Illegal or Unthinkable: One Pro-Life Catholic’s Perspective on How to End Abortion

Confession: I really don’t want to write this post.  Despite evidence to the contrary, I don’t court controversy and don’t enjoy being bombarded by people from both sides of our country’s political divide. And so I’ve been uncomfortable but quiet over the past few weeks as many of my pro-life friends celebrated and most of my pro-choice friends decried the latest laws limiting abortion.

Then I attended my 30-year Georgetown Reunion, and took part in a workshop on Social Justice.  One of the takeaways was that although the need for change can seem overwhelming, and we may wonder what–if any–impact an individual can have, we all have spheres of influence where we can hope to make a difference.  And we were charged with committing to doing what we could within those spheres.

So here I am, y’all.  A blog (and its associated social media) seems like a pretty obvious sphere.  And not writing about the controversy surrounding the new abortion laws is starting to feel like cowardice.  After all, I have a history of writing at the intersection of the Catholic faith and social justice, and even though I have been keeping quiet, it’s not as though I have nothing to say.  So here goes.

The Goal of the Pro-Life Movement

Let’s start with a question: what is the goal of the pro-life movement? I suspect if you asked a pro-choice person, he’d say it’s to make abortion illegal.  On the other hand, if you asked a pro-life person, I’d hope her answer would be that it’s to END abortion.

By itself, outlawing abortion won’t END abortion, because women with means will procure safe illegal abortions while poor women resort to unsafe ones.  Babies–and some mothers–will continue to die.

What we should really want is to make abortion UNTHINKABLE.

Tell me, why don’t you beat your children? Until 1875, there were no laws in the United States to protect them from abuse.  But is that why you don’t beat them, because you are afraid of being caught and arrested? No, you don’t beat them because it is abhorrent and you would never dream of doing such a thing.  That’s how we should want everyone to feel about abortion in the future.

If you think all of the above means that I don’t think abortion should be illegal, you’d be wrong.  If an unborn baby is a human person, then it deserves the same protections as any other human person.  We cannot allow killing an innocent human person to be legal.

The “Heartbeat Laws”

So why am I not enthusiastic about the “Heartbeat Laws” virtually banning abortions (because most women would not find out they were pregnant in time to get one)?  There are a number of reasons and I am here to break them down for you.

These laws have not yet gone into effect and I doubt they ever will.  They were drafted with one goal in mind–and it wasn’t to make abortion  unthinkable.  Rather it was to force a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision, gambling that the latest conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices will seize this opportunity to overturn it.  AND I DON’T THINK THEY WILL.

These laws are going to be challenged and overturned, as they are currently unconstitutional, as they were designed to be.  Babies will continue to be aborted as the laws make their way through the courts.  If the Supreme Court chooses to take them up–and remember, they can refuse to–I believe they are so extreme (not including the rape and incest exceptions that most Americans–NOT ME–favor) that the justices will uphold Roe v. Wade as settled law.

I might be 100% wrong.  I hope I am.  But remember, even if Roe v. Wade goes away, that leaves many states where abortions will continue to be legal, and where those pro-abortion laws will no doubt become even more entrenched in response.

An Incremental Approach

The legislative approach I prefer is an incremental one.  For example, it’s perfectly licit for a Catholic legislator to vote for an abortion-limiting law that contains exceptions for rape and incest, not because those babies ought to have any fewer rights, but because it is still better than the current situation and such bills have a better chance of passing into law and being upheld by the courts.  In the same vein, there are other laws that could be proposed to limit abortions that the majority of Americans find reasonable.  Laws that limit abortions after a fetus can feel pain, laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital, laws regulating abortion clinics in the same manner that other free-standing medical clinics are regulated, laws requiring parental consent:  these are measures that the majority of Americans who are in the mushy middle on abortion can understand and support.

The Mushy Middle

And that’s most Americans.  Most Americans don’t embrace the extreme positions represented in our online debates.  They think abortion is wrong and should be limited but not prohibited before a certain point.  Most Americans would be perfectly happy with unlimited abortion in the first trimester and increasing regulations thereafter, with exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and to save the mother’s life.

