Like most Catholics, I have trouble understanding the premature termination of human life. Our pro-life stance is one of the defining traits of our faith. For non-Catholics, however, our perspective on abortion seems archaic, naïve, hypocritical, misogynistic, and insensitive, among many other pejoratives.
It’s easy to become emotional about an issue like abortion. Due to its association with such polarizing subjects as age, assets, class, culture, education, employment, gender, geography, mental health, marriage, parenting, politics, race, religion, and their sub-categories, the word “abortion” alone brings about a range of feelings rooted in everything from shame to relief. It’s no wonder people on both sides of the abortion issue find themselves screaming and behaving irrationally at times over discussions with friends, family, and complete strangers: our emotions are inhibiting our logic.
Due to its inflammatory nature, rather than my own personal beliefs, abortion is not an issue I use for classroom debates. It’s almost impossible to enforce decorum with all the shouting that ensues. In all honesty, I’d rather have my students argue over the existence of God. It seldom ends in a storm of fists and tears and threats from both sides.
I try to deter my college students from writing about abortion and the legalization of marijuana for our culminating assignment: a persuasive research paper. My decision is not a manifestation of close-mindedness or fear. I welcome opinions that differ from mine. The problem is that, no matter what side they’re on, my students consistently fail to adequately demonstrate ethos (ethics) and logos (logic). Pathos (emotion) prevails.
As Catholics, we owe it to ourselves and to the lives of the unborn to take a rational approach to the issue of abortion if we want to win this fight.
I won’t bore you with details you already know. I did study the websites of both of the leading groups for each side, “Right to Life” and “Planned Parenthood.” I scoured databases for unbiased articles and came up empty handed time and again. I watched October Baby and The Last Abortion Clinic. I gathered data on my own from observations and interviews. If you care to learn more, I’d be happy to discuss my sources with you, but I didn’t want to waste valuable space and time rehashing everything you’ve read, heard, seen, and felt before.
The Rhetorical Perspective
True logic starts by understanding our own contextual perspective in relation to the issue. It’s often easiest to break ourselves down into demographic categories. I’ll go back to those polarizing subjects for this.
- Age – 29
- Assets – Own my house, my car, and a mountain of debt. I consistently have a working cell phone and computer, both with internet access.
- Class – Middle
- Culture – Member of a large, supportive Irish-American family
- Education – Earned master’s degree
- Employment – Full-time teacher
- Geography – A lifelong Marylander residing in the Baltimore suburbs
- Gender – Female
- Mental Health – Relatively stable, despite a history of depression and lifelong ADHD
- Marriage – Happily married to my high school sweetheart
- Parenting – Authoritative (I hope) mother to two little boys (and one baby I never had the chance to hold)
- Politics – A registered Republican who votes Libertarian for Life
- Race – White
- Religion – Catholic
If you think of the characteristics that contribute to my identity as an addition problem, the sum would indicate that life would be an easy choice for me if faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
Here’s how an emotionally charged pro-choice thinker might interpret my data to explain my pro-choice proclivity:
- Age – Adult (fully developed)
- Assets – Stable living, transportation, communication and information systems.
- Class – Struggling in this economy, but most likely to adapt and thrive
- Culture – The unofficial Irish-American motto might as well be “The more the merrier.”
- Education – In possession of advanced reading, writing, computation, and thinking skills
- Employment – You and your union have no right to complain – at least you have a job
- Geography – A resident of the wealthiest state in the country
- Gender – Biologically wired to connect to a child, but liberated enough to “cut the cord” at the time of your choice
- Mental Health –Depression is just clinical whining. ADHD isn’t real; it’s an excuse for laziness. Get over yourself, you spoiled brat!
- Marriage – High school sweetheart?!?! You are so sheltered it makes me nauseous!
- Parenting – 2 children
- Politics – Close-minded
- Race – Close-minded
- Religion – Close-minded
I’m sure there are hundreds of thousands of ways anyone could perceive my very being based on just those facts, and still miss the mark.
The logical interpretation of my original demographic information, as reported by me, however, would lead anyone to conclude that I have access to the resources that enable me to grow, bear and raise children at will and with minimal difficulty. I can provide food. I can provide shelter. I can provide warmth. I can get more of what we need. I am loved and capable of loving back.
Because I’m lucky enough to be blessed with all that I need, I’ve chosen to follow my life’s vocation in teaching troubled teenagers. Most live in poverty. Most are members of minority communities. Many were unwanted by their own parents. Many have become or will become parents unintentionally, themselves. Many were raised without faith. All of them are worthy of being loved.
Over the years, the issue of abortion has emerged on many occasions in my classroom and in many forms, including the aforementioned debates and essays. There’s a big difference though between analyzing faceless theoretical perspectives and staring at the reality of the pro-choice/pro-life debate in very human eyes.
