Is a Truce Possible on the Abortion Issue?

Is a Truce Possible on the Abortion Issue? October 15, 2007

Even though we are all Catholics on this blog, and accept the Church’s position on abortion, it is still the topic that exposes the greatest divisions among us. What is true in this tiny, rather insignificant blog, is also true in the global Catholic world. Now, I notice that Vox Nova is singled out as an “anti-choice site”: M.Z. has a post on that particular issue. I would like to made a different point, a broader point. Is dialogue possible between Catholics and those who disagree with the Church on abortion? Can we find “common ground”? Cardinal Bernardin certainly thought so, although his initiative did not survive his death. Too often, those who support abortion and those who do not simply talk past each other and, in the blog world, that so often means preaching to the converted and scoring points among a close circle of like-minded individuals. At the same time, they are not going to convince us that abortion is a “right”, and nor will we convince them that abortion is intrinsically evil. Are we at an impasse? I hope not. Despite everything, I believe there is scope for fruitful dialogue.

As a starting point, we can talk about the best way to deal with the thorny issue of abortion from the legal perspective, but one thing Catholics will never accept is that abortion is a “right”. We are not hypocrites, for we believe in a “seamless garment” approach to the life issue that would condemn not only abortion and euthanasia, but the death penalty, torture, unjust war, as well as policies that faciliate poverty and inadequate health care. Fundamentally, we hold that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and that life is sacred, even the life of the unborn. Even if you disagree with last conjecture, you must at least accept the validity and power of this argument.

Yes, there are many who use the abortion issue to score cheap political points and other for whom its is more an issue of sexuality and keeping women in their place– but that is not the Catholic position, at least in theory. I would say that even the major pro-life organizations are often tragically flawed, as they focus only on the life issues that do not contradict the platform and practical policies of the Republican party (for example, I was shocked to learn that the National Right to Life Committee opposes the government negotiating with drug companies to lower the cost of medicines). Another core Catholic principle is that you can never do something that is wrong so that good might come of it. That certainly holds for abortion, but also for things like torture and the use of nuclear weapons. Hence the use of nuclear weapons is always wrong, and the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki can never to defended. How many pro-life advocates at the political level can say they have a consistent ethic of life that is not tarnished by consequentialist modes of thinking?

Having said that, it is quite clear to me that abortion is related to poverty and prevailing social conditions. Declines in abortion in the US occurred most rapidly during times when poverty rates were falling– most notably under the Clinton administration (see here for detailed argument). Look at some of the statistics: 57% of women opting for abortion are economically disadvantage, and the abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). And when asked to give reasons for abortion, three-quarters of women say that cannot afford a child. 

And yet, the political pro-life movement often ignores this aspect. Not only that, it often uses the abortion issue to cover some less savoury aspects of policy. Note that when supposed pro-life candidates are elected, we see little impact on abortion, but a major advance in economic policies that foster upward redistribution. And too often, the pro-life lobby contents itself with minor victories that have little direct impact on abortion, but do rally political support. Case in point: I am pretty certain that S-CHIP will do more to lower the abortion rate in the US than the partial-birth abortion ban, which everybody pretty much agrees will do almost nothing.

It is also the case that banning abortion often does not really impact on its incidence. Ireland has a robust abortion rate, even though there are no abortion providers in Ireland, because travel within the EU is so easy. I often wonder if a repeal of Roe v. Wade, when the issue gets pushed to the states, will have much impact on abortion? Personally, I doubt it, except for the very poor who cannot travel to states that allow it. And while I believe the repeal of Roe would be good, simply because I cannot accept abortion as a “right”, I believe a political strategy focused solely on this goal is fundamentally misplaced. We need to create the conditions that would encourage women not to have abortions in the first place. 

Could this be a point of common ground among Catholics and pro-choice feminists, since we are not really going to change each others minds on this matter? If we would focus less on the coercive side, would you be willing to work to minimize the abortion rate? Can we move away from a situation whereby one side wants to lock up women and the other believes that there is no such thing as too many abortions (given that it is a “right”). Even if we believe abortion should be illegal, let’s be frank: there is no public support for an outright ban, which would in any event likely be circumvented. We must open our eyes to different strategies. But we should also remember that the easy acceptance of abortion cheapens the value of life in our society. We can do better. As Archbishop Chaput said a few months ago:

“You can have good Catholics who say that they’re not for the criminalization of abortion, or they want to take gradual steps toward eliminating it by convincing the public that this is a bad thing. Those are all legitimate political positions-as long as you’re really moving towards the goal of protecting unborn human life. You at least have to have the goal.”

We need to tackle poverty and economic conditions. We need universal health care urgently. I also think we need to work on the breakdown in family life in some of our communities. We may need to think outside the box. I have proposed on this blog that the government provide subsidies to women to carry their children to term, and provide sizeable financial incentives for adoption. I was attacked for doing so, and maybe there are good reasons for not pursuing this in the realm of policy. But we need to start putting our money where our mouth is. Otherwise, the pointless “culture war” that benefits nobody will keep raging.

