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HomePerspectiveJared Staudt‘What is truth?’: Catholic responses to pro-choice objections

‘What is truth?’: Catholic responses to pro-choice objections

“What is truth?” (Jn 18:28). Pilate speaks for many today, even as Truth itself stood before him. We as Catholics have accepted a basic definition of truth: the conformity of the mind to reality. We know the truth if we understand the nature of things, making proper judgments about what is and is not correct about the world and ourselves. Getting things right can even be a matter of life and death.

Truth has been eclipsed in our culture — this much should be obvious. We no longer accept even the most basic aspects of reality and refuse to affirm that we can even know them at all. Life, the most basic tenet of reality itself, has become a flashpoint in our flight from reality. In opposing the specious arguments of the pro-choice movement, we can have confidence that the truth is on our side. But, the truth is not enough. We also need charity. If we live in a relativistic culture, then we need a witness of love to move the heart beyond just winning an argument, which will prove elusive.

In this dialogue, it helps to think through the arguments of the other side. How would we answer them? Many of our arguments do not even make sense on their surface to the other side, because they come from an entirely different way of thinking about human life and sexuality — a fundamentally different worldview, as it were. We need to understand this and take the time to think them through in conversation. The following 10 pro-choice objections can provide a primer for thinking about how you would witness to the truth of human life.

1. We do not know when life begins.

Roe v. Wade employed this falsehood to justify its decision, even though it is a basic fact of biology that an independent organism begins to exist at the moment of conception. It is true that before the 19th century there was debate about the exact mode and timing of how the human person developed, but the German scientist Oscar Hetwig determined the nature of sexual reproduction through fertilization in 1876. From this moment, there is no scientific debate on the origin of human life and every textbook will present the moment of fertilization as the origin of human life. That said, other people will try to say that even though a human organism exists at conception it is not developed enough to be considered a human “person.” This distinction essentially means that some human beings would not be considered worthy of protection because of their state of development or capacity, a dangerous distinction that could leave many people subject to arbitrary discrimination. In fact, the origins of the abortion movement were linked to racist eugenics, as we see in the influence of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who actually wrote: “We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population” (Letter to Dr. Clarence J. Gamble, December 10, 1939).

2. My body, my choice.

This mantra assumes that the conceived child is simply a part of the mother’s body. Since we know that human life does begin, biologically speaking, at the moment of conception, there is a distinct human organism within the mother’s body. It is true that this child can only survive in dependence upon the mother, but this is also true of young children and anyone who is vulnerable. In fact, there is no such thing as a completely autonomous human being. We all exist in dependence upon one another. We cannot kill another human being in the name of our autonomy, rights or convenience. It is a tragedy that some mothers would see an innocent human life, alive and growing inside of their womb, as an invasive threat to their bodies that must be eliminated.

3. Stop pushing your religious views on me.

This argument assumes that opposition from abortion stems solely from faith. It is true that our faith teaches us that murder (the intentional killing of an innocent human being) is wrong, but it is also a clear precept of the natural law. Abortion is wrong by its very nature because it violates the inherent dignity of the human person as a rational being. We can explain the evil of abortion without reference to faith, even though faith and reason are in agreement on this point. It is incumbent on government to protect the life of all of its citizens in order to uphold the common good of the community. When the government not only allows but also supports the destruction of human life, the rule of law becomes undermined and even arbitrary. Reason itself tells us that all human beings are worthy of respect and protection, without upholding only the rights of the strong against the weak.

4. What if the mother’s life is in danger?

The Church teaches a basic moral principle that “the end does not justify the means.” We can never do evil so that good may result or we ourselves become compromised by that evil. It is never permissible to kill an innocent human life for any reason. That said, the Church also recognizes the legitimacy of taking action to save the life of the mother even if it may result in the death of the unborn child. The foreseen but unintended death of the child is not what is chosen directly, for the moral choice is to save of the life of the mother, a principle called double effect. This would not be an abortion, because the child is not killed (there is no procedure directly killing the child), even though he may die as a consequence of a necessary treatment to save the life of the mother.

