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Antigone, Planned Parenthood, and Showing Grace to the Dead


“Antigone” by Frederic Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


What to do once confronted with the evils of the abortion industry

Have you ever read the Greek tragedy Antigone? Written by Sophocles around 441 BCE, it is the story of Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, who defies her king-uncle Creon, who has forbidden anyone in Thebes to bury her brother Polyneices.

Polyneices is fighting to overthrow Creon and in the process kills—and is killed by—his brother Eteocles, who was defending Thebes. Eteocles, considered a hero by his uncle Creon, is given an honorable burial. As an enemy of Thebes, Polyneices’ body is let exposed outside the city gates, without proper burial rites and left to be consumed by wild dogs—the ultimate shame in ancient Greek culture and an utter disgrace to his sister Antigone. She loves both of her brothers and cannot fathom that one should be so shamed.

There are so many parallels in the story of Antigone and the current state of laws governing the treatment of unborn humans in the United States.

There is a war, and the stakes are the lives of two brothers. Eteocles is the hero, the brother who is wanted and celebrated. Polyneices is the other one—the unwanted offspring who is left and abandoned to shame.

But Antigone knows the truth—both are her brothers and both deserve honor. In defiance of Creon’s strict orders, she ventures outside the gates and gives her rebel brother the burial rites he has been denied by the state.

She buries Polyneices under the threat of death. Anyone can see this is a complicated issue: Antigone is engaged to her cousin Haemon, son of Creon, whom she truly loves. But she lays down the promise of a joyful marriage, and indeed, even her life itself, to fulfill her duty toward her fallen brother.

Antigone ventures, not once, but twice to Polyneices’ body to mourn. The first time, she escapes undetected after she has sprinkled his body with dust of the earth and poured out the libations prescribed by the gods. She returns the next day, and dismayed that the soldiers have undone her pious act, proceeds to bury Polyneices again, this time in the midst of a storm.

“And when, after a long while, this storm had passed, the maid was seen; and she cried aloud with the sharp cry of a bird in its bitterness—even as when, within the empty nest, it sees the bed stripped of its nestlings. So she also, when she saw the corpse bare, lifted up a voice of wailing, and called down curses on the doers of that deed. And straightaway she brought thirsty dust in her hands; and from a shapely ewer of bronze, held high, with thrice-poured drink-offering she crowned the dead” (ll 423-430).

I can imagine the pain of Antigone. It is the pain that I feel when I read or watch of the acts perpetrated by abortion practitioners, callously killing and dismembering unborn children, with no qualm or hesitation.

The guard who drags Antigone to the king tells him this:

“I have come…bringing this maid, who was taken showing grace to the dead” (ll 381-382).


Condemned for showing grace to the dead 

Creon asks his neice if she was aware of the prohibition to bury Polyneices. Her response is bold and passionate:

“Yes, for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the Justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that they decrees were of such force that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven” (ll 450-459).  

In simpler words, she tells her uncle-king that his laws had no right to supersede the laws of the gods, and therefore she had to bury her brother against Creon’s will.

Antigone moves, even against the edict of Creon, to honor and to grieve for her brother. We do not have the same value for honoring the dead like the ancient Greeks, but the children slaughtered on the altar of abortion-on-demand still need to be honored and celebrated.

I am reminded of a modern-day Antigone, Bernarda Gallardo, a Chilean woman who has adopted several children found dead in the city dumps of the small town Puerto Montt. She adopts them and gives them Christian funerals, where their short lives are celebrated and honored. Take a minute and read the story of her daughter Aurora and the funeral that inspired her town.

Our modern edict of Creon is that our society and our government tell us that these children—the unborn—are not children at all, and therefore they can be neither protected by law nor mourned once they have been slaughtered in this war.

Having second thoughts, Creon downgrades the decree of death for Antigone to life-long isolation in a ‘living tomb.’ When you choose to celebrate the humanity of unborn children, you will face isolation—social, economic, political, and relational. The White House is calling the Center for Medical Progress, the group of investigative journalists who exposed Planned Parenthood’s actions (not just the selling of baby parts but also furthered the exposure of the gruesome and inhumane practices described by the practitioners), a group of extremists.

I can almost guarantee you that the language against those of us who honor the humanity of the unborn will escalate: fundamentalist, extremist, enemy of women’s health and of the good of the state—it’s only beginning.

But we must refuse to be intimidated by such threats and say with Antigone to the state, “You are not God and His laws are above yours.”


How to respond with grace for the dead

I have wrestled with how to respond with honor and integrity since these Planned Parenthood videos have been released, and my heart has broken and I have wept.

We must mourn.

We mourn for the dead, these children who were taken from life on this earth, with no one to love them in their weakness. We cry; we weep; we wail. We honor them with our grief, saying to them, “You were taken too soon, and we are lesser for the lack of you.”

We mourn for those who have made the wrong decision to end the lives of their babies, either from ignorance or apathy. We mourn with them as they grieve, and we pray for them and walk with them through the healing process. There is grace and love in the heart of God for them.

We mourn for those who have ended these lives, using their skill and expertise to wound and kill rather than to heal and save. We pray that they will see the inhumanity of their actions and repent, turning from death to life and finding healing and forgiveness for what they have done.

We must celebrate.

Like Bernarda Gallardo of Chile, who celebrates the short lives of her adopted babies, we can celebrate the children taken too soon from the earth. We can employ the gifts we have—song, poetry, art—to honor them and to consider how great is the gift of life, inside and outside the womb. (See also Sarah Williams’ Shaming of the Strong: The Challenge of an Unborn Life.) 

We celebrate the lives of the pregnant women and the unborn children around us, especially those who have little or no family support as they embark or continue on this journey of parenthood. Volunteer at your local crisis pregnancy center. (Find yours here.) Make friends with single moms and dads in your community. Make parenthood the celebration it is meant to be!

We celebrate with joy and compassion those who have begun the journey of post-abortive healing, as a parent or a practitioner. There is great hope for these men and women. (Some resources: Hope After Abortion, for parents; And Then There Were None, for abortion workers.)

We must act.

We act on behalf of the unborn children of our country by contacting our representatives and senators and the state and federal level, to have laws that protect the most vulnerable members of our society.

We act on behalf of women and men, expectant moms and dads, and all children by being a family to those in our communities in need of support.

We act by using the gifts we have been given—talents, money, time—to make relationships with our neighbors and to love them where they are.

We are with grace and charity with those who disagree with us, seeking peace and unity at the same time that we stand for justice for the unborn and for all children, women, and men.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The injustices further exposed in the recent Planned Parenthood videos—the murder and dismemberment of our pre-born brothers and sisters—must stop.

With kindness and compassion, we can show grace to the dead by mourning, celebrating, and acting on their behalf until our laws and our actions protect the unborn, celebrate and provide for the born, and respect the dignity of human life, from birth to natural death.




I am quoting from Sir Richard C. Jebb’s translation of Antigone, found in volume 5 of the Britannica Great Books of the Western World, edited by Robert Maynard Hutchins (1952).

For a modern translation, you can read Antigone here.


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