Contra Mozilla

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Repost with More Comments: 35 Years of Roe and Doe--and 6 Years Later

Note: I've been very busy lately with trying to write my dissertation/thesis. This has also left me mostly too tired to do much "creative" writing (be it fiction, poetry, or non-fiction reflections). On the other hand, today marks the 41st anniversary of the dread Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton decisions, decisions which I hope to see reversed in my lifetime. I have had a tradition of posting about abortion on this date each year, and I don't want to miss out this year on account of academics. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to really write anything new, so instead I've opted to re-post the article I wrote during the 35th anniversary. I'll add a few comments at the end [added: I wrote this on my old, basically defunct blog].

Today we observe the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, as well as its sister decision Doe v. Bolton. These laws swept aside all of the abortion laws enacted in the various states, permitting virtually unrestricted access to abortions. The tragic results of these decisions can now be seen by another abortion milestone which we will soon be passing, if the Allan Guttmacher Institute is to be believed; as of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Roe and Doe, there will have been 50 million abortions committed in the United States alone.

This is an absolutely staggering total. The CDC has estimated that annually, there are 16 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 (and between 240 and 250 abortions per 1000 live births, depending upon the year). This may not at first sound like very many, but it very easily add up to a quarter of the female population over the thirty years age period covered by the study, noting that about half of all abortions are first time occurrences. In other words, one in four women will have had an abortion during her lifetime. And this is using fairly recent statistics, during which the abortion rate has actually dropped. Nearly one fifth of all pregnancies have ended with abortion—the procedure is hardly “rare”—and the CDC reports that abortion is one of the most frequently performed medical procedures in the US. And the CDC’s estimates have tended to be on the low side; the Allan Guttmacher Institute estimates that nearly a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion, and that nearly 40% of all women under the age of 45 have had an abortion.

These numbers are, of course, staggering, but what do they actually mean? In the final analysis, is it a bad thing that abortion is this prevalent, or a good thing? A few adamant pro-choicers may possibly be thinking that this is a good thing. But I will ask, at this time, why? Are there any people out there who actually wanted to get an abortion? A handful of militant feminists may say that yes, they did, they got pregnant for the sole purpose of having an abortion, but what about the rest of those women out there? I hardly think that there are 26 million American women who did their utmost to conceive in order to then make an appointment with the local Planned Parenthood, let alone multiple times. Abortion can, at the very least, be considered a significant inconvenience to a large segment of the female population.

But the numbers, not to mention experience, say something else: that abortion is more than a “mere inconvenience.” Anyone who has volunteered as a “sidewalk angel” to offer counseling or information to young women as they enter an abortion clinic can see, on many such women’s faces, the veiled or at times unveiled anguish from which they are suffering. And those who work or volunteer for the various crisis pregnancy centers which offer post-abortion counseling have each witnessed the emotional devastation present in many of their patients. Merely mentioning alternatives to abortion has the effect of touching off raw nerves for some people.

