I once said that I'd die to keep abortion legal and easily accessible, and I meant it. I was vehemently pro-choice, as were most of the women in my social circles. We believed abortion was a critical right for women and could not imagine how anyone could be pro-life. We were products of a culture in which human sexuality had been severed from its inherent connection to the creation of human life. Our generation had been taught in our public school sex-ed classes not that sex creates babies, but that unprotected sex creates babies. We were assured that the creation of new human life was tangential to sexual activity, something that was not only optional but completely controllable. In fact, babies were considered downright antithetical to sex.
In my life as a young adult I knew many women who had abortions, and in every case their attitudes regarding their pregnancies were ultimately the same: "I didn't sign up for this." Society had assured them that sex did not have to have life-altering consequences, and their unplanned pregnancies came as unwelcome surprises. In this panicked frame of mind they -- and those of us who supported them -- were susceptible to the pro-abortion message that their babies were nothing more than "tissue," that abortion was merely "pregnancy termination" and not the taking of a human life.
After a religious conversion that led me to the Catholic Church, I began to rethink my pro-choice position. Specifically, the Church's teaching on human sexuality reshaped my worldview in such a radical way that, for the first time, I was able to take an honest look at what abortion really is. The Church's teaching that sex intrinsically contains the possibility of creating new human life released the pressure that the contraceptive mentality had put on me to see babies as enemies. Once I saw abortion for what it was, I could hardly believe that I ever supported such a procedure. It is a testament to the power of the contraceptive mentality that for so many years I managed to ignore the reality of my beliefs.
Below are eight statements that I believed when I was in favor of abortion, along with suggestions for how you might respond to those who hold similar views. And remember: Most people who favor abortion need to re-think human sexuality before they can be in a mindset to really "hear" the arguments against abortion.
"Sex is primarily for pleasure."
This deep misunderstanding about the nature of human sexuality is one of the key driving forces behind the modern abortion movement. When women accept the "truth" that sex only has as much meaning as they want it to, that it is not inherently a sacred and tremendously powerful act, they are set up for disaster. This is like saying that loaded guns can be used as toys so long as you put blanks in the chamber: To misunderstand such a significant act on such a fundamental level is a recipe for catastrophe.
In particular, the belief that the life-giving potential for sex is controllable and optional leaves women feeling shocked and trapped when new life is unexpectedly created -- and extremely vulnerable to lies that would dehumanize the new life within their wombs.
A 2004 study showed that the vast majority of women who had abortions said that they did so either because having a baby would dramatically change their lives or because they didn't think they could afford a child. In our society, those conditions are not considered reasons not to have sex; they're reasons not to have a baby. When you think about the glaring disconnect between the concepts of sexual activity and creating new life, it's easy to see how this mindset fuels the pro-abortion mentality.
As long as people believe that it is perfectly acceptable to engage in sexual activity even when they think a baby would ruin their lives, the temptation to dehumanize and disregard new life will win out. In order to foster a pro-life culture we must help women see that it is not the new life that traps them, but the lie that sex can be severed from its life-giving potential in the first place.
"Contraception prevents abortion."
According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, only 8 percent of women who have abortions have never used contraception, and more than half were using contraception when they conceived the pregnancies that they sought to abort. It is the widespread acceptance of contraception that allows societies to delude themselves into believing that sex is no big deal; and when women engage in sexual activity with that mentality, they are utterly unprepared to deal with huge, life-changing responsibilities like pregnancy, childbirth, and babies. Both statistics and basic reason show that contraception is not a cure for abortion, but a cause.
"It's not a baby."
It's critical to understand that your pro-choice friends and family members are not in favor of killing babies -- nobody would ever support such a terrible thing. Our culture has assured abortion supporters that the heartbeat stopped during abortion belongs only to a fetus, a sub-human organism. Terminology is key in the pro-abortion mentality: Dehumanizing words like "fetus" or "clump of cells" or "mass of tissue" allow people to tell themselves that abortion is not the taking of human life.
Encourage abortion supporters to consider that even the youngest zygote meets the biological definition of being alive, contains a unique genetic code that has never existed before and will never exist again, and gets half of its genetic material from each of its parents. At conception, an extraordinary semi-replica of the mother and the father has been created. Also encourage them to look at photos available on sites like priestsforlife.org of babies in the womb -- or perhaps even the results of abortions at various stages of pregnancy -- to help them personalize those "fetuses" who are killed in abortions.
"Women should be able to choose."
The mentality that "women should be able to choose" assumes that the only women we should be concerned about are those who are already born. A good response to this question is, "Which women?" The ones in the womb, or the ones who are pregnant?
Once again, this comes down to terminology: Don't let the unborn child be rendered invisible in discussions about abortion. Whenever people's rights or choices come up in relation to abortion, be sure to ask if those same principles apply to people who are not yet born as well.
"The pro-choice position is a pro-woman position."
A New Zealand study of post-abortive women published in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology showed that "[women] having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems, including depression (46% increase), anxiety, suicidal behaviors and substance use disorders." In addition to the depression and anxiety that plague many women for decades after their abortions, even abortion advocates can't deny that abortion is a violent procedure that is hard on a woman's body.
And this again demands the question, "Which women?" The born or the unborn? In fact, in many parts of the world, abortion is primarily used to kill unwanted baby girls. A true pro-woman position would help women avoid the trauma of abortion in the first place, and would respect all women -- including those still in their mothers' wombs.
"We should make every child a wanted child."
Abortion advocates often point to the plight of children living in the midst of poverty, abuse, or neglect and argue that abortion is important for limiting the number of children born into these difficult situations. But this is yet another argument where babies in the womb are treated as if they don't exist. It's important to point out that when new life is conceived, a child has already been brought into the situation. The way to make every child a wanted child is not to kill the ones we don't want, but to emphasize the importance of couples avoiding sexual activity if they're in a situation so dire that they couldn't welcome new life.
What's more, it's important not to elevate ourselves to the position of deciding whose lives are and aren't worth living. History is full of stories of those who were born into horrible circumstances but ended up living wonderful, fruitful lives.
"Some people aren't ready to be parents."
The myth of consequence-free sex lures many couples into engaging in sexual activity. They're then susceptible to the temptation of seeing abortion as a solution to any unwanted pregnancies.
Of course, this mentality -- once again -- treats new life as if it were merely theoretical. When a couple conceives a child, they have become parents whether they wanted to be or not; abortion doesn't change that.
"Pro-lifers only care about the unborn."
In the abortion debate, the rhetoric of the pro-life movement often focuses on the value of the unborn, simply because the primary disagreement is whether newly created children have rights. But the pro-life movement is also active in helping women in crisis pregnancies. Catholics are among the most vocal opponents of abortion, and with its hospitals, orphanages, maternity homes, and other aid programs, the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental social-services provider in the world.
In addition, there are more than 2,300 crisis pregnancy centers in the United States today, most of which offer everything from lodging to baby supplies to job placement help for mothers facing difficult pregnancies. In fact, there are more crisis pregnancy centers in the country than there are abortion clinics. Claims that pro-lifers care less about the mothers than unborn babies can be easily refuted by looking at the number of resources available to pregnant women that are run by pro-life organizations.
The deep misunderstanding of human sexualitythat pervades our culture laid the foundation not only for my own pro-choice views but for the abortion movement as a whole.
My own conversion on the issue is illustrative of what must happen in our culture as a whole in order to turn the tide for life: If our society is ever to respect the unborn, we must first respect and fully understand the nature of the act that creates those unborn lives in the first place. As long as the connection between sexual activity and its life-giving potential is severed, the temptation to devalue human life will win out.Printed with permission from InsideCatholic.com.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.