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  • Great post, MM…you remind me why both sides in the culture wars make me uncomfortable.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    I’m not sure how desirable dialogue is. There are so many wrong philosophical assumptions going into the pro-abortion view that I don’t see what common ground there is to discover. To put one of your points in full pejorative form, I have great difficulty seeing how barefoot and pregnant is so antithetical to the form and function of the feminine. I can understand a woman’s desire not to be so, but the obnoxious condescension of those women who choose to be so is what I don’t understand. Of course we don’t even bother speaking today in terms of forms and functions. Everything today is the minimally acceptable.

  • tootuned

    MM, this one I couldn’t hold back on. The areas where the Church tolerates a politician voting for a pro-abortion law or a voter voting for a pro-abortion candidate are holes which are not large enough for a gnat to pass through, yet you regularly drive a truck through them in order to justify routinely voting for politicians who uphold 7/10 of the positions spelled out in the discredited “seamless garment” ethic. Evangelium Vitae is an intentional corrective of the “seamless garment.”

    It’s bad when we speak of “dialogue with those who disagree” and we’re talking about Catholics who disagree on abortion. What does it tell you that this is the language we use in (ahem) ecumenical and interfaith dialogue? Please consider that.

  • I think MM’s heart is in the right place, but I too question whether a “truce” is possible; especially when so many in the proabortion movement view abortion as a “right” and something to be celebrated (see, e.g., Planned Parenthood’s t-shirts proclaiming “I had an abortion,” as if one should celebrate killing her own child).

  • M.Z. Forrest –

    While I agree that “Barefoot and pregnant” is a somewhat clumsy caricature (from 40 years ago, however), I think it is worth remembering that it was used to signify a situation where a husband deliberately impregnated his wife with the intention of using per pregnancy to exercise economic control over her: “Gee honey, with the new baby, it just would not do to have you out in the workplace…” and thus exercise a stifling degree of control over her other choices, if he so chose (and make no mistake: many men did so choose.)

    There is an understandable perception among pro-choice feminists that the true agenda of the pro-life side is to restore the priggish sensibilities and petty oppressions that obtained in our culture pre-1965 or so.

  • …and I could add to that last paragraph, “…and probably even among pro-life feminists…”

  • Paul Barnes

    As I read some pro-choice websites, I am coming to the conclusion that we are really wasting our time looking for common ground. Pearls before swine (and I mean that last part literally) .

    The repugnance of their position on its face makes it hard to take them seriously as moral agents, which is precisely why I find the Democratic policy that might reflect any kind of pro-life policy difficult to accept. (I would not vote Republican either, I might add)

    Unfortunately, as Matt Talbot demonstrates (with pro-choice concerns) is that they are fundamentally unserious as thinkers. They immediately attack the alleged motivations of the pro-life concern, without engaging in any substantial debate about the issue of abortion as a moral act.

    In the same vein, there are many unserious pro-lifers who ruin the message with their rhetorical excess and stupidity.

  • ben

    I don’t beleive that a truce is possible on this issue. Those who support a right to abortion need to be converted.

    I will work to convert them, but a “truce” is not really possible as long as they are killing people.

  • I think one could argue that, prudentially, a pro-life Catholic could support legislation that criminalized abortion except for in cases of rape or sexual abuse, provided that in order to avoid scandal, the Catholic was clear that such support was not for the purpose of permitting abortion in some cases, but outlawing it in the majority of instances where it is now used, therefore saving lives.

    A Catholic politician could also make the case that this would be an adjustment in the law to make equal protection doctrine closer to truely “equal protection.”

  • In addition, I think it would be a good idea to avoid the term “consequentialist” and it’s related -isms. Any government program which requires higher taxation in order to fund the program is consequentialist in nature. Or, is it not true that the thinking is that “It is acceptable to tax the better off, so long as the imposition of that tax is used towards the just end of providing for the poor?”

  • JH

    I am not sure why Vox Nova would want to declare a truce on abortion. Why? I think the fact that this site is singled out as a anti choice site is a great thing.

    Why would one want to have a truce. Is there a call for a truce by some on here on Republicans, the War on Terror, on immigration, on economics?

    I disagree with a lot of peopkle on here on their postings especially as to Iraq and Republicans. However this BLog has given me hope that while Catholics can disagree on certain issues that s on ome things were not to be compromised.

    I got turned off by many “liberal” Catholics once because at one time they seem to be on the right track as to the poor and other issues but were fragant is in their opposition to basic church teachings. It was deemed not very important.

    I now see a alot of Orthodox bloggers that are far more liberal than me political wise but they are pretty Orthodox. That gives them credibility in my eyes and I listen to them more and have them challenge me.

    So no I think doing a “amnesty International” would not be productive.

