Abortion Will Not Go Away

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One is often told by pro-choice advocates that even a complete legal ban would not succeed in eliminating abortions — just in driving them under ground.  I think that’s true.

However, I see no reason why our inability to eliminate all abortions through a legal ban should prevent us from having a legal ban.

Consider, for a moment, what we as Catholics say abortion is: the destruction of an innocent human life. Now there are other forms of destruction or assault upon innocent human life in our society, and we have legally banned many of them. Yet we have never yet seen those bans result in a the complete elimination of those crimes.

We will never reach a point where the abortion rate is zero, just as we have never reached a point at which the murder rate is zero or the rape rate is zero or the child abuse rate is zero. The fact of the matter is that people often want things which they can only achieve through hurting others. We see this in the motives that people have for the above and countless other forms of crime.

Abortion rights supporters often make the case that anti-abortion advocates are virtual fascists by citing frightening amounts of state supervision which they argue would be necessary to prevent abortions. I ran into a good example of this in the an online conversation a while back where a pro-abortion rights person argued that if I was pro-life I would have to support the following:

1. Pregancies must be registered with the state. As soon as a woman knows she is pregnant, either she or her doctor must inform the state, and the state will provide the embryo with an identification number.

2. If a woman miscarries, she must inform the state, which will treat the death of the embryo like the death of anyone else. If there is any reason at all to believe that foul play was involved, an autopsy will be performed, the woman will be extensively interviewed by law enforcement officials, and she will undergo medical tests (e.g., blood tests, invasive physical examination) to determine whether the death was a homicide. If the woman miscarries somewhere other than a hospital, she must preserve the remains so that officials can determine the cause of death and file a death certificate, and so they can rule out negligence.

3. If law enforcement determines that the death likely was a homicide, the woman will be tried and, if convicted, will face years in a federal penitentiary, or whatever the current penalties are for murder. If the woman did not commit the murder alone (e.g., by physically doing it herself without the aid of others), then whoever else played a role will also be tried.

4. If a woman who registered a pregnancy does not produce a baby after the normal gestation period, an investigation by law enforcement officials will begin in order determine what happened to the embryo.

I know that I’ve seen published pieces by feminist authors essentially arguing that if one is not in favor of jailing millions of women and thousands of doctors, one is not really anti-abortion — but since I recalled exactly where the above was and it was fairly detailed, I think it can serve well for our purposes.

Now, I do think that these practical objections underscore a real problem: The means it would take to reasonably assure that no one could procure an abortion without seriously expecting to be legally punished for it would be so invasive that virtually no one would want to see such a thing.

However, I think that this argument misses the point. Our primary goal as anti-abortion advocates should not be to hunt down and punish everyone who procures or provides an abortion, but rather to remove the cultural and moral sense that getting an abortion is an available and an acceptable response to a “crisis pregnancy”.

Let’s look for a moment at another crime which, like abortion, is committed by parents against children: violent or sexual child abuse. If we considered the state to be the primary protector of children, and parents to be an incidental part of the equation, our laws to prevent child abuse would doubtless involve mandatory schooling outside the home (and investigation of any absences), frequent and random examinations of children by a state doctor, interviews between children and state agents to determine if the parents are treating the child well, and random in home inspections by child protective services. We would rightly recoil from a such a system, even if it might successfully identify many more instances of child abuse, because such a system would be based on the idea that the state rather than the family is the primary protector of the child.

Because in the case of abortion the child is within and entirely dependant upon his mother, any form of outside supervision would be even more intrusive — and thus probably undesirable from a rightly ordered view of the relationship between family and state.

Why insist on outlawing abortion if it would be difficult and probably undesirable to strenuously police against it?

Because, I would argue, it is both important that our civil laws reflect natural and moral laws; and also because the current legal status of abortion as a legitimate medical procedure encourages its use.

Human nature being what it is, I cannot imagine how we could achieve a society in which abortion simply do not happen, any more than a society in which any other form of violence does not happen. But we should abolish its status as a legitimate medical procedure (I am not sure that criminalization would need go further than making it illegal, on pain of a hefty fine, to run a business providing abortions and permanently revoke the medical license of any doctor who performs one) so that we cease to actively encourage abortions and hold them up as a right.

To call abortion a right is to hold up an evil as a good — and to call it a legitimate medical procedure is to consider destruction of life to be “health”. But the sad fact is that the abortion rate will never be zero — because some people will always be willing to seek to preserve their own way of life by destroying someone else’s. It is, it seems to me, the duty of the state to remove the legality and availability of abortion — but catching and judging the remaining offenders is something that must be left to God, who knows all.

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  1. Thanks for the post Darwin. I think the child abuse/abortion parallel is very helpful in illuminating the types of legal frameworks that pro-lifers really would support.

