Jean Bethke Elstain, an author I greatly admire, made an astute observation when she remarked that “much that comes parading through town under the banner of ‘choice’ is actually a new set of constraints and compulsions.” “Parading” is an appropriately descriptive word since this new attitude toward choice does not come to us through a wise and thoughtful tradition. Rather, it comes whistling into town with much clang and clatter, but with little substance. “More and more women,” she goes on to say, “testify that the ‘choice’ to abort post-amniocentesis if they are carrying a ‘defective’ child is nearly irresistible: they become ‘bad mothers’ by carrying a child to term rather than aborting it! ‘Choice’ and ‘constraint’ always go hand-in-hand.” She penned these words nearly 25 years ago (Chronicles, October, 1989). In retrospect, she appears prophetic. Her words are truer today than they were a quarter of a century ago when she first wrote them.
Choices are not without consequences. Bad choices can have unhappy repercussions. Nature cannot be mocked with impunity; it has a way of striking back. Overeating brings on indigestion. Immoral choices are followed by guilt and regret. In the web of life, choice is not free from a multitude of things that are not directly chosen but nonetheless do reverberate. A thief in the night may think that all he is doing is obtaining his loot. But his action puts the whole town on alert.
Joyce Arthur, coordinator of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada complained when actress Nicole Kidman announced to the press that she was “thrilled” at being pregnant. Ms. Arthur wants pregnant women to be less positive about their pregnancies: “It certainly shows any young woman watching these movies or following these celebrities that the best option is to have the baby and it glorifies that choice.” The choice to abort brings with it a prohibition of any public display of maternal joy. One choice annuls another. We must not glorify choices. We want to make all choices perfectly free of any outside influence. This would mean, incidentally, the logical end of commercial advertising. Nonetheless, this is a strange request coming from an organization that has done everything it could to influence the choice of abortion. The choice for abortion, indeed, as Elshtain has remarked, does bring with it a considerable array of constraints and compulsions.
The late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese once pointed out, in an article appropriately titled, “Deadly Choice: Abortion as a War Against Women” (Touchstone, September 2003), that by trivializing women’s ability to bear children, the broad acceptance of abortion “has seriously diminished women’s prospects for marriage and even further diminished their prospects for a lasting marriage; and has exposed them to unprecedented levels of sexual exploitation. Welcome to the brave new world of freedom, ladies—and gentlemen.” This is hardly a victory for women’s rights. Collectively, the dire consequences of abortion have generated a culture war. Free choice is never entirely free. Its ripple effects, for good or for ill, can be beneficial or costly. One must take a long-range view of choice and consider what conditions certain choices bring about.
When the choice to abort is regarded as a form of “care,” the consequences can be catastrophic. Concerning Obama’s Affordable Care Act, W. Ross Blackburn, rector of an Anglican fellowship, raises an interesting question: “When decisions about what is and what is not covered by insurance are made by an appointed administrator with a medical sheet in one hand and a balance sheet in the other, what will happen to children whose prognosis is bleak, and treatment is expensive?” (The Human Life Review, Fall 2012) Does it make sense to deliver a child who requires expensive medical treatment that is not covered by the Affordable Care Act? Rev. Blackburn fears that ultimately the back-alley abortion will be replaced by the back-alley birth! Will his words written in 2012 prove prophetic 25 years from now?
If abortion is not only a “right” but a form of “care,” the cheaper form of care would seem to be the reasonable way to go. In Oregon, that has legalized physician-assisted suicide, situations have arisen in which Medicaid covers the suicide but not the treatment. And since poison is a lot cheaper than medical treatment, why not choose the former? The choice for physician-assisted suicide logically leads to the choice to forego life-saving medical treatment in certain instances. We should be more attentive to the choices we lose that inevitably follow the choices we secure.
“Choice” is a mesmerizing word. It suggests freedom, but can be very deceptive. It can intoxicate people so that they lose their appetite for all other values. The world is full of regret because people have discovered, to their sorrow, that they have made bad choices. Because they initially over-valued choice, they forget about the consequences of their choices, what their choices set in motion. They ignored truth, goodness, and wisdom. Choice is validated not by itself, but how well it relates to truth, goodness, and wisdom. But this triad of values does not come parading into town, instantly captivating and capturing the minds and hearts of its onlookers. Truth, goodness, and wisdom are difficult to market, which explains why civilization is difficult to achieve.
The choice for abortion is being handed over to insurance companies who will now exercise the power to choose who shall be born and who shall continue to live. Here, in a nutshell, is the final repercussion of very bad choices. It means that the family will yield to bureaucracy. It means that a system of money will displace a community of love.