A cut down and more agnostic version of an original post that can be found here.
1. What is abortion?
This can sound like a foolish question. But it is my experience that there are a number of young people who undergo abortions and do not understand what is happening to them. As a matter of fact, doctors who perform abortions generally prevent the woman or girl from seeing what is happening, and pro-abortion organizations have consistently resisted any legislation which would require that a young girl be told what an abortion is, or be required to wait even 24 hours before having an abortion.
The important thing, perhaps, is to emphasize what abortion is not. Abortion is not merely the removal of some tissue from a woman’s body. Abortion is not the removal of a living “thing” that would become human if it were allowed to remain inside the woman’s body. Abortion is the destruction of an unborn baby.
A new human life begins as soon as the egg has been fertilized. Science reveals without question that once the egg is fertilized every identifying characteristic of a brand-new human being is present, even the color of the eyes and the hair, the sex and everything else. Pregnancy is the period for this new human life to mature, not to “become human”—it already is.
The World Medical Association adopted in September 1948 the Declaration of Geneva: “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception; even under threat I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.” In October 1969 the International Code of Medical Ethics stated: “A doctor must always bear in mind the importance of preserving human life from the time of conception until death.” Again in 1970 the world Medical Association reaffirmed its position by way of the Declaration of Oslo: “The first moral imposed upon the doctor is respect for human life as expressed in the Declaration of Geneva: ‘I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the first moment of conception.”‘
In 1974 the Declaration on Procured Abortion (by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) stated: “Respect for human life is called for from the time that the process of generation begins. From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with its own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. ..” This declaration was ratified by Pope Paul Vl, who confirmed it and ordered it to be promulgated.
2. Don’t the majority of Americans support abortion?
Based on my experience, the majority of Americans do not support abortion on demand. For example, most Americans would not support abortion in cases where a woman does not want a baby of a particular sex. The majority of those who support abortion seem to limit that support to cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.
Certainly there are polls which seem to suggest that the majority do favor abortion and abortion funding. Many who feel that if they are a minority they must be wrong can feel intimidated by these findings. We must remember, however, that the timing of a poll, the kinds of questions asked, who asks the questions, and who is asked, all influence the results. This has been demonstrated frequently in relation to polls on abortion.
Polls, however, whatever the results, do not determine what is morally right or wrong. If abortion is the taking of innocent life, it is wrong, no matter what the polls might say, or how many people might vote for it.
Despite some recent reports of psychological studies, I personally receive letters from all over the United States from women who have suffered the pain of an abortion, or who, in the moments shortly before having an abortion, came to see that abortion is the killing of a baby. These letters are deeply moving, and most end by encouraging me to continue to speak out, and to do whatever I can to help restore a sense of sacredness of the child in the womb.
Some feel that the right to be born is dependent on being wanted. They suggest that if a mother does not want her baby, the baby will be deprived of love, care and nurturing and may even be subject to abuse. Yet, how many unplanned children have been born to parents who initially did not want them, but whose attitudes changed completely to total acceptance and love? How many unwanted children have made enormous contributions to the world, as musicians, writers, doctors, entertainers, teachers, parents, or in other capacities?
Is an unborn baby to be denied the right to life because it is not wanted? Candidates for political office spend much campaigning time and often a great deal of money in trying to convince voters who don’t want them to vote for them. Is an unborn baby to be denied even the opportunity to have someone plead with a mother to let the baby live, wanted or not? Is the unwanted baby to be denied the opportunity given to millions of refugees who have been admitted to the United States?
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is world famous for her concern for the poor, the abandoned, the dying, the homeless, the institutionalized, the forgotten. Far from seeing a solution to the problems of such in abortion, however, she startled the world by her address when she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. One of the most important statements she made is, “Today the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion.”