These reactions are reflected in research done by such people as David Reardon of the pro-life Elliott Institute. Doctor Reardon’s survey of post-abortion women discovered that 95% of these women were “very much” dissatisfied with their choices, and 64% felt somewhat or very much forced into having their abortions, and 55% felt forced into having an abortion by others. Indeed, it is not exactly uncommon to see a woman being virtually dragged to the abortion clinic by her boyfriend or husband, or a young girl by her parents.
But perhaps this is too abstract. So often it is said that pro-lifers ignore the individuals involved in abortion—never mind that we interact mostly with individuals in many of our roles in the movement. Consider the testimony of Sally Garneau concerning her first abortion. She was six months pregnant at the time that she underwent the abortion:
“After the initial screening I was shown to an examining room where the lethal dose of saline was injected into my womb. Within minutes, I was led to a hospital room where they informed me that I could expect some cramping, a little worse than a normal period, and that it should be all over in about 24 to 48 hours. There was nothing left to do but wait for my body's "natural" ability to expel the unwanted fetus. In other words, give birth to my dead baby. I was instructed to remain in the bed and to call the nurse after I had the baby. There were six girls in the hospital room all together. At first we had a great time! Talk was abundant as many family members and friends came and went. It was not until the first ‘birth’ that the atmosphere changed. Slowly laughter was replaced with fear and pain, curiosity gave way to sorrow, and a solemn quiet crept over the room.”
This young woman described herself as “terrified” during the abortion. She noted how her emotions overwhelmed her, causing her body to react with “with violent, uncontrollable shaking. Tears streamed down my face and panic gripped my heart.” But even after this experience, she found herself choosing abortion for a second time.
“Why, if I felt [s]o horrible about having an abortion the first time, would I do it again? I saw my baby dead before my very eyes, and yet I was able to convince myself that it was okay to get rid of a second child! In total denial, I was able to believe that I had made the right choice for the sole reason that the truth was intolerable. The results of my choice were devastating.”
It is cases like Ms. Gurneau whom are ignored by the so-called “pro-choice” community. She experiences guilt—regret—for the abortion in her past, and is told by those supporters of a woman’s right to abortion that she has no reason to feel this way. Women who suffer form the symptoms of post-abortion stress syndrome are told that PASS does not exist, that it’s all in their heads. They are told to move on with their lives, and this suffering is callously brushed aside. Yet, as Reardon notes, the symptoms often get worse and not better with time.

Those who are pro-choice do not generally wish to recognize the life of the fetus as being that of a human person. They thus can offer no solution to those who suffer from PASS, other than to tell them that everything is alright. Professor Budziszewski notes, for example, that there are four objective needs which a person whom has guilty knowledge must satisfy: confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification. When a woman is constantly told that she has done nothing wrong, she will begin to half believe it—but her conscience, acting in her subconscious, will continue to tell her that there is something wrong. She will seek to meet these four needs in alternative ways; reconciliation—the need to be returned into the good graces of the community—is found not by repenting for the abortion, but in attempting to convince others to have abortions as well, so as to form a community in which guilt is shared by all for this action.

This, of course, does not ultimately lead to healing, but rather to more guilt, buried or otherwise. It is, then, in part for this reason that the pro-life communities have so often taken on the role of post-abortion counseling. We recognize that something is indeed wrong, and thus are so often able to help to meet the needs of confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification—to bring about repentance and the healing which it brings.

I have thus far avoided the moral question implicit in abortion, but I can do this no longer. For the fact that there are guilt and regret attached to abortions implies that there is something—perceived or objective—of which to be guilty. In other words, the moral law of one’s conscience must at some point be broken. This is the “intolerable truth” to which Ms. Garneau refers in her testimony—that abortion is the deliberate taking of an innocent human life, that it is ultimately an act of murder.

This may seem a bold claim to be made, but I submit that it is something which even some of those who are pro-choice have at various times conceded or admitted outright. A few years before the Roe and Doe decisions, the editors of California Medicine wrote an editorial titles “A New Ethic for Medicine and Society” in which they advocated the legalization of abortion. In this article, the editors stated that unequivocally that abortion was tantamount to murder:
“Since the old [Judeo-Christian] ethic [of the sanctity of life] has not yet been fully displaced [by the new ethic which places relative rather than absolute value on human lives] it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected” [italics added].
Nor are these editors the only people who admit this to be true. For example, Judith Jarvis Thompson conceded in her “Famous Violinist” argument that late-term fetus were in fact fully human persons, yet still contended that abortion was an absolute right during this period of time. In more recent debate with Peter Kreeft, philosophy professor David Boonin of UC Boulder used a modified version of this same argument after conceding the personhood of the fetus in his opening statement.

Perhaps I am getting too far ahead of myself here. I have posited that abortion is murder, and have briefly noted that murder can be understood as the deliberate taking of the life of an innocent human person. Thus, in justifying abortion at the philosophical level, arguments must be made against one of these elements’ being present in an abortion. And in fact, arguments have been made, variously, against the presence of each of these elements, as if to hope that one argument will stick. “Abortion does not take a life, because there is no life to take.” Or “The life that’s taken isn’t really human.” Sometimes, the humanity is conceded, but “It’s not a person yet.” And, of course, there is the argument at the basis of the “Famous Violinist,” namely, “the fetus is not innocent.”

