were surrounded by loving and empathetic family and friends who helped them mourn his passing.

But clearly empathy is not what Santorum took away from the experience. In fact it is the one thing that seems to be utterly lacking in Santorum’s public positioning on the subject of reproductive rights.

From the moment they discovered all was not right with the pregnancy, he and his wife had choices. They chose a risky surgery, which they knew would endanger their son’s life. Later, if the stories are true, they chose to administer antibiotics, which they knew would end his life. The fact that he was born alive and survived for 2 hours may provide them with some moral cover, but it in no way changes the fact that their choices–the risky surgery and (possibly) the application of antibiotics, caused their baby to be born before the age of viability.

Santorum claims that this experience is what solidified his across-the-board opposition to abortion. He has painted the incident as a demonstration of how a dyed-in-the-wool abortion opponent must inevitably act in the face of tragic circumstances. But this is hogwash. The Santorums could have chosen not to perform the surgery in the first place. The baby might have survived. They admit there was a chance he would have. They could additionally have chosen not to administer antibiotics, something Santorum’s wife, apparently, considered. They also could have chosen to terminate the pregnancy once they discovered the problem in the first place. The point is they had, and made, choices. They made the choices that made the most sense to them. Maybe you would have chosen differently. I think, given the same circumstances, I probably would have made the same choices. If anything, the Santorum’s experience is a demonstration of the dignity and compassion of choice. Biology can be cruel and capricious, thrusting us into horrifying choices we may feel ill-equipped to make. But make them we must. Sometimes they work out for the best, sometimes they don’t.

I believe the Santorums behaved with grace, dignity, and love under enormously tragic circumstances. And if they were a private couple minding their own business, I would leave it that. But they are a very public couple attempting to foist their absolutist reproductive philosphy on the rest of us. Therefore it is our responsibility to examine what they claim to be the foundation of this philosophy. The Santorums claim that their experience with little Gabriel bolstered beliefs they already had on the subject of reproductive rights. But I believe the experience was actually a direct challenge to their absolutist philosophy. I think they feel guilty for making choices that ultimately led to the death of their baby. And in response they have recast the experience–quite possibly with critical deletions–in order to nullify its guilt-causing components. They want, and perhaps need, to believe that they did everything they could to save their baby’s life and that they did nothing to hasten his demise. But the facts simply don’t line up this way.

To be clear, I do not believe the Santorums should feel guilty about the choices they made. They saved a mother’s life. But the fact of the matter is that simply by exerting their right to make choices which would lead to the premature delivery of their baby, they stepped way out of their pro-life comfort zone. And instead of being honest with themselves about it and allowing the experience to educate them on the bewildering and sometimes cruel nuances of pregnancy in the real world, they have bent the facts to their pre-conceived philosophy.

On a personal level, I can’t really fault them for doing this. It’s called cognitive disconnect and people do it all the time. It’s the reason why the segments of the population most vocally pro-life are the ones having the most abortions. It’s why the segments of the population most in favor of “family values” are the ones getting the most divorces. It’s human weakness, a tendency to bend reason to our emotional needs. I would let it go, were it not for the fact that Rick Santorum is running for president and wants to impose his absolutist philosophy on the entire nation!

I feel for him and his loss. I honestly do. But would it be asking too much for the man to step outside of his own worldview for a single moment to spare some empathy for the people whose tragic stories he can’t possibly know? Right now a husband is struggling with the same kinds of choices he had to make. Somewhere a woman is struggling with another tragic choice he couldn’t possibly understand. The absolutist pro-life philosophy only works in the abstract. When reality intrudes, a whole world of nuance opens up. This is why the most ardent anti-choicers sometimes find themselves making choices they once demonized and why the government has no place legislating such deeply personal decisions.

A little humility, Mr. Santorum. Some respect, please, for the families undergoing painful decisions right now. Some empathy for the women of this country who only want to know that if and when tragic circumstances arise, their fate will be determined by themselves and their loved ones, and not by an opportunistic politician trying to score points.

And incidentally, for what it’s worth, I think you behaved heroically in protecting your wife and I’m glad you had the choice.

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Brilliant analysis and logical argument. Thank you.