    One of the other arguments made by abortion advocates is that forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term is an unparalleled imposition of an affirmative duty to care for someone else upon the mother. This argument overlooks, of course, the many child neglect and/or child abuse statutes that impose affirmative duties on parents. Perhaps it would be useful for pro-lifers to incorporate discussions of the current laws that protect children into our arguments more frequently.

  2. I’m not sure I agree completely with this very well-presented argument.

    You make a good point in the comparison of the enforcement regime for child abuse; and yet, the enforcement of child abuse statutes more than nothing.

    I would agree that today, after almost two generations of pretending that abortion is a right, it would be unfair to suddenly being punishing women for what they have been wrongly raised to believe as a right.

    But doctors know better. They know what abortion is, and their only legitimate motivation for providing abortions is profit. I would argue that jailing doctors for providing abortions would be appropriate and effective.

    And perhaps, two or three decades down the road, jail time for woman who obtain abortions would seem appropriate as well.

  3. Good article, especially the point that many things are not legal–such as murder, rape, incest, physical abuse–and making them illegal does not eliminate them, nor does any realistic person expect the laws to eliminate them.

    The crazy scare tactics in that piece, by pro-abortion/pro-choice activists, inserted in this article lists laws far more likely to be written and enforced by pro-abortion people than by those who simply want this form of murder to join other forms of murder in being banned by law.

  4. I have always thought that was the lamest excuse for not having a ban on abortion… “people will still get them” what?! people still kill each other in cold blood every day and thats still illegal. I don’t hear the pro aborts arguing that we should do away with murder laws just because some people decide to do it anyway.

    what a completely stupid idea, do away with a law because someone breaks it or might break it… if that were the case we would have anarchy. but I guess that’s what’s inside the liberal head, the “if it feels good, it must be the right thing to do” mentality.

  5. Here in the State of Victoria, Parliament just passed the Abortion Law Reform bill (chilling similarity to the name of NARAL — National Asso. for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, no?). There was significant opposition from the Church and other Christian groups, but it went through both houses of Parliament anyway. And I think the problem is deeper than any particular government, or set of politicians. I think the battle was lost one or two generations ago when catechism was relaxed, ethics were made relativistic, and, well, parents neglected their duties as educators. And now that abortion has been made legal in this state, effectively up through the third trimester to full term, well.. there’s only one recourse: go back to catechism. It may be legal, but it remains illicit, our generation doesn’t have to have it, nor do our daughters. We’ve lived under unjust laws before.

  6. BTW I do agree that laws should continue to legislate against what is unjust and wrong. But with our backs against the wall here in Victoria, we have to go to Plan B. If we do it well, and if we remain in this State, we’ll win the battle in the end, God willing.

  7. I imagine that you would agree that we should not create provisions in the law that permitted abortion for women who had been raped or who had become pregnant by their father, brother, uncle, etc. Such provisions would merely be a loophole pro-abortion advocates could use against the anti-abortion measures. Women who become pregnant by rape should be enthused by the opportunity to bring another human life into this world!

    Also, we could also seek a law that prohibits the use of contraceptive devices. Since these devices would prevent human life and the prevention of pregnancy is a destruction of human life, then contraceptive devices should be outlawed too.

    Finally, much of medical science should fund projects to prevent the onset of menopause since it too prevents women from becoming pregnant. Is this not where government funds should be going? Cancer research ought not to be funded any further — for the reasons you cite above — because it somehow prevents the onset of natural death. Anything unnatural, such as prolonging one’s life, is morally reprehensible.

    Now I’m totally confused by the implications of your argument.

  8. Joe,

    I think you’re missing the most important policy implication of my argument: we should abolish the economy (or what remains of it) and require that everyone spend all their time having sex — since sex is required in order to become pregnant.

    Okay, all joking aside: I think you’re failing to understand what motivates those of us who are against abortion. It’s not that we think that it’s morally reprehensible to do things that are “unnatural” and it’s not that we think that women ought to be pregnant all the time or that people must have the absolute maximum number of children possible.

    The reason we are against abortion is because we believe that human life begins at conception, and thus abortion consists of the killing an innocent human life.

    With that in mind, hopefully the following responses will make sense:

    I imagine that you would agree that we should not create provisions in the law that permitted abortion for women who had been raped or who had become pregnant by their father, brother, uncle, etc. Such provisions would merely be a loophole pro-abortion advocates could use against the anti-abortion measures. Women who become pregnant by rape should be enthused by the opportunity to bring another human life into this world!

    Rape or incest is an inconceivably evil crime against a woman — and if a child results from such a crime, the child is every much as much an innocent victim as the woman. Personally, I would not expect a woman who has been the victim of such a crime to be “enthused” about anything related to it, but if it felt necessary to kill someone to make up for the crime I think the obvious candidate is the man who raped her — not the child who resulted from the rape.

