Right now in our Culture War, we have several pieces of legislation passing in different states that are the extremes of the abortion question. Some, like New York, have made abortion available until the moment of birth. Others, like my home state of Ohio, have made it illegal once the baby has a heartbeat.
The reason why we have come to this flashpoint is because of the Supreme Court. We are currently closer than ever to a place where Roe v. Wade, the court case that made abortion legal, can be overturned. A big misnomer among the public is that if Roe is overturned then abortion becomes illegal. This, however, is not the case. If the case is overturned, then the question of abortion returns to where it was before: the states. With the looming possibility of Roe being overturned, states are pushing hard to get their own legislation clearly on the books.
This has also served to reinvigorate the debate on the two sides. And by debate, I mostly mean shouting slogans at each other. This issue carries with it such righteous passion from both opponents that dialogue becomes difficult. It must remembered that most people who call themselves “Pro-Choice” see themselves as part of the vanguard protecting essential rights for women against an oppressive government. We on the Pro-Life side see ourselves as the ones standing up for the most innocent and defenseless lives among us: the unborn. We are both rooted in deep conviction.
Can there be a middle ground? Can a Catholic ever be “Pro-Choice?” Can a Catholic ever choose abortion?
The short answer is no.
If you start with the principle that you are a human person from the moment of conception, endowed with all of your human rights, then abortion cannot be a morally or legally acceptable option.
Often, abortion supporters will cite the extreme cases of rape/incest and danger to the mother’s life as reason for abortion to be legal. As I heard recently from March for Life speaker Ben Shapiro, we should not debate the extremes until we settle the common. In other words, if a person thinks that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, then it is of no use debating if it should be legal in an extreme case like when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. The arguments for the Pro-Life position in the extreme situation are built upon the idea that abortion is wrong as an elective procedure. We must first and foremost come to the common conclusion that a human person is present from the moment of conception.
Once we have come to this common ground, then we can debate the extreme cases. Here, you may have someone who accepts that the unborn life has value, but they weigh it against other horrible circumstances.
In the case where the child is conceived in rape or incest, the argument hinges on the trauma this would have on the pregnant woman. I recently had a student cite me a case where an 11-year-old girl was raped and became pregnant. My student asked me, “So you want to force her to stay pregnant?”
A case like this must be dealt with great sensitivity. Those who have survived sexual assault can testify to how shattering this can be to your entire life. Someone who conceives a child as a result would carry around a 9-month reminder of that horrible violation. There is nothing about this situation which can be called good. However, we have to go back to our principle: a human person is present from the moment of conception.
None of us were responsible for how or when we were conceived. Some of us were born in wedlock, some not. Some of us were planned by our parents, some not. Regardless of how or why we came into the world, once we are in the world, we are children of God who must be treated with essential dignity. On top of this, none of us are responsible for the crimes of our parents. The Catholic Church has made clear that conceiving children through In Vitro fertilization is a mortal sin. But once the child has been conceived, that child is a child of God and endowed with all rights and dignity. The method by which the child is conceived has no bearing on the child’s goodness.
The same is true in the case of rape/incest. The unborn child is not responsible for the crimes of the father. Can it be a horribly heavy cross to bear to carry a child conceived by rape? Of course. And we do not make this point lightly. We must give women in this situation all the love and support we can. But we also stand by her child’s right to live.
Some have brought up the cases where a child has a horrible disability in the womb. It is asked if it would be cruel to bring a child like this into the world to endure a lifetime of suffering?
This point is easily refuted by pointing to the fact that we do not simply kill the disabled because of their potential pain in life. This would be monstrous. And it is monstrous to apply it to the child in the womb.
The last extreme case is when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. In this situation, can you kill the child to save the mother?
This answer is a little bit more complicated. It requires to principles to be applied:
1.Both the life of the mother and the unborn child must be weighed equally.
-The mother and her child are both children of God with all the rights and dignity that goes with it. Neither is given immediate de facto preference.
2.Direct killing of the unborn child is wrong.
-If my wife needed a heart transplant and you were a matched donor, I do not have the right to directly kill you to save my wife’s life. In the same way, it is wrong to directly kill the child.
3.A choice can be made that may likely lead to the death of the mother or the child if it saves one of them.
-For example, take a horrible case where a pregnant woman has cancer. If she goes through chemo and radiation treatment, it will kill her child. The death of the child is an unwanted side effect of a life-saving treatment. In that case, the choice can be made to do the chemo as a means to save either the mother or the child. The mother may also choose the opposite, to forgo life-saving cancer treatment, as St. Gianna Molla did, to save her child’s life.
In the movie The Good Son (a movie a don’t recommend), a woman finds herself in an impossible situation where her son and her nephew are dangling off of a cliff and she has ahold of each one with either hand. But they start to slip. If she does nothing, they will both die. In order to save at least one of them, she has to let go of the other. She is not willing the death of one of the children, she is willing the saving of the other. It is a nearly impossible choice, but analogous to the case where the mother of the unborn child has her life endangered. Again, in this case there are no good choices. But as long as you are not directly killing the mother or the child, a choice can be made.
The Catholic Church has long planted its flag in the rights of the unborn. And by the grace of God, we pray the tide is finally turning.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson