Stephen Raab | Tuesday, January 19, 2016
January at Notre Dame means many things — a time to share stories of the Christmas break, a time to plan for the new semester and a time to break New Year’s resolutions. But one event that also defines a Notre Dame January is the preparation of many Domers for the March for Life — an event located in Washington, D.C. that seeks to overturn Roe. v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which declared that the Constitution recognizes a right to abortion.
The raw numbers on abortion are hard to wrap your mind around. Around 700,000 women received abortions in 2012, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Twenty-one percent of pregnancies now end in abortion. Regardless of opinions on the morality of this procedure’s legality and the vital status of the entities in question (two factors which this article will not address, if only to keep the inevitable shouting as quiet as possible), both sides of the debate certainly ought to agree that the world would be a better place if these figures were lower.
Traditional efforts to lower these numbers have generally focused on either convincing couples to remain abstinent or to choose to carry their pregnancy to term, an approach which until recently included criminal penalties for noncompliance. However, it’s clear this isn’t working, or at least not fast enough. Humans will continue to have sex without the intention of pregnancy and will seek abortions when pregnancy occurs. One option to prevent these abortions, then, is to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies through the promotion of contraceptive birth control.
I will stop here to make an important distinction between contraception and what I will henceforth call “contraimplantation.” “Contraimplantation” methods are those methods which act upon a fertilized egg to prevent it from becoming implanted in the uterus. For example, some intra-uterine devices may have this effect, though their chief method of operation is to inhibit fertilization. Because Catholic doctrine states that life begins at conception, “contraimplantation” methods would be considered by the Catholic Church as abortifacient. Therefore, this proposal deals exclusively with true contraception, which exclusively prevents the fertilization of an egg.
Certainly, this plan will raise eyebrows among those used to “abstinence-only” sexual education in the Church. Such contraceptives, they will argue, are used to separate the unitive dimension of intercourse from the procreative dimension. I will not argue this. I will, however, note that the Catholic Church already supports such a policy — Natural Family Planning. A couple who intentionally has intercourse at a time when pregnancy cannot occur must also be said to have deliberately severed the connection between unity and procreation. Are we to believe the couple must keep themselves in peak condition while trying for a baby (diet, fitness, etc.), lest they sin?
Also, the Catholic Church need not abandon its principle that fornication is a sin. Its policy on such matters might be amended from “Do not engage in intercourse” to “Do not engage in intercourse outside of marriage. If, however, you are going to engage in intercourse outside of marriage, then please do so using contraception, lest you be tempted to commit the mortal sin of murder on top of your first sin of fornication.” I can only hope the average human being is intelligent enough to hold two pieces of information in his or her head simultaneously. This plan may be compared to the needle-exchange programs in many cities, which allow drug dealers to exchange their used needles for clean ones in order to prevent the spread of diseases such as hepatitis or AIDS. Certainly, the city leaders who support these programs are not pro-drug use any more than Catholic leaders are pro-fornication. These city leaders merely recognize a perverse consequence — drug abuse — they wish to avert, much as Catholic leaders wish to avert abortion. (The Catholic Church doesn’t support the needle-exchange program, either, but that’s another story.)
And there will also be those Catholics who claim that cutting off a zygote’s journey before it has even begun is worse still than aborting it further down the line. After all, they will say, at least this unborn human got to live, if only ever so briefly. I can understand such ideas, but I do not agree with them. To permit such behavior would be tantamount to toying with a living being. Consider if all of these pregnancies had instead expired 10 months later. Would we not look at this high mortality rate and conclude that the high rate of births was not worth it?
No matter where you stand, the number of abortions that occur each year is a public health problem. There are many steps that can be taken to solve it. But since we keep trying the same ones every year without success, we should at least consider declaring a new course of action and once more taking control of the abortion issue.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.