    Also, we could also seek a law that prohibits the use of contraceptive devices. Since these devices would prevent human life and the prevention of pregnancy is a destruction of human life, then contraceptive devices should be outlawed too.

    Prevention of pregnancy is _not_ a destruction of human life — because there is no human life to destroy until their is a pregnancy.

    Finally, much of medical science should fund projects to prevent the onset of menopause since it too prevents women from becoming pregnant. Is this not where government funds should be going?

    No. I have positted no active moral duty to become pregnant.

    Cancer research ought not to be funded any further — for the reasons you cite above — because it somehow prevents the onset of natural death. Anything unnatural, such as prolonging one’s life, is morally reprehensible.

    What reasons I cited above? I didn’t discuss cancer at all. Nor did a say that the “onset of natural death” should necessarily be avoided. Saying we should not actively seek to kill people does not imply a duty not to seek to preserve people’s health. Indeed, I think most people would assume the opposite.

  9. I always find this to be an amusing argument. Perhaps, slavery should have been left legal (in which, I would be a slave) and I could be comforted — as all other abolitionists — that making slavery illegal would never solve the problem. Therefore, slaves should use contraceptives to reduce the number of slaves and hopefully, we can work to change the culture first.

    Actually, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King who isn’t very short of being a saint in my view, wrote that people who claimed to agree with him — that blacks being discriminated against is abhorent — but felt that his nonviolent protesting and causing societal discomfort and backlashes from racists was not the way. To this King responds that men who think that racism and discrimination are evil, but would leave it as the legal status quo are profoundly mistaken. Why? Tell that to the African American man who has to explain to his daughter why the white men hate them, why they can’t go certain places, why she can’t enroll in a university; let alone, explain why any man has to live never at peace, not certain what will become of him or anyone he loves at any moment — a person is never fully free.

    In the same way, I’d love to see someone, if it were possible, to explain to an unborn baby who’s life may be saved by illegalizing abortion why overturning Roe v. Wade is a bad idea and why we should wait until no one wants it anymore (which is hard to believe if the pro-choice movement has its way). There is nothing one can say to a baby that will never see the beauty of creation, laugh so hard they cry, know what love is, curiously ask their mother tons of questions, or know any of the basic joys of life why they should wait one more day than they should have to.

  10. I feel like your argument isn’t very logical. You are right by saying abortions will never be zero, and even if it was illegal people what still have abortions. Therefore since no matter what, people will always have abortions, it is important they be kept legal for health reasons. Otherwise many women will try to have abortions by unskilled doctors, and many will die. Keeping abortion legal is important for safety of women, which as a Christian you should care about. Whether its illegal or legal, the same amount of babies will probably die every year, and there is nothing we can do about that, BUT we can strive to protect women’s health by keeping it legal.

    Either way, abortion will never be illegal.

  11. To sum it up, laws shouldn’t cause more harm than they’re intended to prevent, and making abortion legal would cause more harm than it would prevent.

  12. Melanie,

    I didn’t argue at all that outlawing abortion would not drastically decrease the number of abortions. It most certainly would. Even in Europe, where abortion is legal in most countries but far more restricted than here, there are far fewer abortions than in the US.

    What I argued is that outlawing abortion would never take the abortion rate to zero — just as outlawing drunk driving has not taken the drunk driving rate to zero, and outlawing rape has not taken the rape rate to zero.

    On your other point, I must confess that I do not understand that argument that abortion should be legal so that people won’t injure themselves in breaking the law. If, as I hold, abortion is the taking of a human life, and if it was outlawed for that reason, then worrying that abortion might not be “safe” enough makes about as much sense as worrying that home robbers may be injured while breaking a window.

    Indeed, one of the key reasons to outlaw something is to underline that there are extreme risks to doing it and one thus should not do it.

  13. Your Idea that making it Illegal will make things better is foolish at best.

    How do you plan on paying for this ? Registration , criminal investigation , trial , And what if a woman does not register ? Now we are invading her medical privacy And that is only part of it.
    Now we are increasing our population by 1,000,000 per year. No family to pay for food, education, homes, medical because lack of insurance . The government will flip the bill. Okay , Lets just say a happy number per month is 5,000 per month Im going on the low side. We are looking at 5 billion dollar increase in spending per month . Now this comes to 60 billion per year after one year of your woman cannot have an abortion. Now we go to 5 years down the road birth rate has stayed the same oh look now we are up to 300 billion per year. Well the government cannot afford this so what do they do ?

    Everyone who is pro-life should have to pay for this. Everyone who is pro-choice should not. Because there will be a massive increase in taxes . And maybe you can afford it .

