I’d like to begin with a quote, a quote from someone who has worked in the abortion industry. I’ve chosen this quote because I think it’s very important that we do not allow our sense of compassion to impair our ability to recognise right and wrong, or to allow it to obscure the truth…. because truth is at the core of compassion. Compassion is not a twisting of reality to say “don’t worry about it, it wasn’t really your fault, you didn’t have a real choice in the matter, you were a victim of your circumstances”. Compassion is only complete and at its most powerful when it recognizes the truth, when someone says “yes, what you did was grievous and unequivocally wrong, but we are all sinners and there is no deed beyond God’s mercy and forgiveness”.
The following quote is from Abby Johnson, whom most of you will recognise as someone who’s experienced that forgiveness, both as a mother who murdered her own children in the womb and as a worker in the abortion industry. This is what she had to say about the victims of abortion:
“I do not believe women are “victims” to abortion. I have had two abortions. I was not a victim. I was a perpetrator. My children were victims. Women who are coerced to have abortions still have a choice. They still make that final decision. The final “choice” is up to them. They choose to take the life of their child. Their child is the victim.”
This is very important, because in the same article she implores us to be more compassionate, and quite rightly so. But, as she points out, compassion doesn’t mean scapegoat-ing abortionists and making their instigators into victims. And it doesn’t mean being selective – we have a duty of compassion to all people, and that includes compassion for doctors with families to feed and jobs to keep who wouldn’t have abortions to perform if women did not come to them and insist upon their legal rights… as well as for the women who, for whatever reasons, convince themselves that abortion is the right choice.
It is very easy to cast someone as a victim because to a certain extent we are all victims. It has become prevalent in society as well as in our legal system to explain all manner of crimes and failings by a person’s circumstances, their family history, and so forth. But there are two things to remember:
In general terms, if we are all victims, then no one is responsible… or, worse, God is, because if we blame our circumstances and our past, and the people of our circumstances and past in turn pass the buck as we have been doing, eventually responsibility is on whoever created ‘us and all things’. The modern obsession with victim-hood is just a sophisticated version of “the devil made me do it”.
In more specific terms, every crime, whether legal or moral, has at least one perpetrator and one victim. The only crime where they are one and the same is that of suicide. If there is a victim but no perpetrator, then it’s an accident, and no crime has taken place. If we’re all victims of abortion, in one indirect way or another, then abortion’s just a phenomenon, it isn’t a crime.
So let’s be clear about the crime in question. The crime is murder. The law of whichever state we live in may not always recognise it as such, but the crime we believe is committed when an abortion takes place is murder. I know a lot of people are hesitant to use this word, but every time we avoid using this word we dodge the fundamental truth that there is no difference between the humanity of the unborn baby and that of a baby who’s exited the womb. And we’re at a right to life conference, so if I can’t call murder by its true name here, then we’re really in trouble. This is a not a ‘let’s stop women making mistakes they’ll regret’ conference. This is not a ‘let’s persuade the public that a foetus feels pain when it’s killed’ conference. And this is not a ‘let’s get doctors to stop breaking the Hippocratic oath’ conference. While these may all be good and worthy strategies, they are not what makes abortion fundamentally wrong. You could solve all these problems and abortion would still be wrong, and it is wrong because it is a form of killing that violates natural and divine law – it’s murder.
So if there’s one thing I want you take away from my talk today, it is a question, a question that you can use each and every day to test the rationality and legitimacy of any argument that someone makes about abortion, whether they’re pro-choice or pro-life. And that question is simply:
Does the unborn baby have the same right to life as a baby outside of the womb?
Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many other arguments you win or lose because this is the crucial question that pro-choicers try to avoid at all costs. This is the question they want to silence, whether through legal pedantry, politically-correct pontificating, or personal mockery. At the end of the day, the public debate about abortion and the private debate about whether to have a abortion, both come down to the fundamental question of whether a baby in the womb has the same right to life as a baby outside the womb. It comes down to the unpleasant reality that in addition to all the other harm that comes from abortion, the rudimentary and cardinal reason any person of conscience must oppose it is because it is murder.
