“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” — Eph 4:25
There are an estimated 3,500 abortions taking place in America every day. Many Catholics who state their desire to reduce that number nevertheless supported the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, despite his promises to support funded access to unrestricted abortion both in the United States and internationally. While some of President Obama’s proposals to increase levels of assistance for the underprivileged comport with Catholic teaching, the administration’s commitment to a woman’s unrestricted right to end the life of her unborn child runs afoul of unambiguous Catholic teaching. That teaching asserts the life and dignity of every child and calls upon all human communities to secure life and rights for all unborn children.
Many Catholics express their sincere belief in the Church’s teaching and believe their efforts to reduce the number of abortions — as opposed to eliminating the practice by law — fulfills their obligation to the unborn, women, and society. Let’s call them “Reduce Abortion” Catholics, as opposed to Catholics who hold the legal and moral abortion position inseparable — the “Illegalize Abortion” Catholics.
Much ink has been spilled debating which type of action our Church’s teaching mandates, dragging into the public debate our bishops and even our pope. We have demanded our clergy take sides and employed harsh words and tactics typically associated with secular political struggles, not faith communities in dialogue. We have allowed commercial interests and political manipulators — who are not motivated by religious faith or teaching — to fund and direct our exchange. Is it any wonder that our dialogue is so often righteous, partisan, and compromised?
It’s time to move beyond this holier-than-thou contest. We need to find real common ground.
All Catholics of good faith can agree on a simply stated, concrete assertion: namely, any abortion not chosen is a life saved. Among Reduce Abortion Catholics, there appears to be a real desire for pregnant women to choose life, and an agreement that every decision to have an abortion is a moral tragedy. Therefore, the objective of Reduce Abortion Catholics is to make abortion “rare” throughout the world — or, in other words, to encourage women to exercise the moral option of honoring and nurturing each unborn life and reject the immoral option of killing their young in the womb.
That being the case, Reduce Abortion Catholics and Illegalize Abortion Catholics should be able to join voices and publicly advocate for policies that are proven to reduce the number of abortions. I make this proposal as an “Illegalize Abortion” Catholic myself. Formerly a radical feminist, I have witnessed devastating, life-ruining effects since the law abandoned women to the lonely, deathly option of aborting her unborn child, instead of assuring her the support of the father and the community in welcoming even an unintended child.
But even as I believe the law must be changed, I wholeheartedly believe there are areas where we can all work cooperatively, avoiding divisive tactics, in several areas that are proven to reduce abortions:
Informed consent. Many battles have been and are being fought throughout the United States over the information that should be provided a woman before she is able to procure an abortion, over and above the routine informed consent procedures typically entrusted to a physician.
Studies have shown that pregnant women are less likely to opt for an abortion when there is greater disclosure about the details of the procedure and its consequences. These details might include whether a fetus has a heartbeat, whether it will experience pain during the termination procedure, and whether the female can expect to experience any emotions of regret or sadness. These points are well-documented, yet the abortion industry battles mightily against many of these disclosures. Why? Because they might affect the decision-making process of pregnant women and reduce the number who opt for the abortion.
Access to ultrasound. Similarly, pregnant women who see an ultrasound of their developing child are much less likely to continue with an abortion. Of course, legal access to such an ultrasound would increase the cost of the procedure while simultaneously increasing the likelihood that pregnant women will opt out of the abortion.
Naturally, this protection has also been opposed by the abortion industry, which only makes money when an abortion is performed — not through effective, informed counseling. National health care, for example, that fully pays for an abortion procedure while excluding coverage for counseling and ultrasounds is not aimed at reducing abortions.
Creating — and encouraging — alternatives. As with ultrasounds, few states require abortion providers to offer alternatives and support options for pregnant women. This is particularly evident on college campuses, where young women have reported startling strategies that would steer them toward abortion when diagnosed with an unintended pregnancy. Indeed, many colleges offer and even facilitate referrals to abortion providers, while advising pregnant students that OB-GYN services and support are not available. Developing alternatives to abortion and mandating that pregnant women receive unbiased information about those alternatives is another promising path to reduce the number of abortions overall.
These are but three areas where Reduce Abortion Catholics and Illegalize Abortion Catholics should be able to forge agreement and speak with a single voice that bears witness to the dignity of unborn life. Learning to work together effectively on this issue may well give future generations a model for Catholic lay response to a wide range of reproductive technologies that run afoul of Catholic teaching — and, in our increasingly materialist society, these challenges will most surely come.