Reducing Abortions vs. Banning Them


April 1, 2009 by D Stack

If you want to get two people who could otherwise have a civilized debate to tear each others’ throats out, get them talking about abortion. Especially if they aren’t in 0ne hundred percent agreement. People even use different terms for the same group of people. Would you rather be “pro-life” or “anti-choice”? Do you support a “woman’s right to choose” or do you support “infanticide”?

I could say abortion has been in the news lately, but it is always in the news. And to be honest, I get why. From the pro-choice perspective, you are talking about a woman’s right to control her own body. I have two children and one of the things that always baffles me is when a couple says “we’re pregnant”. While like all good fathers-to-be I put on my sympathy weight, I did not waddle, I did not a mass pushing on my bladder, I did not throw up at the drop of a hat, get migraines every few days, or otherwise experience some of these joys of pregnancy. To say nothing of actually getting that baby out of my body. So I get the whole argument about wanting control over one’s body.

From the pro-life perspective, you’ve got a baby. And from that perspective the life of the baby overrides the desires of the mother to have control over her own body.

To be honest, I skew on the pro-life side of things. But I feel the pro-life movement goes about things in about as wrong a way as it could.  To start off with, we’ll begin with the Catholic church, which for the most part is a part of the pro-life movement. But they attach too high a price tag on abortion. Excommunication. Boom. You are no longer a Catholic. From a Catholic perspective, is it terrible? Absolutely. But there’s no automatic excommunication for taking your toddler in the middle of a tantrum and beating him until he is dead. From the code of canon law:

Can. 1397 A person who commits a homicide or who kidnaps, detains, mutilates, or gravely wounds a person by force or fraud is to be punished with the privations and prohibitions mentioned in can. 1336 according to the gravity of the delict. Homicide against the persons mentioned in can. 1370, however, is to be punished by the penalties established there.

Can. 1398 A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

<minor edit made to following paragraph>

Is it wrong? Certainly. But this hard line seems to push people away who are hurting, who may have made a decision after a rape, who could be dealing with horrific medical issues, either for the mother or the fetus. It brooks no discussion. A sin? Sure. But we all sin. Killing is always wrong. But is there a difference between killing in defense, or even in an accident, than in murder? Of course. Now I understand the official line would be that all abortion is murder. And it the ending of a life. But it isn’t that simple that murder is in the heart of the woman involved. What is in the heart of the person receiving the abortion? “Man I can’t believe he forgot to wear the condom, let me schedule this before my psych class.” Or “I trusted that bastard. Look what he did to me.” Or “Oh my God I can’t carry a baby doomed to die to term, I can’t.” In the eyes of the church, these people are all equally deserving of excommunication. Huh? As I mentioned in an earlier post, if I had a family member facing a life-threatening pregnancy – or one from a rape – I would have no trouble assisting them in having an abortion. Is it something to be proud of? No.I’d feel awful about it. But I remember in 1992, when Dan Quayle was asked what he would do if his daughter were to have an abortion (New York Times):

The trouble began during Mr. Quayle’s appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” program on Wednesday night, when Mr. King asked the Vice President how he would react if his daughter was pregnant.

“Well, it is a hypothetical situation and I hope that I never do have to deal with it,” Mr. Quayle responded. “I would counsel her and talk to her and support her on whatever decision she made.”

Mr. King asked whether he would support her if she decided to have an abortion.

“I’d support my daughter,” Mr. Quayle said. “I would hope that she wouldn’t make that decision.”

But beyond that, what is the goal of the pro-life movement. Is it to end abortion or is to outlaw it? In all honesty, I do not believe they are one and the same. If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned tomorrow, and if every state were to outlaw abortion, we would either turn into a police state or abortions would continue, albeit illegally. There would be less I’m sure, but they’d become part of a shadowy underworld. Organized crime would probably get involved with it. Just like when we banned alcohol. And one can see how well banning marijuana and cocaine has worked for us.

I honestly believe that we need to take steps to reduce the need for abortion. Back in February American Catholic had a fascinating article about abortion from Rev. Steven Moore. He discussed the problems with overturning it today:

I hate abortion. It is a personal and societal evil. Its devastating consequences never leave the lives of those who endure it. I do not want to be an apologist for those who promote it or who treat it as a trifling matter of no consequence, and I do not have much use for politicians (and others) who engage in endless arguments of the “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” type about when life begins. I also consider the argument that one is “personally opposed to abortion” but would never impose the belief on others to be a dodge, particularly when legislators (and others) are all quite willing to impose their beliefs in any number of other areas.

But I struggle, as I question the recriminalization of abortion, with what we as a society should do. The law is a blunt and deeply flawed instrument for dealing with the hardest realities of human life and is quite unsuited to the task. Yet inevitably the law is the first resource we turn to when faced with difficult societal questions. Many have adopted a strategy that the only morally acceptable answer to abortion is a legal one that would involve—at some future date—overturning Roe v. Wade. But that is just the beginning. If Roe were overturned, each of the 50 state legislatures would have to craft laws on abortion. This would involve another series of lengthy battles on the state level to recriminalize abortion and would put off to some far distant day any law that could be enforced. The defeat last November of a complete abortion ban in North Dakota—a state more likely than most to restrict abortion—underscores the limits of recriminalization as a strategy.