Jumping jesus on a pogo stick, what a great post. I think I'm in love. This was profoundly well written, sensitive, intelligent.
Excellent post - intelligent and compassionate.
Going forward with a risky pregnancy negates your argument about the couple's stance on abortion. And risking a negative effect from antibiotics is not an argument for their knowingly choosing to end the child's life. The risk, by the way is one for which you supply no supporting evidence. Do you know the antibiotics, their effect, the considered medical opinion on that risk, what the parents were told or anything substantial about their predicament? Sorry, in a situation like this, your sensitivity is belied by your dependence on gossip. No dice.
Great piece. Nice job floating above the standard-issue (and often well-deserved) vitriol.
One of the most intelligent things I've read on the subject in a long time.
As usual:

babs 1; rational thinkers 7 + the author = 8

Good job painting in all the shades of grey on this issue. It's too bad Santorum can only see in black and white.
Fantastic post, logical but also sensitive. And you make perfect sense.
Notwithstanding Santorum's views on anti-choice, the news accounts of what I read state that his wife chose to move forward with pregnancy putter her life at risk (though she admitted she wasn't thinking clearly at the time) and Santorum supported her decision.

If those accounts are correct, she made decisions and he supported them. While he is clearly anti-choice, I would rather attack him on the millions of dollars he made after leaving the U.S. Senate from special interest groups as reported in the New York Times, today.

Pro-choice people are not going to choose Santorum, but others might not choose him based on how he profited from his position as a political prostitute.

Congrats on the EP, but attacking him on this issue is a waste of time.
Thanks for all the feedback. With respect to some people's objections to my mentioning unsubstantiated rumors that the Santorums chose to use antibiotics to save her life and end the baby's, I thought I'd made it clear that this was, in fact, not something that Santorum himself has admitted. Perhaps it would make for a better blog post if I chased that information down, but truthfully, I think this kind of information is something that should be kept private. I don't want to live in a world where I have access to the Santorums' most personal medical information. It's Santorum himself who wants to eliminate that kind of privacy. For that reason, I think it's only right and proper that he receive a taste of his own medicine by having total strangers prod and opine on his personal reproductive choices. Perhaps the experience will educate him. So far, nothing else has.
Whether or not the antibiotics would harm the baby your great article makes the point that the Santorums were involved in a series of decisions that involve personal choice. When people are in that position it is not the govements role to limit their choices. Information is what people need and respect for these tough times. I have been in several life and death situations and it all moves very fast. Santorum and his wife did well but he needs to honor all people and their choices. It is not about the exact nature of their medical procedures. It is about choice.
I agree wholeheartedly with you, Zanelle, and there is so much potential for common ground here. There is no hypocrisy in being both pro-life and pro-choice. A great many people are. The belief that abortion is wrong does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that it should be illegal any more than the belief that adultery is wrong. But we've fallen into the either or trap on this debate, rather than embracing a diversity of opinions.
The deal here is that Santorum and his wife had the right to make extremely personal choices involving a medical matter and keep it between themselves and their medical team. No government looking over their shoulders, second-guessing and harping on "personhood." Wouldn't anyone else want the same right? Shouldn't everyone else have the same right?
They should indeed have that right, ccdarling. But since not enough people are willing to stand up for reproductive rights, I fear that the law will shift. If it's true, as I've read in many places, that one in three American women have had an abortion, it should be obvious that reproductive freedom is important. But until we're willing to stand up and show our support, the loudest voices may prevail. Right now, the anti-choicers are louder. That many of their voices are also hypocritical seems not to tarnish their legitimacy with their supporters. I think we have to create a pathway for pro-life people to see that legal abortion is not an affront to their beliefs but rather an expression of the limited nature of our government. We all must accept the existence and legality of things of which we disapprove. That is the very nature of a free society.
I wish what he had taken away from it, is that the government has no right to make intimate personal decisions for a family. Birth Control, Pregnancy, and Abortion should never be something that the government has anything to do with. These are personal, family, medical decisions. How this got to be front and center in American politics is actually puzzling, if you stop to think about it.
Lauren, I think I'm in love with you. Just don't tell my wife please.