  • Pingback: Feministe » Common Ground()

  • Great post, MM. I’ve responded here:

    Thanks for starting this conversation.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    Perhaps during the truce talks the pro-aborts would agree that no more unborn children would be killed in legal abortion? If so, I am all in favor of such a truce!

  • Look at some of the statistics: 57% of women opting for abortion are economically disadvantage, and the abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women).

    Correlation or causation? Smart = rich, dumb = can’t use birth control

  • Julian

    “We need to create the conditions that would encourage women not to have abortions in the first place. Could this be a point of common ground among Catholics and pro-choice feminists, since we are not really going to change each others minds on this matter? If we would focus less on the coercive side, would you be willing to work to minimize the abortion rate? … We need to tackle poverty and economic conditions.”

    For the sake of argument, I will answer with an emphatic NO!

    Here’s the thing. Let’s assume that abortion is intrinsically evil — either murder, or akin to murder. If that’s the case, it cannot be enough to “minimize the abortion rate”; we have to work to outlaw it. If we’re unsuccessful, so be it. But we can’t just accept the status quo, can we?

    The notion that the way we would “reduce the abortion rate” is “to tackle poverty and economic conditions” strikes me as absurd. Because the poor will always be with us, this is just a way of saying forget about abortion and focus on poverty. It is a perfectly tenable position, I guess; but don’t expect to get the anti-abortion movement to buy into it.

    It can be difficult for any movement to maintain cohesiveness. I believe that the anti-abortion movement should focus on its core mission — reversal of Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion — and not get side-tracked on other issues. Just because it calls itself “pro-life” doesn’t mean it has to be against the death penalty (any more than the fact that the abortion rights side calls itself “pro-choice” should mean it has to be in favor of decriminalizing drugs or prostitution). It’s probably hard enough for the anti-abortion movement to agree on abortion-related issues (such as what valid exceptions there might be, if any; and who, if anyone would be prosecuted). To start throwing in things like the death penalty or poverty relief is entirely unrealistic.

    Clearly, I’m not saying that a person can’t be anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. I’m just saying that you should join two different groups if you are, because not everyone who is one is also the other. Similarly, you’re not going to convince all anti-abortion people that general poverty relief is going to be either effective or appropriate.

    Is “minimiz[ing] the abortion rate” a laudable goal? Sure. In the same way that minimizing traffic fatalities would be a laudable goal. I would like to minimize innocent deaths at every turn, if possible. But please don’t suggest that people should not seek to outlaw intrinsically evil behavior and should instead work on minimizing its incidence. Is there any other serious moral issue on which we have embraced such a position? (I can’t think of any off the top of my head.)

    While I have every confidence that Morning’s Minion posted this in good faith, I must point out that it could have come out of a pro-choice handbook. Let’s not forget that the (un)official liberal position is not that abortions are good and should be embraced without apology (only the fringes admit that); rather, it is that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.” A “let’s focus on poverty and abortion will take care of itself” policy would be music to pro-choice ears. Not surprisingly, it wouldn’t play well in pro-life camps.

  • human

    Hi. I was raised Catholic, but I’m not anymore. Still, you mention pro-choice feminists so I suppose you’re talking to me, among others. I hope this comment is taken in the spirit its offered, which is one of forthright and respectful discussion.

    Can we move away from a situation whereby one side wants to lock up women and the other believes that there is no such thing as too many abortions (given that it is a “right”).

    In her post, Jill has pointed out much the same thing that I am going to say, but I want to underscore the point that the above quote is a misunderstanding/misrepresentation of the pro-choice position.

    We believe that controlling her fertility is a woman’s basic right. That can include abortion. But it also includes things like:

    1. Freedom to choose when and whether to have sex — that is, not being forced or coerced in any way (physically, socially, culturally, economically) to have sex.
    2. Freedom to use contraception, AND ACCESS to it. (It doesn’t do you any good to have the right to use birth control if you cannot afford it. Or if your partner refuses to cooperate.)

    If women have a better shot at preventing unwanted pregnancies, then of course the abortion rate will go down. Pro-choice feminist me would much rather pop a pill once a day than have surgery!

    Yes, there are many who use the abortion issue to score cheap political points and other for whom its is more an issue of sexuality and keeping women in their place – but that is not the Catholic position, at least in theory.

    I bolded the part I’m focusing on here — you say that “keeping women in their place” is not the Catholic position. But, since most Catholics disapprove not only of abortion but of birth control as well, it’s absolutely the case that the Catholic position is that women should be denied control of their fertility. Historically, that denial of control has been used to “keep women in their place” (that is, below men in the social and economic hierarchy). To put it in real terms: if abortion and birth control are not allowed, then any time I have sex — whether by my choice or not — I can wind up with a baby. In my current life circumstances that would be a severe economic burden and would all but wipe out any chance I have of achieving my educational and career goals. Many pro-life folks view this as a feature, not a bug, of the policies they are advocating.

