This is the 44th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, and in light of the current rancor in our country over almost everything, I thought I’d offer what I hope are helpful suggestions about making the Pro-Life argument to those who are Pro-Choice. Much of the material is from an article by Eric Paviat written in InsideCatholic.com some time back. (“How to Talk to Democrats about Abortion: Five Strategies for Making the Pro-Life Case” October 29, 2009)
Of course the whole conversation with pro-abortion folks must be undergirded with prayer. As Catholics we are to pray for mercy, forgiveness and conversion. The more authentically we pray, the more love and compassion we feel for those with whom we so strongly disagree and consequently the chances of being successful in changing minds and hearts are much greater.
In engaging the pro-abortion folks, we need to seek common ground. Now it is imperative to note that common ground is not synonymous with compromise. However, it’s important to lower initial expectations because of the strong emotions that are involved in the abortion debate.
Our arguments are most effective if we first make some concessions, such as rejecting anti-abortion violence or promoting increased funding for women’s health care. If we do this, then we come across as reasonable and it helps lower defenses.
1.We Need to Actively Oppose Violence Against Women.
In an article in the April 23, 2003 edition of the Journal for the National Organization for Women (NOW) , it’s reported that the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the US is murder. The most frequent murderer of a pregnant woman is the father of her child.
Connected to this troubling statistic, we see that in post-abortive interviews, between 30 and 60 percent of abortions are described by the abortive mothers as ‘coerced,’ most often by parents or, again, the child’s father.
By legalizing abortion, our country has created an instant, societally approved, escape hatch for irresponsible males who aren’t willing to accept the consequences of their actions and who pressure women into unwanted abortions.
We have formed an expectation among males that if a mistake comes along, the woman has an obligation to ‘fix it.’ And they’re all too often willing to enforce this decision with violence. In 2004, the Washington Post reported that an estimated 295 pregnant women were murdered per year, with another 4 to 8 percent of pregnant women suffering physical violence at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends, or partners. While exact numbers are hard to obtain, it’s probable that several thousand non-surgical abortions per year are performed by male partners who simply pummel the abdomens of women until miscarriages occur. This not only kills the child, it leaves the bereaved mother without the ability to prosecute the murderer for any crime beyond simple assault and battery. Legally the child is not a person in most states. The connection between abortion and domestic violence is unmistakable. It must be said that there are occasions when the father wants the baby and the mother does not, but this happens rarely.
All too often, threats and intimidation from male partners, as well as from parents, play a role in a woman’s choice to abort. According to a statistic in David C. Reardon’s book Aborted Women: Silent No More (Acorn Books, 2002) 80% of post-abortive women say that if they had received support, instead of intimidation from loved ones, they would have preferred to keep the baby. As it was, they felt they had no choice but to abort.
No solution to the problem of intimidation and violence against pregnant women can be achieved without the dual solutions of legally removing the availability of abortion while simultaneously taking steps to protect threatened women.
- We Need To Be Kind To Women Who Have Had Abortions, Especially Those Who Have Been Coerced.
For women who have had abortions, especially those who have been coerced, we must be especially compassionate and express solidarity with them. Post-abortive women, as well as their families and friends, are often extremely defensive. What they need is sympathy for their crisis, not judgment. Part of this involves avoiding inflammatory language. While it is absolutely true that abortion is no less than the killing of a baby, the post-abortive woman hears only judgment in that line of argument. Her mind will immediately close, and our chance to make a convincing case is gone.
Secondly, it’s important to acknowledge that simply overturning abortion laws will not end the abortion crisis. Even if Roe v. Wade were reversed, abortion would still be legal in most states. (As such any decision would probably leave the question up to individual states). And even if abortion was made illegal on the state level, many abortions would continue on the black market.
What is needed is a culture in which no woman feels there’s a need to have her baby aborted. This requires government programs to expand health care and child support and for there to be increased support from private charities. We Catholics in particular need to “step up to the plate” and extend ourselves for pregnant mothers and their unborn children. We need to be both more supportive as well as seeking to make abortions illegal. It’s a carrot and stick approach.