I'm pro-choice. I'm also anti-abortion. You are right. The ideas don't have to be a pick one kind of thing. I know what my choice is, but I'm not you. In the end you will have to make peace with you higher power if you believe in one. So I'm not going to tell you the answer to a question that nobody truly knows the correct answer to. That's why they call it faith not fact.

In this the couple had two choices, bad and worse. Based on their conversations with others, and their personal belief, they made what they believe we the choices that were the best for all. I'm sorry that the long odds of the baby didn't work out but as the saying goes, that's life. I'm not going to second guess them.
This is so sensitive and thoughtful. Thank you! It gives me the courage to speak and write about my own experience with abortion. The more women who go public with their stories, the harder it will be to villify us as murderers. I've come to realize that our collective silence strengthens those who would have us all thrown in jail. It would be so much better if we could have an authentic, respectful public conversation about female sexuality and the damage that has been done to the female psyche (and to men as well) by absolutist patriarchal religions.
Catnlion, it's great to hear from someone with your perspective. The fact that it's not widely accepted that one can be personally opposed to abortion while supporting reproductive freedom is a big part of the problem. Because abortion is one of those things most people wish weren't necessary, it's hard for some to rally around it. But we don't actually need to. What we need to rally around is the idea of women's dignity and freedom and the idea of limitations on government.

Mtwoman, I agree that it would be incredibly helpful if more women who've had abortions spoke out in favor of keeping it legal. If nothing else, it would reinforce the notion that women from all walks of life have abortions. But I completely understand why so few of them do this. It's very hard to press for the notion of privacy while at the same time revealing your most private experiences with the world. Women shouldn't have to stand up and declare that they've had abortions. It should be nobody's business but their own.
This is so sensitive and thoughtful. Thank you! It gives me the courage to speak and write about my own experience with abortion. The more women who tell their stories, the harder it will be to demonize as as murderers. Absolutist patriarchial religions have done a lot of damage to the female psyche with their suppression and distortion of human sexuality. We all pay for it not only in our hearts but in our relationships with one another. Keep up the thoughtful analysis!

Got to thinking. Not to change the subject totally, but I would like to know what you think.

Where should the government draw the line? Who draws the line, the federal or state government?

If I think you are worth $100 an hour to have sex with you and you agree, why should the government object? It's legal in parts of NV, why not NY? People in NY pay for sex don't they? How about drugs? Unless I'm breaking into houses to steal drug money shouldn't I be able to use a little on Saturday night for fun? Not much different than a little scotch.

While this is a hot button issue I think the real issue is government has their nose in everything. Granted there is a limit to all things so lets forget about the part that most rational people can agree on like sex with kids etc. Let's talk about us rational people having our lives to ourselves. Who knows. We may want to go to MS and buy a vibrator or something.
The following is an excellent point. I just wonder what would turn things around? I would love to hear some ideas because it seems to me that the Joseph McCarthyism of reproductive rights is pushing us back into the 19th century - at great cost to human rights and women's dignity. I feel like I am complicit because I have been too scared of a backlash to share my own perspective as someone whose life was changed for the better because I had access to an affordable abortion. Having lived in Utah for many years, a bastion of anti-choice orthodoxy, I kept my mouth shut for fear of the social and economic consequences, not to mention death threats. How I feel about my choice differs substantially from the public discourse. I could be wrong, of course. Widespread self-censureship can skew our perceptions of how women really feel deep down.

"Mtwoman, I agree that it would be incredibly helpful if more women who've had abortions spoke out in favor of keeping it legal. If nothing else, it would reinforce the notion that women from all walks of life have abortions. But I completely understand why so few of them do this. It's very hard to press for the notion of privacy while at the same time revealing your most private experiences with the world. Women shouldn't have to stand up and declare that they've had abortions. It should be nobody's business but their own.
Mtwoman, I think what may turn it around is if the pro-choice movement could reframe the debate. It's not about whether abortion is good or bad. It's about whether our government should be large or small. What anti-choicers fail to see--and what we should be pointing out to them--is that the equal and opposite position to theirs is not the pro-choice position. It would actually be the forced abortion position. Thankfully, no one is seriously espousing that. The pro-choice position is actually a kind of sensible middle ground because it allows all people to behave according to their own personal beliefs--whether they be religious, spiritual, philosophical, secular, political, or what have you. One of the great ironies is that the anti-choice movement is rooted so deeply in religion. But religious people are the last ones who should be pushing for the government to impose religious doctrine. They may think it's a great idea now, when they can push for their own religious doctrine to become law of the land. But how would they feel if another religion became ascendant? Shariah law, anyone? The most religious among us are the ones who should be most supportive of the separation of church and state. After all, it is this separation which protects religious people from persecution. Sadly, however, many religious people see the separation of church and state as an attack on religion. A history lesson would go a long way toward educating them on this matter.

