Apr/May 2008  •   Salon

The Power of Prayer, or Better Things to Do

by Tom Dooley

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. —I Corinthians, ch. XIII, v. 2

I drove by Planned Parenthood this morning, and like most mornings, saw protesters standing outside of the building. These two, however, were atypical. Instead of holding signs and facing traffic, the pair were turned towards the building with heads bowed in what I assumed was prayer, a posture suggesting human life was being snuffed out at this very moment in this clinic—that some grand, unknown potential was being lost, getting erased. Heads bowed, attention focused not on passersby but on the plight of the innocents, these two made me think their actions were not based solely on religious dogma, but on genuine compassion.

And then I remembered why I'm not an anti-abortion activist, and it made me want to turn the car around and see if I couldn't talk some sense into these people, whose hearts at least seemed to be in the right place.

There are an untold number of causes one could devote one's time to if one wanted to make a positive difference in the world. It's not for me to say which cause is more important. If an individual wants to raise awareness of cervical cancer, I suppose that's just as legitimate as advocating on behalf of homeless veterans. If one is to protest, wherever one's passions and abilities lead one to do so, so be it.

However, if one is driven by a Biblical concern for human life, born out of a love for and adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ, then I've got to ask, why should the fetus be at the top of one's list of concerns? And if one were particularly worried about the blood of innocents, about protecting those who cannot protect themselves, I still have to ask, why the fetus, when the plight of souls fully formed and drinking the milk of human cruelty is so staggering?

Consider all the human beings dying and suffering on a daily basis in this world who are not the prenatal victims of a non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to improve women's health and safety, prevent unintended pregnancies, and advance the right and ability of individuals and families to make informed and responsible choices." Consider all the newborns, infants, and toddlers subject to abuse, neglect, starvation, abandonment, and preventable disease. Consider all the preschoolers and pre-adolescents who come to school hungry every morning and don’t have a decent home to go to every afternoon. Consider all the teenagers who have to negotiate a world of sex, drugs, and poverty without the benefit of positive role models or the basic levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

I suggest if one has the time to stand outside a Planned Parenthood on a weekday morning, then one has the time to stand outside a state agency providing insufficient foster care supervision leading to stories like these:

NEW YORK CITY, New York—A 1994 audit conducted by the Office of the Comptroller found that the Child Welfare Administration had incorrect addresses listed in the official record for 20 percent of the foster children in its care.  That represents 12,000 children out of about 60,000 in foster care that City caseworkers can not immediately locate.

COLUMBUS, Ohio—One of Ohio's largest foster care agencies misspent nearly $5.4 million in taxpayer money meant to be used to care for children, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

AUBURNDALE, Florida—A toddler's death erupted into another scandal at Florida's embattled child welfare agency Friday when a caseworker turned herself in for lying about visiting the child and reporting he was alive and well on the very day he was killed.

If one has the time to pray for a fetus, then one has time to pray for the one in eight children born in Haiti who will not live to see their fifth birthday, for the "nearly 11 million children under the age of five (who) die in the world every year—well over 1,200 every hour most from easily preventable or treatable causes." That's 29,000 children per day. Twenty-one each minute. According to UNICEF, 70 percent of those deaths are attributable to just six causes: diarrhoea, malaria, neonatal infection, pneumonia, preterm delivery, or lack of oxygen at birth.

If one has time to make a protest sign illustrating what aborted fetuses look like, then one has time to make a sign showing the results of malnutrition.

If one has time to parse the complexities of fetal development, one could spend some time ingesting these statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau:

In 2003, the national rate of victimization was 12.4 per 1,000 children.

More than 60 percent of child victims were neglected; approximately 20 percent were physically abused; 10 percent were sexually abused; 17 percent suffered from other types of maltreatment; and five percent were emotionally maltreated. A child could be a victim of more than one type of child maltreatment.

Approximately 80 percent of perpetrators of child maltreatment were parents. Other relatives accounted for six percent and unmarried partners of parents and "others" each accounted for four percent of perpetrators.

The amount of suffering borne each day by the human race, and most of that by the most innocent among us, is disgusting. And frankly, I don't know what the solutions are. But consider this: if the couple I saw this morning were to spend their spare hours assisting needy single mothers—teaching them life and parenting skills, helping them to juggle school, work, and motherhood, giving them one more "asset" or "tool" they can use to lift themselves and their children out of the spiral of poverty—and if other like-minded abortion activists were to do the same, would it make a greater difference in the lives of young people in the short term? In the long term? Would it make a greater difference in all our lives, in the greater human condition, than if they had just kept standing there, heads bowed?