And if abortion is murder, which I assume everyone in this room believes, then there has to be at least one perpetrator and at least one victim. But it all starts to become rather confusing when some members of the pro-life movement call women who have never been on the receiving end of an abortion “abortion victims” and talk about them as “abortion survivors”. Now, as we’ve heard in Jill’s talk, there certainly are abortion survivors, people like Gianna Jessen and Melissa Ohden whose mothers attempted to kill them but failed. Gianna and Melissa, however, are not murder victims. They are the victims of attempted murder; they are survivors. And there are other abortion victims whose survival is somewhat more brief, babies in this very city who are born alive despite the abortionists’ best efforts to kill them in the womb, who are then left to die on a shelves or dumped in buckets of formaldehyde. For a very short time, these babies too are abortions survivors.
There are, of course, women who have abortions against their will who undoubtedly deserve recognition as victims of a crime or crimes, women like Feng Jianmei who last month had her baby daughter forcibly aborted by Chinese officials. But even Jianmei is not an abortion victim, though she is certainly not a perpetrator either. Jianmei was not aborted, her baby daughter was. Her baby daughter was murdered, but Jianmei is alive and she is not an abortion victim, she is not a murder victim. She is a victim in so many other ways, and I know of no measure for the suffering she has gone through, but the crimes she has suffered as a victim are in addition to the crime of abortion, and the victim of that greater crime is her daughter, a baby girl who has been deprived of her very life. And every time we skirt around that fact, and focus on secondary crimes or mitigating factors, we do an injustice to the murder victim, the only true victim of abortion, because we are avoiding the fundamental reason abortion is wrong, that it is premeditated murder.
This seems a harsh assessment to some people, and it is harsh, necessarily so. This is the reason some women are so incredibly damaged by abortion and in so desperate need of compassion and forgiveness. If they were truly victims like Feng Jianmei, they would not need forgiveness. If they were truly victims, they would not need to be relieved of the terrible guilt of having killed their own children.
Women, like men, are moral agents, and any attempt to avoid responsibility for our actions denies this fundamental aspect of our humanity. If there’s one point on which I may sound vaguely feminist, it’s that women are just as capable of making moral decisions as men, and this means that women must take moral responsibility for their actions. The reasons why women have abortions are undoubtedly complex, and they may include mitigating circumstances that diminish culpability (sometimes completely), but none of this can alter the fact that it is the mothers who are responsible for aborting their children, mothers who have an innate responsibility to protect their offspring. We all have an obligation to refrain from killing except in certain circumstances such as self-defence. Mothers and fathers have even more obligation when it comes to their own children. They have an obligation, a responsibility, to protect their children, and abortion is not only an utter repudiation of that responsibility but the practical result of the feminist notion that women’s rights trump all others, that women not only are not obliged to take responsibility for their offspring but have the right to determine which of their offspring live or die.
And this is the point at which the suggestion by many pro-lifers, feminist pro-lifers let’s be clear, that women are victims becomes somewhat offensive and irrational. They put forward the argument that women are forced by various factors and that they had insufficient or no choice in the matter. Now, apart from the glaring problem of women who don’t regret having abortions, who virtually celebrate the fact and have repeat abortions, I don’t think that a woman in Australia who has access to remarkably generous government benefits and walks of her own free will into an abortion clinic and signs a consent form is in any way forced to have an abortion. But what about those women who cry as they go in, you ask? And I ask you: Did they cry out for help? Did they ask you to call the police because someone was dragging them in there against their will? Force is when Chinese officials drag you out of you home and administer a drug that kills your child and induces labour. Force is not exercising your legal right to make an appointment at your local abortion clinic and then claiming it on Medicare.
Coercion is another matter, of course. There are undoubtedly cases where women have endured immense psychological pressure to have an abortion, especially if they were minors at the time, and whose culpability is diminished in one way or another. But even these women cannot wash their hands of intent, the intent to remove their child from their womb with its resulting death. And that’s what abortion is. It’s the deliberate removal of a child from the womb with the aim of depriving it of its life. The intent is not to cause the mother any harm, and she – however sorry we may feel for her – is not the victim. And, as Abby Johnson has pointed out, even women who are coerced still have a choice.