- We need to Explain the Harmful Health Effects of Abortion
Research has shown that abortion represents a grave threat to women’s health: physically, mentally and spiritually. A study in Finland showed that abortion is substantially more dangerous than childbirth. A 2004 article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology relates how researchers from Finland’s National Research and Development Center for welfare and health looked at the death certificate records from 1987 to 2000 for all women ages 15-49 (i.e. the reproductive years). Their findings show that post-abortive women are 3 to 5 times more likely to die within twelve months after an abortion than women after childbirth within the same period. In addition, abortion is a risk factor for future miscarriages and premature births, as well as for breast cancer.
Further, abortion which is sometimes promoted as reducing women’s stress, actually leads to increased rates of depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and even psychiatric hospitalization. In fact, according to the British Medical Journal, women who procured an abortion had an almost 500 percent greater risk of suicide than women who had given birth, as measured within the twelve months following either abortion or the birth. (For further information on the harmful effects of abortion on women’s health, see How Abortion Hurts Women: the Hard Proof by Erika Bachiochi.)
- We Need to State that Abortion Is Inherently Discriminatory
Abortion is inherently discriminatory against the weakest, most vulnerable members of society: unborn children. The right to life is the fundamental human right, without which all others are meaningless. How will we practice the right to free speech or to follow any religion (or no religion), the right to assemble, the right to pursue happiness, if we don’t first have the right to be alive? All other rights are secondary to and dependent on the right to life.
Again, I have to point out that there’s a strong parallel between abortion and slavery. The Supreme Court declared both slavery and abortion to be constitutional. Slavery denied the personhood of African Americans; abortion denies the personhood of babies in the womb. The defense of slavery rested on a person’s right to do what he wants with his own “property;” the defense of abortion rests on a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body. The parallels are hard to ignore.
Shockingly, abortion in the United States was promoted partially to control the growth of “undesirable” people. PBS’s American Experience quotes Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger as saying abortion and other forms of birth control are “nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit and preventing birth defectives [sic].”
Even today, Planned Parenthood clinics are most common in inner cities. Thirty-five percent of all abortions are performed on African American women, even though African Americans comprise only 12 percent of the American population.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more African Americans’ lives have been ended by abortion since 1973 than by AIDS, cancer, heart disease, accidents and murder combined.
- We Need to Make Clear That She’s a Baby, Not a ‘Choice.’
Groups such as Planned Parenthood, RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice), and NOW like to claim that the fetus or conceptus is merely extraneous tissue in the woman’s body that can be disposed of easily. However, any medical textbook on fetal development clearly shows that the little one she is carrying under her heart is a distinct person from the mother:
The baby has unique DNA, different from the mother’s, from the moment of conception.
The baby has a heartbeat 18 days after conception, which is usually before the woman even knows she’s pregnant.
The baby often has a different blood type than the mother.
The baby has measurable brain activity less than 45 days after conception, well before most abortions in America.
The baby has a soul from the moment of conception.
The Catholic Church is clear. She is a baby, not a choice.
As I wind this down, I want to acknowledge such groups as “Project Aurora” and “Rachel’s Vineyard” who do wonderful jobs in providing grace and healing to not only post-abortive women, but for all people whose lives have been damaged by abortion. And I also must commend “First Way” here in Eugene for doing a tireless job in encouraging and supporting pregnant women to opt not to abort their babies. These groups deserve our ongoing financial and prayer support.
So in closing, I want to share this poem with you. It’s entitled:
How to Have an Abortion
Don’t think about the freckles he, or she, Might have, or how much hair, how big a grin, Or whether swimming would come naturally, Or whether” it? ”might play the violin. Don’t think of prom, don’t think of puppy love Or calculus, or snow, or spring in bloom, Or anything that might remind you of The future now contained within a womb. Don’t feel anxiety, don’t feel regret, Don’t fret about some otherworldly guilt. Don’t feel the bond of parenthood, don’t let Insane outmoded Don Quixotes tilt At private windmills, don’t spill any ink Examining yourself. Don’t feel. Don’t think.
Bryce A. Taylor “First Things” November 2013