Abortion Will Remain Until We Fix the Culture

(Wading into deep waters with this one. Come, Holy Spirit, and help a girl out.)

The recently released videos of Planned Parenthood employees discussing or handling the body parts of aborted babies have reignited the (always simmering) abortion debate in this country.

The videos are disturbing. I haven’t been able to watch all of them. Encouragingly, they have created enough of a conversation to prompt votes in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. Still: what we need even more than legal action is a culture shift.

All of the conversations that I have seen about these videos inevitably raise the same old issues that pro-choicers always bring up when the “right” to abortion is questioned.

“If you don’t support abortion, do you support increased access to contraception to help prevent the need for abortions?”
“Doesn’t each woman have a right to decide what to do with her own body?”
“What about cases of rape, incest, disability, or extreme poverty? Isn’t it better for the baby to be aborted than to be born into a life of terrible suffering?”

And sure, pro-lifers have plenty of good answers to those questions. But the most important issue we need to confront is bigger than any of those individual questions. It’s our culture’s entire outlook on sexuality. And that’s what makes it so hard to respond well in a soundbite or a tweet—it’s impossible to present a change in perspective that big in just a few words or sentences.

Abortion feels necessary to so many people because it IS necessary when your worldview includes these assumptions:

– A normal, healthy adult relationship includes sex well before considering marriage.
– Sex isn’t a big deal—it’s a fun, physical activity that is okay to engage in with anyone as long as both partners are of age and consenting. Some people may prefer to save it for serious relationships and others may engage in lots of one-night-stands; either of these options is okay and within the range of normal, healthy sexual activity.
– Contraception provides adequate protection from STDs and unplanned pregnancies.
– It’s unhealthy to go too long without sex; it’s a biological need that must be met, similar to our urge to eat.
– Abortion is essential to equality between the sexes; men have always been promiscuous without consequence, so to level the playing field, women need to be able to do the same. When men are high-fived for their sexual exploits, shaming women for abortion is sexist.

In the secular view of sexuality, a normal, responsible sex life includes lots of sex before either partner, the man or woman, is ready to consider raising a child at all, let alone raising one together. That means relying absolutely on the protection provided by contraception to prevent pregnancy. The problem is, no form of contraception is 100% effective, even with perfect use. They all have that tiny failure rate. And that means unplanned pregnancies, even for people who “did everything right.” And let’s be real: even for those of us who don’t subscribe to society’s view of sex, an unexpected pregnancy can be scary. For a single woman without a committed partner or a plan to conceive, an unexpected pregnancy is downright terrifying.

When confronted with a terrifying, isolating situation, many women seek the only way out they can find—and that’s abortion. Maybe they consider the idea that their baby is a baby, not a clump of cells, but maybe they can’t even bring themselves to do that. It’s hard to confront an idea that would up-end your entire life and all of your future plans. And the loss of those plans feels like a punishment that they don’t deserve. After all, society says they did nothing wrong! They played by the rules and yet somehow lost; there must be a trap door somewhere to get them out of this situation they never asked for. Abortion provides a way out.

Of course, what we say is different. We say: sex makes babies. (That’s science.) We say: people who are absolutely, 100% not prepared for the possibility of a child, are also not ready for sex. Despite the assertion of society that sex is just for fun, we say that sex is a important and should not be undertaken lightly.

The Church’s perspective on human sexuality:

– Sex is the consummation of the sacrament of matrimony—a physical, emotional, and spiritual manifestation of spouses’ love for each other and God’s love for each of them. That’s a big, beautiful deal, every time it happens. Just because it happens a lot doesn’t mean it should be devalued. It’s sacred, and must be approached appropriately.
– Sex is only for married couples, who are committed to each other for life and are open to the possibility of children resulting from their union*.
– Contraception is dangerous and damaging; it interferes with the natural rhythms of a woman’s body and makes people more easily see each other as objects to be used for sexual pleasure rather than whole people deserving of real love and commitment.
– People who are not yet married or who are called to vocations other than marriage (the priesthood, religious life, single life in another form) don’t have sex, and that’s okay. It may be hard sometimes, but it’s a beautiful and doable thing to live in celibacy, either temporarily or permanently.
– Every human person is lovingly created by God and has an inherent dignity simply by virtue of their existence, that does not depend on their age, stage of development, or the opinions of any other people. Being unwanted does not make a person less a person, or less valuable.
– Men and women are equally responsible for the conception of a baby. Neither gender should be having sex if they are not ready to raise a potential child with their sexual partner. While men have historically been more able to escape the consequences of their sexual vices, the solution is not to enable women to be equally corrupt as men; it’s to demand men to behave better, to be more responsible and caring. Both sexes must aim for virtue rather than settling for vice.