    So, we have a really basic philosophical disagreement, and I do not think it is one that can be gotten past. Especially since we don’t even see eye to eye on what each other’s position is!

    As Jill pointed out, though, there’s definitely some common ground. You’re absolutely right that many pro-life organizations completely ignore the economic problems.

    I could say a lot more, but I’ll leave it here for now. I do have one question for you, MM – I don’t really understand why, if you believe that abortion rates are NOT lowered by a ban, you still support a ban. What’s the point of a policy solution that doesn’t solve the problem? I didn’t understand that part of your post.

  • “for whom its is more an issue of sexuality and keeping women in their place”

    Such a truce will require denigrating members of one’s own movement to please one’s new political allies, using the favorite pejorative cant of one’s new friends. Not surprisingly, members of the movement will see such a move as a sell-out.

    Such moves may be inevitable. The same logic by which Rick Santorum supported the pro-choice Arlen Specter is the same logic pro-lifers will have to follow if the Democratic party is going to become more pro-life.

    Politics is the art of being compromised.

    “abortion is related to poverty and prevailing social conditions.”

    And of course, poverty is exacerbated by an anti-marriage culture that encourages promiscuity and discourages men from responsible attitudes towards women.

  • ben

    Too many people seem to believe that access to contraception leads to reduced incidence of abortion.

    Indeed, this seems obvoiusly self evident. But it is not true.

    As contraception becomes more available and accepted, the incidence of abortion INCREASES.

    I understand this seems counter intuitive, but it is what has actually happened.

  • “Historically, that denial of control has been used to “keep women in their place” (that is, below men in the social and economic hierarchy). ”

    But attacks on that traditional stance were often capitalist attempts to bring women into its processes of exploitation, consumption, and total work. Often the feminist movement was led by upper-class women who had the resources to pursue professional high-paying jobs and little sympathy for their poorer sisters who would be employed as their nannies and maids. Do you really think a woman working a crap job for crap wages wouldn’t be better off as a housewife?

    As Christopher Shannon says, Feminism is a way of pretending that women who work on Wall Street and women who shop at Wal-Mart have similar concerns.

  • DA

    A truce isn’t possible, unfortunately. The one biggest thing you could do to reduce the abortion rate would be to reduce unwanted pregnancies. Telling people not to have sex isn’t working.
    “Another core Catholic principle is that you can never do something that is wrong so that good might come of it.”
    Therefore you can’t use contraception, even though, by Catholic belief, it would save you from “killing the unborn”. People will not stop having sex.

    Additionally, making abortion a crime doesn’t seem to stop it happening.

  • Kevin Jones – can’t both be true? The traditional stance was often used as a way of controlling women, *and* was exploited by capitalism, etc.?

    Based on your quote, Chris Shannon has a caricatured view of feminism – again, there is probably something to this caricature, but plenty of feminism has benefitted lowly bank tellers and receptionists (e.g., equal pay for equal work.)

  • Ailea

    Well met – I wanted to come see your site from the feministe site, and have so far appreciated the flexibility and good intentions of the posters (if not all of the commenters) from both sites. Please bear with me, I know very little about any Christian denomination, and thus have a few questions.

    It seems that a fairly major sticking point in the entire “finding common ground” theme is that we have a tendency to not understand the other point of view and thus, as with all things we do not understand, we demonize it – making it harder to listen. (I am very guilty of this, please excuse.) When listening to both sides of this debate, I notice that there are many different core needs that each group is unwilling to compromise on. We tend to get very stuck on the way that we think that these needs can be fulfilled and not see other means to our ends.

    The pro-choice side needs life. Both sides crave life and would describe themselves as “pro-life.” The difference, to my eyes, seems to be a quantity vs quality issue. I understand the anti-choice side to want as many lives as possible to continue for as long as possible, and the quality of life to be secondary to life itself. The pro-choice side, I see to want as good a life as possible for those who are here and those who will come, with number and length of lives being secondary. How do you see it? This is, I think, where I part with the standard Catholic views on euthanasia and abortion. I want life to be good, not just there. I want to be able to give my children everything they deserve, and thus I will have fewer of them later, and I will save my own life over that of the unborn to be able to care for those already living and who will live in the future. I want to want my children.

    The pro-choice side has another core need, and that is power over ourselves – we need to have the ability to control our own bodies and we believe in the right to self determination. In practice, we interpret this needs as not just extending to abortion. It is all life. This is having doctors listen to you. This is being able to give birth the way you want, where you want. This is being able to live where you want and do what you want to do and go to school where you want. This is living the way you want to and dying the way you want to.