I’ve heard every one of these arguments at various times. One could say that as a pro-lifer, I’ve been virtually brow-beaten by them, which is itself an irony given that any time a pro-lifer brings up any argument, he or she is chastised for brow-beating those poor women who are considering abortion. These objections are raised at every panel discussion, debate, or demonstration featuring pro-lifers, and they are generally answered, but never really retired. It’s as if there is a case of mass amnesia in which these answers are forgotten as soon as the audience leaves the room or the demonstration, never to be discussed again. Nevertheless, I will briefly address each of these objections now.

The first is inevitably that the fetus is not actually a life, or at least not a separate life. This is possibly the most ludicrous of the objections presented. There is clearly a separate organism present, with (depending upon how far along the pregnancy has progressed) a separate heartbeat, brainwaves, lungs, limbs, DNA, etc. The fetus is surely attached to her mother at this point, but this is hardly a criterion for not counting her as a separate life. To use an analogy, it is as if one would say that a pair of Siamese twins were only a single life; yet when the two are separated, they are perfectly capable of going their separate ways. The modification here is, of course, that the infant is at this time fully contained within her mother’s womb, and thus also fully dependent upon her mother for oxygen and nutrition.

The second objection, then, is that the fetus is not yet human, that it is a “potential human.” The problem with this argument is that it implies that a thing becomes something else by the mere act of becoming older or larger. The life does not pass from embryo to fetus to ape; rather, she is born as a human baby, and indeed is a human before her birth. A blueprint is not, nor does it transform itself into, a house; nor does a fetus from one species transform itself into another species entirely. Not, the unborn child is still a human, and a complete one at that, though at a different stage of development than you or I. This may perhaps be illustrated by an analogy and a pair of related examples. The analogy is that of human development post-birth. A baby is not a fully developed human, in the sense that she is still undergoing some changes developmentally; the same is true for a toddler, a ten-year old, a teenager, or even a twenty-year-old young adult. For example, both lobes of the brain have not really fully fused together until a child reaches approximately ten year of age—yet killing a six-year-old girl would be condemned as the worst sort of murder.

The first of the examples to which I alluded above can be found in the case of Sarah Switzer. In 1999, Life magazine featured an award-winning photograph of new surgical technique to correct Spina Bifida; during the course of the procedure, the unborn child, Sarah, was removed from the womb, the surgery was performed, and then she was placed back in the womb, to be born two months later. Had it been decided, while she was being operated upon, to terminate her life, no one would have referred to this as an abortion; rather, the word universally used would have been infanticide—the killing of a human baby. Yet, during those two months between her surgery and her birth, if her mother would have decided to obtain an abortion, it would certainly have been referred to as just that—an abortion.

As a separate example, consider the case of a prematurely born baby (for that matter, babies are rarely actually born on their due dates); terminating this child’s life would be rightly condemned as infanticide, murder, even if the child is born months prematurely. Instead, every effort is made to save the baby’s life; indeed, incubators are a common sight in hospital nurseries. Yet, if a child of the same age (or, for that matter, even a few months older) and thus the same stage of development (or even a greater stage of development) who has not yet been born is killed, it’s called an abortion, the distinction supposedly being that the life is not yet human. The double-standard here is evident.

I thus must turn to the third objection, the third argument in defense of abortion, which is that the unborn child, while a separate life and even a human one, is not yet a person. This is possibly the most metaphysical of these four arguments, and should ultimately matter the least. The conditions for personhood vary from objector to objector—some cite specific things such as “consciousness;” others say that people have feelings, emotions; and still others argue that people, unlike fetuses, have souls. These arguments need little in the way of metaphysical refutation, because they fail legally. Our laws against murder do not take such concepts as “ensoulment” into account. We expect the materialist who does not believe in the existence of the soul and the Christian who does to adhere equally to these laws. Nor do we take away a person’s rights when they become temporarily unconscious. Yet this is exactly the case with a fetus, whom we know will gain consciousness in time, just as a person who has suffered a blow to the head will regain it.

