Abortion, society’s most inflammatory subject


Watching the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, and looking ahead to the 46th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I felt inspired to write this column. Assuming our newest justice will follow through on his rejection of this most divisive case handed down by the high court since the Dred Scott decision, it is timely to treat yet again society’s most inflammatory subject. But it is my hope this will shed more light than heat.

Abortion causes Americans to split in waves as severe as those during the Civil War, when families came apart. I contend that good and conscientious people argue passionately for either the life of the child or for the autonomy of the mother. Both of these are good. I also contend that the split occurs over the question of whether the fertilized egg/blastula/embryo/fetus is a person or not, at whatever stage of development. This reminds one of the old night-club comedy routine about a girl being a little bit pregnant. Men like the comedian delivering the joke and the men in the audience laughed. The women did not.

While these very divergent opinions certainly cannot be located to all men versus all women, it comes down to the personhood of the fetus. If the fetus is a person, it is entitled to whatever born persons are granted. If it is not a person, it may be terminated artificially with no problems of morality. To me it is understandable if a woman with a problem pregnancy sees the gradual development of her pregnancy as going slowly over about 40 weeks. It is also understandable if a man sees it as a kind of light-switch: off to on in a second, darkness to light instantaneously. She is either pregnant or not.

That Civil War analogy is helpful. For eons slavery was seen as a distasteful but allowable practice of whole societies. It is in the Bible as a right of Israelites over pagan neighbors. It was considered economically imperative, and in fact much of the South’s wealth today harks back to indentured servitude. Michelle Obama told her daughters they lived in a White House built by slaves. Militarily it was seen as the right of conquerors. And how could something carried on for so long be wrong? After all, we allowed blood-letting, oriental foot binding and wife beating, didn’t/don’t we?

The Maryland province of Jesuits during the Civil War received a letter from Father General in Rome instructing them to do away with the keeping of slaves. Obediently they did, since they did not want to give scandal. They sold them. Today the Jesuits have begun a reparation effort to make up for the wrong, renaming buildings on campuses and funding descendants of those slaves. Saint Pope John Paul II decreed slavery to be intrinsically evil, meaning no place, no time, no how, no way may it be done, even though the Bible allowed it to Israelites. And foolish people think church morality cannot or should not change.

The Civil War analogy is further helpful. More Americans died in that war than did all other U.S. fatalities in all wars before and since: 620,000. Yet nearly 60,000,000 abortions in the U.S. have been legally performed since Roe. That is 3,500 each day.

The upshot is that the consciences of people have been in overdrive for half a century. Figures show that a woman who has an abortion will have a second or more, despite the psychic damage of the experience. Four out of five abortions are performed on unmarried women, suggesting that the procedure really does not plan parenthood or make for family planning. And feminists must contend with the fact that more than half of the aborted fetuses are female.

But remarkably, some of the most vocal pro-life people hurt the cause by strident condemnation of women in distress. If they spent a tenth of the effort in working for government help for abused women instead of pharisaic righteousness, they might convince more people. If they made housing and other care available in emergencies for women, they could turn a corner. We must rid ourselves of the fear of being labled “socialist” because we want to provide for those in need what other national governments long have provided.

When will we come out of our caves into the light?