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viewpoint

Practically pro-life

| Wednesday, January 14, 2015

If one were to judge Christianity by its influence on mainstream politics in the United States, they might be struck by the religion’s obsessive focus on abortion, homosexuality and pre-marital sex. Those fighting against these things nearly always drape their arguments in Christianity, while those fighting against poverty and hunger most often make secular arguments. Under the mountain of sexual moralizing, one might never know that Jesus of Nazareth said a great deal about the poor and dispossessed.

In truth, abortion is the religious right’s greatest friend. It’s a terrific political distraction. The preachers tell their congregations that abortion is the most important issue of our time, and suddenly everything else takes a back seat. How many working class people have thrown their own interests to the wind because they put so much weight on this single issue?

It’s not that social issues are unimportant. They can be terribly important. But the more politicians of either persuasion get to talk about abortion, the fewer hard questions about their role in an intensely unequal society they have to endure. The term “pro-life” evokes battles over abortion, not over poverty, hunger, exploitation, insufficient wages, wars, imprisonment or lack of medical care — the biggest threats to human life and dignity. Bishops deny communion to pro-choice politicians but not to the rich, despite Jesus explicitly condemning the latter and not the former. I suppose it’s better to keep the donations rolling in.

The abortion debate will not go away if we ignore it, but those who are pro-life must realize that their politicians can do little to ban a constitutionally-recognized right to abortion, while they gleefully feed off the distractions and fervor surrounding the issue. So instead, look for reasonable action. While the country is polarized on the legality of abortion, all can agree on reducing the number of abortions. We can all become practically pro-life. This means examining the reasons why people seek abortions and addressing the underlying causes. Even the most hard-core abortion opponents must recognize that banning abortion without reducing demand would lead to an underground black market of illegal, unsafe abortions.

As it stands, I believe that no one wants to have an abortion — it is an option of last resort. In 2004, researchers at the Guttmacher Institute surveyed women seeking abortions. Most cited multiple reasons for their decision, but when it came to primary reasons, 63 percent of women fell into categories broadly defined by simply not wanting a child, 23 percent could not afford to have a child and seven percent were motivated by their own health or the health of the fetus.

The 63 percent of abortions that derive primarily from unwanted pregnancies could be directly targeted if so many of the people fighting against abortion would stop fighting just as hard against responsible sex education, sexual liberation and freely available contraception. So many of the churches that will be marching in Washington next week are the same forces pushing discredited theories of abstinence-only education into our schools. Teenagers are going to have sex — a majority do before leaving high school. Those not taught about safe sex in school often carry on unsafe sexual practices for life. If contraception is restricted, if it’s not discussed, if it’s shamed, then these people will be the first ones in line at the abortion clinic.

The 23 percent of abortions that derive primarily from poor economic situations can only be addressed through reducing poverty, ensuring living wages, increasing workers’ rights and fighting systemic inequality. No one should be thrust into poverty by an unexpected pregnancy, and no one should have to choose between having the child they want and having something to eat. If Christians want to reduce these abortions, they have to actually listen to Jesus and stand with the poor — not through charity, but through real structural changes to the fundamentals of our economy. No system can be “pro-life” that does not ensure the essentials of human life and dignity for all.

The seven percent who abort for medical reasons will never totally go away, but the number can be greatly reduced in a society with full, comprehensive health care for all. Nobody who fights against universal medical care can call themselves “pro-life” with any shred of honesty, yet there’s a blood fight over any perceived threat to the profits of insurance companies.

So, those who want to reduce or eliminate abortion have a decision before them — will you march and shout and change little, or will you be pro-life in a practical sense and examine the structural problems that cause desperate people to seek out abortions? If you’re not willing to do the latter, then you might want to examine your own motivations.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Johnny Whichard

    I am so upset over this, I need 24 hours to respond.

  • Cassidy Lynn

    Thank you so much for this well-written, well-conceived, and insightful article. I totally agree with you and appreciate your strength to publish this. You will probably receive a lot of outrage over it, but thank you again for your astute opinion.

  • Johnny Whichard

    Response sent to The Observer…let’s see if they have the guts to respond.

    • Nathan

      If they don’t, will you post the gist of it here? You clearly have very strong feelings about the issue, and I’m curious how they differ from the author’s.

      • Johnny Whichard

        Sure thing, Nathan. Let’s give it 48 hours! 🙂 I also write for a conservative blog, and we will surely publish it there, just in case!