    In these two core needs, I think we can agree on the need, if not the details of how that need should be brought into being. What are the core needs of the anti-choice movement? What other core needs does the pro-choice movement have that I missed? (Try to boil it down to the most basic form possible – I have put the need in front and the expounded on how we interpret that after)

    We do, though, agree that the best world would be one where abortions didn’t happen because they didn’t need to happen and work towards things that would reduce the number. We disagree on contraception, but poverty elimination, healthcare for all, quality child care to allow for both parents working if they want to, better education so that people can have better jobs that would allow them to raise better children, more research on how to treat diseases of the mother and the child so that there are more (or some) options… these are things that have been mentioned before, that we work on currently and would love to work with you on.

    In the mean time, please remember that when some see pro-choice issues as “death for the many children,” others see anti-choice issues as “death for women.” This is where both of our passions come from.

  • Kevin – poor women have always worked. Women of the middle and upper classes joining the workforce didn’t change that. So that woman working a crap job for crap wages, always has been there. Housewifery isn’t an option when if you don’t work, you starve.

    And why, oh why, are we continuing to assume that only single women are using contraception? I’ve been married for fifteen years and I’ve used contraception pretty much the whole time. Why? – because I’ve had sex without contraception exactly twice. They’re two beautiful boys. Married women have just as much reason to want to control their fertility as any other woman.

  • Julian (speaking for a lot of people, I think) states that the core mission of the pro-life movement is about reversing Roe and outlawing abortion. You see, this is where I differ– I believe it should be about actually ending abortion, which is not the same as simply outlawing.

    As for the intrinsic evil of abortion, I don’t dispute it. I also believe that terrorism is intrinsically evil, but believe that ending terrorism entails far more than a coercive response, which indeed may backfire. I believe that the behavior of the North Korean regime is intrinsically evil, and yet I do not support its overthrow– because doing so would clearly create enormous instability. In none of these cases are you implicated in the underlying evil acts.

  • Anonymous

    Additionally, making abortion a crime doesn’t seem to stop it happening.

    Neither does making rape a crime stop that from happening. Should we decriminalize rape?

  • Paul Barnes – as Matt Talbot demonstrates (with pro-choice concerns)

    You misjudge both my position, and my motives – I am prolife, period. I’m just attempting to see the issue from the other side’s point of view, and am calling (however clumsily) for both sides to quit caricaturing each other’s positions in order to foster communication. I agree, by the way, that a truce is probably not in the offing. Probably the best we can hope for is an “agree to disagree” situation, but I think it would help to clarify where the disagreements are, what exactly we’re disagreeing on.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    I think it is a caricature of the pro-life movement to claim we are in the have as many babies as possible crowd. Once I passed the magical number of 2 – I’m only at 3 mind you – people treated us differently. In fact, both the pro-life movement and pro-choice movement tend to place autonomy upon an altar. They just tend to differ on the point at which one has gone too far. The joke of the older generation is always that they didn’t have choices, they just did things. As duty has been abdicated to autonomy, we are faced with this.

    Just to give an idea of how far we have regressed, both the Orthodox and Catholics had significant times of the year where couples were to abstain from relations. Such times weren’t established due to poverty or any other physical condition. Today, people are so enamored with sex that they will for the most part intentionally render themselves unable to attain the end for which it was created.

  • quite anonymous

    Matt, the main point of disagreement is:
    Pro-choice people do not believe that a fetus is a baby. Pro-life people do believe a fetus is a baby.
    Pro-choice people believe that a woman has a right to remove something unwanted from her body. Pro-life people believe that the “something unwanted” is a baby.

    This is the core of it IMO, more or less.

  • MZ, do you really believe that sex was created solely for baby-making? If so, why do we not get pregnant every time we have sex? Why is the principle place of female sexual pleasure located outside of the vagina, in a place where it is not easily stimulated by penetration alone?

  • M.Z. Forrest

    Solely, no.

    Why are parts located where they are? No one asked me at the time where I would like them. 😉

  • Jill-

    I would highly recommend that you review the materials at this website, and I think you’ll get a better idea of where faithful Catholics are coming from on these matters:

  • Dianne

    MZ: Jill’s got an excellent point. Remember, humans are primates. Most, if not all, primates use sex as a bonding mechanism as well as a reproductive mechanism. Humans, lacking an overt estrus, probably evolved to use sex as more of a bonding mechanism and less of a strictly reproductive mechanism than even most primates. If the only “end” of sex was reproduction, it simply wouldn’t be enjoyable–or maybe not even possible–when reproduction wasn’t likely to occur as a result.

  • Dianne

    Why are parts located where they are? No one asked me at the time where I would like them. 😉

    Well, if you’re really unhappy with them, you can get them exchanged for a more XX version.

  • Ireland has a robust abortion rate? Any evidence for that statement?

  • Matt, the main point of disagreement is: Pro-choice people do not believe that a fetus is a baby. Pro-life people do believe a fetus is a baby.
    Pro-choice people believe that a woman has a right to remove something unwanted from her body. Pro-life people believe that the “something unwanted” is a baby.
    This is the core of it IMO, more or less.

    Yes, that’s the core of the disagreement. However, it is not enough to say, “Abortion is evil and must be outlawed, period. End of discussion.”