  14. openmind57,

    Among other things, your assertions don’t hold up historically. If you look at the data, US births did not drop by a million a year with the legalization of abortion. Rather, births remained fairly constant with previous trends while the number of conceptions went up. In other words: the ready availability of abortion made people be less “careful” about their sexual activities — resulting in more conceptions which they then “solved” with abortion.

    Further, your reasoning takes people in some rather disturbing directions. If killing a million children before birth is good for the budget, why not kill more? Why not kill the old, who are the most expensive segment of society? Why not kill off the poor and minorities?

    I certainly would find such suggestions horrifying, and I imagine that you would as well. The problem is: there’s no difference between those suggestions and your purely fiscal defense of abortion.

  15. To continue what DC had to say, openmind57,

    I find that there’s a number of assumptions behind what you’ve said that need examining. Now, I found your post a little confusing to follow, so I’ll try first to lay out your argument. If I’m mistaken in what you’re saying, just let me know if I’m wrong.

    1) Your first assumption seems to be that population increase is a bad thing (maybe not overall, but perhaps at the point we’re at now).

    2) The increased population is incapable of providing for itself. I don’t know what you mean by no family to pay for food, so you’ll need to clarify that. But it seems you’re arguing overall that the increased population is only and can only be portion wholly dependent on welfare.

    3) Only the government then is capable of providing welfare, and that will only continue to expand. That expansion will result in increased taxes to subsidize the poor and needy, and thus harm our nation even more, perhaps even resulting in a downward spiral.

    Is this correct?

    Now, I’m going to refute the points as I see them. First, if we’re only increasing our population by 1 million a year, we’re lucky. We have immigrants flooding into our nation at faster pace than that, and we’ve gone from 200,000,000 people in the U.S. in 1967 to 300,000,000 in 2006. That’s roughly 2.5 million a year. Second, population growth is not a bad thing. Population stagnation, or population decline, wrecks an economy. Why? No growth means no need for new jobs. No new jobs means more unemployment, and starts the economy on the whole downward spiral I mentioned before. This kind of thing happened in a number of European countries, especially France. France would be in dire straights if not for a huge amount of immigration.

    For the next point, I fail to see how our net increase of 2.5 million a year means exactly 2.5 million a year automatically put into poverty with no means but to plead for welfare. Except for the recent economic crisis, job growth has been very health, and our unemployment has been exceptionally low. In fact, even with it hovering around 6.5%, it is still far below the worst rates in recent history (like the 14% in the late 70’s), and is nowhere near problematic. This means that only a tiny portion of that 2.5 million yearly ends up unemployed. Assuming that the unemployment holds steady for this group (which is a bad assumption, since the young suffer from higher unemployment than the middle-aged, but they rarely remain unemployed for long, and don’t draw near as much welfare), that’s only 163,000 unemployed. (There’s also the assumption that 2.5 million enter the workforce, which isn’t at all accurate, but it’s an overestimate, so it works for my purposes.) That’s a small, small number in comparison. Now, using your $5000 monthly welfare payments, that’s only about $10 billion annually. (Only!) We spend by far more on social security, and we spend almost as much treating various things like: STDs, cervical cancer, depression. That doesn’t even figure in GDP lost from time off, and all three have been shown to decline when abortion is off the table (and more so when abstinence-only is the primary sex-ed message).

    For the third point, you must feel really cynical to suppose that no one adding to our national population has anyone but the government to care for him. Think that through for a minute. Why would you even assume that even 1,000,000 of the people added each year are completely without any form of aid whatsoever? If you accept even some of the higher poverty percentages (like 20%), then only 500,000 of those 2.5 million (or 200,000 of your 1,000,000) would come into the nation below the poverty line. That means a lot of them have families to care for them, or can care for themselves. Moreover, even that half-a-million living below the poverty line has plenty of recourse other than direct government aid–friends, family, community, churches, soup kitchens, etc.

    I would suggest doing a little research, a little math, and even some quick and dirty statistics before you start blaming anyone for an increase in taxes. Your assumptions simply don’t hold any weight, and that makes your arguments from them flawed.

    Also, in regards to your first statement, about registration and whatnot, I know (or at least hope) that’s just an argument to absurdity (taking a position and trying to follow it to its most overblown potential outcome), but even that doesn’t hold any weight when you consider how it works with any other crime. Most crimes are reported. They don’t come from keeping tabs on everyone Big Brother-like. So it would be same with abortion.

    Abortion would be illegal, so anyone reported performing an abortion would be investigated. Doctors would lost their right to practice medicine. The higher chance of being reported, the more likely the punishment, and thus the less inclined even pro-choice doctors would be to perform abortions. With fewer safe means of procuring abortions, people would naturally tend to stop having them. As the post pointed out, this won’t stop all abortions, any more than laws against murder stop people from murdering others. There’s plenty of ways for the law to be very effective without being intrusive.

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