The Cost of "Choice" Understanding the Impact of Abortion

My job involves participating in the Church’s mission to deepen respect for all human life, especially the most vulnerable members of the human family. It has become more interesting lately with the presence of a new member of my own human family — a baby girl who is six months along. She’s the perfect pro-life…

My job involves participating in the Church’s mission to deepen respect for all human life, especially the most vulnerable members of the human family. It has become more interesting lately with the presence of a new member of my own human family — a baby girl who is six months along. She’s the perfect pro-life prop!

Last month I was eager to exploit my baby in a debate at Georgetown Law School where I graduated 15 years ago.

Finally I had the chance to be pregnant, in a debate, on abortion, against a pro-choice attorney! But I soon discovered that my opponent was pregnant, too. What are the odds? It was the Clash of the Pregnant Titans.

The debate was on partial birth abortion, a procedure done on babies in the second and third trimesters. The abortion doctor pulls the baby feet first out of the mother to the point of his head, then stabs the head with scissors, suctions out the brains and completes delivery.

According to the abortion industry itself, these abortions are done 3,000 to 5,000 times each year, the “vast majority” of the time on a “healthy mother with a healthy fetus that is 20 weeks or more along.”

So, I opened the debate talking about my baby, then 20 weeks old: Her heart had been beating since about 20 days, her brain functions could be recorded at 40 days, she’d been moving for three months and was 10 inches long, and she could hear my voice.

She’s a healthy baby, and even today, is a perfect candidate for a partial birth abortion. If it were done to her, she would experience “prolonged and excruciating pain” before she died.

Catholics sent over 40 million postcards to Congress calling for an end to this brutal practice. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that this is also the number of children who have lost their lives and voices to legal abortion since Roe v. Wade. In 2003 President Bush signed into law a ban on the procedure, but the abortion lobby filed suit, and, so far, it remains legal.

How have we sunk so far?

This is the 10th anniversary of John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life. In it he explained that we are experiencing a culture of death because there’s been “an eclipse” of the sense of God and of the mystery of human life – we no longer see ourselves as “mysteriously different” from other creatures:

The culture of death emerges out of an attempt to erase God. When human beings stop seeing human life as a gift from God, they begin to see it as something over which they have authority and control.

This leads to what the Holy Father called a “systematic violation of the moral law.” We experience this today: One in four pregnancies ends in abortion: 1.3 million every year. Abortion is no longer an occasional evil but part of the fabric of our society. When a society makes the violation of moral law systematic, the Pope said, the result is confusion between good and evil, and a darkening of the capacity to discern God’s presence. When we by our own will forget God, we begin a journey to a place where it becomes difficult or impossible to see God.

We have strayed far from our origins.

America is blessed in many ways, chief among them: We are a faithful land. But while Americans have always been a religious people, our faith is tied to reason. The opening sentences of our most important public document bind faith and reason elegantly together: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Pope John Paul II called abortion the greatest civil rights issue of our day. Abortion is not merely a subject of religious faith, but a matter of human rights and therefore legitimate public concern.

That’s why it’s not okay to be “pro-choice” but “personally opposed to abortion.” To be “pro-choice” is to promote the idea that some are entitled to the protection of the law, but not others. This is a fundamental injustice. Certainly not only faith but reason teach that protecting the right to life must come first, before all other issues — because without life, the right to health, to home, to work, to family have no meaning.

One reason abortion is a difficult subject is that most people today don’t know basic facts about abortion in America. They’ve been lied to: Roe v. Wade didn’t make abortion legal in the first trimester, it made abortion legal through all nine months of pregnancy.

In 1973 the Supreme Court made abortion legal for any reason before viability, and for “health” reasons after viability. But the court defined “health” as “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age …”. It’s fair to say that there are no meaningful legal barriers to abortion during any stage of pregnancy in the United States today.

Thirty-two years ago, Roe v. Wade launched a social experiment on the lives of women and children by mandating unlimited abortion in America — despite the fact that in 1973 and today, most people think an unlimited right to abortion is wrong.

This social experiment has run for three decades now, yet we know little about abortion’s impact on women’s health, on marriages, on surviving siblings. We don’t know with certainty how many children have died from legal abortion, or how many women.

It’s been a reckless experiment.

And in place of systematic scrutiny that such an experiment calls for, we’ve had an angry public debate where each side tells the other, “It’s a woman’s right,” or, “It’s a baby” — and never the twain shall meet.

Now, women and children are natural allies, not enemies, and certainly pro-lifers help women every day, but the terms of the debate have been set.

On these terms, we’re winning.

Today people recognize the humanity of the unborn child like never before:

  • We can map the human genome and see a complete, distinct DNA pattern from the moment of conception;
  • We can see the child face-to-face on ultrasound machines and hear her heart beating at just 21 days; and
  • Polls show most people think abortion stops a beating heart.

But many are still willing to accept abortion, and this is the cause of frustration in the pro-life movement. Perhaps they are willing to overlook the death of the baby because they’ve been taught to believe that legal abortion is good for women.

Roe v. Wade has taught this country that abortion is the compassionate response to a woman in need. We have learned the lesson well.

At our universities, it’s typical for young women facing unexpected pregnancies to find that their health care covers free abortions, but there’s no help if you keep the baby.

 Is abortion the compassionate response to a woman in crisis?