Finally, there is the question often raised of the innocence of the fetus. This is ultimately what Judith Jarvis Thompson and her philosophical descendents call to question with the “Famous Violinist” argument. Here, the unborn child is called an “aggressor,” a “parasite,” or a “cancer.” Can anyone imagine something more aggressive than a baby? I certainly hope so, because when I see an infant, I see one of the most helpless of creatures, surpassed perhaps by the infant who has not yet been born. It is not the child who has chosen to invade the womb, but rather the nature f the child’s being that she is formed in the womb. She is hardly capable of being the aggressor, but what of the other two charges?

The cancer analogy falls apart precisely where it is needed to call into question the child’s innocence. Like a cancer, the child grows rapidly and can alter the normal functioning of the body. But the similarity ends here. A cancer involves the malfunctioning of healthy cells, which then causes a loss of functioning to the effected part of the body; the growth of the child is the normal functioning of the cells involved, is the natural functioning of both the child’s and the mother’s bodies. Pregnancy is precisely what the womb of the mother, not to mention the hormones, etc, are designed to handle. This is there purpose, and they are functioning according to that purpose.

The same might be said about the parasite analogy. Like a parasite, the child derives nutrients from her mother, but again the similarity ends here. A parasite invades from without; a baby is created or formed by the interaction of two bodies, the mother’s and the father’s. The baby is the result of a deliberate action on the part of the parents, one whose biological purpose is this very result.

That abortion is the deliberate taking of an innocent human person’s life is thus the core argument against it. However, as the NARAL’s President noted in her recent speech at UT, these are hardly the kinds of things which pass through a young woman’s mind as she sits in the lobby of the local abortion mill, at least not in all cases or even possibly most cases. Nor is she likely thinking about population control, or feminist liberationism in the US or abroad, or any of a number of other reasons that so many people cite as reasons to keep abortion legal. She may be weighing the possibility that abortion is murder against her own situation, against why she is present at the abortion center. Perhaps she cries, or writes an apology to her child, or says a silent prayer.

Perhaps she’s here because she doesn’t think that she can afford the child, or because her parents refuse to let her carry the child to term. Perhaps this little one is the result of rape, or perhaps there actually is a threat to her health (though these last two are very rarely actually the reason for the abortion). Maybe she wants the child and he does not. Maybe she’s considered other options, maybe she’s only heard about them in passing. Whatever her reasons, she is probably hurting. It is here, first and foremost, that the pro-life movement is able to reach out, to offer comfort, options, and alternatives; it is here, ironically, that pro-lifers often face the most opposition from pro-choicers.

There was a lot of ire directed by NARAL’s President, Nancy Keenan, and her admirers towards the crisis pregnancy centers. The ire is equally intense within the ranks of Planned Parenthood—that billion-dollar-a-year nonprofit organization whose excess revenues (read: profits) tend to be in the tens of millions of dollars each year—whenever they “lose” a potential “customer” to the crisis pregnancy centers. The general charge leveled is that these crisis pregnancy centers do not dispense information about abortion; given that the purpose of such centers is to help find alternatives to abortion, this should not be a big surprise—nor should it cause such a great uproar in the so-called pro-“choice” community. The very concept of a choice implies that there be at least two viable options from which to choose. Abortion is supposedly one of them, and Planned Parenthood provides plenty of information about its supposed benefits, while maintaining that there are no serious risks involved. This seems somewhat dubious, given the risk for serious complications for any major surgery, especially one performed in such an unregulated place as an abortion clinic; this claim has also been contested by various organizations, particularly pro-life groups like National Right to Life and think tanks like the Elliot Institute.

