Monday, October 15, 2007

A "Truce" on Abortion?

Some feminist pro-abort website refers to Vox Nova as an "anti-choice" blog and Tony A's / Morning's Minion's response is to ask "Is a Truce Possible on the Abortion Issue?":
Even though we are all Catholics on this blog, and accept the Church’s position on abortion, it is still the topic that exposes the greatest divisions among us. What is true in this tiny, rather insignificant blog, is also true in the global Catholic world. Now, I notice that Vox Nova is singled out as an “anti-choice site”: M.Z. has a post on that particular issue. I would like to made a different point, a broader point. Is dialogue possible between Catholics and those who disagree with the Church on abortion? Can we find “common ground”? Cardinal Bernardin certainly thought so, although his initiative did not survive his death. Too often, those who support abortion and those who do not simply talk past each other and, in the blog world, that so often means preaching to the converted and scoring points among a close circle of like-minded individuals. At the same time, they are not going to convince us that abortion is a “right”, and nor will we convince them that abortion is intrinsically evil. Are we at an impasse? I hope not. Despite everything, I believe there is scope for fruitful dialogue.

As a starting point, we can talk about the best way to deal with the thorny issue of abortion from the legal perspective, but one thing Catholics will never accept is that abortion is a “right”. We are not hypocrites, for we believe in a “seamless garment” approach to the life issue that would condemn not only abortion and euthanasia, but the death penalty, torture, unjust war, as well as policies that faciliate poverty and inadequate health care. Fundamentally, we hold that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and that life is sacred, even the life of the unborn. Even if you disagree with last conjecture, you must at least accept the validity and power of this argument.

Having said that, it is quite clear to me that abortion is related to poverty and prevailing social conditions. Declines in abortion in the US occurred most rapidly during times when poverty rates were falling– most notably under the Clinton administration (see
here for detailed argument). Look at some of the statistics: 57% of women opting for abortion are economically disadvantage, and the abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). And when asked to give reasons for abortion, three-quarters of women say that cannot afford a child.

And yet, the political pro-life movement often ignores this aspect. Not only that, it often uses the abortion issue to cover some less savoury aspects of policy. Note that when supposed pro-life candidates are elected, we see little impact on abortion, but a major advance in economic policies that foster upward redistribution. And too often, the pro-life lobby contents itself with minor victories that have little direct impact on abortion, but do rally political support. Case in point: I am pretty certain that S-CHIP will do more to lower the abortion rate in the US than the partial-birth abortion ban, which everybody pretty much agrees will do almost nothing.
[ED.: See here for why this statement is complete nonsense.]

It is also the case that banning abortion often does not really impact on its incidence...

We need to tackle poverty and economic conditions. We need universal health care urgently...

(emphasis added)

First of all, given the unfair but widely-held perception of Vox Nova as a "left-wing" Catholic blog, I would think that having the epithet "anti-choice" hurled at you by pro-aborts provides you with some mighty fine orthodox street creds. Why, in response to that, do you want to call a "truce"? If you're serious about Catholic orthodoxy, embrace that "anti-choice" label. This commenter at Vox Nova comes close to summing up what I'm talking about:
I am not sure why Vox Nova would want to declare a truce on abortion. Why? I think the fact that this site is singled out as a anti choice site is a great thing.

Why would one want to have a truce. Is there a call for a truce by some on here on Republicans, the War on Terror, on immigration, on economics?

I disagree with a lot of people on here on their postings especially as to Iraq and Republicans. However this BLog has given me hope that while Catholics can disagree on certain issues that s on some things were not to be compromised.

I got turned off by many “liberal” Catholics once because at one time they seem to be on the right track as to the poor and other issues but were fragant is in their opposition to basic church teachings. It was deemed not very important.

I now see a alot of Orthodox bloggers that are far more liberal than me political wise but they are pretty Orthodox. That gives them credibility in my eyes and I listen to them more and have them challenge me.

So no I think doing a “amnesty International” would not be productive.

(emphasis added)
As the commenter notes, Vox Nova has credibility among many more conservative Catholics like me precisely because we know the folks over there are committed to the Church's teachings on building a Culture of Life. Besides, if some pro-abort feminist blog were to call Pro Ecclesia "anti-choice", I'd prominently place it in the "What They're Saying" portion of my right-hand sidebar.

