I was involved in an online discussion last week on Facebook and the points raised in the discussion illustrate many erroneous ideas many people, including some Catholics, have about abortion. I pray some of the counterarguments in the debate may be of help to you if you become engaged in an argument with people who make the same false claims.
The discussion started when a liberal Catholic acquaintance, ‘Nanci,’ who dissents from Church teaching on several issues, wrote a long post about several things which outrage her. The relevant complaint on her list was the possibility abortion could be made illegal again. In the com box, a number of her friends praised her wisdom and mercy.
Then, Donald Williams, a Christian apologist and a minister from the Evangelical Free Church of America, challenged her with this comment:
“But surely killing one’s children in the sanctuary of the womb is not an acceptable way to manage one’s sexuality?”
Nanci replied she was trying to be practical. For her, practicality meant protecting women who would have illegal abortions anyway if the law changed. We should be merciful, she wrote, and provide safe abortions, because some women will abort their babies anyway and might die from back alley abortions. Providing safe abortions would give them a second chance, Nanci argued. If they don’t die from an unsafe abortion, they might possibly repent, as did Dorothy Day, who repented her abortion and went on to do great things for the poor.
My reply was that making abortion legal handed out a death sentence to millions of babies. I wrote, “Dorothy Day’s dead baby didn’t get a second chance.
The EFCA minister jumped in again:
“Compassion is a virtue, and I don’t doubt that it is sometimes the motivation. But in our compassion, who decides who gets to live and who does not? … When compassion is the justification for murder, one might think a certain confusion is involved.”
I wrote in agreement, “We don’t make sure that any other group of humans can commit murder without bad effects to themselves.” Then I continued that the only way to stop unwanted pregnancies is to abstain from sex because God built fertility into natural sexuality. It is unnatural to force women to use dangerous hormones, barrier methods, sterilization, IUDs, or any of the other methods devised to thwart women’s bodies’ natural functions. Besides the unnatural nature of the methods used to prevent pregnancy, these methods have a certain percentage of failure; a pregnancy can result even when they are used perfectly. Even natural family planning which restricts intercourse to non-fertile periods in a woman’s cycle has failure rates. Fertility is not a disease and a child is always wanted by God. A married couple can use cyclical abstinence to reduce the likelihood of conception, but any child conceived when theses methods fail is known and loved by God, and should be loved instead of aborted. That’s why parents used to protect young women and helped them guard their chastity until marriage so their children would be born into a family with two wedded parents who would love and support them.
Nanci’s other friends started arguing with me. To show their points without singling anyone out, I assigned pseudonyms and merged the comments together.
Fallacy #1: Abstinence Does Not Work; Only Contraception Education Can Stop Abortion
Marta: “Telling people not to have sex as a way of preventing abortions does not work. What works (and the data supports this) is sex education, freely available birth control. If abstinence is your only answer, you are imposing the view of your religion on everyone else at the expense of actually solving or reducing the problem.”
I replied that sex education often teaches young people they can’t control themselves. It offers them contraception which will supposedly prevent pregnancy, so they can enjoy intercourse without fear of natural consequences. This provides a false expectation that might cause the couple to make the decision to abort when an unexpected pregnancy occurs, out of shock, and shame, and a feeling they are to blame. “Sex education should be marriage education,” I replied.
Abstinence actually does work. After decades of high rates of premarital sex, the percentages are declining, and more young people are abstaining. If abstinence works for a certain subset of young people, it can work every one of us.
Later I wrote a post about sex education. It should be preparation for the chaste single life and for eventual marriage for some. The only sure way to stop unwanted pregnancies is to abstain from sex because God built fertility into natural sexual expression. Any method of birth control has a certain percentage of failure. Many people who trust birth control to avoid an unwanted pregnancy are often faced with a stern dash of reality and they often make the decision to abort when faced with a pregnancy they never thought could happen. The other goal of most safe sex education is to teach young people how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases but the only way to avoid STDs is either to be chaste or to have marital relations with one faithful spouse.
Several women then disagreed with me by arguing if you really want to reduce abortion, it’s essential to be practical and realize abstinence will not work. For someone like Nanci, it would be practical to provide legal abortions to women who would do it anyway so they don’t die from illegal abortions. For some of her friends, being practical means not telling young people to refrain from fornication even though it is risky with many known harmful effects. They believe everyone knows young people are not going to listen, and they are going to do it anyway.
A friend of mine noted this is the only area of behavior for which we use this kind of argument when we teach young people:
“Can you imagine pushing driver safety by saying that, your parents and your community don’t want you to text while driving, but it’s perfectly natural to do so, and we know you’re probably going to, so let us show you the safest way to send and receive texts while you are driving?”
People who claim abstinence won’t work, don’t do so just because people just won’t abstain, but also perhaps because they believe the old Freudian-inspired line which says we are so driven by our impulses we cannot be healthy unless we express ourselves sexually. Thus, practicality also means every reasonable person must agree freely available contraception is the only way to get rid of the need for abortion. Mother Teresa spoke out against this need for abortion.
Mother Teresa on the “Need for Abortion”
“In accepting pregnancy, in accepting a child, every mother and father accepts Jesus to one degree or another, but if they say no to a pregnancy, they reject Him.
“Jesus told us this Himself in the Gospels, ‘Anyone who welcomes one little child like this in my name welcomes me.’
“So every abortion is the denial of receiving Jesus, is the neglect of receiving Jesus. It is really a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.'”
“A most beautiful gift God has given our congregation is to fight abortion by adoption,” said Mother Theresa. “We have given already from one house in Calcutta over 3,000 children into adoption.
“Yes, the Missionaries of Charity will take the child, as will countless other groups, religious and secular. There is no need to abort a baby, to reject a pregnancy, to say no to Jesus.”
Fallacy #2: Contraception Is Reliable for Preventing Pregnancy
Jane, commented that since we agree abortion is wrong, we should compromise to achieve the greater good, and we should support contraception as the only realistic way to put an end to unwanted pregnancies. Many of the commenters asserted the Catholic Church alone is against contraception, and so bringing Catholic teachings into the discussion is not helpful. We can’t force our religion on anyone, they all agree.
However, Catholics are not alone in recognizing intercourse between a man and woman often results in pregnancy even with our best efforts at control since fertility is built into the human body. It can be understood as the natural outcome of the union between a man and woman, just as nourishment of the body is the natural outcome of eating. In both of these natural functions, you cannot easily extract the pleasure alone while avoiding the natural result.
Those who claim abortion would not happen if everyone uses contraception have a lot of unwarranted faith in the effectiveness of birth control, a faith that is based more than wishful thinking than on fact. There is no such thing as consequence-free sex.
The minister from the Evangelical Free Church of America was the only one in the discussion who agreed with me that abstinence outside of marriage is a difficult but necessary recognition of the true facts of life, even though his denomination does not teach that contraception is wrong. He wrote,
“[T]he sad fact is that the Christian ethic of abstinence outside of marriage is not actually sectarian at all, but simply recognizes the intractable fact that there is no such thing as ‘safe sex’ outside that context. There just isn’t, however much we might wish that there were.”
To my regret, I was once was an enthusiast of the sexual revolution, and so I often think and write about its dreadful consequences and try to counter the false claims about human sexual expression. For more about this topic, please see “First Comes Love …. Not Any More.