Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the perception of abortion, in the minds of those who advance its cause, has undergone a series of important and revealing changes. There was a time when abortion was generally regarded as a desperate act, a view very much in line with the Second Vatican Council’s description of it as an “abominable crime”. The 1973 decision made it legal throughout the country and therefore invested it with a certain degree of acceptability. Nonetheless, the reality of abortion continued to weigh heavily on people’s minds. It was legal, but it was still shameful. In order to remove some of the shame, it became an “agonizing choice”. In this way, the woman seeking abortion did not deny the reality of her unborn child, but made a decision that was very difficult for her. She had a moral conscience and was aware of both sides of the issue. The decision to abort was made, as Magda Denes stated in the title of her 1976 book, In Sorrow and Necessity. In a similar spirit, Linda Bird Francke titled her 1982 book, The Ambivalence of Abortion.
Pro-abortionists, nonetheless, wanted to clear abortion of any hint of wrong during. Therefore, they settled on the antiseptic term “choice”. Abortion was merely exercising a function that every human being possesses and utilizes on a daily basis. Being “pro-choice” gave abortion a kind of moral neutrality. However, pro-abortionists wanted to see abortion as something positive. T-shirts were sold sporting the words, “I had an abortion”. Abortion was marketed as something one could be proud of and announce to the world without shame. In 1998, Ginnete Paris penned The Sacrament of Abortion. Abortion became a “sacrament” while reconciliation was deemed unnecessary.
Recently, members of the European Parliament voted that abortion is a human “right”. Formerly, the right of the unborn child to life had been rooted in the natural law. The European Parliament has seen fit to appeal to a vote in order to annul that right. Can a group of voters have such power? If this vote added respectability to abortion advocates, it nonetheless reduced defenders of unborn life to the role of criminals, since they, presumably, oppose a declared human right. In order to achieve the respectability they sought, abortion advocates needed to tarnish the opposition. They needed to make being pro-life disreputable.
Promoters of abortion regard this change of attitudes toward abortion as a mark of progress. However, what has changed is not the nature of abortion—it still destroys the life of the unborn child—but attitudes toward it. The reality of abortion has not changed. There is no reason for the Catholic Church to regard abortion as anything more or less than an “abominable crime”. Abortion is always what it is, no matter how people decide to view it.
It is hard for people to live with shame. It disturbs their equilibrium. It causes unrest. It clamors for resolution. They can acknowledge it and expiate it through confession or in some other manner. Or they can decide that it is not what it really is and put a positive spin on it. As Raskolnikov stated in Crime and Punishment, “I did not kill a human being. I killed a louse.” Here is a case in which psychology replaces philosophy—how we would prefer to perceive something rather than see it for what it is. The distinguished essayist, Alexander Pope understood this curious phenomenon of coming to believe that something bad is really good, or the willingness to believe that vice is really virtue, when he stated that “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace” (Essay on Man, II, 217-220).
Abortion advocates may boast of progress and look at their opponents as Medievalists mired in an unenlightened past. But such “progress” is an illusion. Moreover, it is an insidious illusion that has dire consequences. The prophet Isaiah warned against such moral inversion: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20). We read a similar warning in Proverbs 17:15: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abominations to the Lord”.
Excluding the light and living in darkness is an apt description of Hell. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard saw the role of philosophy as dispelling illusions. Life is difficult. Illusions can pacify, placate, and please. But they cannot heal. They cannot improve one’s life. They can provide only a fiction that is essentially unlivable. Courage is a far better response to the difficulties of life than escapism.
The Russian existentialist philosopher, Nikolai Berdyaev, borrowed a line from the playwright Nikolai Gogol to serve as the epigraph for his book, The Destiny of Man: “It is sad not to see any good in goodness”. It may very well be that the origin of the abortion mentality is the inability or the reluctance to see the good in goodness, to see the value of the human unborn, to grasp the dignity of procreation. From that initial misstep follows a myriad of consequential errors until light becomes darkness and darkness becomes light.
The abortion issue offers us an ongoing moral drama in which the dramatis personae are leaning in opposite directions: some toward, and others away from the light. It is a drama that will continue until the end of time.