Essay #8 - Consequences

   Abortion, many people argue, cannot be made illegal now without disastrous consequences. Consequences, of course, are not all that counts in ethics. The end does not justify the means. But they do have some relevance when we are considering what laws to enact. I will argue that there is no good reason to suppose that the consequences would be disastrous, and that many of them would in fact be good.

   First, there is no reason to suppose that there will be enormous numbers of deaths again from illegal abortions. For one thing, there never were. The figures for such deaths used at the time of Roe v. Wade were fabricated for political reasons. If abortion were legally prohibited, those abortions that occurred illegally would probably be performed by the same people who perform them now, and early abortions are now done with suction which is safer than the older D&C. The safety of both childbirth and abortion is largely a function of the level of medical care available in a given society – on such things as qualified medical personnel, antibiotics, ultrasound and other up to date medical equipment. Making abortion legal does not make it safe without good basic medical care in place, as Ghana discovered. Abortion has long been legal there, but an estimated 30% of maternal deaths are caused by abortion. Those of us concerned about women’s lives and health, therefore, should be concentrating on raising the standard of medical care available to pregnant women.

   Pro-choice activists have raised the specter of women being hauled off to jail for abortions if they were made illegal. This is mere rhetorical scare tactics. Normally it is only those who perform abortions who are punished. Certainly in the United States women have traditionally been regarded as victims and almost never subject to criminal prosecution.

   If laws prohibiting abortion were to be enacted, they would need to contain at least some hard case exceptions to get the support of voters, so this should assuage some of the fears readers may have about the really difficult cases. Many pro-choice advocates maintain that making it illegal would not reduce the number of abortions performed, but this is implausible. Doctors’ fears of punishment, the moral force of the law, and the realization that abortion is not going to be easily available if they slip up are likely to lead to behavioral changes on the part of many people, although implementing changes gradually may prove necessary to allow time for people to adapt to a society where abortion is no longer freely available. More babies will become available for adoption, which will satisfy the longings of childless couples and enable the child to have a chance at a good life.

   Men would be held responsible for their sexual activity; they couldn’t just use women sexually, give them money for abortion, and walk away -- or worse yet high pressure them into abortions. Fathers may well come to love and enjoy their children, while both parents will be spared the long term effects of grief and guilt. Abortion, especially repeat abortions are bad for women’s physical health as well (and almost half of all abortions are repeat abortions). In spite of the pro-choice claim that easy access to abortion is essential to women’s reproductive health, countries like Ireland and Poland that have the strictest abortion laws in Europe are also among those with the lowest maternal mortality rate.

   Forbidding abortion legally and radically reducing our shockingly high abortion rate (nearly a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion) will have a very good effect on public discourse about moral issues which has been poisoned by abortion in deep ways. Those who have had abortions feel a need to justify them, others don’t want to make them feel bad or judge them, so they hesitate to come out and say abortion is wrong, and everyone resorts to vague and evasive language about how we all have differing opinions and so on. But it is perfectly possible to say an action is wrong without judging the person who commits it; leave judgment to God. We need to cut through the miasma and acknowledge that it is wrong – so seriously wrong that we cannot allow it to occur.

   Finally, we have a duty to protect innocent human lives from being destroyed, but to be faithful to Catholic teaching, we should also work personally and politically to ensure that pregnant women in desperate circumstances receive all the support and help they need for themselves and their children. Arguably, we should also support workplace reforms that make it easier to combine parenting with work. We lag badly behind other industrialized democracies in both these areas, which is an important reason why we have one of the highest abortion rates. Creating a culture of life calls us to re-order our priorities and be willing to make sacrifices.