How to build a culture of life? With bricks and mortar.
One of the truths to which this site is devoted is that the way we organize our physical environment both reflects and shapes culture. Anyone who wants to effect our culture should then pay close attention to the way our built environment is structured. It is time abortion opponents absorbed this lesson. In his classic work, A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander makes the crucial observation:
The existing obstetrics service in most hospitals follows a well outlined procedure. Having a baby is thought of as an illness and the stay in the hospital as recuperation. Women who are about to deliver are treated as “patients” about to undergo surgery. They are sterilized. Their genitals are scrubbed and shaved. They are gowned in white, and put on a table to be moved back and forth between the various parts of the hospital. Women in labor are put in cubicles to pass the time with virtually no social contact. This time can last for many hours. It is a time when father and children could be present to provide encouragement. But this is not permitted. Delivery usually takes place in a “delivery room” which has the proper “table” for childbirth.
The profound insufficiency of such places for hosting one of the most important events in family and communal life was wonderfully illustrated by a recent episode of Mad Men. The show’s hero, Don Draper, spends the entirety of his new child’s delivery not with the mother and family, but rather sitting in a sterile waiting room with an utter stranger and their mutual friend Johnnie Walker. Such things have changed since the ’50s, but nowhere near enough.
Those who wish to promote an ethic of life should replace the “delivery rooms” of today with free-standing communal birth places. Rather than treating pregnancy as a sickness to be prevented by contraception and cured either by abortion or delivery, these structures would be designed to reflect the wonder and respect with which each new life should be welcomed. A just society will outlaw the intentional killing of the unborn, but in the absence of a consensus in favor of restricting abortion, this is one area where progress can be made.
Crazier things have been done: the Young Men’s Christian Association implemented its reformist vision through a nation-wide building plan. A vast number of currently existing medical facilities were built by private, morally motivated parties, with Catholic institutions alone accounting for 18% of America’s hospitals. The feasibility of constructing birth places is demonstrated by the success of these past efforts. They should be built first in only a few locations and then, after a sufficient period of experimentation and improvement, constructed in every community. A first step would be to assemble a panel of architects, doctors and laymen–mothers and fathers–who would solicit designs and craft a general plan that could be adapted to local needs.
This may sound like a whimsical proposal, but the way we structure our communities can be–and in this case in fact is–deadly serious.