In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Life and "Choice"--A Vital Debate

I'm starting to look like a "one-trick pony"--only three posts in five weeks, and they're all about abortion. It turns out that work and home demands keep my from posting much more often than that, but my ongoing discussion of the abortion issue with my son Colin is as important and engaging as anything else in my life right now. I could be wrong, but it seems like the distance between us on this issue is narrowing, and that's a wonderful thing. Maybe we've never been as far apart as either of us thought, since our basic values and principles are much the same even if our fundamental beliefs and approaches to social policy differ. I can't put into words how happy I am that we're able to explore such a difficult subject and still respect, admire, and love each other. If a civil discourse like this could be replicated in society generally, we might find a solution to this knotty problem that satisfied most people. Nevertheless, I think we're kept apart largely by divergent assumptions about why abortions are sought and the effect of limitations on the procedure.

I was encouraged by Colin's statement that abortion "should always be used as an absolute last resort, something to pursue only after all other avenues have been exhausted." Sadly, that's not how things typically happen between pregnancy and abortion. If adoption is regarded as one of these "other avenues," far more more women are opting for the "last resort" of abortion: according to, only four percent of non-marital births are placed for adoption, or about 50,000 non-related adoptions a year as compared to over a million babies aborted annually.

Indeed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health organization, nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion. From 1973 through 2008, nearly 50 million legal abortions occurred. Clearly, since Roe v. Wade, abortion has not been treated by most women who have had one (or, by almost half, more than one) as a "last resort."

There is also a widespread misconception (if not a knowing deception) among abortion-on-demand proponents that a large portion of, if not most, unintended pregnancies don't result from a deliberate choice on a woman's part to have sexual relations. For example, Colin states that "I think most health and law enforcement officials would wholeheartedly disagree with you that rape-induced pregnancy is rare. Unfortunately, especially in big cities, it is quite common, and that fact alone should be strong enough to keep abortion legalized." However, multiple studies by law enforcement and medical researchers have calculated that, on the average, at most 8 per 1,000 women who are raped or the victims of incest become pregnant in the United States. This is equivalent to 0.8 percent, or less than one percent. Even the most "liberal" estimates place the adult pregnancy rate associated with rape at about 4.7 percent.

Additional information provided by the Guttmacher Institute is revealing. Among the reasons surveyed women gave for having an abortion, three-fourths cited concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths said they couldn't afford a child; three-fourths said that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half said they did not want to be a single parent or were having problems with a husband or partner. This data suggests that most women seeking abortion are doing so to avoid the expense, burdens, and complexities of bearing and caring for a child.

"Pregnancy often poses a massive threat to the health of the mother, and if abortion were illegal then that mother would have no choice but to risk her own life to carry out the pregnancy, which would surely be a violation of human rights." Pregnancy itself always poses some risk to the mother, but the danger is "massive" only in cases of ectopic or other "defective" pregnancies, or when the mother suffers from an unusual medical condition that is or could become life-threatening due to the increased physical and mental stresses of carrying a child to term (some doctors have observed that abortion is almost never a medical necessity to save a woman's life). As I noted in my earlier posts, relatively few people who consider themselves pro-life would oppose abortion in the very rare cases when it is truly, and professionally certified as, necessary to save the mother from death or life-long physical or mental disability.

As noted in an article by the University of Toronto Students for Life:
Pro-choice advocates tend to appeal to hard cases, which are rare, and then extrapolate to all abortions. “What if a woman was raped? What if a woman’s life is in danger?” These are serious and complex issues — but they account for a small percentage of all abortions. These are bad arguments for all abortions being legal, ethical, or “medically necessary,” and honest pro-choicers know it.
The hard cases are a red herring. The real issue, and what most concerns "pro-choice" advocates, is whether and how to confine abortion to those hard cases--that is, whether access to abortion should be restricted or denied in the overwhelmingly typical case of a woman (or parents; it takes two to tango) who seeks to avoid the unintended (if entirely natural and foreseeable) consequence of a free and deliberate (or careless) act because she (or they) deem it too difficult, painful, burdensome, expensive, or embarrassing to endure. To be sure, some of these situations, as where the mother is a young teenager entirely unprepared to raise a child, might even approach the "hard case" category. In any event, what the pro-life movement seeks is a legal process by which abortion is limited to those situations in which it is a true medical "necessity" or the only reasonable answer under the circumstances, with the burden of proof and justification on the person who seeks to terminate the unborn child's life. Colin and others favoring unrestricted abortion object that "such a process could take weeks or even months to complete, and by that time the baby could be only weeks away from birth." But judicial systems in many states and localities already provide specialized courts for juvenile and other family matters, including expedited hearings and relaxed rules of evidence. Such procedures need not take weeks and months to complete, and the judges who typically preside tend to be highly experienced in domestic matters and know how urgently some matters need to be resolved.

Changing the rules on abortion certainly won't solve all social problems associated with unwanted children, nor would it come without a price. Such a change could put serious strains on court systems, medical resources, adoption and public assistance agencies, and child protective services--and ultimately, taxpayers. And yes, despite all the prenatal support and postnatal adoption resources available, many women will resort to black-market abortion providers rather than follow the law and endure the burdens of childbearing. Ending abortion-on-demand would save many children's lives, but merely changing the law isn't enough to avert a potential host of new problems. Clearly a much greater investment in maternal, child support, and adoption services would be necessary. But a change more fundamental even than this is necessary: a new--or renewed--culture of personal responsibility, sacrifice, commitment, and love; a culture of marriage, and of life. As much as abortion-on-demand has undermined the moral fabric of society, I think it's also a symptom of a breakdown that began years before Roe vs. Wade, as moral relativism, hedonism, materialism, and the state came to replace common decency, religious faith, and the family in American life. Only when we embrace these ideals anew, individually and as a society, can we hope to replace today's culture of selfishness, depravity, and death with one that encourages and supports life. Mothers and children deserve nothing less.


Donna said...

Given the situation Jonathan and I have found ourselves in regarding having children, this topic is near and dear to my heart. Sadly, there is so many things we as humans take for granted, and for many people, baring children seems to be one of them. There is a video that I found amazing.

There are 2 parts to it and I hope you have time to watch them. AMAZING. The woman's name is Giannna Jessen and her strength on the subject will always stay in my mind!

The Tom and Donna Johnson Family said...

Timely commentary reminded me of the recent controversy in your state regarding the bill board sign with the photo of the young girl and the caption something along the lines of the most dangerous place for a african american is in the womb. I have been surprized by the amount of hostility towards it to the point that it was removed, when those that posted it used statistics and facts from neutral 3rd party resources, such as the NY Health Dept. It's all very sad- sad that women have lost hope, sad that a human is causually discarded, sad that we have not sucessfully turn the tide of abortion in way that speaks to these women in a positive way.

Anonymous said...

Once again, you've written a well-reasoned and thought-out post, which spells out the complex issues involved in abortion-on-demand. I agree with you that so many things in society need to change: especially on the moral side: a turning back to commitment, sacrifice and love, and away from selfishness and hedonism. Well done!!!