Setting aside claims regarding the risks and benefits of abortion, Planned Parenthood makes the claim that abortion is safer than childbirth. Since every alternative to abortion involves giving birth, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates are thus implicitly suggesting that abortion is the most viable option for pregnancy. This claim is worth examining: the CDC notes that there are indeed more deaths per hundred thousand (about 6) resulting from pregnancy than form abortion (about 1.5). However, the CDC includes the statistics resulting from abortion-related death in its figures for pregnancy-related deaths. The EWTN’s James Miller has examined the issue in depth, as has the Christian Life Resources’ Dr. J.C. Willke, and they have noted that, additionally, many abortion-related deaths are not counted as being abortion related in these statistics. For example, all ectopic/induced abortion deaths would be removed from the abortion-related deaths counts. Other examples of shady bookkeeping bound, including that the City of New York reported 30 abortion-related deaths during a period in which the CDC recorded only 42 such death nationwide; and that similarly, a single county in Maryland with a total population of only 750,000 reported 3 abortion-related deaths in a year in which the CDC only recorded 10 such deaths for the entire year. Since many abortion centers aren’t actually required to provide statistics along with their abortions, many such abortion-related deaths go unreported, while the codes used by the coroners tend to obscure the causes of death.

Statistics aside, Planned Parenthood and other abortion centers tend to discourage alternatives, if not directly then indirectly. They do, of course, have to worry about their own bottom-lines. In any case, they also tend to strongly discourage visits to crisis pregnancy centers, bemoaning that such centers don’t recommend abortions. With that said, I have to ask how many women they’ve talked to whom have visited a crisis pregnancy center, chosen not to abort, and then regretted that decision afterwards, perhaps for the rest of their lives. I certainly haven’t met any such people, but then, Planned Parenthood never did really care all that much about individual women.

While the pro-life movement focuses its ministry to individual people, the political, legal side of the debate cannot be ignored, either. Slowly but surely, the right to life is being won back here in many laws requiring notification, waiting periods, the partial birth abortion ban. However, it is fairly asked whether or not this debate belongs in the political system, whether or not abortion should be legally restricted or prohibited. Obviously, if abortion is murder, then the answer is yes, but many people do not believe or permit themselves to believe that abortion is actually murder. Still others try to argue that even if abortion is murder, it should no be decided on the level of government—federal, state, or local. In this way, the debate has become similar to the slavery debates, in that many people know and even acknowledge that abortion is morally abhorrent, yet still insist that it must be kept legal.

There are ultimately several reasons for prohibiting abortion. The first is that doing so will greatly reduce the number of abortions in the country, especially as people begin to recognize that there are viable alternatives. The argument against this reason is that it will not reduce the number of abortions, but rather will push the underground. One needs only to look at countries such as Poland, in which abortion had been legalized by the Soviet Union, and then was banned by popular enactment upon returning governance to the Polish people. Abortion reached a high in the 1970s, with over 250,000 per year; after the ban was enacted, the reported number dropped below 1000, including out-of-country abortions. Estimates by the pro-abortion Federation for Women and Family Planning place the number between 80,000 and 200,000 annually, with so-called “abortion tourism” actually declining; most of these abortions were, moreover, performed in private clinics and not “back alleys.” This still represents a reduction in the number of abortions being committed. It is also likely a very large over-estimate: in 1996, Poland liberalized its abortion law to allow for abortion through the 12th week of pregnancy on if “a woman is in hard life conditions or in difficult personal situation,” yet less than 3200 abortions were reported during that year.

Underground abortions can’t be mentioned without taking a moment to address the so-called “coat hanger” danger. As I mentioned above, even in Poland where abortions are illegal, the underground abortions occur in private clinics. With that said, pro-choicers often point to the apparently high rate of maternal deaths which resulted from abortions prior to their legalizations. However, data from the national center for health statistics shows that the death rate de to abortions had already declined dramatically as of the Roe decision, from 1500 in 1940 to 100 in 1970. The total number of deaths had already nearly bottomed out by 1973.

