“These rallies are meant to intimidate and harass our patients, who rely on our nonprofit health centers for basic, preventive health care. The people behind these protests have a clear political agenda: They want to ban abortion, and block women and men from accessing basic reproductive health care.” -Eric Ferrero, vice president of Planned Parenthood
On Saturday, August 22, around 1000 prolife demonstrators gathered outside the newly-built Planned Parenthood clinic in Midway Neighborhood, St. Paul. On the quiet street behind the clinic, the tightly-packed crowd stood under a fair sky, with some holding up colorful, large-lettered, graphic-pictured signs.
Making my way within the crowd, I saw men and women of all ages and races with their spouses and children listening to the speakers.
Near the entrance of the clinic, a group of half a dozen Catholics bowed their heads, held rosaries, and quietly recited the Lord’s Prayer. Nearby, a teenage girl drew with chalk upon the sidewalk a baby in utero. These sights were peaceful and powerful.
Yet the most consistent message from the legislators, religious leaders, and activists addressing the audience was a legal one: defund Planned Parenthood Minnesota. And I had to wonder if this was the best way to fulfill their goal of ending abortion.
If you want to end abortion, it helps to understand the abortion debate.
In one corner we have those who see it as murder—who will not stop until abortion is illegal. And in the other corner we have those who see it as a woman’s right—who will fight to keep this right legal. Stopping murder vs. preserving women’s rights—pretty hard to find two more impassioned positions than these. And it seems that today in the US, these two sides represent ever-widening gaps between reasonableness and unreasonableness; decency and indecency.
An acquaintance who worked as a surgical assistant for a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Midwest shared with me her story last year:
One day at work, a coworker excitedly called her over to the operating room to look at the results of a procedure, known plainly as “products of conception.” This day’s was a rare case—aborted twins—and one of the “products,” my acquaintance recalled, was a tiny arm.
Unborn humans are now “products of conception,” and the recent series of undercover Planned Parenthood videos reveal organization leaders speaking of harvesting miniature organs as nonchalantly as a farmer does his produce. A writer at Slate.com argues that these byproducts can benefit research, so abortion is “an act of altruism.” And the New England Journal of Medicine has recently come to the defense of using human fetal carcasses for research. It’s wise to not waste the material, they say.
Yet we “waste” seized ivory by burning it, because we don’t want to encourage the market. To rely on a product is to encourage its procurement. They don’t want to see elephants killed. Today in America, unborn humans aren’t so revered. Indeed, there’s a general malaise, a passive acceptance of current abortion practices, that abortion is somehow not ending a human life and that it is somehow no big deal to dismember a six month-old human fetus. The term used to describe prolife supporters by many media outlets—”anti-abortionist”—is used as a pejorative term, because somehow it has become a bad thing to be against ending preborn human life.
As a result of the inhumanity exhibited in the recent Planned Parenthood undercover videos, prolife supporters want more than ever to use the hammer of law to stomp out this life-ending practice.
But that’s like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.
The threat of law is what has enabled things to get this bad.
Fears of being controlled, of women’s rights being under attack, are the seeds for today’s inhumane behaviors and attitudes toward abortion. Attempts to use law plants these seeds.
For instance, the Ohio state government is currently discussing a bill to ban abortion when the sole reason for the procedure is that the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. The response from prochoice advocates—and much of the general public—has not been that these prolife politicians are heroes trying to save the lives of those with special needs. It’s that these lawmakers are “controlling women and denying them the ability to make the most important choice that they will ever face,” as one commenter writes.
These reactions occur every time a new abortion restriction is proposed not just because they literally do take away a freedom, but because while most prochoice supporters acknowledge the appropriateness of some restrictions on abortion, they also know that most prolife activists aim for a complete prohibition of the practice—necessitating such unsettling hypotheticals as arresting a desperate teenager who tried to end her pregnancy because she wasn’t ready to be a mother or didn’t want to face the stigma of being pregnant. Now she’s a murderer. As suddenly would be millions of other American women.
In a time when most of America is okay with the rights of abortion with limitations—including even 51% of Catholics—and where the majority of thought leaders and media figures are prochoice, abortion prohibition is impractical, perhaps even impossible. The idea of handcuffing that teenager is simply seen as a cultural back step.
Reacting to these threats, prochoice supporters don’t want to concede anything that could be used to benefit the anti-choice cause. And that leads them to dismiss the obvious: that abortion ends human life. Millions of abortions later, they need to justify their defense or apathy toward abortion by reclassifying preborn humans as subhuman, much like a soldier must do to his enemy combatants to justify his killing of them.
Besides the obvious moral issue of dehumanization, this is problematic because when people don’t see the fetus as human, it undermines the efforts to reduce abortions by taking the battle elsewhere, by appealing to the immorality of the procedure—and so, the benefit of supporting life. And this is exactly the method that ought to be used to get pregnant women to consider abortion alternatives. (And now is the time to adjust the strategy.)
As long as the battle for preborn life takes place in capital buildings and courtrooms, prochoice advocates will continue to believe that prolife advocates are backwards and anti-women, that Planned Parenthood fights for the rights of women; and as the quote at the top of the piece argues, that rallies such as the one in St. Paul are held to prevent basic health care.
We can decrease abortion by taking this argument away from them—by taking the battle elsewhere.
Just like not concerning oneself with the plight of millions overseas, much of the apathy toward abortion today is simply the result of a lack of exposure. (Google images of abortion aftermath, and it’s difficult to muster a defense for the practice.) And just like videotape today is putting the spotlight, and hopefully the brakes, on law enforcement abuse, so is footage and the internet allowing for the awareness of what normally happens behind the closed doors of abortion clinics.
On August 22, demonstrations similar to St. Paul’s were held at 320 Planned Parenthood locations across the country. This momentum should be used to try and put a dent in this purposeful ending of human life. But the effort has to be done right:
Leave current abortion laws where they stand, appeal to people’s hearts and minds, and reach out to help.
Show people the truth of abortion. (We don’t need law to recognize the immorality of killing our own offspring.) Showcase those whose mothers chose life when tempted by abortion—this life which would have been erased in a moment. And then, divest any resources used to try and make abortion illegal and invest them into services to help needy expecting mothers, to encourage them to see the life through to delivery. Look beyond law. Offer a hand, not handcuffs.
The evening of September 4, Pope Francis starred in an ABC 20/20 special. The Catholic leader greeted several American audiences via telecast. For an audience in Los Angeles, a single mother of two girls stood facing the screen showing the wide-eyed, expectant Pope Francis. She humbly and tearfully held her two daughters standing with her as she shared about their struggles in a homeless shelter.
After she spoke, the Pope responded at length, lauding her courage—and then the decision to raise her daughters.
“You could have killed them inside your womb, and you respected life,” he said. “You respected the life you were carrying inside you…”
The first move to sew the impasse of the abortion debate needs to be made by prolife supporters. And it needs to be made in similar spirit as the Pope: highlight the beauty of choosing life and offer support to help it come into the world.
This move is a hybrid stance of prolife and prochoice.
While I know this will make many prolife supporters bristle, allowing prochoice advocates room to breathe on this issue will allow them to be more open to admit the ugliness in those operating rooms. Grant women the freedom to choose, and see their choice increasingly made in favor of life. And watch more people in general become prolife, because now it’s not anti-choice, pro-religion, or anti-Planned Parenthood. It’s just common, moral sense.
Since 1973, the year of Roe vs. Wade went into effect, the number of human lives aborted in the US is fast approaching the total number killed worldwide in all of WWII (55 million to 60 million, respectively).
Refocus efforts on tactics that can effect change. This is how we end abortion.