      • Johnny Whichard
        • Nathan

          Thanks a bunch. I definitely see where you’re coming from on a lot of points, but a few parts I thought were worth specific discussion.

          1.) You mentioned that McMahon was falsely criticizing the church for being negligent on the poor, but I was under the impression that more of the criticism was being directed toward the republican party (he calls out the “religious right” specifically).

          2.) You definitely disagree with McMahon’s suggested solutions. I will admit that I’m not necessarily sold on all of them either. I do still agree with the article though that the current approach doesn’t appear particularly effective.Would you say your disagreement with this piece is more with the proposed solutions it puts forward, or with the premise that the current approach has a problem at all?

          • Johnny Whichard

            1. My apologies if I wasn’t clear enough. I definitely interpreted McMahon’s jabs as against Christians given his frequent mentions of following Jesus’ teachings. (Acknowledging that most on the religious right happen to be conservatives given they believe in the Catechism whereas the religious left tend to ignore crucial parts of it)
            2. I standby the ideology of banning abortion. If it is inaccessible and illegal, people would think twice before having unprotected sex. Having sex be virtually inconsequential is what has brought us the “culture of death” of abortion.

  • Nathan

    I’ll be honest, I normally find your articles too liberal for my tastes, but this is almost verbatim the same argument I’ve been making (ironically enough) to my pro-choice friends for years. I find abortions morally abhorrent, but I understand that they’re legal and not going anywhere. Therefore, while I support the sentiment of the pro-life movement, I feel they’d make more headway if they redirected their efforts towards the sources of abortion, rather than trying to outlaw the practice itself. Great article!

  • NDaniels

    How can The Observer be the official student newspaper for both The University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College when it promotes viewpoints that are anti-Catholic and anti- Christ? Is this what The University of Notre Dame students and St. Mary’s College students desire their official student newspaper to be? A forum to attack The Word of God and His Church as if The Word of God is up for debate?

    • Okay

      Nothing in this viewpoint is anti-Catholic or anti-Christ. The author makes legitimate points: people are abusing the idea of “pro-life” by exploiting it for political gain and/or giving it too narrow of a definition, and we should treat the underlying reasons for why some women choose abortion. The potential solutions that the author offers are all based in evidence and would be more effective at reducing the abortion rate than the pro-life movement’s current practices.

      I really don’t understand how you can conclude that this article is an attack on the Word of God; the author is clearly advocating for policies that will decrease abortions and continue to protect human life after birth.

      • NDaniels

        One cannot be practically pro-Life, you are either with Christ or you are against Him. Poverty is never an excuse for ending the life of a son or daughter residing in their mother’s womb.

        • Ned

          I believe that from the context of the article the use of the phrase “Practically Pro-Life” was not meant to mean almost pro-life, but rather meant being practical about being pro-life (i.e. doing something to address the root causes of abortion). The author did not say poverty was an excuse, but it IS a reason why some abortions happen. To reduce abortions in the real world we — and the Church — should be working to fix the root causes including poverty, unintended pregnancy, access to health care, etc. as noted by Billy. Christ’s message was to love each other – that what we do for the least we do for Him. There was nothing in the article that was against Him or His teachings.

      • NDaniels

        How is acknowledging the self-evident universal truth, that every son or daughter of a human person, can only be a human person, a political issue?

    • Johnny Whichard

      I agree. They also refused to publish my response, NDaniels. Check it out if you want: http://www.counterculturedusa.com/2015/01/17/big-government-solutions-are-not-practically-pro-life/

      • Dun Smythe

        Your response is uncritical and poorly written. What do you expect.

        • Johnny Whichard

          Oh, wow. At least I know how to use a question mark.

    • Nathan

      That’s why they have the “This editorial is solely the opinion of the author and does not represent the views of the Observer as a whole” disclaimer at the end of each editorial.

      • NDaniels

        This does not change the fact that printing an anti – Catholic point of view in a publication that professes to be Catholic, without fraternal correction, is anti- Catholic.

        The Catholic Church recognizes that with Love, comes responsibility. As Catholics, we are not called to challenge The Word of God; we are called to challenge the issues of the day in light of our Catholic Faith.

        • Nathan

          Except…the Observer doesn’t profess to being Catholic. In fact, they explicitly draw their funding from advertising revenue SO THAT they are independent of the university administration

          • NDaniels

            It is a misrepresentation then, to call this publication the ndsmcobserver, if the mission of the paper is not consistent with the mission of The Catholic Church.

