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A Debate Still Worth Having

prochoice-prolife“I had an abortion. I was not in a libertine college-girl phase, although frankly it’s none of your business. I was already a mother of two, which puts me in the majority of American women who have abortions. Six out of 10 are mothers, which makes sense, because a mother could not fool herself into believing that having another baby was no big deal.”

So opens a recent post by journalist Hanna Rosin on Slate.com‘s infamous XX Blog. This opening salvo, meant to shock us even though she goes on to tell us we shouldn’t be shocked at all, is the introduction to her review of a book entitled Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

The author, Katha Pollitt, is apparently disgusted by the way the nefarious pro-life movement has successfully perpetuated the stigmatization of abortion. Her book encourages women to claim with pride the sacred right that’s theirs and theirs alone: the right to kill their unborn child for any reason they deem suitable. Her book, according to Rosin (full disclosure, I have not read this book and so my response is based solely on Ms. Rosin’s summary of Pollitt’s main points) not only defends abortion as a woman’s right, but venerates it as a social and moral good.

And Rosin apparently agrees with her. It’s ridiculous, she tells us, that in 2014 anyone is still shocked by the fact of abortion. “[A]ny woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion,” she writes, “or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and [say so], until there are so many accounts that the statement loses its shock value. . . . We shouldn’t need a book explaining why abortion rights are important. We should be over that by now.”

Get that, America? Moral outrage over abortion is like, sooooo forty years ago. Lots and lots of women have abortions. And these women don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, so it must be okay.

Logicians would say that this argument, if you can even call it that, hinges upon what they call the “fallacy of irrelevant appeals,” namely the appeal to popularity. Certainly Ms. Rosin doesn’t believe that simply because a lot of people do something, that makes that it morally acceptable.

She wouldn’t agree that the horrors of the Roman Colosseum were morally acceptable simply because thousands and thousands of Roman citizens thought it was good fun to watch Christians and slaves and prisoners get torn to pieces by lions. She wouldn’t agree that the treatment of Native Americans by the American government was justifiable, even though most white Americans at the time believed the native peoples of the continent to be ignorant savages.

She wouldn’t agree with John C. Calhoun’s argument that since the whole of the Southern agrarian economy depended upon the institution of slavery that it was not merely a necessary evil but a positive social good. She wouldn’t agree because she’s an educated, intelligent, civilized person and she recognizes barbarism and cruelty when she sees it. What’s more, she recognizes a bad argument when she hears one.

But of course, every ideology has its sacred cows, and for most Progressives abortion is one. On this issue, the normal rules of logic and rigorous argumentation are suspended and all that matters is “what women want.” Ms. Rosin says as much when she laments the need for abortion apologetics in the 21st century.

To her, it’s a non-issue that doesn’t even merit serious discussion anymore. Even though about as many people are pro-life as are pro-choice, she doesn’t feel obligated to take any heed of the many essential questions at the heart of the abortion debate. Essential questions that men have been asking since the beginning of time. Ontological and philosophical and theological questions that run much deeper than the pro-life caricatures she so easily dismisses.

I can appreciate that the pro-choice camp is tired of playing defense and might be refreshed to see someone rising from the ranks to offer positive affirmation. However, simply refusing to acknowledge the wrongness of an act doesn’t negate its wrongness. A thief can stand up and announce to the world that he’s a thief and not sorry about it, but at the end of the day, theft is still wrong and everyone knows it.

Lying, cheating, stealing, murder… these basic offenses against nature and against one’s neighbor have been prohibited in virtually all cultures at all times throughout human history. Call it the law written on the heart. Call it the innate social contract. Call it what you will, but for this reason abortion has been and will remain a controversial issue because it is an act that involves a perverted assault upon one of the most primal of human relationships, that of a mother and her child.

Rosin herself betrays this when she makes the point that a majority of women who have abortions are mothers and that mothers, more than anyone else, understand how big a deal it is to bring a life into this world. She’s right. Being pregnant is a big deal, and every mother knows what I mean when I refer to the indescribable feeling that settles over a women when she discovers that she has conceived.

All of a sudden, she’s not alone anymore… she is with child. Depending on whether or not the pregnancy is desired, the discovery of this single fact will either stimulate the greatest elation or the gravest dread. An insignificant phenomenon doesn’t elicit feelings like that.