For practicing Catholics (and other pro-life supporters) and extreme pro-choice supporters alike that position doesn’t make any logical sense.  To be clear, if abortion is killing a human being, it is always gravely wrong; and on the opposite end of the argument, if it’s ever acceptable it must be always acceptable.  These are the facts that underlie the entrenched positions of those of us doing most of the arguing, that we cannot ever really get past.  But the position of most Americans on abortion–the folks I call the “mushy middle”–is not rooted in logic.  It’s rooted in their feelings–their feelings of distaste for the procedure AND their feelings of compassion for women in difficult circumstances.

Making Abortion Unthinkable

Those people in the mushy middle are the ones we have to win over if we really want to end abortion.  And we are not winning them over by passing extreme laws.  They are horrified by diagrams of partial-birth abortion, but they are equally horrified at the prospect of twelve-year-old incest victims forced to bear their rapists’ children.  Never mind that both of those scenarios are rare compared to the total number of abortions; they are what we both sides trot out to to try to swat opinions and they end up canceling each other out.

I fear these new laws will take those moderate folks and turn them radical, that they will be more moved by the “my body my choice” argument as they see abortions becoming illegal without the exceptions they largely favor.  And that would be a shame because we have been making progress with them!  Millennials are a more pro-life generation.  People with disabilities are becoming more visible, many of them advocating themselves for their right to be here.  We’ve succeeded in some states at passing more moderate laws limiting abortions.  Clinics have been closing.  Abortion rates have slowed.

So how do we continue the progress we have made?  By helping women.

Respecting All Life

Look, I know that there are lots of folks active in the pro-life movement who are also providing assistance to women and their unborn babies and caring for babies after they are born.  I know all about Catholic Charities.  And I know that I’m not the only pro-life “social justice warrior” in the state of Tennessee, not even close!  I also know that some people who oppose legislation to help the poor are very generous on a personal level.  And while it’s true that people of good will can disagree about the best way to help these women, it’s hard to ignore the statistics in articles like this one demonstrating that abortion rates go down during Democratic administrations.

But this is the reality: women are aborting babies because they don’t have affordable day care, because they don’t have maternity leave, because they don’t have affordable housing, because they are desperate.  Until we fix some of this, abortion will remain the first thought for many desperate women, and the people in the mushy middle will want them to have access to it, thinking that is compassionate.  If every pregnant woman had the support she needed, the perceived need for most abortions would disappear and most Americans wouldn’t see any reason for it anymore.  In time we could look back on the past 40 years and wonder how this ever could have happened and why on earth it took so long to fix it.

I know that most pro-life people really do care about babies, but I also understand why many Americans don’t believe that.   When we vote to end abortion but for caging migrant children,  against health care reform,  for removing welfare funds, and against family leave, we don’t seem pro-life.  We don’t look consistent.  We really make it look like “controlling women’s bodies” is all that we care about.  If we can demonstrate through common-sense, compassionate legislation that we really love them both and that our opposition to abortion is rooted in our respect for ALL life, I believe that’s when we will start to change hearts and minds.

And while legislation may make accessing abortion more difficult, it’s changed hearts and minds that will make abortion unthinkable.

Unplanned: Can Its Truth Reach Those Who Need It?

I hear that Unplanned, the movie that recounts Abby Johnson‘s conversion from Planned Parenthood clinic director of the year to pro-life activist, is under a media blackout, but you’d never know it from my newsfeed.  I’d been hearing about it from all my Catholic pro-life friends for weeks before it premiered, and I had no interest in seeing it.

But my next door neighbor and dear friend talked me into going with her and I’m glad I did.  I can’t really say I enjoyed it because of the subject matter, but the movie held my attention.  I was impressed and I wasn’t really expecting to be.

The irony that it’s legal for a 17-year-old to have an abortion without a parent’s consent but not to watch one simulated on screen is not lost on me, but even so I wouldn’t take my own teenagers to this movie.  I believe the R rating is justified and I had to avert my eyes more than once.