Catnlion, I'm actually for legalizing most of the things you mention. Again, not because I like them, but because prohibition doesn't work. I'd rather have people do things I don't like than have a government strong arm its way into my private affairs. I am equipped with good sense and a moral compass. I don't need Uncle Sam bossing me around.
Can we make it a rule not to refer to people who are anti-choice as "pro-life"? Aren't we all pro-life?

By referring to those who oppose a woman's right to choose whether or not to carry her pregnancy to full-term as "pro-life" we concede to them a semantic, cognitive, and emotive advantage to which they have no right.

We are (I hope) all in favor of living; we are all pro-life. Some of us are also pro-choice while others are anti-choice.
Interesting take on a sensitive, divisive issue. You articulate your argument well and insert many valid insights into a complex issue. Clearly you've gotten many of us thinking, and that is the true measure of any post. And I agree with W. Ross. Aren't we all pro-choice? Black and white labels, as well as political positions, remove depth and intellect from issues that deserve more. Nicely done.
I think you're both right, Will and Annie. We're all pro-life and we're all pro-choice. We can stop the fighting now if we agree to respect each other's privacy.
The word "disconnect" sums it up for the whole batch of candidates this time around.
This is a well-written arguement for allowing people the freedom to choose even when the choices might be the most painful ones they ever have to make. You create an intimate scene where the government doesn't belong. I had a strong response when hearing Herman Cain's opionions about abortion and felt it was time to tell my abortion story in response. If you're interested here's the link:
This is an excellent post and analysis, which has inspired some great comments and discussion. I completely agree with Will's request to drop the term "pro-life." It reminds me of the 2004 elections when everyone seemed to cede the "morals" to the Republicans.
Thanks so much for sharing, Jersey Girl. You are indeed one of the millions of human faces behind this all-too-abstract debate.
Would that Santorum develop toward others the empathy you show for him.
Brilliant writing Lauren. I really enjoyed it. Thank you. -shawn
If abortion fans were out front about what they are doing, they would gain some more respect. Instead, they hide behind nice-sounding slogans like "women's health" and "reproductive rights". And the anti-abortion folks should drop "pro-life" unless they come out against capital punishment and involvement in foreign wars.
Hi Rrbill. I'm not sure language is really the issue here. I think pro-lifers use that term because their opinion stems from the fact that they believe the fetus represents a life in a sense that is equivalent to any one else who's alive. Pro-choicers use that term because they believe that everyone should have the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy or carry it to term according to their own beliefs. While the pro-choice position allows pro-lifers full freedom to act in accordance with their own beliefs, the pro-life position does not repay the compliment.
Excellent essay. You really are an outstanding writer - of course I am predisposed to think that, maybe, because I so violently agree with everything you've written here, including the *way* you've written it.

"If anything, the Santorum’s experience is a demonstration of the dignity and compassion of choice. Biology can be cruel and capricious, thrusting us into horrifying choices we may feel ill-equipped to make. But make them we must. "

"While the pro-choice position allows pro-lifers full freedom to act in accordance with their own beliefs, the pro-life position does not repay the compliment."

And yet, somehow, the Republican party always represents itself as the party in favor of "small government. " Small maybe, but very very invasive, restrictive and punitive.
i got here because of my friend sandra's fb post (for which i'll thank her), so it's fitting that i just say: what sandra said (above).
One of the finest essays I have read in a very long time. Thank you for laying out this argument with sound reason and compassion.