In a recent Gallup poll, 48 percent of Americans identified as pro-life, and 45 percent as pro-choice. If you think that signals the end of the war on children, think again.
In the same poll, 49 percent of Americans said they consider abortion morally wrong, but only 31 percent said that abortion should be illegal, 29 percent that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and 27 percent that abortion laws should be stricter. In short, over one-third of pro-lifers are not so pro-life, supporting the legal status of a practice they deem morally wrong.
Another poll, by the Huffington Post, asked people similar questions: whether abortion was morally wrong and whether government should pass restrictions on abortion. Stunningly, only 24 percent (one-half of the pro-life percentage!) responded affirmatively to both questions.
Given such moral inner conflict, is it any wonder that, forty years post-Roe, 1.21 million abortions were performed in 2011, only six percent less than one decade earlier? If you’re wondering how pro-lifers can be so conflicted, pollster Anna Greenberg provides some insight.
Rationalizing morality down
In interactions with various focus groups, Greenberg found that people, even those who consider themselves pro-life, “can almost always think of some set of conditions where it would be okay to have an abortion.”
Indeed, if there is one thing humans are adept at, it is rationalizing morality down. It goes something like this: Imagine an exceptional circumstance to a moral issue and subject it to a moral calculus until what is morally prohibitive becomes morally neutral, if not morally acceptable.
In the abortion rights debate, those exceptions are rape, incest, and health of the mother—circumstances with high empathy quotients that become astronomical when imagining a wife, daughter, sister, or oneself as a victim. People who poll pro-life and yet support some form of legalized abortion have concluded it would be unfair, unloving, or cruel for a woman to have to bear a child under those conditions.
Often their reasoning is based on an alluring form of logic seemingly based on the Golden Rule: Loving my neighbor as myself means sparing her from any consequence I would want [my wife, daughter, sister, myself] to be spared from.
A factor further tipping the scale is that because anywhere between 30 percent and 40 percent of women have an abortion by the time they reach age 45, nearly everyone knows a friend, neighbor, coworker, or family member who has had an abortion. Thus, a pro-lifer who deems abortion, in the abstract, as morally wrong, can be inclined to deem it less so when circumstances are real and close to home.
But is it?
Examining the calculus
Consider the case of a child conceived in rape or incest. Is ending the life of the child a lesser evil than having the mother carry him or her to term?
Granted, the post-traumatic consequences to the mother can be painful, prolonged, and complicated, but victimization never justifies victimizing a third party—who, in this case, happens to be the most innocent person in the tragedy.
How about maternal health? Is abortion justified to save the life of a mother? Just ask Dr. Alan Guttmacher, past president of Planned Parenthood.
Ironically, in a book promoting legalized abortion, Guttmacher admitted, “Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and, if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life.” And that was in 1967!
The doctor would find no argument from former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who once stated, “In my 36 years in pediatric surgery I have never known of one instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother’s life.”
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that abortion is necessary to preserve a mother’s life.
If, as nearly all mothers are, a mother is willing to assume some, if not significant, personal risk for the welfare of her post-partum child, how could she deny her enwombed child the same consideration? The child in both cases is a genetically complete and unique human being; they differ from each other only in stage of development, just as a newborn differs from a toddler, a toddler from a teen, a teen from an adult.
The truth about women’s health
Then again, all this concern over “women’s health” neglects the very real and serious health consequences to women from abortion.
For example, an analysis of 22 studies, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, involving over 800,000 participants, found that post-abortion women had “moderate to highly increased risk of mental health problems” that included substance abuse and suicidal behavior.
As for the physical consequences of abortion, the best-documented ones include significantly increased risks of premature birth in future pregnancies, uterine bleeding, and breast cancer.
Despite the medical facts concerning women’s health and the personhood of the child in utero, courts over the last four decades have denied the child its right to life, while declaring the woman’s right to abort “sacred ground.” So sacred, that her choice is to be free from restriction or personal consequence, even over the objections of the child’s father and even if the cost of her choice must be borne by individuals and organizations against their religious beliefs.
From exception to rule
Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortion was legal in most states to save the mother’s life. Given the rare to non-existent instances in which that would be a legitimate concern (as well as the fact that only about one percent of abortions involve rape and incest, according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute), the ruling should have had a negligible effect on abortion incidence. Instead, less than six years post-Roe, the number of abortions doubled from 615,831 to 1,251,921.
It was the result of expanding the health “exception” to include any physical, psychological, emotional, familial, or stage of life consideration deemed pertinent to the mother’s well-being. Under that broad definition, the reasons women give to abort—again, according to the Guttmacher Institute—include the following: a baby would interfere with their education or employment or otherwise dramatically change their lives; they don’t want people to know they had sex; they’re not ready for a child (or another child); they’re not married; they can’t afford a baby.
Over three centuries ago, Blaise Pascal made a comment that’s now more relevant than ever: “[You] make a rule of exception . . . from this exception you make a rule without exception, so that you do not even want the rule to be exceptional.” Sadly, what was once intended to be an extraordinary procedure to save a woman’s life, has become a billion-dollar industry to save her from any inconvenience.
Given that the pro-life movement is primarily made up of Christians, double-mindedness in the camp can be placed squarely on the doorstep of the Church.
It is not that Scripture and Church tradition have nothing to say in the matter. To the contrary, when the psalmist wrote, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” he was three millennia ahead of medical science in acknowledging when personhood begins.
As to church tradition, the sentiments of professed Catholic Rep. Nancy Pelosi notwithstanding, the Church has always held that abortion is murder. In the second century alone, there were over twenty admonitions against abortion (without reference to exceptions) by early church fathers, like this from Tertullian: “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb. . . . To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth.”
The problem is that abortion, seldom, if ever, is given any airtime in churches. If the war on children is to end, that must change.
The teachings of Scripture and tradition must be placed front and center and made clear, not in a single sermon or sermon series, but throughout the church year in the pulpit, Sunday School curricula, and home study groups. In no other way can we remove the moral conflict that divides the pro-life camp and sustains a genocide claiming the lives of 22 million children (equal to the population of Australia!) worldwide, every year.
Image copyright Tony Gough for the Herald Sun.
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.