That’s not to suggest that Unplanned‘s gore is gratuitous.  As Abby herself says to her husband when she arrives home in blood-spattered sneakers, “Nobody ever said that abortion is pretty.”  The scenes were appropriate and effective within the context of the story, although the aftermath of Abby’s at-home chemical abortion probably could have been cut shorter.

Reading the above, you might assume that Unplanned is just a moving-picture version of those awful graphic photos with which over-the-top activists like to assault unsuspecting bystanders.  On the contrary, the film is surprisingly nuanced.  Even as an unapologetic pro-choice clinic director, Abby is a sympathetic character, and so are the other women who work with her (the obvious exception is her villainous, money-grubbing boss: “Non-profit is a tax status, not a business model.”).  They truly believe the work they do helps women, and Abby sees the real mission of her clinic as providing healthcare and resources to prevent unplanned pregnancies and, by extension, abortions.

I was shocked and then thrilled to see some pro-life protesters who were decidedly unsympathetic, screaming at women, calling them murderers, waving aborted baby pictures at them.  It was honest of the movie to confront this abusive behavior head on, and to use the prayerful, kind protesters to rebut it and to demonstrate throughout the movie the importance of dialogue and respect and finding common ground.

While Unplanned left me with a mostly positive impression, I do have two criticisms.  And while that may not seem like much, I fear that they are quite damaging to the film’s potential to change the minds and hearts of abortion rights supporters.

At the very beginning of the movie, we get a disclaimer: Based on a true story.  I know lots of movies begin that way.  I know translating events from a book to film requires a certain amount of dramatic licenses.  Still, this immediately called every event into question for me.  I had to wonder what exactly was changed? What exactly was not strictly true? And while there is Truth to be found even in completely fictional stories, if I were a skeptical pro-choice Planned Parenthood fan watching this movie, I would take the disclaimer as license to question–even discount–everything I saw.

Even worse was the confrontation between Abby and her former boss, Cheryl, just after Abby makes her debut into the world of sidewalk counseling outside the fence of the very clinic she once ran.  As a way of intimidating Abby with the power and influence of Planned Parenthood, Cheryl brags, “We’ve got Soros, Gates, Buffet . . . ”

Maybe Cheryl really said those exact words in real life, although it didn’t sound to me like anything a real person would say, but I was immediately pulled right out of the movie, cringing inwardly as I imagined how a pro-choice viewer would react to the name-dropping of George Soros in particular.  Don’t comment and tell me how much money Soros donates to Planned Parenthood.  I am sure he does and you don’t have to convince me, but he’s also constantly accused of being involved in various “liberal conspiracies” by far right wing types, and including this here will make some viewers dismiss the entirety of the movie.

Which leads me to the big question I was left with after watching Unplanned:  Who is the movie for?  I can see it as a vehicle for energizing those who are already against abortion, or perhaps as a recruitment tool for 40 Days for Life.  I can see it providing topics for discussion among pro-lifers.  But even if we can get pro-choice people into the theatre to watch, because of the foregoing I am not sure I can see it changing their minds about abortion or Planned Parenthood; and it’s a shame that reservations about the truth of events in a movie might obscure the Truth about abortion.

Woman Enough to March?

On November 2, 2016 I joined Pantsuit Nation, an online community of Hillary supporters.  The group, now almost four million strong, comprised people of many different backgrounds and beliefs, united by our support of Hillary and fear of a Trump presidency.

I posted an introduction after joining, which you can read here.  And I was overwhelmed and overjoyed by the welcome I received.  Over 3,600 people liked my post, and there were 412 comments.  Many people asked for permission to share what I had said elsewhere.  I was showered with love and affirmation, not only from fellow pro-life Catholics but from people of every imaginable ideological stripe, including many, many pro-choice women.  After a year of feeling adrift and alone, it was a heady sensation.

Too bad it didn’t last.

It turned out that without Hillary to hold us together this great movement of women is breaking down along tired and predictable lines, and those of us who are both pro-life and progressive are left out in the cold once more.  The New Wave Feminists, erstwhile official partners of the upcoming Women’s March on Washington, are now officially NOT.  Pantsuit Nation now overflows with post after post of women sharing their positive experience with abortion.