The second point I'd like to make regarding Tony's post is a political one (regarding the DNC talking points he spouts). But, once again, that point is better left to what another commenter at Vox Nova had to say:
“We need to create the conditions that would encourage women not to have abortions in the first place. Could this be a point of common ground among Catholics and pro-choice feminists, since we are not really going to change each others minds on this matter? If we would focus less on the coercive side, would you be willing to work to minimize the abortion rate? … We need to tackle poverty and economic conditions.”

For the sake of argument, I will answer with an emphatic NO!

Here’s the thing. Let’s assume that abortion is intrinsically evil — either murder, or akin to murder. If that’s the case, it cannot be enough to “minimize the abortion rate”; we have to work to outlaw it. If we’re unsuccessful, so be it. But we can’t just accept the status quo, can we?

The notion that the way we would “reduce the abortion rate” is “to tackle poverty and economic conditions” strikes me as absurd. Because the poor will always be with us, this is just a way of saying forget about abortion and focus on poverty. It is a perfectly tenable position, I guess; but don’t expect to get the anti-abortion movement to buy into it.

It can be difficult for any movement to maintain cohesiveness. I believe that the anti-abortion movement should focus on its core mission — reversal of Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion — and not get side-tracked on other issues. Just because it calls itself “pro-life” doesn’t mean it has to be against the death penalty (any more than the fact that the abortion rights side calls itself “pro-choice” should mean it has to be in favor of decriminalizing drugs or prostitution). It’s probably hard enough for the anti-abortion movement to agree on abortion-related issues (such as what valid exceptions there might be, if any; and who, if anyone would be prosecuted). To start throwing in things like the death penalty or poverty relief is entirely unrealistic.

Clearly, I’m not saying that a person can’t be anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. I’m just saying that you should join two different groups if you are, because not everyone who is one is also the other. Similarly, you’re not going to convince all anti-abortion people that general poverty relief is going to be either effective or appropriate.

Is “minimiz[ing] the abortion rate” a laudable goal? Sure. In the same way that minimizing traffic fatalities would be a laudable goal. I would like to minimize innocent deaths at every turn, if possible. But please don’t suggest that people should not seek to outlaw intrinsically evil behavior and should instead work on minimizing its incidence. Is there any other serious moral issue on which we have embraced such a position? (I can’t think of any off the top of my head.)

While I have every confidence that Morning’s Minion posted this in good faith, I must point out that it could have come out of a pro-choice handbook. Let’s not forget that the (un)official liberal position is not that abortions are good and should be embraced without apology (only the fringes admit that); rather, it is that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.” A “let’s focus on poverty and abortion will take care of itself” policy would be music to pro-choice ears. Not surprisingly, it wouldn’t play well in pro-life camps.

(emphasis added)
In other words, the sort of "truce" Tony A is talking about is one that is strictly on "pro-choice" terms. Those supporting legalized abortion on demand give up absolutely nothing, and we all agree to pursue the big government program du jour in hopes of keeping abortion "safe, legal, and rare". No thanks.

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At 10/15/2007 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've long thought that were Minion to convert to the pro-choice side, the only noticeable difference would be that he'd be less effective at selling pro-choice politicians to pro-life Catholics. This reinforces that view mightily.

At 10/15/2007 4:20 PM, Blogger DP said...

"Is a truce possible on the torture issue?"

"Is a truce possible on the capital punishment issue?"

Run those two suggestions up the flagpole and see if Tony salutes.

I can understand a desire to talk with a foe, but the worldviews are so irreconcilable that nothing more than the occasional tactical cooperation on a program here or there has any hope of working.

At 10/15/2007 5:22 PM, Blogger Darwin said...

I'm not sure it would be inappropriate to call Vox Nova a "left wing" blog.

At most, one could qualify it as "a left wing blog with a couple of barely tolerated, token conservative authors".

At 10/15/2007 6:25 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Most of the posters on Vox Nova seem genuinely committed to a consistent pro-life ethic. Posts there usually reflect well the social teaching of the Church, starting with respect for the dignity of every human person. But some of the posters seem to me to be in the "personally consistent ethic BUT" group, and nobody more so than Morning's Minion.