5. No one should be forced to have a child.

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In our culture, we have changed our understanding of the purpose of human sexuality. Its intrinsic function from a biological perspective is reproduction. As Christians, we would say that God designed it that way. It is also meant to draw us into unity, expressing the complete gift of self in marriage that is exclusive, permanent and fruitful. Today, we understand sexuality almost solely from the viewpoint of personal fulfillment, although we know that is regularly misused to exploit others. Engaging in sexual intercourse is ordered intrinsically toward life. Because it is so foreign to the mainstream way of thinking, this is a hard truth to accept for many people; however, it is a vitally necessary one to reorder the many distortions of sexuality and point us back to reality.

6. What about cases of rape and incest?

We have to return to the principle that it is never permissible to kill an innocent human being. The victim of rape or incest has experienced terrible violence. The answer to this violence is not to pass it on to another innocent person and thus become a perpetrator of violence. This will not help in the healing process but will actually cause more harm to the mother through the violence of abortion. This points to the reality that abortion causes trauma for women and itself requires a process of healing and forgiveness. Adoption may be the best option in these cases.

7. Women will be economically burdened if they are forced to give birth.

People are more important than things. This also requires us to examine how our culture thinks about life. What are our priorities? Do we value human life more than economic realities? It is true that many women will find it harder to work during pregnancy and after giving birth, but they should not have to face these difficulties on their own. This is why St. John Paul II challenged us to abandon a culture of death, which sees human beings as disposable, and instead build a culture of life that cherishes and supports people. A culture of life values the life and wellbeing of mothers and children equally and would entail the community being willing to make sacrifices for their good.

8. Poor children would be worse off.

Is it better to be dead than to be poor? Perhaps some people think so. We need to reaffirm the inherent goodness of human life. A culture of life works for justice in society and Christian charity seeks to make sure that no one goes without the necessities of life. Children are a gift that enrich everyone, poor or not. Those who are poor are better off with children than without them, because we need communion with others to be happy. We will not find this happiness by getting rid of others or making sure that we are not inconvenienced by them. The Catholic Church in particular feeds and educates more people than any other group throughout the world. We see Jesus in every other human being, and God himself, the Creator, sees us all as very good, made in his image and likeness. Every human life has a transcendent value and worth.

9. Constitutional freedom demands access to abortion.

This argument is at the heart of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade and its reversal. Roe v. Wade used the reasoning of the prior decision on contraception from Griswold v. Connecticut that argued there was a right to privacy in the Constitution, although no such right can be found there. This fabricated right became the basis for the argument that the State could not interfere with issues related to human sexuality, which in Casey v. Planned Parenthood would become the infamous right to define the meaning of our own existence (created by Justice Anthony Kennedy). Roe v. Wade does acknowledge that the State has a vested interest in the birth of new citizens, and we tend to overlook the relationship of children to the common good, in part because of our distorted understanding of sexuality. Abortion harms the common good by depriving the nation of future citizens, which is now leading our country into a dangerous population decline. Although the health of a nation depends upon the willingness of its citizens to raise a family, it is also a path to genuine happiness, which is found in giving of ourselves for others.

10. If we do not have legal abortion, people will die!

It is hard to believe anyone could utter this with a straight face and yet it has become a recent rallying cry. We should not have to remind people of the fact that abortion necessarily involves death. The argument, of course, focuses on the possible return to unsafe abortion practices if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The United States, however, will not be outlawing abortion entirely, even though it will most likely become illegal in many States. Women could choose to travel to another state, Colorado being one of them. As such, Catholics will be called to do even more to support pregnant women so that they do not feel the need to kill their own children. It will become a true moment of witness for us and a test to see whether we can communicate the love of God to our society and begin building a culture of life.

Jared Staudt
Jared Staudt
R. Jared Staudt, PhD, is a husband and father of six, the Associate Superintendent for Mission and Formation for the Archdiocese of Denver, a Benedictine oblate, prolific writer, and insatiable reader.
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