As wonderful as our country is, we have made some serious mistakes in our history: slavery, the isolation of Native Americans, and the internment of Japanese Americans. But the thing that will, I believe, go down in history as our lowest moment is the killing of innocent American children in the womb. This is not an isolated occurrence, but a planned and legalized extinction of developing pre-born infants in savage and reprehensible ways.
Like the Nazis who used words to pretty up their nefarious deeds (calling the handicapped “life unworthy of life”), we casually speak of ‘Reproductive Rights’ and ‘Women’s Health’. Who can possibly be against these? But the fact of the matter is that abortion is the most anti-woman thing imaginable. An invasion of the womb to tear out the life within it. For this reason, the Woman’s Movement that years ago gave us universal suffrage was adamantly against abortion. They saw it as a male solution that imposed on the rights of women and their special dignity as the bearers of life.
This intimate connection between pregnancy and the very being of the woman is underneath the salutary reminder that it is the woman that bears the burden of bringing life into the world. It is what is most distinctive and unique about women. Pro-choice advocates do emphasize this central fact, and it gives power to that movement since it locates the decision to continue the pregnancy in the private decision of the woman. But like all truths, it must be put into the context of the consequences of that decision since it affects another life. We often forget that we were all once fetuses and, while the burden of bringing life into the world falls almost completely on the woman, there are other ways to exercise freedom. Hence, the place for true choice is at the time of sexual intimacy, for every sexual act bears the possible responsibility of new life. That is the true moral locus of choice, and both the man and the woman must make it. There can be no love, no action, without responsibility.
Like all moral choices, the choice to engender life, whether directly willed explicitly by a married couple wanting to bring new life into the world through their love for each other or indirectly bundled into the desire for the pleasure or ecstasy of the marital act, has political consequences. When a new reality begins through the union of sperm and egg, complete with an entirely new genetic substructure of DNA (Conception), this has political consequences and is not simply a private act. Once this new reality, which in our faith as Catholics we recognize as a human being, then this realization ushers in many rules and protections that must be accorded it.
This is where a lot of the difficulty lies in the Abortion wars. A woman’s body is truly a private and personal reality to the woman herself. But what has begun within her body is not just about herself. There is another who is being formed. There is also the husband who has ‘invested’ himself in what is meant to be a joint venture. But it is the woman that must bear the often painful living-out of that development within her very body, where the personal is most evident. So that is why the highest care must be provided for the mother of the developing child.
Moreover, we cannot understand the proliferation of abortions outside the context of the sexual revolution. Because it now seems almost a right to be able to do sexually whatever one wants (God’s commandments do not seem to have any impact!), then if Birth Control does not work you have to be able to stop an unwanted pregnancy whatever the cost. Unfortunately, the cost is borne by the pre-born child.
Added to this conflict-filled problem is the fact that we have legally never defined when human life begins and when those beings need legal protection. Is it at conception (the Catholic position), or when the child feels pain, or when there is a heartbeat or when there are brain waves? We know when someone is dead: no heartbeat, no brain waves; but the beginning of life is left up to the subjective decision of the mother. Conceivably, a child can be seen as a someone who is already part of the family (my baby) and then later in the week, merely a bothersome group of cells that can very easily be discarded. How can one’s own decision to see something one way or the other alter the objective reality of the thing?
All these issues must be calmly reasoned out. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Both sides are fixed and the decibel level is high. But there are good and sincere people on each side. We need to keep the discussion on grounds that everyone can accept, both religious and non-religious. So we need to talk in terms of reason and how to best build a civilization where everyone can find a place and where reason and science is respected. As believers, we must bring the insights into human relations that our faith bestows upon us. We come with a richness that does not negate science, but supports it.
Otherwise, things will get worse and this gathering storm will bring with it destructive possibilities that will make reasoning no longer possible.