I recently got into a debate on a college friend’s Facebook thread. He had made a religious argument opposing abortion but, since Christians are always told they shouldn’t impose their beliefs on others, I thought I could make a convincing case using science and basic human reason. Unfortunately, I didn’t do much convincing.
My main point was that being pro-life is a matter of biology. You don’t even need to pull in theological arguments — which only shut down conversation with secular-minded opponents anyway.
Modern science has shown that, even at its earliest stages of development, a human life is human life indeed. As noted on the Priests for Life website (PriestsforLife.org), a widely used medical textbook, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, says, “The intricate processes by which a baby develops from a single cell are miraculous. ... This cell [the zygote] … is the beginning of a new human being.” And Dr. Jerome Lejeune, the “father of modern genetics,” has stated: “To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. … It is plain experimental evidence.”
I then offered my own rationale: If my heart stopped beating and all attempts to revive me failed, I would be considered dead. The opposite also holds true. If my heart were to start beating, I would be considered alive. Science has shown that the unborn child develops a heartbeat approximately 18 days after fertilization.
The two pro-choice women with whom I went back-and-forth, both non-Christians, didn’t buy it. One said, “I am a grown woman, this is my body, and I should be allowed to do with it as I pretty much please. … The point is not whether there is a heartbeat or not.” The other said, “The right to abortion … (is) a right because forcing a woman to maintain a pregnancy for nine months against her will is an impermissible infringement upon her physical being.”
I pointed out that the pregnant woman isn’t the only one whose well-being is on the line. I contended that the child would choose life if he or she had a say. “It’s the natural instinct of every human being to live and survive,” I said. “Overall, if you take any human being of any age and try to kill them, they will struggle to live. It’s well documented that unborn children try to move away from the instruments of abortion that are trying to dismember them. … It does signify that it’s the natural instinct of the unborn child to live. You could even consider it a choice.”
I was hoping to get at least an acknowledgment that destroying a fetus is taking a human life. But I didn’t even get that far. One of the women, referring to any unborn child under 25 weeks’ development, concluded, “(The fetus) is a glob of cells that is not an autonomous organism capable of independent life and cannot be considered the same way as a child that is capable of surviving on its own.”
After two days and numerous added comments, that’s essentially where it ended. I hadn’t changed their minds, and they didn’t change mine.
So, nearly 40 years into the national stalemate over Roe v. Wade, is there any hope for winning this unending argument — a seemingly eternal debate that often centers on beliefs instead of truth? Is there any way to work from “common ground” with our pro-choice adversaries?
Yes there is.
Having worked for The Christophers for more than 13 years, I’ve been constantly surrounded by the adage “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” If every pro-life Catholic applied that wisdom to the pro-life cause, great inroads could be made — as long as our “candles” consist of concrete, practical steps.
For example, we can help women in crisis pregnancies — if not by getting directly involved, then by helping those who are meeting needs at the street level. Thankfully, there are many groups and individuals out there who are living out this mission. The Sisters of Life (SistersofLife.org) and Good Counsel Homes (GoodCounselHomes.org) are just two of many shining examples.
But more needs to be done. And it’s up to people like me who, in the past, haven’t gone beyond paying lip service to the pro-life movement and trying, in vain, to convince people by way of reasoned debate.
In 2010, a Catholic young adult group that I help run in Queens, N.Y., will be holding a “baby shower” to benefit a pregnancy-resource center for unwed mothers who’ve chosen to carry their babies to term. By itself, it’s not a huge step — but it will do some good.
The idea to be more proactively pro-life was partially inspired in me by the story of Lacy Dodd, a young woman who experienced an unplanned pregnancy while she was a senior at the University of Notre Dame in 1999. Though her boyfriend and a nurse encouraged her to have an abortion, Lacy chose to have and raise her daughter, who is now 10 years old. To help others who are in similar situations, Lacy now serves on the board of directors for Room at the Inn (RATI.org), the only Catholic pregnancy-resource center and after-care facility in Charlotte, N.C.
In addition to the organization’s already impressive work, Room at the Inn is working in conjunction with Belmont Abbey College to build the United States’ first campus-based maternity and after-care residence for pregnant college students. As Lacy explained when I interviewed her on the “Christopher Closeup” show, “Statistics show that college-age women represent half of all abortions. Most of these women cite the fear that they will not be able to complete their education or start their career as the primary reason for choosing abortion.”
That project grew in part out of the efforts of the nonpartisan, nonsectarian grassroots organization Feminists for Life, whose college-outreach program discovered that pregnant college students are almost universally encouraged to have abortions. As Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life, has written: “Forcing a woman to choose between sacrificing her education or career plans and sacrificing her child is not much of a free choice.”
Approaching this topic as I am from the pro-life side, I realize how crucial it is that we present the biological facts proving the humanity of the unborn child. It’s essential, too, that we work to change laws. But arguing the facts and pursuing legislation will only get us so far because abortion is so emotionally charged for people on both sides of the argument.
“Common ground,” meanwhile, can be sought through constructive actions that no person of good will would criticize.
If you call yourself pro-life and are already helping others through physical, emotional or financial support, keep up the vital work. If you only talk about being pro-life, find a local or national way to help. And if you say you’re opposed to abortion but support the choice for others, ask yourself what you’re personally doing to help women in crisis pregnancies choose life.
Actual involvement has the power to change hearts and minds, so actually get involved.
Tony Rossi is a TV and radio producer
with The Christophers.