3. Why do people in the pro-life movement want to change the law?
Some people argue that changing laws will not eliminate abortions. It is certainly true that a change of heart is more important than a change of law. What is forgotten, however, is that the law is the great teacher. Children grow up believing that if a practice is legal, it must be moral. Adults who live in a society in which what was illegal and believed to be immoral is suddenly declared legal, soon grow accustomed to the new law, and take the “new morality” for granted. In fact, many people seem to fear that if they don’t support the new law and the “new morality” it has introduced, they will be considered undemocratic and “unAmerican.”
It is amazing, for example, how smoking habits have been turned around. With the deluge of media advertising and the strict legal limitations put on smoking in places like New York City, many people now even feel embarrassed to smoke in public. Suddenly, with new laws in jurisdiction after jurisdiction, smoking is seen as less acceptable than ever before–actually immoral and irresponsible in the eyes of many. Now a law is being proposed that a state should divest itself of all investments in tobacco companies. There is no question: law and changes in law constitute a mighty force if there is a determination to enforce it.
I have no doubt that a change in the law would go a long way toward changing the attitude of Americans toward the rights of the unborn, at least over the long haul. It is effective regarding virtually every other issue. For example, in 1966 at the White House Conference on Civil Rights, then Solicitor General of the United States Mr. Thurgood Marshall…had this to say about the effect a change in law can bring about:
“Of course law–whether embodied in acts of Congress or judicial decision–is, in some measure, a response to national opinion, and, of course, non-legal, even illegal events, can significantly affect the development of the law. But I submit that the history of the Negro demonstrates the importance of getting rid of hostile laws and seeking the security of new friendly laws…”Provided there is a determination to enforce it, law can change things for the better. There’s very little truth in the old refrain that one cannot legislate equality. Laws not only provide concrete benefit, they can even change the hearts of men, some men anyway, for good or evil…The simple fact is that most people will obey the law and some, at least, will be converted by it.”
There are those who argue that we can not legislate morality, and that the answer to abortion does not lie in the law. The reality is that we do legislate behavior every day. Our entire society is structured by law. We legislate against going through red lights, smoking in airplanes and restaurants, selling heroin, committing murder, burning down peoples’ homes, stealing, child abuse, slavery and a thousand other acts that would deprive other people of their rights. And this is precisely the key: law is intended to protect us from one another regardless of private and personal moral or religious beliefs. The law does not ask me if I personally believe stealing to be moral or immoral. The law does not ask me if my religion encourages me to burn down homes. As far as the law is concerned, the distinction between private and public morality is quite clear. Basically, when I violate other peoples’ rights, I am involved in a matter of public morality, subject to penalty under law.
Is it outlandish to think that laws against abortion might have some protective effect? It is obvious that law is not the entire answer to abortion. Nor is it the entire answer to theft, arson, child abuse, or shooting police officers. Everybody knows that. But who would suggest that we repeal the laws against such crimes because the laws are so often broken?
4. If abortion were again declared illegal, wouldn’t many women risk their lives in back alley abortions?
It should not be taken for granted that merely because an abortion is performed legally, it is performed under medically favorable circumstances, in sterile operating rooms, by expert physicians. Stories of “botched” abortions are sadly plentiful. That many abortions are carried out by highly competent doctors under clinical conditions as physically safe for the mother as in other forms of surgery can not be questioned. But legality is no guarantee of safety or concern.
The question itself suggests that a pregnant woman must have an abortion for one reason or another. Obviously, there will always be people who will take their own route to try to solve their problems, but legalizing abortion lies encouraged many women to follow the abortion route because it now seems respectable. They would never have considered an illegal abortion.
Who can do more than speculate about what might happen? If we turn to the pre-1973 record, even the highest estimates of abortions annually were but a tiny fraction of the million-and-a-half a year since 1973, the year abortions were legalized for the nation.
