This month I attended a Pro-Life service at our church. There was great music well-performed, readings, and reports from members of our parish’s Pro-Life Ministry. Their practice of praying outside of abortion clinics had changed the minds of women who were on the verge of getting abortions. The numbers were small, but significant, especially considering that they translate to human lives saved.
As I reflected on this strategy of prayer, I concluded that it is not enough. We need to do more to change the abortion landscape in our country. I think of St. Theresa of Calcutta. Who prayed more than she? Yet she was daily hands-on working to solve the problem she was called to address. The same could be said of any of the great saints who addressed major societal problems—Mother Cabrini, St. Elizabeth Seton, Sister Catherine Drexel. In each case, their model was prayer backed by action. Or, if you prefer, action backed by prayer. And so, whilst encouraging all of our Pro-Life prayer troops, I propose herein a couple of concrete steps that we can take as a society to make it more possible for women to choose life.
What Are the Abortion Market Drivers?
When doing research on business and industry, scholars are constantly looking to identify “market drivers,” i.e. those needs, wants and attitudes that are behind the demand for a product or service. If we take this approach to studying the demand for abortion we might get ideas on how to change the marketplace.
There is data on why women choose abortion. The reasons given are usually financial, social or for birth control. But these statistics are based on short answers to questionnaires. I believe if women with unexpected pregnancies were interviewed in depth about their situation, we would find they are concerned about finances and the disruption of their lives (certainly) but are also worried or even scared of the physical aspects, and feeling isolated and alone. And so, I propose the following concrete steps to mitigate these abortion market drivers.
Universal Health Care
In the United States, lack of access to health care is the hidden influencer in every economic decision. A woman facing an unplanned pregnancy must, first of all, consider how she will take care of herself, the child in the womb and the child once born. This market driver could be immediately neutralized if we had government-sponsored health care for all as is the case in all other advanced countries. Once this worry is taken away, the decision for life becomes more possible. I know government-sponsored health care is a political issue fraught with controversy. There are many in our society who resent having to pay for other people’s health care. I refer these to the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
A New Ministry–“Mentor Mothers” to Counteract Fear and Isolation
Imagine this: A young woman facing unplanned pregnancy alone is paired up with an experienced mother to mentor her through her pregnancy and childbirth. This older woman would be a wise friend, companion, and source of information and encouragement. In some cases, the expectant mother could even be taken into the mentor mother’s home until the child is born. A program like this would require training and possibly certification. It could even become a new Apostolate. My instinct tells me that there are many of our mature Catholic mothers who would welcome this role. And I know that there are many in my wife’s and my age group with nests that are empty enough to share with a woman and a baby who need a little help.
Support Those on the Front Lines
Support a shelter for women in crisis pregnancy. And here is a simple way to do it. I am sure that many readers use online banking. It is a simple thing to set up a regular monthly payment to the shelter of your choice. I do this with Birth Haven in Newton, New Jersey. The money is automatically mailed on the same day every month. I don’t have to write a check or even pay postage! And the amount can be small. A lot of successful Catholic fund-raising is based on getting a little money from a lot of people. If someone sent five dollars every month, that would be a good thing. If they persuaded everyone in their Pro-Life ministry to send five dollars a month that starts to add up to some real money for these mothers.
Make the Fathers Be Fathers
Have you heard the expression, “It takes two to tango”? Why is it that a crisis pregnancy is solely the woman’s problem? Some men want to be involved and we applaud them. But many others apparently get off scot-free while she is left agonizing over an abortion decision. I say we play a little hardball here. In our day we have two unassailable identifiers: The Social Security number and DNA. Once a child’s father is undisputedly identified through DNA, child support payments will be deducted from the man’s paychecks until the child finishes college. This relieves some of the mother’s financial stress (see above) and is a powerful incentive for men to control themselves.
Change the Premise of the Question
We Pro-Lifers need to realize that arguments based on an objective morality rooted in religious belief fail to persuade a secular humanist, moral relativist society. Eschewing moral arguments, we must instead speak bluntly and factually.
It is true to point out that abortion stills a beating heart. It is more forceful to say that in an abortion a human being is killed. For, indeed, the child in the womb is a living human being. In a long-ago televised debate over abortion, uber-liberal commentator Nat Hentoff asked, if the child in the womb is not human, what species is it? If it is not living, it must be dead. Many say that we should not make such aggressive statements. After forty-four years of gentility, perhaps it is time for the gloves to come off. The “human being is killed” argument changes the question from a woman’s right to choose to when is it OK to kill?