In some ways I find it more annoying to read his apologetics for supporting the Democrats than I do to read the pro-choice musings of the little crew on the dot.Commonweal blog. Most of them don't hestitate to say that they and their set know better than the pope because . . . well, who wouldn't?

At 10/15/2007 9:28 PM, Blogger Michael D. said...

I think dialogue might be possible in the sense that the pro-life movement would be best served to incorporate a holistic approach to life. That is, along with reversing roe v. wade also talking about caring for the poor, improving the adoption system, providing crisis pregnancy centers, etc. Recognizing the condition of the poor that motivates the pro-abortion side can help establish a common ground from which to base discussion.

However, there's a hell of a difference between dialogue and truce. The concept of truce is just another example of Minion's catering to the Dems. Kinda like what Dale said: as soon as they start talking about a truce on immigration, then I'll buy the legitimacy of Tony A's point. Until then, he's just a Democratic promoter abusing Catholic teaching.

At 10/16/2007 8:28 AM, Blogger Darwin said...

In fairness, I noted that VN's founder, Michael Joseph/Policratus later put up a strong post stating in no uncertain terms his absolute opposition to abortion and saying that his social positions followed from his pro-life position rather than the other way around.

Still, the post by MM is quite frankly a disgrace. Every site has to come up with their own editorial stance, but I'd certainly not want something like that on a site I was editor of.

At 10/16/2007 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morning's Minion (which is his desired name) makes a good point. If pro-lifer's goal is to keep babies from getting killed, then we should what we have to do to make that happen.

Have you looked at the latest reports coming our from around the world that finds that EVEN when abortion is illegal, women continue to do it at about the same rate? Pro-aborts look at that and say "well, it should be legal then." But, pro-lifers can look at that and ask "what needs to happen so that desperate women don't kill their children?"

Without decent, accessible health care, affordable childcare, etc, societies all but coerce women to kill their kids.

I resigned from the Board of a pro-life organization because the only thing these people could do time and again was protest outside the clinic. They have done that for years and, guess what, the numbers of abortions stay the same or have increased in my State. We are failing and some people are completely ok with that failure. I am not. I finally joined Feminists for Life because that group really seems to grasp the connection between lack of viable options for women and the abortion rate in this country.

I don't think Morning's Minion's piece is a terrible piece. I think he is being bluntly honest and I appreciate that approach. If only more pro-lifers would be so honest, maybe babies would be saved.

At 10/16/2007 10:36 AM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...


Thanks for your comment. I don't disagree with what you say, but I do believe that a focus that relies too heavily on "removing the conditions" that allegedly lead to abortion and providing "viable options for women" is little more than materialism. I just have an extremely difficult time with the notion that the high abortion rates in the U.S. and throughout much of the industrialized world is related to poverty and lack of "viable options".

Darwin does a nice job of answering Tony on this particular point here:

... Does the author really imagine that the only solution to sin is prosperity?

We live in the most wealthy country in the world, with one of the highest abortion rates in the world. Is our problem really that we're not wealthy enough?

Not only the average citizen of our country, but the poor of our country are far, far wealthier than they were 100 years ago. And yet, as we have become wealthier, the institution of the family has collapsed, illegitimacy has become a pandemic in the lower economic reaches of society, divorce has become commonplace, abortion is common -- used by some parts of society as a last resort, and by others almost as backup-birth control. (The stats I've seen on abortion repeat customers are pretty terrifying.)

And yet the problem, we are told, is that our country is still too poor to have a lower abortion rate? ...

Darwin's entire post is worth a read.

At 10/16/2007 10:36 AM, Blogger Darwin said...


I agree with you that protests as a means of political action of are highly limited worth, and I also agree that Feminists For Life is a very worthy organization doing very good work.

However, I think we should be very, very suspicious of the kind of reasoning that MM employs in his posts (and which you seem to hint at in your comment here) which is essentially that its understandable and natural to kill one's children if not provided with enough financial incentives not to. (And indeed, I think some of the pieces written by prominant pro-abortion advocates such as Barbara Ehrenreich's article several years back about aborting the children she "couldn't afford" underline that realisticly, no amount of financial security would be enough for some of these folks.)

