Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Let’s address causes for abortion

A fellow parishioner was challenged in the parking lot at our church because she had a Planned Parenthood sticker on her car. “You can’t be a Catholic with that bumper sticker!”
She replied “It’s not that simple” — for the Church or Planned Parenthood.
With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg the abortion issue has moved into the center of the presidential campaign. Catholic pro-life and Planned Parenthood pro-choice appear irreconcilable. But is that really the case? A member of our local Planned Parenthood board told me a plain truth. “Abortion is a failure of planned parenthood.” Yes, abortion is always a failure of planning: something has gone wrong in the woman’s life plan. A young woman will plan for many good things in her life: education, career, marriage, children, friends, health. She will not put abortion on her list of life plans. For both pro-choice and pro-life abortion is never the fulfillment of a positive life desire. Neither side is pro-abortion. No one should be pro-abortion.
The quarrel between pro-life and pro-choice centers on whether a woman may deal morally and legally with the failure of her life plans. Are there circumstances in which the choice for abortion overrides the moral and legal claim of fetal life? Pro-choice believes that there are such situations; pro-life believes there are no such circumstance. Both sides are mistaken.
Pro-life: in 2006 South Dakota initiated a referendum calling for a ban on abortions with two exceptions: pregnancy after rape or incest. The pro-life Catholic dioceses in South Dakota urged support of the referendum. Why support exceptions for rape and incest? Pro-life supporters and even the popes often characterize decisions for abortion under extreme duress as “tragic.” Pregnancy after rape or incest presents a classic case of tragedy. Given the violent imposition of the pregnancy it seems that an abortion may be permissible. The woman is under no legal or overriding moral demand to carry the pregnancy to term. But suppose she chooses to do so? Our moral intuition would rightly characterize her action as heroic, above and beyond the call of duty, saintly. Tragic circumstance calls into question the pro-life strategy of absolute legal prohibition of abortion. One may command duty, one may even legislate duty, but one cannot legislate saintliness.
Pro-choice: if total condemnation of abortion is challenged by the tragic, pro-choice advocacy is challenged by the trivial. A UVM surgeon who performs abortions was quoted recently: “I would certainly not perform an abortion if the woman’s reason is a desire to fit into a size 9 dress.” There are tragic dilemmas leading to accepting abortion, there are also trivial circumstances that do not warrant abortion. The proper quarrel between pro-life and pro-choice positions rests in the large and complicated moral middle between the tragic and trivial.
The exception for rape recognizes that we cannot legislate saintliness. Pro-choice advocates may argue that many women are also “raped” by poverty, psychological trauma, or coercion. Beyond the metaphor of “rape” the heart of the abortion decision lies in the moral complexity of a particular pregnant woman’s life and situation. If there are tragic dilemmas permitting abortion, there are also trivial and ill considered circumstances that do not warrant abortion. Pro-life and pro-choice advocates should dialogue about the dense moral reality from tragic to trivial. Planned Parenthood could shed the notion that it is nothing but an abortion provider. Pro-life Catholics can bring their rhetoric closer to genuine crises in our moral life. Instead of divisive and destructive political polemics, all sides should address fundamental reasons that drive women to seek an abortion: irresponsible sex, social and economic crises, and lack of affordable medical, maternal and child care. No one is pro-abortion.
Dennis O’Brien
Middlebury

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