  • Paul Barnes

    Matt Talbot,

    I originally considered the point that you raised with my post, but I did not know how to clarify. I did not mean to suggest you are advocating any position. Rather, my response was using your post as an example (and I got that you were attempting to portray the other side as charitably as possible) that pro-choice really obscures the arguments of the pro-life side.

    Having said this, the concerns of women should influence our response. First of all, the threat of chauvinism and the unjust domination of women are still abundant globally. Further, I do think that capitalism does tend to emphasis that every person is fundamentally an economic agent, thus reducing them to that status. Furthermore, the fragmentation of the family as a social unit is the source of many grave social problems that are almost too numerous to count (although I am not necessarily convinced that capitalism is the sole culprit of this state of affairs).

    Nonetheless, we are discussing the nature of humans as moral agents. While I certainly think that certain kinds of pregnancy (where the child is not viable and poses substantial threat to the life of the mother) make policy decisions very, very tough to create, hard cases make bad law. These are the hard cases for pro-lifers, and frankly, I do not know how to resolve this issue.

    However, most of the cases of pregnancy can be resolved in practicing moderation and justice. Moderation in not engaging in sexual behavior when inappropriate (outside of marriage and during times of fertility) when a child is inadvisable and justice by treating the other person as more than an instrument of pleasure (which is what infidelity and contraception does). IT is funny about how much goes back to the ancient Greeks, in particular Aristotle, in ethics.

  • Paul – thanks for that clarification – your intention is clear now, and I apologize for misinterpreting.

  • quite anonymous

    Right. Nobody wants there to be lots of abortions.
    So, since we disagree on this fundamental point (is it a baby), and we are not likely to change that belief, but we all want to reduce abortions, where can we start without attacking the other side?

    Saying abortion should be illegal because its murder is an attack on pro-choicers beliefs.
    Saying abortion should be legal because its not a life is an attack on pro-lifers beliefs.

    So, since someone pointed out it doesn’t matter if abortion is legal or illegal, how can we reduce the number of abortions without attacking anyone’s beliefs?

  • Sean

    Preliminary matter:

    JivinJ, the most recent information I could find on worldwide abortion rates (including Ireland) is at The data is old and, in my opinion, not particularly relevant for Ireland due to many Irish going to Great Britain for abortions. That is discussed in greater depth at

    Moving on:

    It seems to me, a truce is entirely possible. While Catholics believe the use of contraceptives is morally wrong, the vast majority of American Catholics have given up on banning their use as a matter of law. Instead, Catholics rely on methods outside the legal system to discourage contraception use.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the question here is, even though both sides find the other’s view morally repugnant, can’t we work together—outside the legal system—to decrease the abortion rate?

    I believe we can. First, many people who identify themselves as pro-choice hate the idea of abortion and would never have one (or in any way voluntarily take part in one). These people want to see a decrease in abortions but are—for whatever reason—uncomfortable with the government telling women they are forced to carry a child to term. The only thing they dislike more than abortion is the loss of a woman’s control over her own body.

    Second, there are many people who identify themselves as pro-life and have strong disagreements—even animosity—toward many groups identifying themselves as pro-life. These people are often pro-contraception and sex education (whether these are effective means of reducing the abortion rate would be the discussion of the new debate). They understand that “abstinence-only” has never worked as a practical matter in the course of human history. While many of them are tired of the clichéd talk of coat hangers coming from the pro-choice movement, they still worry about the health (and, well, life) of those who would seek illegal abortions. It doesn’t do a lot of good to “save” the baby’s life if the mother is too dead to carry it to term.

    I think these groups are the best suited to come together and table the debate on using the law as a means of reducing abortions in favor of finding other ways to further the end of fewer abortions.

  • ben

    I think that the pro-choicers involved in this discussion still do not understand the pro-life position. Lets try a thought experiment that attempts to convey how pro-lifers understand abortion. Let suppose this is what “quite anonymous” had said:

    Right. Nobody wants there to be lots of domestic violence.
    So, since we disagree on this fundamental point (women and children are people with human rights), and we are not likely to change that belief, but we all want to reduce domestic violence, where can we start without attacking the other side?

    Saying domestic violence should be illegal because it is violence against human beings is an attack on pro-choicers beliefs.
    Saying domestic violence should be legal beause women and children aren’t really people is an attack on pro-lifers beliefs.

    So, since someone pointed out it doesn’t matter if domestic violence is legal or illegal, how can we reduce the incidence of domestic violence without attacking any one’s beliefs?

  • MM,

    I haven’t noticed that you have any great enthusiasm for taking the slow approach and trying to change the social and economic conditions that make people want capital punishment or want to torture others. If abortion, capital punishment and torture are all life issues, why do you want to ban two of the three and form a truce on the third?

    The implication of your position is that torture and capital punishment really are life issues, but abortion is only kind-of a life issue.