It is also helpful to go back to the beginnings of the aggressive push for abortion. The choice lobby has insisted for years that the issue is a woman’s right to control her own body. People fail to remember that at the time Roe was being considered, the feminists were pushing an agenda that evolved directly from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Their acknowledged goal was to make women equal with men in the sexual arena by making it possible for them to have sex without consequences—just like a man. Abortion was a key objective in this effort. They seem to have done pretty well with it but the net result has been to trivialize one of the most fundamental aspects of the human person.
Sex is Important
In all of the brouhaha over sexual conduct in our day, one fact I never hear mentioned is that sex is important. Talking about the Church’s teaching on sexual morality is a non-starter. Frankly, most people in our society care not for the Catechism’s guidance on sexual behavior. But the importance of sex is a fact that cannot be denied.
Our popular culture (movies, television, pop music, porn) depicts sex as a morally neutral recreational activity, on a plane with bowling or playing Yahtzee. But sex is important because ones sexual behavior affects other people. It has important consequences for both parties: STDs, STIs, unintended pregnancy, not to mention the emotional harm to young women from engaging in anonymous sex divorced from love. (See Bishop Barron on the hookup culture.)
The Supreme Court Is Not the Answer
Ever since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, Pro-Life activists have concentrated their efforts on getting this barbaric decision reversed. The past forty-four years have seen the most democracy-threatening struggle in our society as we try to get conservative justices appointed to the Supreme Court in hopes of reversing Roe. This effort has yielded Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, Heller v. D.C. and Obergefell. These decisions have severely damaged the country whilst yielding no movement on life issues. Roe established the practice of the Justices making up law without reference to the Constitution. It appears our efforts to appoint justices who will make law in our favor have worked against us for the most part.
As in so many things, Saint Thomas Aquinas is instructive here. In the “Treatise on Law” in his Summa Theologica, Thomas points out that we should legislate against that which attacks the fundamental order of society, but not do so if it would cause impossible problems. I think this is clearly the case with abortion. Would we really want every woman who has an abortion, and every doctor and health professional who abets one to go to the slammer? The prisons would explode with overcrowding. And suppose Roe v. Wade was reversed? All that would happen is that states would repeal their laws against abortion because, as Justice O’Connor once noted, Americans have come to rely on access to the procedure. The current approach to reasonable regulation, such as pain-capable child protections and parental notification, offer a way of mitigating the worst aspects of this horrible practice. But trying to outlaw abortion? You might as well try to outlaw sin. Good luck with that.
Getting to Yes to Life
The salespeople among our readers will be familiar with the concept of making it OK for the prospect to say yes. Those of us who care about human life should take a similar approach. A woman in a crisis pregnancy is going to be encouraged to solve the problem by making it go away. Those of us on the opposite side of the argument might be more persuasive if we could offer substantial material and emotional help to these women, tilting the balance toward yes.
America invented modern advertising and public relations. Thus it is that we absorb any message that makes us feel good and affirms anything we want to do for our personal happiness. Psychologists call this rationalization. (So does the Church, by the way.) The abortion movement has been sustained by a pack of lies since its inception, starting with the de-humanization of the fetus straight through to the women’s right to choose smokescreen. We now live in the “post-truth era.” By buying into these deceptions we have managed to convince ourselves that, under certain circumstances, killing isn’t such a bad thing. Greater philosophers than I (e.g. Spinoza) have pointed out that truth can never be contrary to the best interests of humanity.
Let Us Change Tactics
We must continue to hammer home the truth about abortion. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, pointed out that a lie, repeated often enough, becomes the truth. This seems to be a fundamental operating principle for many social movements in our society today. But if the idea works for social justice warriors pitching a culture of death, it should work equally well for purveyors of truth.
There will always be women who are perfectly happy to “shout their abortions.” After all, it is a relatively easy way out of bad situation. However, our Pro-Life prayer ministries have demonstrated that there are women in crisis pregnancies who are ambivalent and amenable to persuasion. They have said yes to life even as they were entering the abortion clinic. So there is our opportunity. We can substantially change the statistics for the better and even alter societal attitudes toward abortion by giving material and emotional support to women in crisis pregnancies and by making the fathers man up. This is hard and costly—much more so than prayer chains and marches on Washington. But the problem is also hard and costly. So we must meet like with like–make it materially OK for women to say yes to life. Action backed by prayer.