The real issue is not government paid safety net (think how much the abortion rate has increased over the last 100 years while the number of government services has gone up) but the social acceptibility of making certain moral choices. If euthenasia had become completely common in our society, I imagine that outlawing it again wouldn't reduce the incidence of offing grandma and grandpa if they go too expensive. It will take major social and moral change, far more than economic change, to put the abortion genie back in the bottle.

At 10/16/2007 10:41 AM, Blogger Histor said...

My opinion on a truce....never.

Not until abortion is illegal in all 50 states, and the overwhelming majority of Americans believe direct abortion is wrong.

Until then, I'm focusing on abortion above all other political issues.


At 10/16/2007 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa. I would not say that a woman can sympathetically kill her kid even if she is poor. But I am saying that obviously is a huge motivator for women who are doing it.

And when I hear people talk about how wealthy our country is (which it is) and thus dismiss that there are many people HUNGRY in this country (which there are) I realize the huge disconnect. I used to teach in a public school, where I had to bring food to class and feed my kids when I realized many of them had not had a meal in a day! Crazy, but it happens all the time.

Desperate women do desperate things. I have stood outside abortion clinics watching women walk in with pure desperation on their faces. Those women who want to kill for the sake of killing are few.

I agree that the law will somewhat help, but keep in mind the US had about 1 million abortions in the 1920s (Marvin Olaskey's book is an excellent read "Abortion Rites"). Illegal does not = no more abortions.

I don't think Morning's Minion is taking an either or approach, which is what I am hearing from you. Lets do the WHOLE approach. Make it illegal or at the minimum extremely difficult, while also meeting womens' needs.

At 10/16/2007 5:10 PM, Blogger Morning's Minion said...

You know, I'm sure Darwin would have been among the first to deem Jesus a "disgrace" for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, had he lived at that time. Our faith calls us to such dialogue. Quite frankly, refusal to engage in any dialogue is a sign of insecurity-- it's nicer getting compliments from those who think like you than challenging arguments from those who don't. Well, sorry Darwin, I'm happy to venture into that arena with good intentions, and my faith remains unshaken.

Now to substance: your point on economics is nonsensical. The issue is not the wealth of a country, but what it does with that wealth. The US is a rich country, but a highly unequal one, and with one of the highest poverty rates among the advanced countries. Abortion is lower in countries with lower poverty, more equality, and better health care provision. I've shown before on Vox Nova a statistical relationship in the US between changes in poverty and changes in abortion rates. The evidence is there.

What disturbs me most is the implicit Calvinism of your approach to this issue, with the ethic of personal responsibility trumping the concept of an organic and integrated community.

At 10/16/2007 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You know, I'm sure Darwin would have been among the first to deem Jesus a "disgrace" for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, had he lived at that time."

Actually Tony I think you would have been the first to condemn Jesus as a right wing reactionary for praising a Roman centurion and refusing to call for a Roman withdrawal from Judae. My comment of course is just as nonsensical as your attack on Darwin Catholic.

I think Jesus is all in favor of dialogue as long as we recall what he said to the woman caught in adultery: Go and sin no more. We do no favor to pro-aborts when we fail to make clear why abortion is a crime that cries out to Heaven, and it must stop.

As a leftist you of course view the world primarily through an economic prism. In regard to abortion you of course are mistaken. Most abortions have nothing to do with a lack of money but rather a lack of love. As Blessed Mother Teresa noted, "Any country that accepts abortion is the poorest of the poor".

At 10/16/2007 6:16 PM, Blogger Rick Lugari said...

Curious, MM. I acknowledge that my knowledge of statistics and methods is quite limited. I don't know what you do for a living but I suspect that statistics are part of your craft. You've cited the Guttmacher Institute work a number of times I believe as a basis for your understanding. Personally, I'm not sure what to make of their conclusions, but I am familiar with the old adage that statistics don't lie but statisticians do.