Rev. Moore goes on to discuss ways in which to reduce abortion. He points out that between 50 and 70% of abortions today are performed because of economic reasons.  He also goes on to point out the number of abortions performed due to external pressures such as boyfriends, parents, etc. Which brings him to the conclusion:

We can accomplish such a reduction by working to change the current economic realities (unemployment, underemployment and lack of health care) that significantly contribute to abortion rates. We can work to change the attitudes and circumstances that rob women of power over their own lives and make them particularly vulnerable to the power others may have over them in making this most dreadful decision.

And this, in my mind, brings me to the political side of aboriton. The party that is most opposed to abortion, the Republicans, is the one least likely to work to seriously address those economic realities. And the Democrats, who are most likely to focus on those issues, are also the most likely to have a liberal abortion policy. Which makes me believe that when it comes to voting, one can truly follow one’s own conscience. I don’t believe Roe v. Wade will be overturned. And if it is, I don’t believe it will end abortion. Which is why I do not hold to the argument that a Catholic cannot vote for a “pro-abortion” Democrat in good conscience.

Finally, there’s another way to reduce abortions. And that is to have less pregnancies. The Catholic church’s position is the way to achieve that is through abstinence. Period. And if you’re married, to have babies or practice Natural Family Planning (aka Rhythm Method). There are two problems with this approach. First, not everyone is Catholic. Which is obvious, but I believe the Catholic church being such a large part of the pro-life movement explains why contraception is not strongly advocated by it. Which leads to the second point, which is determining if this is a preferable “lesser evil”?  I would have to submit it is. If abortion is truly your end-all issue then one must investigate how it can be prevented or avoided.



5 thoughts on “Reducing Abortions vs. Banning Them

  1. David says:

    Hello, I just wanted to chime in here. Let’s define abortion. Abortion is the murder of preborn babies. The Catholic Church is totally and absolutely against abortion because we humans are not to make a decision against God’s will. A life is formed by the decision of God. Excommunication is always for disobedience to God. Not the Church, God. So, yes, a woman who decides to have an abortion, or a person who helps someone have an abortion, excommunicates themselves. Excommunication is, by no means, a permanent state. There is only one unforgiveable sin, and that is the permanent turning away from God. Until the moment you die, you have the opportunity to stop saying no to God and say yes. And God will forgive you. God, and the Church will forgive a repentitent aborter. It takes a little more than just going to confession, but it is forgiveable.

    I absolutely agree that the way to stop abortion is to bring back the sanctity of human sexuality. Sex belongs between a married man and woman. Sex outside of marriage is wrong. People should really read Humanae Vitae, the encyclical by Pope Paul VI, written prior to the full legalization of abortion.

    But the woman is pregnant, she doesn’t want the baby, she needs to understand the options. First, she needs to understand that it’s a human being with potential, not a potential human being. At almost any age, if somone understands the humanity of what’s inside them, likelyhood is that she won’t have an abortion. She can put the baby up for adoption, and there are Catholic services that will help her have the baby to term.

    We’re not here to demonize the person, we’re here to protect the baby. And the mother. Many abortions are co-erced, the mother really doesn’t want it, but sees no way out. Catholic Charities is there to help.

    God Bless you all.

  2. Publius the Geek says:

    Thanks for the comments, especially with regard to excommunication. I think my problem with that, and maybe it is just a matter of terminology, is that it seems to make it less likely for a person to try to return to the church. When I was doing my research I was surprised to see that the church does not view excommunication as an instant damnation, do not pass go, go directly to hell. But the perception of it is that that is indeed the case.

    Your point about coerced abortions was definitely borne out by my research – so many abortions could be avoided just by providing help to people who need it and reaching out to them. Not all, but many. And many is better than none. And that’s the main gist of my post – that it is important to get victory where one can, at least as a starting point, as that has the best chance of changing the culture around abortion.

  3. David says:

    Matter of fact, excommunication is meant to sort of slap someone into realizing that they need to come back to the church. I know many don’t teach that way, many are poorly taught, and many just never cared to find out. Websites like can help those who might have made a mistake, and really want to come home.

  4. Publius the Geek says:

    btw one thing I may not have emphasized enough – I made a little tweak to my initial post to emphasize it a little bit more: When it comes down to it, I do view an abortion as the taking of an innocent human life.

    But, I also know if I search myself deeply enough there are occasions where I would support abortion nevertheless. Something to be proud of? No, not at all. But if I were to see a family member suffering from the trauma of a rape-caused pregnancy? Yes, I could do that. If I really look deep in myself, yes. I wish I were a saint. But I’m a sinner trying to make it through each day. I’d pray I could be forgiven for it, but yeah, I could see what I’d do in that scenario.

  5. David says:

    Just remember that a saint is a sinner who persevered to the end. OTOH, we have to remember that God gives us crosses to bear in order to achieve some greater good that we can’t know yet. I’ve heard people say that it’s cruel or wrong to allow a down’s syndrome baby to live. But most of the time, those who have these challenges struggle for a time, and are better because of that struggle. I believe, if you or someone else were in that situation of a rape-caused pregnancy, maybe some deep prayer time and counseling with a priest may help you see some light. Saint Maria Goretti was raped and killed and before her dying breath, I believe she forgave her assailant. JPII also forgave his attacker.

    And remember that the only unforgiveable sin is permanently turning away from God.

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