          • Nathan

            I mean, their office is on Notre Dame campus and they primarily (only?) distribute at Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s. I guess I’m confused about what you want to happen here?

    • João Pedro Santos

      Actually, most students in Notre Dame are pro-choice. And an university cannot exist without its students.

      • NDaniels

        True, a University cannot exist without its students, but there are many academically qualified Faithful Catholics that do not get admitted to Our Lady’s University because supporting the Faith and mission of The University of Notre Dame is not a prerequisite. One can know through both Faith and reason, that speciation occurs at conception, thus every son and daughter of a human person, can only be a human person, and that the marital act, which is Life-affirming and Life-sustaining, can only be consummated between a man and woman, united in marriage as husband and wife. Marriage cannot in essence be and not be existing in relationship as husband and wife simultaneously. Why then have a student body that is pro abortion and anti marriage, when you could easily have a student body that does not desire to attack Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church? It is a matter of both Faith and reason.

        • João Pedro Santos

          First, can you define “attack Christ”? I mean, the last time someone attacked Christ was like 2000 years ago when they killed him because he told people to help the poor and he stood up for a prostitute.
          Second, rejecting Catholic Church’s dogmas is not attacking it, attacking the Catholic Church would be forbidding people to be Catholic or forbidding them to get married by the church. You know, like a lot of religious institutions want to forbid people to get a civil marriage. I cannot understand how some religious people want to impose their views on other people, and when those people stand up, they claim they’re being oppressed.

  • NDaniels
  • NDaniels

    Least it appear as if Our Lady’s University is practically pro-life, I hope the administration will listen to these words of wisdom. Catholics are called, not to challenge The Word of God, but to challenge the issues of the Day, in the light of our Catholic Faith:

    http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/tabid/102/ArticleID/3886/Notre-Dame-Should-Have-Canceled-%91White-Privilege%92-Course-Says-Prominent-Alumnus.aspx

    • Nathan

      I think you linked the wrong article. This one seems a little off topic…

      • NDaniels

        Not if you believe that everyone has the inherent Right to know The Truth, which is why we must continue to challenge the issues of the day in light of our Catholic Faith, and not be practically Catholic.

        Being Catholic is not a matter of degree; you are either with Christ or against Him, practically speaking, there is no in between.

        • Nathan

          I’m lost then. How exactly is this article related to the discussion at hand?

  • Ned

    Amen! Could not agree more about the need to be pro-life and practical. We live in a democracy in which many citizens disagree with our Church teaching that a full human being is killed via abortion (vs. “just an embryo”). Effective contraception does prevent unwanted pregnancies, and thus can prevent one of the primary reasons women have abortions. Fact.

  • Nathan

    I have a hypothetical question for the people who don’t agree with the article: If there were a way to drastically cut abortions over a short time frame (we’ll say by half), but it would require more or less giving up the battle to make abortion illegal, would you support such a course of action?

    Edit: I should be clear, I don’t think there’s a right answer here, but I want to see what the general opinion is.

    • Cody

      I see this as quite similar to the position on abortion in the case of rape. In a perfect world, (a) rape would not be and issue, and (b) abortion wouldn’t happen even in such a case — the circumstances of conception don’t , of course, change the fact that the fetus is a human being with the right to life. But practically speaking, I would support a ban on abortion that made exception for cases of rape. I would accept that as a final political outcome (not as a step toward a total ban on abortion that included cases of rape.)

      • Nathan

        Fair, but that would likely not garner much support among pro-choice individuals as rapes only account for ~1% of abortions

        • Cody

          Yes, rape accounts for a very small number of abortions, but judging by the amount of time we spend talking about them, you would think they account for a much larger subset. I have to wonder how many of the pro-choice-in-name-only voters fail to understand the statistical reality. These people might actually support a law along the lines I suggested.

  • Nathan

    Gotcha. With regard to your second response though, do you think it’s practical or likely that abortions will be made illegal any time soon? Roe v Wade was over 40 years ago and it feels as though little if any progress has been made towards actually banning abortion. With that in mind, I really am starting to wonder if fighting legalization is really the best method.

    • Johnny Whichard

      I don’t see it happening any time soon, Nathan :/ Given I believe it is murder, I can only hope and pray that someday, Roe v Wade is overturned.

