“The New York Times — Abortion in Italy, a Right Wronged” by Sébastien Thibault is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

What Pro-Lifers Misunderstand About Abortion — and How They Can Help

The recent abortion laws passed in Ohio, Alabama and Georgia have inundated social media with an inflammation of rhetoric from both sides of the debate. What was once considered settled law is now thrown into question as the extremist nature of these laws is poised to attempt to challenge Roe V. Wade (a position, mind you, that even Pat Robertson thinks is too extreme.) I will make it up front for the reader’s benefit that I am quite ardently pro-choice, but having spent 16 years in religious education, I am familiar enough with the insular, cohesion-seeking rhetoric of the religious to provide some unique insight.

First — understand that reaching a state of total abortion eradication through legal means is an unreachable goal.

Removing the means for a market to exist legally will never prevent that market from existing to begin with. This represents an overly simplistic, untenable view of human nature and has been demonstrated countless times; with Prohibition, with illegal immigration, with the War on Drugs. It is fallacious to expect that a market will cease to exist merely because of legal compulsion. (It should be noted that one of the primary conservative arguments against gun control — banning guns does not stop gun crime — for some reason gets copy-pasted word-for-word by the same groups as if it will stop abortion just fine.) The biggest reason is that the enforcers of the law are first of all imperfect in that they will not catch all instances of a given crime, and secondly, autonomous in that they can exercise discretion to not punish a given crime if they see that executing that punishment could cause more harm than good. If those that make up the legal system sympathize with the cause of those caught up in it, it is possible that they may look the other way. Looking back to Prohibition, many of those tasked with enforcing it simply desired not to.

Secondly, you should be aware that the CDC publishes statistics on abortions every year. A careful review of this will show you that abortions have fallen by more than half since their 1990 peak. When you consider that this is a raw number, and then factor in per capita numbers, this is even more of a plummet: compare 571 abortions per 100,000 in 1990, versus 198 abortions per 100,000 in 2015. We are down to a third of where we were from the peak over the past 20 years. There are a lot of reasons for this — the most prominent ones being the free flow of sex education via the Internet and advancement of the availability of contraceptives. Despite the opposition of religious groups with ineffective, misleading curricula such as abstinence-only sex education and the inhibition of contraceptives by the largest Christian denomination, the overall efforts of pro-choice advocates have reduced the numbers of abortions by two-thirds in 20 years. The availability of contraceptives correlates directly with a reduction in abortions. How much greater would the effect have been with the conservative religious community’s cooperation, rather than its opposition? I don’t think it completely unthinkable that we would be down to a tenth or even lower. While I can appreciate the religious view that any abortion is a murder, it will always happen, somewhere, no matter what you do. It is as old as antiquity; after all, it appears in the Bible, too. Never let perfect be the enemy of good.

Keep in mind that should you make abortions illegal, you have also compromised this statistic. Should we return to the days of back alley procedures, those are no longer getting reported to the CDC. You will lose any indication as to whether your efforts to prevent abortion are being impacted. Abortion tallies could go up and you would never know. Remember, reducing legal access to a market means those seeking the market will only try harder to access it. You could tout those contaminated statistics as evidence of your efforts, but you more than anyone would know it would be intellectually dishonest.

And finally, let’s take the stance that that this is a religious effort and everything is exactly as religious groups have positioned it. Christian theology posits that we will be held accountable for our entire life’s work of sin after our death. Would you want to have to explain to your Creator how you inadvertently caused more abortions by losing sight of the best metric you have for tracking the issue, or by opposing good-faith efforts to reduce them as much as possible, knowing deep down inside that complete abolition is not a feasible goal?

So how can I help?

  1. Never base an entire religious belief on one or even a couple of verses. The worst atrocities in history can be Biblically justified with carefully selected verses. God endowed us with the wisdom to interpret His words holistically for a reason. If you haven’t consulted enough of the Bible to identify opposing verses and contradictions and considering them carefully, your faith is on shaky ground.
  2. Understand that good intentions are not enough; results matter. Reflect on this and gauge trends accordingly. If you fall short in the end, your good intentions are for nothing. Accept help where it is given, even if you do not agree with the source. You cannot serve two masters by making a stand against abortion while simultaneously opposing institutions that reduce it. Pro-choicers by definition support institutions that reduce a much larger amount of abortions as they perform. Jesus Himself says this:

Luke 14:28: “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?

29 “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him,

30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

3. And finally, understand that no one on any side wants an abortion. It is an emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting procedure that is reserved as an absolute last resort. But it is a procedure that must be kept available, because a world without it will lead to far more suffering than a world with it. Sin and suffering are part and parcel; where there is less suffering, there is less sin, and where there is no suffering, there is no sin.

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