I felt this backlash coming and it’s one reason I’ve mostly only lurked on the pages of the state and local offshoots of Pantsuit Nation.  I’m so tired of being marginalized for one reason or another.  I am sick at heart over the notion that there is only one kind of feminist–our pro-life feminist foremothers be damned!–that the right to unlimited abortion apparently trumps all and that some of us are not woman enough to participate in a Women’s March!  As I posted on Facebook, “It’s like you are not an actual woman if you are not pro-choice.”

Rebecca Bratton Weiss makes an excellent case for why the feminist movement needs to embrace pro-life feminists.  This resonated with me especially:  “We have risked personal and professional relationships in our staunch opposition to Donald Trump, our refusal to accept him as representative of anything remotely pro-life. I personally lost a business associate when I spoke out against his boasts of sexual assault, and the latent misogyny in those who dismissed this as ‘locker room talk.’ I’ve been spied on and screen-shotted by right-wingers who seem more interested in controlling women than in saving lives.

I, too, was attacked for my constant opposition to Donald Trump.  As I wrote days before the election:  “Already today I’ve received tweets hashtagged hypocrite, babykiller, and cafeteriaCatholic.  It’s just another day in an election season during which I’ve been unfriended by an actual family member, deemed excommunicated by the friend of a friend, and attacked in a public Facebook post by someone I thought was a friend, all because I shared political articles that they didn’t agree with.

Alice Paul, author of the original Equal Rights Amendment, said that abortion is “the ultimate exploitation of women.”  For pro-life feminists who risked a lot to vote for and publicly support Hillary, it’s adding insult to injury to not only end up with Trump as President but also to be sidelined by those who should accept us as allies.

Note:  I am happy to report that the Knoxville Women’s March has chosen not to officially adopt the national march’s platform and is aiming for an event that is unifying and non-partisan.

The Exception that Proves the Rule

Original source: http://www.france24.com/en/20120820-furor-over-republicans-legitimate-rape-comment

In the wake of Todd Akin’s stupid (really, I could think of a fancier word but I think that one covers it) remarks about rape and abortion, and then VP-hopeful Paul Ryan’s follow-up distancing himself from Akin and downplaying his own oft-stated convictions regarding abortion in exceptional cases, pregnancy and rape are everywhere in the news this week.
I think I have something to contribute, though, and I would like to solicit contributions from you as well, if you have something to add in the comments.
I understand, I believe, the pro-choice position on abortion, as much as I disagree with it: that a woman should have the right to decide what to do with her own body, including whether to become or to stay pregnant. And I think most pro-choice people understand the pro-life position: that abortion is wrong because the unborn is a person whose right to life cannot be trumped by its mother’s rights.
But I CANNOT understand the reasoning behind allowing exceptions for rape and incest. I challenge anyone reading this who holds those beliefs to explain them below.
Pro-lifers and even many people in the muddy middle on abortion often find themselves frustrated by radical pro-choicers who refuse to allow for any limitations on abortion: waiting periods, parental notification, banning procedures most people find repugnant, like partial-birth abortions. But abortion rights activists realize that they have to argue against these limitations because to admit limitations is also to admit that there is something unsavory about abortion, somethings serious, something that makes people uncomfortable. When President Clinton opined that abortion should be “Safe, legal, and rare,” some were uncomfortable with his language because why should it be rare if there is nothing morally wrong about it?
On the flip side, allowing exceptions for incest and rape does much more damage to a pro-life argument. After all, WHY are we against abortion? Because we believe that the unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception and therefore entitled to the protections that human dignity demands from that moment forward. With that as our premise, how can we offer an exception based on how that human person was conceived?
We can’t, not logically. But most Americans have not been trained to think critically. They are uncomfortable with abortion on some level. They are also uncomfortable with allowing suffering of any kind. They look for compromises and find them in limiting abortions to certain trimesters, and to allowing exceptions in certain circumstances.
But offering exceptions based on mode of conception is sexist, honestly. It’s saying, “Well, you poor innocent woman, you shouldn’t have to be further victimized by carrying this baby because it wasn’t your fault.  But as for the rest of you sluts, you play, you pay.”