      • Nathan

        I guess that’s where my conundrum comes up. Are you familiar with the rail car problem in philosophy? If not a rundown here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem
        It’s basically asking the question of whether it’s better to do nothing and allow a lot of people to die, or do something that directly causes other (but fewer) people to die.

        The question is sort of applicable to the question of abortion. Is it better to cede abortions legality (and cede the moral high ground) if it means reducing the number of abortions and therefore saving lives, or better to take the morally upright route, stand against abortions, but watch more abortions happen? There’s no happy answer as far as I can tell, but I feel like the question is still worth exploring.

        • Johnny Whichard

          The rail car penumbra is perfect for the case of abortion. The quantity of lives is all that matters. 1,000,000+ lives a year die due to legal abortion vs the few that would happen if abortion was illegal. Way to shut down pro-choicers with philosophy!

          • Nathan

            Well sure, but you’ve already pointed out that making abortion illegal isn’t really feasible in the short term. So my question is whether it’s better to persist with the same slow method, or cede abortion’s legality if it meant more rapidly reducing abortions. I don’t necessarily know an exact way to do that, it’s more just a question?

          • Johnny Whichard

            Ya. It is a very unfortunate and tricky situation. I don’t see throwing money at the problem to be a solution. IMO, the best alternative solution would be to bring back the normalcy of a nuclear family…but that, too, is seemingly unrealistic.

          • Nathan

            Considering the things that SHOULD be done seem to be seen as impractical, is there anything you can think of that CAN be done to reduce abortions?

          • NDaniels

            Restore the Dignity of the human person, who is, in essence, a son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, father, mother, worthy of being treated with Dignity and respect in private, as well as in public.

          • Nathan

            Alright, and how might we do that in a more effective way than is the current?

          • NDaniels

            We begin at The Beginning, when God created every human person, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a son or daughter, to live our lives in Loving relationship, in communion with the ordered Communion of Perfect Love, The Blessed Trinity, as sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers.

            Love is ordered to the personal and relational Dignity of the persons, because Love exists in relationship.

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3033.htm

          • Nathan

            Okay, but you’re preaching to the choir. How do you translate that information in a way that will convince people who SUPPORT ABORTIONS. Public opinion on this issue is still just as divided today as it was 40 years ago, how do you feel this can be changed?

          • NDaniels

            The question is not how, but rather why is it necessary to convince anyone that our Life begins at the moment we are brought into being, that from the moment we are brought into being, we are a living human person, a son or daughter, who moves, who grows, and who responds to our environment.

          • Nathan

            Of course it’s a matter of how. If why was all that was required, there’d be no wars, sustainable energy would be the only energy, and we’d all be living to 200. If you can’t translate a why into a how, then you don’t have anything but a pipe dream.

          • NDaniels

            It may be a pipe dream to desire that every person respects our inherent unalienable Right to Life that has been endowed to us from God, from the moment of our creation, when we were brought into being at conception, but this does not change the fact that our Constitution serves to protect the inherent Right to Life of every son or daughter, thus the life of every son or daughter of a human person must be secured and protection.

          • Nathan

            Only a pipe dream if the pro-life movement tunnels on the why at the expense of the how. In this conversation for instance, you’ve been very eloquent about explaining WHY abortion is wrong, but you really haven’t given me any solid ways of how this can be translated into fewer abortions.

  • Matt Gordon

    I agree with the author. Too frequently religious advocates conflate living piously with subjecting secular governments to their limited world view.

  • Ambrosia

    Where is any of your proof that restrictions on abortion reduces abortion??? That is astoundingly illogical. Do you have any numbers to correlate with your absurd ideas or is this just a big ol fat opinion that sucks?

    • João Pedro Santos

      Well, I found sources confirming that “Connecticut has an abortion rate five times higher than Mississippi”. However, one must also take into account that Mississippi is a small country and it doesn’t have much abortion clinics and so women from Mississippi just go to other states instead. Plus, being Mississippi such a conservative state, a lot of doctors prefer to omit the fact that they perform abortions… and sometimes they do that to protect their own lives.

  • NDaniels

    The Catholic Church has always worked to take care of the poor, while affirming the fact that, “Man does not live on bread alone, but every Word that comes forth from The Mouth of God”. Poverty is never an excuse to destroy the life of a child residing either inside or outside of their mother’s womb.