  • quite anonymous

    This is exactly the issue. Some people do not think that a fetus is a human and some do. And people that do will always bring up the argument you brought up with your little “you don’t understand us” post. I’m saying let’s not bring that bit up at all.

    Ok so its the conditional murderers vs. the woman haters. (to greatly simplify the argument that you’re inciting here, whether intentionally or not)

    Now that we’ve got that out of the way, how do we safely reduce the number of abortions without making anyone even angrier?

    I’m certain both sides understand the other’s POV perfectly well.

  • quite anonymous

    *conditional murderers
    Only “unborn people”.

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  • I’m not sure if it’s possible for that type of reconciliation. In a previous article I suggested that a majority of the problem is semantics. Read it here:

  • Tree

    I think the fundamental tension around abortion is whether or not the evil of abortion (however evil it may be) outweighs the various societal and individual benefits of giving women control over their reproduction. It’s obvious which side of tension the pro-choice and pro-life groups fall on.

    This tension is the same tension that the Catholic Church recognizes around the death penalty. The Church isn’t against the death penalty in every single case; there are extreme situations where the Church believes that a state can reasonably decide that it is necessary to kill someone. Also, locking someone in a box for the rest of their life sounds like a moral evil, but society (and the Catholic Church) makes an exception when it is believed to be for the benefit of society.

    This tension is the reason that the Catholic Church thinks that procedures that will save the life of the woman but might also abort a pregnancy are permissable.

    This tension is the source of moral ambiguity in every moral issue.

    For my personal opinion, I think the idea that “abortion is murder” is unnecessarily reductive and that the situation is much more complicated. As Jill of Feministe has mentioned elsewhere, the pro-life movement is generally unwilling to specify what the punishment for abortion should be, and this is an implicit acknowledgement of moral ambiguity.

    To respond more directly to a small part of the original post: I have a feeling that the abortion rate decreases with wealth mostly because of increased access to/use of contraception, which is not an appropriate way to reduce abortion–from the Catholic perspective.

  • Betsy

    I cannot speak for all pro-choicers, but I certainly would like to think that dialogue is possible. I also agree with everything you say about poverty and social programs. For instance, the abortion rate in Western Europe, where they have great social programs as well as good access to birth control and legal abortion, is the lowest anywhere (even of countries where abortion is illegal). That seems to support your point. I am more than willing to work on lowering the abortion rate through such means – I think that in general abortion is not something anyone *wants* to have; apart from moral considerations, it’s an expensive surgical procedure. However, I remain convinced that outlawing abortion would do far more harm than good. I recognize that most people here will disagree with me, but I come in the same spirit of respect in which you offered this post.

  • theimperialprincess

    No, there cannot be a truce–as in a cease fire–but there is lots and lots of common ground between all but the most radical and even some of those can find a toehold.

    There is one thing we can all agree on about abortion.

    If only those women who want to get pregnant got pregnant and if all of those women also wanted to carry the pregnancy to its natural conclusion, whatever that may be, abortion rights supporters would no longer have something to protect (the woman) and abortion rights opponents would have nothing to fight against (her will to control the pregnancy).

    We are only arguing over what should happen to the women who fall outside of that category.

    We are only arguing over at which point another person should have a superior right over the woman’s body when her will to control it contradicts theirs. (No matter what you think of what is inside her.)

    At each ovulation? During an act of sexual intercourse? When ejaculate enters her body? After? During conception? After the first missed period?

    I think it is clear that controlling one’s own body (and any life in it) is a natural, inherent (from a creator, if you like) right much like the “right” to life and liberty.

    No matter what law is changed (whether we are talking of a legal right or something less than that) it will never stop the proverbial (or actual) coat hangers of desperate women.

    Big, easy parcels of common ground are around abstinence and adoption. We could all do so much good if could learn to respect and trust one another enough to reinforce these simple areas of agreement.

    Imagine what we might start if Catholics and radical liberal feminist found a way to help each other?

    –from a radical feminst who will never lay down the fight for a women’s right to control her reproduction, from beginning to end

  • Andrew

    I am, in fact, for more poverty. Christ never says that pverty is evil, so why do we suppose it is? Destitution is bad, poverty is good. Politically, I am pro-poverty.

  • Tintagel

    It seems like many reasonable people on both sides of the fence agree that there are cases in which abortion, although regrettable, is not an unacceptable solution. The problem for me is, who gets to decide what those cases are? Is a list of circumstances under which abortion is warranted really a practical solution, when each woman’s circumstances (physical, mental, economic, emotional, sociological) are bound to be very different? If woman is to have an early-term abortion (which I think everyone agrees is preferable to a late-term one), is there really time to consult judges, doctors, and clergy in every case?

    I don’t know a single pro-choice person who thinks that abortion is great, or that it’s no big deal. I don’t know a single woman who’s had an abortion who doesn’t wish it hadn’t come to that. But for practical as well as philosophical reasons, I think that the woman herself is the only one qualified to judge her own case on its own merits, and decide whether abortion is better than the alternatives.