I quote Dr. Bernard Nathanson, M.D., once the hero of the abortion movement, now firmly committed to the right to life of every unborn. In his book, “Aborting America,” Dr. Nathanson addresses the question of “back alley” abortions:
“The favorite button of the pro-abortionists is the one showing the coathanger symbol of the self-induced abortion and the carnage that results from it, or the similar problem of botched illegal abortions done by ‘back-alley butchers’…
“How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In NARAL (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always ‘5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.’ I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the ‘morality’ of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible. Statistics on abortion deaths were fairly reliable…but not all these deaths were reported as such if the attending doctor wanted to protect a family by listing another cause of death. In 1967…the federal government listed only 160 deaths from illegal abortion. In…1972, the total was only 39 deaths. Christopher Tietze estimated 1,000 maternal deaths as the outside possibility in an average year before legalization; the actual total was probably closer to 500.”
Are 1,000 deaths meaningless? Are 39? Of course not. One death is meaningful. But once again, the mothers involved could have chosen not to abort. Moreover, there is no guarantee that they would have survived legal abortions either.
Can there really be any doubt that legalization has multiplied the number of abortions almost infinitely beyond anyone’s expectations? I go back to what I said above about smoking. Who would ever have believed that the day would come that smoking, such a widespread habit, would be so severely restricted by law–and in relatively such a brief period of time? Have the advertising campaigns and the governmental regulations reduced smoking? Remarkably.
God forbid that making abortion illegal would result in the death of even one woman. It seems to me that the way to avoid such is to help make life livable for every pregnant woman and help make her bringing her baby into the world a socially desirable event, in which she is praised rather than condemned.
7. Isn’t it un-American to deny people the right to choose?
No one has a right to choose to put an innocent human being to death. The use of ambiguous language and euphemisms has been tragically successful in switching the emphasis from “life” to “choice,” so that those who are trying to defend life are accused of trying to deprive people of choice. The argument then becomes: “In a pluralistic society, what authority do you have to deprive me of my reproductive rights?” Reproductive rights, however, are not the issue; killing human beings is.
There are circumstances in which some people believe that abortion is the lesser of evils, they believe for example, that it would be better to have an abortion if a baby will be born retarded or deformed; or if a mother is poor, or already has several children; or, as we noted above, if a young girl’s education or career would be disrupted by a baby, or her reputation damaged. (Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood is quoted as saying, “the most merciful thing a large family can do to one of its infant members is to kill it.” “Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood,” by George Grant. Wolgermuth & Hyatt. 1988)
But there is a fundamental principle which must always prevail: The end never justifies the means if the means are evil. In other words, no matter how difficult the alternatives, they can not justify the direct killing of an innocent human being. What kind of world would it be if we were not faithful to that principle? Where would the killing stop?
Many people reject capital punishment. Yet before capital punishment is administered to someone who is charged with a heinous crime like murder, he or she is first tried by jury and found guilty. Yet, many who reject capital punishment accept, support, and consider it a “right” to take the life of an innocent unborn baby, who has never had a trial, or been found guilty. This is inconsistent.
American laws deny the right to kill innocent human beings, or even various “endangered species'” like certain fish, birds or animals. Why is it “un-American” to argue against the “right” to kill the unborn? Surely sheer common sense, if not mercy for the helpless, demands that a society address before all else the destruction of its own children.
Some people say abortion is a right because it hasn’t been proved that the unborn is human. Even some who accept the fact that the unborn is fully human, however, insist that a woman’s “right” to have an abortion prevails over the right of the unborn to live. For example, a recent poll found that 76 percent of the women questioned believe that abortion is murder, yet 55 percent of the women who considered abortion murder still assert that it is a woman’s right. Can there really be a “right” to commit murder? Is it “un-American” to say that no one has a right to commit murder? (Incidentally, I neither use nor encourage the use of the term murder for abortion. Here I am simply quoting the word used in the poll.)
The same frightening inconsistency is at work in the euthanasia movement, with many people believing that the elderly, the cancer-ridden, the deformed, the retarded should be “put out of their misery,” because their “quality of life” doesn’t warrant their continuing to live.
– JOHN CARDINAL O’CONNOR
ARCHBISHOP OF NEW YORK