We likewise deceive ourselves if we think we are doing women a favour by validating the explanations they give for abortion. When we make victims of them by emphasising the harm they have experienced, we shift responsibility, making abortion more of an accident from which both mother and child have suffered, instead of an act of homicide in which the victim is dead. Women who choose abortion may be victims, but they are not abortion victims, they are victims of faulty thought processes by which they justify murder. If we validate these thought patterns, we not only skirt extremely close to absolving the criminality of abortion, but also make it more difficult for women to reject these warped and noxious ways of thinking. When we agree that such women didn’t have “real choices” we take away their responsibility, deny they are perpetrators, and lose sight of the fundamental truth that abortion is wrong purely because it is the unjustified taking of a human life.
Now, bear with me, because I’d now like to go back to that question I raised earlier to illustrate what we’re dealing with: Does the unborn baby have the same right to life as a baby outside of the womb?
Bearing that question in mind, and our unswerving answer of ‘yes’, let’s think about what some pro-lifers would have us believe.
Feminists for Life, for example, say they help “women find the resources they need so they are not forced to abort due to economic circumstances”.
Let me rephrase that in a way that acknowledges that the unborn baby has the same right to life as a baby outside of the womb: “Feminists for Life help women find the resources they need so that they aren’t forced to murder their children due to economic circumstances”.
So, at the risk of overkill, let me ask you: Can you ever imagine saying that a woman – no, let’s not be discriminatory – can you ever imagine saying that a man was “forced to kill his children” due to his economic circumstances?
What about a woman who has been deserted by her partner? How many times have you heard that irresponsible father blamed for not standing by his girl and not doing the right thing? How many times have you heard pro-lifers say – with all the best intentions in the world – something like “You wouldn’t be having this abortion if your boyfriend had stood by you, would you? You must feel like it’s the only choice.” A woman, wrestling with guilt, just looking for an excuse to go through with what she deep down knows is wrong, and a pro-lifer furnishes her with someone else to blame, just like that. Let’s apply that question again and translate the situation into one with some children post-birth: would you seriously say to a woman about to commit murder “You wouldn’t murder your children if your husband hadn’t left you, would you? You must feel like you have no choice.” Or, more realistically, would you have the same compassion for a man who’d just killed his kids because his wife left him? And here are some more challenging questions for your consciences to grapple with: Would you say killing one’s own children should be decriminalized and that the parents shouldn’t be prosecuted for murder because they are obviously desperate and felt that they had no real choice? Do you really believe that the unborn child has the same right to life as the one outside the womb? To be consistent then, shouldn’t we aim for a complete ban on abortion? And why shouldn’t we prosecute women who have abortions as was the case a century ago?!
Here’s another quote, this time from an Australian organisation: “Organisationally, our response to the question of whether women should have the ‘choice’ of abortion, is that when it is in fact a REAL choice for women that issue can have our attention. For now the majority of women experience NO choice.” (their emphasis)
My response to this is: wrong. There is always a choice when it comes to abortion: you can choose life or you can choose death. And this is the only choice, the only real choice that has to be made. This doesn’t change. The options don’t increase or decrease according to a woman’s circumstances. Every woman faces the same single choice with the same two options; one is to allow your baby to live, and the other is to murder it. Two options, life or death, in a choice that no man or woman has any right to make. Let me repeat that: no one, man or woman, should have the choice to murder their child. And no genuine pro-lifer, who believes that an unborn baby has the same right to life as a baby outside the womb, can consistently advocate that women should have such a repugnant and depraved choice. So, going back to that quote: “…when it is in fact a REAL choice for women that issue can have our attention. For now the majority of women experience NO choice.” I wish. Women have too much choice. They have the legal choice to kill their own children in the womb. And this is the reality we live in – when it comes to abortion, women have been granted the power of life and death – and casting women as victims only serves to encourage women to demand more power, not less. Abortion is a choice, a legal choice, and that is why our opposition is quite rightly called the pro-choice movement, but abortion is one choice I would like to see eliminated from the face of the earth. And so I embrace the term anti-choice – and I can tell you it takes the sting out of a lot of pro-choice rhetoric – because I don’t believe that anyone should have the choice to kill their own child.