  • Truce is NOT possible to any extent. Just my opinion.

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  • I’ve skipped the comments, so I might be rehashing something that’s already been said. However, I can provide some information.

    First, the key issue with pro-choice folks is that they want to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, not the number of abortions. This is a key issue… once a woman has an unwanted pregnancy, a pro-choice person considers it her choice whether to carry it to term or not. Trying to “prevent abortions” won’t work, but trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies might.

    Second, please remember that outlawing abortion is about putting people in jail if they give or receive abortions. Now, when it comes to putting people in jail, the state should have to show strong cause.

    At the earliest part of pregnancy, you have a barely differentiated clump of cells. It’s very hard to generate “strong cause” to put someone in jail over that. A person can dislike abortion, but be pro-choice because of the recognition of this issue. It’s not that a person necessarily considers abortion okay… but an early term abortion can still be considered a matter that the state should not be able to punish. Think of it as reasonable doubt.

    That said, there can be common ground, in helping with pregnancy prevention. Plus, I wouldn’t mind if every abortion provider also had a ready list of charities that help pregnant women and set up adoptions, for those situations where a woman really doesn’t want an abortion, but needs help finding support.

  • Autumn Harvest

    MM, I feel a little crass saying this, but I’m not sure that I understand the point of your post. I’m coming in from the pro-choice, Feministe side, and I agree with virtually all of the points that you make in your post. About the morality of abortion itself, there’s no way we’re going to agree about that—the perspectives are just too different. But yes, just because we disagree about that, doesn’t mean that there aren’t many other things that we agree on—the immorality of torture and unjust war, that the S-CHIP is good, at least in part because it lowers the abortion rate, and so on. So I am completely in agreement with you here.

    But I don’t see what the point of these observations is, in practical terms. When I work for a group that tries to end torture, I assume you approve. And if you’re lobbying your representative to get S-CHIP passed, I think that’s great. But we’re both perfectly capable of doing those things independently, and our stances on abortion are irrelevant to our actions there. Where’s the need or benefit to working together as pro-life and feminist/pro-choice groups? Even if we all agree that we want the abortion rate lower, that doesn’t give us much to make us work as a cohesive unit in any real sense; for example, I would say that the best way to get the abortion rate down is sex education and contraceptives, but I’m assuming that’s a non-starter with the folks here. In short, I agree that there’s common ground, I just don’t see what that gets us.

  • Autumn Harvest

    As I read some pro-choice websites, I am coming to the conclusion that we are really wasting our time looking for common ground. Pearls before swine (and I mean that last part literally) .

    While it’s possible that I am wrong on this issue, I am quite certain that I am not literally swine.

  • Cranefly

    One possible advantage of, if not truce, at least being public about the common ground, is that our political parties might realize that they could score points with both pro-life and pro-choice constituents on issues like the ones that Morning’s Minion sketches out here. Right now, Republicans seem to think (and the National Right to Life Committee agrees with them) that support for post-birth health care, for example, is antithetical to the pro-life position. This is part of the problem with our winner-take-all system of representation: issues can become associated with one party, and over time groups of positions (i.e. pro-life, anti-S-CHIP) become politically entangled when they need not be.

  • Cranefly

    Ah, typos, how I love thee.

  • Sean,
    Your link has the Irish abortion rate at 5.9 which is really quite low and certainly not “robust.”

  • A number of points here:

    1. Part of the problem is that we take as a starting point for our reflections on human personhood the solitary adult male. If we began with the pregnant mother and her child as the starting point for our philosophical reflections we would have a different picture. Do we believe in human communion or human atoms? Likewise what we mean by “body” is not neutral, but socially constructed and theologically informed.

    2. Distinctions between sin and crime, and the recognition that the involvement of law and law enforcement in certain delicate areas of human behaviour always breeds hypocrisy and humbuggery. Adultery is a sin, but in most jurisdictions on the planet, it is not a crime.

    3. The pro-choice advocate claims for the woman rights over her fetus that the roman paterfamilias claimed over his entire household, considered as part of his “body” from a legal point of view: ie the power of life and death. This is not really stressed very much in feminist critiques of that rather slippery term “patriarchy”.

    4. When it comes to sex the “right”, previously so “augustinian” and pessimistic about any collective human endeavour to make life better for the oppressed of the earth suddenly become highly “pelagian” in the advocacy of heroic acts of willed abstinence on the part of everybody. Conversely, the “left”, so optimistic about tackling poverty, ecological collapse etc. become total pessimists when it comes to affecting people’s sexual behaviour. “You can’t change human nature” is used by the right to avoid doing anything about everything except sex, and by the left to avoid doing anything about sex but not about anything else! Another example of how ridiculous so much of what passes for politics is these days.

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  • Matt

    abortion is not wrong. it is a womans choice. there are very good reasons a woman might need an abortion.