Given that numbers can be interpreted in various ways, be incomplete, or not represent other factors, why do you accept the Guttmacher (an organization that's in the business of promoting abortion, sex ed and contraception throughout the world) conclusions so readily? I mean, knowing how studies can be skewed to support any desired outcome, shouldn't the motives and methods of such work be viewed with a somewhat critical eye? I'm just a layman in these matters, but as I look over the Guttmacher study I see no accounting for cultural mores that may effect abortion rates in various nations. It would seem to me that that would be a critical distinction. Surely a country or region with a strong sense of morality will have a lower rate of occurrences than a country with little sense of morality. Shouldn't such things be factored in? If it's not factored in, how confident can we be of the conclusions drawn? I don't doubt that economics plays a role, it does...but it doesn't just play a role as far as personal circumstances that might lead a person to abortion, it plays a role as to how people view morality - whether they choose to serve God or mammon - whether they view humanity through economic terms of equality/inequality or with the inherent dignity and free will God created each of us with.

I think that post of Darwin's was spot on.

At 10/16/2007 7:56 PM, Blogger Darwin said...

You know, I'm sure Darwin would have been among the first to deem Jesus a "disgrace" for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, had he lived at that time.

There is, of course, very little than one may say in regards to this kind of suggestion, MM. Unless any of us here is a perfect Christian, each one of us would be made uncomfortable by _some_ element of Christ's ministry.

I recognize that I used strong terms (uncharacteristically strong, I should hope, since such weapons dull from constant usage) in referring to your post -- and to the extent that these caused hurt I apologize.

And yet, I must stand by the comment. Dialog is all very well (I thought your fellow blogger Policratus was doing a very good job of explaining the reasoning behind Catholic morality to some of the visiting feminists) but "dialog" should not be used as a screen for giving up principles. When you combine a call for a "truce on abortion" to work on social/economic issues first, and then go on to suggest that outlawing abortion would do no good anyway, you frankly make it sound like it's fine to sit back and not worry about changing our current pro-abortion laws until after poverty and injustice do not exist -- which as we all know means: never.

Further, your claim that legality has no impact on abortion seems nonsensical. We all know that abortion rates increased significantly over the 60s and 70s as abortion laws were liberalized. (You've noted with approval the essay in Freakonomics which attributed the fall in the crime rate to this in your discussions of consequentialism.) Now, it stands to reason that making something legal would increase it more than making it illegal would decrease it, but to assert it would have no impact is downright silly. (It would also raise the question of why abortion advocates are upset by the idea.)

At 10/16/2007 9:51 PM, Blogger Morning's Minion said...

A couple of breif points:

First, yes, I work a lot with statistics. I did some very casual work a few months back showing a link between the change in abortion rates and poverty in the US. I haven't looked at the international evidence with any rigor (it's harder, for numerous reasons), but I have analyzed the data casually. And no, I do not take the WHO-Guttmacher study at face value.

Second, the point I wanted to make was not that I am stating unequivocally that whether abortion is legal or not has no effect on its incidence. I am merely trying to make a philsophical point: If x if true, does it hold that y must follow in Catholic moral theology?

At 10/17/2007 12:33 AM, Blogger Literacy-chic said...

The fact that there are abortions across the socio-economic spectrum rather nullifies all of these arguments, no? As does the fact that while the poor are statistically more likely to have abortions, the privileged (women) are validating these "choices" by repeatedly telling them that it is the "only way out," a valid option, and finally, a "right" and a "choice." But you know, this "way out," this "valid option," this "right," this "choice" is also available for every other possible scenario--from lack of material wealth to lack of love, age, personal career goals, inconvenience... whatever! The rhetoric is applied very broadly, whatever the economic realities. The economic situation of the poor needs to be addressed regardless, but so do the messages sent to women telling them under what circumstances abortion is not only acceptable, but preferable to bearing a child. There are many mainstream resources telling women about the importance of "planning" and informing prospective parents of the cost of children, but not so many who address the new life realistically, acknowledging the possibilities that new life brings. So while one group tackles economics and one tackles the legal system, who is going to do the PR to subvert the 4+ decades of feminist brainwashing that has led to the "every child a planned child" mentality, substituting instead the notion that every child is wanted, or could be, given the opportunity?

Incidently, the Feministe article is rather ridiculous in the firs place, as it cites circumstances related more to poor medical care and oddly totalitarian-sounding policing of the medical profession rather than real cases of abortion. The first example is an ectopic pregnancy--not a viable pregnancy, and a danger to the mother as well. I have never seen a Catholic theologian suggest that an ectopic pregnancy should be left untreated. It's the worst kind of slippery slope argument.


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