Let’s start with the problem statement. Today, people in developed countries reach sexual maturity much earlier than they ever did in the past, due to improved diets and other factors. At the same time, they reach economic maturity – the age at which they can get a job that will support a family – much later than they ever did before. This means that there are a lot more years between the onset of sexual desire and the most appropriate outcome of that feeling than there ever were in the past. Those extra years provide a lot of opportunity for mischief. One outcome of such mischief is teenage pregnancy.
That brings us to the definition of “pro-life.” If you are pro-life, does that mean that you are pro-teenage pregnancy? Does it mean that you favor crack mothers or child abusers having babies? Does it mean that you support mothers who are not in a position to provide a safe, decent and loving environment for their children having babies? If someone answers “yes” to any of those questions, then I would ask why they profess such concern about an embryo while having so little concern for a child who thinks, comprehends, feels, and fears, who recognizes, anticipates, and feels prolonged suffering from neglect, abandonment and ill-treatment. I submit that anyone who answers “yes” to these questions is a hypocrite who puts on a show of religiosity out of personal vanity without actually feeling the love that Christ calls for. This sort of hypocrisy, of putting ritual and public show in place of genuine love, is the thing that Jesus campaigned so hard to reject. The Jewish establishment of the day, which thrived on empty ritual and showy religiosity, wanted Him dead precisely for pointing out the hypocrisy of such people. So you, my enlightened and sincere reader, cannot take that position. Therefore, you must support having girls and women in those unfortunate positions refraining from sex or, if they won’t do that, then using birth control to protect against bringing an innocent child into a life of despair or horror. Given a choice between birth control or abortion, you will choose birth control. Thus, if you are pro-life but anti-suffering, then what you really are is anti-abortion.
It is okay to admit that. In today’s world of Orwellian language, being just plain anti-abortion came to be seen as politically inexpedient, and so the movement opted for the less precise but harder to argue with label of pro-life. But being anti-abortion, as such, is a sensible thing. Historically the Church did not believe that the soul entered the body at conception (a view that has a hard time explaining why God allows so many miscarriages), but rather formed as the body and brain formed and grew. This was the view held by St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, while the Council of Vienna in 1312 enforced this view and declared that “we define that anyone who presumes henceforth to assert, defend or hold stubbornly that the rational or intellectual soul is not the form of the human body of itself and essentially [i.e. that the soul forms and grows with the body], is to be considered a heretic”, a view which for the most part prevailed in the Catholic church until 1869. Still, one hesitates to try to draw a line between a stage of growth where killing is murder and considered heinous and a stage where it is no big deal, so any sensible person would think that abortion should be avoided if it can be without causing something more clearly awful to happen.
Anyone should be able to agree up to that point. The difficulty comes in discussing what to do about it. The vast majority of pro-life campaigners are working to impose a legal ban, a situation in which people seeking or performing abortions will be hauled off to prison. Some campaigners harass and condemn women and some even bomb clinics. Are those loving, Christian tactics? Is jailing some poor desperate girl who has experience with the failings of foster care and who does not want to bring a baby into circumstances that may well turn out horrific an act of love and understanding? Is jailing the doctors and leaving such desperate women to seek the back-alley butchery that prevailed in olden days the loving course? Let’s consider what some prayerful reflection might reveal.
Suppose a campaigner knelt down in prayer to consider the propriety of his actions. He might ask “am I doing the right thing?” and open up his feelings to examination. He is motivated by the belief that the soul enters the body at conception, and that abortion causes a living being to suffer and die in contravention to God’s plan. Action founded on such a belief may be expressive of true Christian love. The petitioner, thinking of this motive, may feel the love swell within him, and be confirmed in his desire to try to oppose abortion. That decided, he turns his attention in prayer to the question of how to go about it. Harassing a doctor could persuade her to get out of the abortion business. Is that a good method? What feelings towards the doctor does that involve? Love and warmth? No, the doctor is seen as an agent of evil, something to be disliked. There is no love in that feeling, no sense of warmth. Hatred is not a Christian feeling. That cannot be the right course. Instead, he could work to make abortion a crime. Is that a good option? Should a woman who feels that she cannot go forward with her pregnancy be thrown in jail like a burglar or an armed robber? Is it an expression of love to try to lock such a woman in a cell, even if the act of locking her up is performed by an agent of the state rather than directly by the person who works to make the act a crime? Does this feel like love?
How about trying to persuade a pregnant woman not to go forward with an abortion? There are two paths here. One is yelling at her, scolding her, calling her a murderer, telling her that her soul will be damned, scaring her. Is that “tough love”? No, it does not feel like love of any kind. There is no sense of really caring about the woman. Even if he merely calls to the woman to stop and pray with him, does that really express Christian love for her or the embryonic child, or does it flow from a cold desire to brand her as a sinner if she refuses? What about setting up a support organization for women who feel unable to cope with a pregnancy, an organization that would provide real help and support through the birth and beyond, even to help her to find good adoptive parents or to raise, support and protect the child that has been brought into the world by an unready mother. What about expanding that organization to make vulnerable young girls feel loved and supported in a way that will decrease their susceptibility to getting pregnant in the first place? What about working in the schools and dangerous neighborhoods characterized by poverty, drugs, and damaged families to provide a web of loving support that will help all of the children to feel love, self-respect, and hope? This would cost time, and money, and energy. It would likely be incredibly inconvenient for the organization’s members. It may not win notice in the newspapers or attract television cameras. Even the mothers, embarrassed by their situation, may never contact him again after they have received help, may never express gratitude or even realize the effort he has put into helping them. But, such a mother will nonetheless be helped, and her unborn child may be rescued from a life of poverty, abuse and neglect that would face her if she came into the world without such assistance. The young girl from a broken family who is helped to find self-respect and to avoid pregnancy may have her life utterly transformed for the good, while avoiding a tragic pregnancy with a bad end. There is love in this route. Such action expresses enduring love for the child to be, and real caring towards the potential mother. This is the Christian route. This is where his feelings, examined in the quiet of prayer, will lead him. The end does not justify the means. When the means are love, then the means are the end. The peace of prayer, real and meaningful prayer, is the cure for over-zealotry and hateful error, the guiding light to the true path of love.
When the method for fighting abortion is fully characterized by love and self-sacrifice, by doing the hard and inconvenient thing because it is the loving thing, then pro-life and pro-Christ are the same. Christian pro-lifers who bemoan the fact that they are met with suspicion and dislike by their opponents need to step back in prayer and think about that fact. If they proceeded with pure love to help children and families at risk, sacrificing their time, money and personal safety to do so, would they meet the same reaction they receive when engaging in marches with lots of public prayer to try to make abortion a crime? Which model is the better model of Christ in action, the model that will naturally draw others to admire and follow their example? The most truly Christian people I have known have been loved and admired by the people they contact, even if those people are committed atheists who rail against the evils of organized religion. Pure love is beauty, and we are wired to recognize and admire that beauty and to seek it out. When pro-life is pro-love, when everyone can see and feel that love in every word and action, when the campaigners stop professing their faith in public exhibitions and instead focus on demonstrating their faith in private actions, then the movement will win.