My brother was in line at a local supermarket when he observed a young woman strike up a conversation with an apparent longtime friend. Showing off her slightly protruding belly, the younger woman announced that she was pregnant.
“Are you going to keep it?” her friend responded casually.
I’d like to think that the question was related to whether the woman planned to give up her child for adoption, but I suspect her friend had something far different in mind.
When Americans are polled about their views on abortion, the results are mixed and contradictory.
As reported by Catholic News Service, a poll taken for the Knights of Columbus and Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and released nearly a year ago found that 51 percent of those surveyed said they would allow abortion only in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life – or not at all.
Yet, a 2011 poll taken by the Public Religion Research Institute found that in its sample, 70 percent said the term “pro-choice” described them well or somewhat, and 66 percent identified with the word “pro-life.” Among Catholics, 77 percent said “pro-life” describes them well or very well, and 70 percent said “pro-choice” describes them.
All too many people, it seems, take the approach of Vice President Joseph Biden, a Catholic who insists that he personally opposes abortion, but is unwilling to “impose” his view on others. How else could so many describe themselves as both “pro-life” and “pro-choice?”
If Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, abortion would not be outlawed. It would return to the states. Jurisdictions such as Maryland, which has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the nation, would almost certainly keep it legal.
It is critically important to take legal steps to protect life at all stages, but maybe it’s even more important to raise awareness about the sacredness of life among our family, friends and acquaintances. If there was a greater awareness about the preciousness of life, fewer people would choose abortion – whether it was legal or not. Perhaps there would also be a decline in the kind of savage violence against children that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14.
A government report released in November by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the abortion rate in the United States fell 5 percent between 2008 and 2009, the most recent years for which data is available. Yet, that still means there were 784,507 reported abortions in 2009 – a number that undercounts the actual number of abortions given that a handful of states, including Maryland, do not report abortion statistics.
We can do better.
Women faced with unplanned pregnancies are often scared. They view abortion as their only choice. Pregnancy resource centers such as the ones at St. Brigid in Canton and St. Rita in Dundalk are open to provide physical aid, help with education, job-training opportunities and spiritual support.
The first question to a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy should not be, “Are you going to keep it?”
It should be, “What can we do to help?”
George P. Matysek Jr. is assistant managing editor of the Catholic Review.
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org.