NARAL has used the figure of “tens of thousands,” a figure which their founder, Dr. Bernard Nathansan (who is now ironically pro-life), knowingly fabricated. As he noted, the number was made up “out of thin air. We knew it was a powerful and compelling lie and we used it shamelessly" (Aborting America, 1979). Fabricating numbers is nothing new to such groups: Planned Parenthood, for example, claims that in 1991, 400,000 Brazilian women died of illegal abortions, yet in 1986 the World Health Organization estimated only 41,685 women between the ages of 15 and 41 dies from all causes. Apparently, a very substantial number of older women have been obtaining abortions in Brazil. As I mentioned a moment ago, the actual numbers in the US prior to Roe were closer to 1500, which is still quite high, and is considerably higher than today’s. However, it was drastically reduced by the advent of penicillin in the mid 1940s. In other words, it was not the illegality of abortion which was causing so many deaths, but the lack of antibiotics.

That abortions in Poland are so low even after the brief liberalization their laws illustrates the second reason as to why abortion should be made illegal: that the law acts as a moral teacher. In keeping abortions legal, we are in effect teaching that there is nothing morally wrong with them, while in prohibiting them, we are teaching that there is something morally wrong about them. If abortion is indeed a form of murder, then by keeping it legal, we are effectively teaching this form of murder is morally acceptable. As Princeton’s Professor Robert P. George notes, when the government makes laws permitting or prohibiting an act, i.e. abortion, it is judging to some extent whether or not that act is good or bad. He notes that “the law and government play a secondary (‘subsidiary’) role in upholding public morality. The primary role is played by families, religious communities, organizations such as the Boy Scouts, and other institutions that, by working closely with individuals, inculcate an understanding of morality and promote virtue” (The Clash of Orthodoxies, pp. 94).

I’ve already touched on how institutions and organizations such as the crisis pregnancy centers play their role, by offering alternatives to abortion, as well how family and friends may affect the woman’s decision in the matter. I would like to conclude, then, with the role for religious communities, and in particular of the Church. The opposition of the Catholic Church is as well known as it is old, stretching back to her founding and beyond (in the form of the Jewish tradition). Many early Church fathers condemned abortion, and an injunction against abortion can be found in the Didache, a sort of early Catechism or set of Church teachings dating to the first century A.D. The Epistle of Barnabas, a Christian document dated circa 74 AD unequivocally calls abortion murder: “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion, nor again shalt thou kill it when it is born” (Barnabas 19:5).

The Church must first and foremost continue her pro-life ministry, both inside and outside of the Churches. Her members can pray for an end to abortion, but also pray for the women and (yes) the men who are affected by it. She can renew and strengthen her teachings on the immorality of abortion, which ends one innocent life while devaluing another. She can continue to boldly and confidently re-affirm the intrinsic worth of all people, the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person. Perhaps most importantly, the Church must help to bring reconciliation to those people who have been hurt by abortion. As Pope John Paul the Great noted in his Evangelium Vitae, “Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase.


It's easy to complain that not much has changed in the last six years, save that the death count has continued to rise (if at a slightly slower rate). On a nation-wide level, nothing good has happened. Instead, we have the most pro-abortion (and anti-dissent from abortion) President in history, who has practically gone out o his way to destroy the conscience rights f those who oppose abortion. There's the HHS mandate, which increasingly is being limited so that it target Catholics: more and more exemptions keep getting added, but the President doubled and tripled down on forcing groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to comply. This was his move after narrowly losing on the so-called "Freedom of Choice Act," which would have repealed virtually any limitation whatsoever on abortions at any level.

Abortion: tearing apart society one member at a time.
Instead, abortion is fought at the state-level (where possible), and the pro-life movement remains grassroots level only. In Texas, pro-lifers won a "big" victory by banning abortion after 20 weeks' gestation--politically this is a big gain, but really it is minor given that the vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester. And even in conservative Texas, it took 2 special session to pass this minor law, thanks to the antics of Wendy Davis and an unruly mob of pro-abortion demonstrators. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo (son of Mario "Personally opposed to, politically supportive of abortion" Cuomo) stated openly that pro-lifers were "extreme conservatives" for whom there is "no place" in New York.

Still we fight on, because it is the good fight, the right fight. And, despite radicals like Cuomo and Davis, the tide is slowly turning. But it will take decades more at this rate before abortion is universally decried in America as the evil it is. But we must hope and pray that it will be.

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