(Note: this perspective is not down on sex. For loving, married couples, Catholicism will give you a big high five for lots of satisfying, healthy sex, in pretty much any position and whenever you want, as long as you follow a couple of simple guidelines (to stay in line with the unitive and procreative nature of the event). Sex is good. It is a sacramental act—literally the consummation of a sacrament, every time it happens in a marriage. That’s awesome. Although teenagers might be reproved to “leave room for the Holy Spirit” at school dances, the Holy Spirit actually helps push married people together. Get it on, married people. Have fun.)

(* Note #2: For sex to be licit in the Church, you don’t have to be hoping for or realistically expecting a kid every time. I don’t have the time or space here to go into cases of infertility, using NFP to space or avoid pregnancies, etc. etc… but suffice it to say for now that those instances are not forgotten in the Church’s perspective. You don’t have to intend a baby every time you make love; you just have to acknowledge that it’s possible.)

So from the Catholic perspective, let’s go back to those initial questions posed by the pro-choice side.

“If you don’t support abortion, do you support increased access to contraception to help prevent the need for abortions?”

No. Contraception is actively bad for women and for human relationships. It promotes the idea that “safe sex”—where there is zero chance of disease transmission or conception—is possible, when it’s not. Contraception makes false promises that it can’t keep. It doesn’t protect; it encourages people to take risks when they are in no position to deal with the potential results. Contraception also makes it more likely for people to engage in casual sex (because hey, it’s risk-free, right?), which degrades both partners into objects of the other person’s pleasure instead of respecting sex as the ultimate expression of self-giving love within a life-long committed relationship.

“Doesn’t each woman have a right to decide what to do with her own body?”

To an extent, sure. But once a baby is conceived, it is no longer simply her own body—her body also contains the body of another unique human being who has the right to their own life. The right to life is fundamental and primary—the seat of all other human rights. The baby’s right outweighs the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. And in the vast majority of cases, that baby was conceived after the mother made her own choice to have sex when she shouldn’t have. Sex makes babies. If you’re not ready for the possibility of a baby, you better choose not to have sex. That’s the choice.

“What about cases of rape, incest, disability, or extreme poverty? Isn’t it better for the baby to be aborted than to be born into a life of terrible suffering?”

Let’s state the obvious for a minute: Rape is a horrible, tragic event. All women who endure it deserve compassion and a LOT of support, and not a second of blame. But the baby is not to blame for the method that they came into existence, and aborting the baby will not let the mother forget the rape ever happened. The mom needs more than that—counseling, community support, and lots of love. The baby still has a right to live–either with the mom if that’s what she wants, or with a family looking to adopt. Carrying the baby to term is difficult and heroic, but women can do it with the right support, without sacrificing a child for the sins of its father.

In all of these more difficult cases, the answer is always more love, not less. More love and support for the parents, to help them face a diagnosis of severe disability. More love to let the child be born and feel his or her parents’ arms before potentially passing away naturally, rather than being violently torn limb from limb in the womb out of fear or false compassion. More love for families in poverty or children with challenging disabilities, and support for them both emotionally, practically, and financially. We wouldn’t kill adults and children just because they have suffering and challenges in their lives; we shouldn’t kill unborn babies for that, either. None of us really knows the future in store for that child. Bad situations call on us as a community to come together to support the sufferer, not by offering them a band-aid to hide the problem, but by offering them love and support to lean on us so they can endure it.

Life is precious.

The act that makes life is precious.

Until we have a culture that acknowledges the link between sex and new life, and treats both of those things with the respect they deserve, the abortion debate will never be over.

Abortion Culture Shift

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