The Alan Guttmacher Institute, which is aligned with Planned Parenthood, has the only published survey on why women chose abortion. Six percent said their abortions were for health risks or fetal disabilities. Only 1 percent reported their abortion was because of rape or incest.

What about all of the rest — the other 93 percent of abortions each year? The two overarching reasons for the rest of the abortions every year are a lack financial assistance and a lack of emotional support. That’s the dirty secret of the pro-choice movement, and the challenge to the pro-life movement: Because the 1.3 million abortions each year are 1.3 million women with unmet needs.

Abortion advocates like to talk about freedom of choice. The reality is, many women turn to abortion because they feel they have no other choice. There’s a Web site called afterabortion. com. It is not a pro-life site. It’s a site run by a woman who’s had three abortions, still calls herself pro-choice, but has created a place for women to help each other deal with the aftermath of their abortions.

Here are a few of their stories:

  • I don’t think that words are adequate … to describe the thoughts that run through my head. I was date raped. … I went to counselors finally at school, and they basically told me that I had to have an abortion. … I could not go home because my parents had always told us that if we were ever pregnant and not married, don’t bother coming home. I didn’t want to do it. I had been to the OB and gotten an ultrasound picture taken, heard her heartbeat … and now she’s gone. … I am a different person — if I’m even a person at all anymore — I’m rather like the shell of a person.
  • I had my abortion 18 years ago, and in some ways the pain has only gotten worse. … I am being treated for depression. … I have been told my feelings are post-traumatic shock, and I believe it. I stayed married to my husband, who didn’t want children yet and threatened to leave me and was verbally and emotionally abusive to me throughout the pre-post abortion. I thought that by having the abortion he would see I would do ANYTHING for him and he would do the same for me. I also had no family to turn to, no money of my own, and not much selfesteem. … I begged my husband to have the baby, showed him pictures of the fetus. … He wouldn’t even look at the pictures. … I felt so alone.
  • I was going against everything in my heart and mind and having an abortion. How could I go home and tell my father I was pregnant by a man he has never heard of or met and that I did not love? … On the way to the clinic I prayed to God that he had one last chance to do something; I wasn’t there yet. I prayed we would get in an accident and my parents would find out at the hospital. I prayed that someone would just come forward and forbid me doing it. … I was taken into a room with a counselor. I was never asked if this is what I really wanted to do. I was never asked anything regarding what was about to happen. I was simply told briefly of the easy, fast procedure I wouldn’t feel because I would be drugged. … I sat down baffled at why no one has asked me if I want any way out of this. I would scream, “Yes! I want someone to tell my parents. I am not strong enough to hurt them.” Then again my name is called. I look around at the glassy stares of girls drugged up and worried. I felt like I was walking through a valley of death.

For those of you who are parents of teens, or will be some day, please tell them you will be there for them no matter what even if there’s an unexpected pregnancy. Don’t leave any doubt.

John Paul II spoke many times about abortion. In this regard he called all people of goodwill to “a radical solidarity with the woman in need.” How much has that been lacking!

Roe v. Wade’s message to the world is: It’s her body; it’s her choice; it’s her problem. But no compassionate person wants a woman to suffer through the personal tragedy of abortion.

Women deserve better.

The culture is coming to understand the humanity of the unborn child and the truth about the violence of abortion. When people come to see that women deserve better than abortion, then abortion will have no leg to stand on.

In the Gospel of Life, the Culture of Death is based on a false notion of freedom: “a notion of freedom which exalts the isolated individual in absolute way and gives no place to solidarity, to openness to others and service of them.” It is a freedom from something, not freedom for something. When freedom is understood in terms of autonomy, “People inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. … Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself.”

The Holy Father called for a “cultural transformation” to “re-establish the essential connection between life and freedom”:

There is no true freedom where life is not welcomed and loved; and there is no fullness of life except in freedom. Both realities have something inherent and specific which links them inextricably: the vocation to love. Love, as a sincere gift of self, is what gives the life and freedom of the person their truest meaning.

What this means is that freedom is relational. Our happiness — our fulfillment — depends upon seeing these others as gifts from God, and freedom as the freedom to be in service to them, not to be free from them.

There is a lot of good news today: Abortion numbers are down, fewer doctors are training in or practicing abortion, and young people are overwhelmingly pro-life today.

My favorite bit of news comes from a recent survey by the Center for Gender Equality, run by former Planned Parenthood President Faye Wattleton. The survey asked women about their views on the women’s movement today. One of the questions asked what should be the “top priority” for the women’s movement. Guess what came in last? “Keeping abortion legal.” When the survey asked the women when should abortion be permitted, a majority of them — 51 percent, but a majority nonetheless — said abortion should be permitted only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

So there’s progress, but we’ve still got an uphill battle. We keep going because we know we’ve got something worth fighting for.

We think about the 4,000 unborn children killed today and every day, who were robbed of their chance to grow up and to make a difference in someone else’s life — and we know we’ve got something worth fighting for!

When we think about the 4,000 women who turn to abortion every day because they feel they have no other choice, because their boyfriends or husbands threatened to leave, because their parents said a baby would ruin their life, because they were told the big lie that abortion is a safe and convenient solution, we know we’ve got something worth fighting for!

When we think about our nation, and its promise of freedom — founded on the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable right to life — and how the soul of this nation has been corrupted by 40 million legal abortions and counting, we know we’ve got something worth fighting for!

Abortion doesn’t just concern the unborn, it concerns every one of us. As John Donne wrote: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

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