Responding to Abortion Rights Rhetoric
by Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
Recent efforts in state legislatures to ban or place new restrictions on abortion have led abortion advocates to dust-off old arguments in support of their position. Reading some of the letters that have appeared in the newspapers makes me wonder if these writers have simply resent a letter they might have sent in 1978. Stuck in the past, they seem oblivious to the reasons why more and more people today are pro-life.
Their efforts, however, even if they are overworked and stale, could bear fruit if we forget how to respond. For that reason, let’s review how to counter some of these claims.
They claim that abortion is only religious issue. Wrong. It might have religious significance, but the act and whether it is right or wrong is a secular issue. One does not have to be Catholic or even religious to conclude that abortion is morally wrong. Pro-life columnist Nat Hentoff, for example, is an avowed atheist.
They claim that when life begins is a religious and philosophical question. Wrong. It is and has always been a question of science. Science clearly shows that individuated human life begins at conception. No one with any credibility still argues that abortion does not take a human life.
Related to this, it is important that we Catholics get our language straight. Too many well-meaning priests and church leaders say that the Church teaches or that Catholics believe that life begins at conception. This is wrong and plays into the pro-abortion advocates strategy. The Church does not teach that life begins at conception. The Church teaches that killing innocent human life is wrong. It is logic and science that tells us when human life begins. Similarly, we do not believe that life begins at conception. Rather, we accept the fact that life begins at conception.
One of the most ridiculous resurrected arguments is that restrictions on abortion are attempts by men to control women. To be honest, I have never understood the “reasoning” behind such statements and the history of abortion has demonstrated the opposite is true. The availability of abortion has provided men an excuse to evade the consequences of childbearing and thus contribute to the objectification of women and sex. At the same time, the availability of abortion has allowed society to renege on its obligations to women and, particularly, mothers.
We are also seeing a revival of the ad hominem attacks calling attention to the flaws – perceived or real – of pro-life advocates. Some of these attacks draw more from myth than fact, such as the claim that pro-lifers care only about unborn, not born children, and that we do little to help pregnant women. Others stem from a lack of understanding or respect, such as the claim that Catholics have no right to speak about abortion because the Church opposes contraception and has an all-male clergy. A few of these arguments are sometimes true, such as the charge that some pro-life legislators act inconsistent by supporting the death penalty. All these types of arguments - whether true, false, or based on misunderstanding – have something in common. They have nothing to do with abortion. Catholics should be careful not to take the bait and engage in a discussion unrelated to the real issue.
Another tiresome argument is that restrictions on abortion will endanger women’s lives by compelling them to engage in unsafe, illegal abortions. The first problem with this claim is that it is not supported by the facts. The claims that thousands of women died from illegal abortions before legalization are unfounded. Moreover, some restrictions on abortions exist now. If the claim were true, we should be seeing some illegal fatal abortions now. Instead, we have seen an increase in fatal and injurious abortions that are legal.
Moreover, the claim does not make sense. If women will die because of illegal dangerous abortions in a society that prohibits abortion, the cause of the problem will be the illegal dangerous abortions, not the prohibition. A rational, caring society in such a scenario, therefore, should work to eliminate the illegal dangerous abortions. Finally, the whole argument rests on the disproved belief that abortion does not take a human life. Given the fact that it does, allowing legal killing is morally and logically unacceptable.