Rosin acknowledges the relationship between a mother and her fetus as “a complex one,” but doesn’t bother to explain why this complexity has ceased to merit social discussion. She merely doubles down on her initial tactic of “name it and claim it”:

“Three in 10 American women have abortions by the time they hit menopause. They are not generally victims of rape or incest, or in any pitiable situation from which they need to be rescued. They are making a reasonable and even admirable decision that they can’t raise a child at the moment. Is that so hard to say? As Pollitt puts it, ‘This is not the right time for me’ should be reason enough. And saying that aloud would help push back against the lingering notion that it’s unnatural for a woman to choose herself over others.”

This “lingering notion” that Rosin and Pollitt would extinguish is not merely that a women shouldn’t choose herself over others, it’s that a mother shouldn’t choose herself over her child, because as a mother she is a steward of life. This is her ontological duty. This is why pregnancy is such a big deal, and no amount of rhetoric or politicking will change a woman’s innate consciousness of this fact.

Where Pollitt’s book falls short, Rosin suggests, is by inadequately addressing abortion’s relevancy to family planning, particularly for poor and uneducated segment of the population. It is in this arena that abortion shines most brightly as a social and moral good. Rosin writes:

“The pro-choice side should be able to say that a poor or working-class woman getting an abortion is making a wise choice for her future. That way, the left would own not only gender and income equality, but also a new era of family values. They could claim that abortion is not a distraction from economic issues but that they are inextricably linked. And they could point out the pro-life side’s very weak response to the proliferation of young, struggling single mothers.”

The “weak response” of the pro-life side refers to our stubborn beliefs that the duties of parenthood supersede the whims of human libido, and that people should take responsibility for their actions. Our “weak response” includes the existence of crisis pregnancy centers across the country, where women facing unintended pregnancies are given support and life affirming options.

Rosin sees these responses as “weak” because they 1) come across as judgmental (how DARE you suggest that my unborn child is more important than an unfettered sex life and 2) don’t get rid of the central “problem,” of an unwanted child. She, like many Progressives, seems to believe that people should be free to enjoy sex without any kind of “neurotic” concerns, that the terrifying specter of pregnancy should never interfere with a good roll in the hay.

The problem, as she views it, isn’t a pervasive culture of irresponsibility, but that American society has been terrorized far too long by the reflexive moralism of the Right and their incessant claims about the value of human life and a mother’s responsibility to her unborn child.

Would it be better if irresponsible, ill-prepared people didn’t bring children into their worlds of instability and chaos? Of course it would! But telling these people that abortion is the solution to their problems will only perpetuate the culture of irresponsibility that leads to unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

As Ms. Rosin points out, most abortions aren’t the result of rape or incest or any other pitiable situation. On the contrary, they are the result of women and men who have sex without giving any thought to the potential consequences. It’s this attitude that must be addressed and reformed.

I am reminded of an episode of Southpark where Cartman provides life-coaching advice to inner-city teens (basically teaching them how to cheat to get ahead) he advises a young pregnant girl as follows:

“Abortion isn’t wrong…abortion is the ultimate form of cheating. You’re cheating nature itself. Why do rich white girls get ahead in life? Because they get abortions when they’re young. They get pregnant, but they still want to go to college, so, whatever, they just cheat. They cheat that little critter in their belly out of a chance at life.”

Who would have thought that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of all people, would be the ones to capture the essence of abortion so succinctly?

Whether or not one considers an embryo or a fetus to be a person, the incontrovertible truth is that abortion stops a beating heart. It cheats a little human being out of a chance at life. Catha Pollitt thinks this is no big deal, and Hanna Rosin thinks this isn’t worth talking about anymore. They couldn’t be more wrong.


Erica Wanis is a consultant for the John Jay Institute's Center for a Just Society. She resides in Leesburg, VA, with her husband and son.


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  • Claire

    Excellent response. I read the article a few weeks ago, and I’m very glad to see it addressed so eloquently from a pro-life perspective.

  • Guy McClung

    Democrats 1864: Slavery-no big deal. Democrats 1964 discrimination-no big deal. Democrats 2014-abortion, no big deal. 28,000,000 dead minority babies-no big deal. Black genocide-no big deal. Wonder they are the “Party Of Death”?