I will spare you the litany of famous contributors to the betterment of our society whose mothers chose life over loss. You know their names. You know their stories. You’ve benefitted from their gifts in one way or another.
I have taught a number of students who have faced unplanned pregnancies. For their protection, I won’t speak at length about their circumstances. What I have concluded, however, is that my students who have had abortions tend to face more detrimental academic, financial, social, mental and emotional consequences than their peers who’ve chosen life.
As can be expected, many of my students who became parents did not have the access to resources that I do. All of them made sacrifices. For some that meant losing relationships with parents, friends, and significant others. For others, careers and college were put on hold. Others were forced to rescind their sense of independence and self-reliance for a time.
Many of my students who became parents have also gone on to be teachers and nurses. Another one owns a successful hair salon. Others have returned to college now that their little ones are in school, too. They credit their children as their motivation to succeed.
One of the girls who’d had an abortion couldn’t handle the guilt. She had a supportive group of friends who tried to reassure her that she made the right decision at that time for herself and her future children. She wasn’t being bothered, belittled or bullied for her decision. The hurt was internally sourced. She could no longer live with the reality that she took her own child’s life.
Staunch feminists argue that a woman should not have to rescind her sense of self in exchange for the title “mother.” But, we pro-lifers aren’t arguing for the demoralization of women or a return to a primitive household state. Most mothers do work outside of the home, but we aren’t tied down to the hands-on parenting role for long. Children grow up and leave home just as soon as they’ve arrived, allowing moms to refocus almost entirely on their own ambitions, which they shouldn’t have abandoned in the name of diapers, discipline and diplomas.
Those without children fail to realize how much our sons and daughters can complement and supplement our identities. Nothing motivates you to become a better person more than meeting your own children face to face. If anything, that’s the message that pro-choice activists should take away from pro-lifers.
Rather than offering a woman more room for personal growth, most of the people I know (male and female) that have chosen abortion over life are miserable. And it’s no wonder why: losing a child, born or unborn, creates a void that can never be filled, not even by another child.
The girl who committed suicide never saw a sonogram image of her child. The mental health impact of seeing a fetus projected onto a screen, no matter how fuzzy the image, is likely the root of the reason pro-choice activists argue against mandatory ultrasounds. They claim the transvaginal wand used in early pregnancy stages is intrusive, but aren’t the vacuums, forceps, clamps and other abortion tools equally invasive? I argue the opposite, that seeing the very human form within a mother should encourage bonding. In a few words, sonograms are not a positive force for the abortion business or their clients. They’re a victory for our side.
Some of the strongest arguments for the preservation of legalized abortion relate to the following four issues:
- offering safe alternatives to unsafe clinics
- offering closure for women who become pregnant against their will
- eliminating the possibility of bringing a child with potential disabilities into the world
- protecting the life of the mother
- separation of church and state
For obvious reasons, many women in those situations would have difficulty forming a bond with their unborn child. But, should she deny her child the right to live? Logic tends to fail both sides in these situations, so I will raise a few questions, instead of providing definitive answers:
- Is any abortion clinic “safe?”
- Does the additional violation of the most personal of spaces heal a woman who has been raped or victimized by a family member?
- Does abortion eradicate a woman’s emotional turmoil?
- Would it cause a woman great pain to know that her child was living well with an adoptive family rather than part of a science experiment?
- Should we allow abortions for the promotion of eugenics?
- Are pre-natal genetic tests a reliable pregnancy decision-making tool?
- Are many mothers’ lives regularly endangered during pregnancy?
- Would most mothers sacrifice their children to protect themselves?
- Is the pro-life argument really about our faith?
- Do pro-choice advocates honestly believe that abortion is a harmless act?
My answer to all of those questions is, “I don’t think so.” That answer, of course, is rooted in my identity and is impossible to back with definitive research. Statistics can be thwarted to support both sides of the argument. The answers to those questions lie within all of us.
All life begins as a collection of cells, but given little more than time, a fetus becomes a person like you or me. In stifling the natural growth process we are avoiding, rather than addressing the real problem of “unwanted” children. They need love.
Babies don’t know where they come from. They don’t ask to be here. They show up whether we wanted them or not. It is up to us to love them, no matter where, when, why, how, or under what circumstances they entered the world.
We understand that as Catholics. We have established some admirable charitable organizations for orphans, for impoverished and disabled children, and for struggling mothers. But we are not alone in the fight for young lives, nor should we be.
Whether or not an unborn baby’s mother is willing to love or care for her child, we must create a world where someone will. It may be a grandparent or an adopted parent. It may be a teacher. It may be that their abandonment forces them to learn independence and seek refuge in unlikely places. Like faith.
We all know that showing up is half the battle for anything in life. But we shouldn’t be making that decision for the unborn. As Catholics, we believe that only God decides when to begin and end our lives.
I urge you to use logical approaches when encourageing others to see the sacred blessing that is life, especially in its earliest stages, regardless of the conditions surrounding its inception.