So why do women choose death over life for their children? Don’t the circumstances matter? Of course they matter! They’re vitally important. For someone like Feng Jianmei, the circumstances declare her complete innocence. But circumstances, to quote the Catholic Catechism “are secondary elements of a moral act. …Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.” But most women aren’t like Feng Jianmei. Where do women like Linda fit in, who say “It was the right choice. It was, in no way, the wrong choice.” According to Linda’s friend, who wrote a column celebrating abortion on Mothers’ Day, ‘Linda laughs that when she and her husband visit friends with kids, they quietly high-five on the way out the door. “I didn’t have a moment of regret,” she says. “I didn’t have a moment of ‘what might have been.'”‘
And when we validate a woman’s circumstances, her excuses for having an abortion, to what extent do we validate a lie or lies? Do we accept that if a woman doesn’t perceive something it doesn’t exist? Is the world completely subjective?
Here’s a quote to demonstrate what I’m talking about: “If a woman feels like.. or experiences that.. she has no other choice.. that is pretty valid in the world as women live in it.” This is a common view. I’m constantly being told by pro-life feminists that if a woman perceives she has no choice, she has no choice. And this is the basis for their emphasis on creating more choice. But why is it that perception equals reality when a guilty person thinks they’re innocent but not when an innocent person feels guilty? Why is it that when I am overcome with totally irrational feelings of guilt – what they call survivor’s guilt – I’m told I’m wrong, that my perceptions are incorrect? But when a woman attempts self-justification by claiming she had no choice when she clearly did have a choice why don’t we correct her faulty perception?
The answer to that is pretty obvious – we don’t want to be judgemental. But what’s judgemental about the truth? And what’s so compassionate about closing the door on forgiveness? You cannot be forgiven if you don’t believe you’ve done anything wrong. And sometimes we feel guilt but haven’t been able to fasten on why. But there is no absolution for guilty feelings, only for actual wrongdoing. And this applies to self-forgiveness as well as to God’s forgiveness. Real compassion illuminates sin. It doesn’t let women live in a fantasy world where women are always victims and the blame can always be shifted.
And this is why the whole idea of mothers being the victims of abortion is such a cop-out. Because if you really care about the women who are contemplating an abortion, you will try to stop them well before they keep their appointment at the local abortion clinic when it’s usually too late… and there’s no getting around the fact that if abortion weren’t legal, if it were wrong in the criminal sense, comparatively few women would be having abortions. While abortion remains legal, we are giving them a choice they should never have, and advocating an increase in women’s choices only serves to support the abhorrent and immoral choice of murder. So, saying that discussion of “legality” is “irrelevant” because women are “forced” to have abortions is to put the selfish prerogatives of women above the lives of babies. Advocating that women should be encouraged to freely choose not to have abortions, is no better than the hare-brained idea that burglars only commit burglary because they’re desperate and so we should provide them with more social welfare and more free and legal drugs so that they freely choose not to commit the crime of theft.
Secondly, if you really care about women who have had abortions, you will recognise that the only way they can be healed of the severe damage they’ve done to themselves is to face up to the truth. And the truth is that there are millions of dead babies, and they are the only real victims of abortion. And their mothers, along with the doctors they commissioned, were the perpetrators of their mass murder.
Allow me to finish with another quote from Abby Johnson:“I was among the worst sinners… those that help to take and destroy life. I took my own children’s lives… twice. Not because I was coerced. Not because I didn’t know better. But because I thought children would be an inconvenience to my lifestyle. I am responsible for their death… no one else.”
Mishka Gora (Guest speaker at Right to Life Conference in July 2012) is a Tasmanian writer who specialises in the areas of conscience, moral reasoning, war, international justice, and the former Yugoslavia. She has a First Class Honours degree in Philosophy and American Studies from Monash University, where she (ironically) studied Ethics under Peter Singer, and a Master of Arts in History from Brown University in the United States. Her doctoral studies have focussed on the history of the notion of conscience and she is a recipient of the George Yule Essay Prize for her work on Thomas More’s Conscientious Objection. The following talk was delivered at the annual national Right to Life Australia conference on July 7, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.