I agree with Robert Brennan (“Shields's Abortion Stand,” Letters, Feb. 15-22) that Mark Shields's allegedly pro-life stance is inconsistent and hollow. I also sympathize with his difficulty in understanding “what a person meant who said he or she was ‘pro-choice’ yet hated abortion.” However, we pro-lifers must make the effort to understand it—because, contradictory and schizophrenic as it seems, this is the position of a large number of Americans.
In his excellent book, Making Abortion Rare(Acorn, 1996), David Reardon documents that a large “middle majority” who call themselves “pro-choice” find abortion repugnant. They know it kills babies. (Even Planned Parenthood admitted this, in its 1963 pamphlet on birth control.) But they've been convinced by the radical feminists that the evil of abortion is outweighed by its alleged benefits to women: freedom, equality, health and safety. Because they have unconsciously accepted the pro-choicers'premise that the mother and the unborn child are deadly adversaries competing for rights, they feel that opposing abortion is “anti-woman.”
In order to counter this mindset, we must proclaim what we've learned from listening to the experiences of women who have aborted: that the good of women is so inseparable from the good of their children that abortion hurts the mother as surely as it murders the child.
As pro-life feminist Frederica Mathews-Green says, most women “want” an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg. Many a woman who approved of “choice” in the abstract realizes, when a real baby—her baby—is involved, that her maternal instincts can't be switched on and off depending on whether the pregnancy is “planned and wanted” or not. Urged, often by those she loves and trusts, to “get rid of the problem,” she may not even learn that other options exist. Afterwards, she finds that abortion hasn't solved her problems and has damaged her spiritually, emotionally and/or physically.
Dr. Reardon's “pro-woman, pro-life” strategy calls for a law—one might call it the> “Real Freedom of Choice Act” requiring that women be offered a truly free choice. This means counseling by open-minded persons who—unlike abortion clinic staff—will give them all the facts about fetal development, the risks of abortion, and alternatives; won't encourage denials of reality (e.g., “It's only a blob of tissue”); won't benefit financially if they choose abortion; and will help them get the support they need to choose life.
Since Roe v. Wade has decreed that abortion is a medical decision, this legislation would also hold doctors who perform abortions to the same high standards that govern all other forms of medical treatment. When those who fear “a return to the back alley” learn how completely most legal abortion clinics have exempted themselves from ordinary health and safety regulations (parental consent is just the tip of the iceberg), they will strongly support any measure designed to protect women from these unscrupulous profiteers.
While the pro-life movement must retain its long-term goal of legal protection for all human life, I believe that these interim measures would be both popular and helpful. As Dr. Reardon points out, everyone who cares about the health and well-being of women will want to protect them against dangerous and unwanted abortions. And as more people learn the truth about abortion's destructive effects on women, the cultural climate will change. Not only will many lives be saved—as people realize what a terrible price women pay for risking pregnancy when a child cannot be welcomed—society may even rediscover the wisdom of those “old-fashioned” Judeo-Christian ideas on sex and marriage.
If we in the right to life movement want to prevail, we must do more than say: “abortion kills babies.” We must extend Christ's love, mercy, and forgiveness to both the babies and their mothers.
Cos Cob, Connecticut