by Mattias Caro
The moment for a dramatic shift in the conversation on abortion might be upon us.
Because of Roe vs. Wade the well-entrenched, American abortion industry has peddled its one ware to women: freedom. Last week’s vote by the House of Representatives to strip funding for Planned Parenthood (PP) has ignited a furor among PP’s supporters. Their argument is straight-forward: funding PP and its abortion services is essential to the happiness of women.
The abortion industry feels threatened. And it is confused. Longtime abortion proponent Frances Kissling wrote in last month’s Washington Post that unless abortion supporters change their arguments, they cannot survive. And for very good reason: as an absolute right, abortion must give way to a new understanding in the public square:
The fetus is more visible than ever before, and the abortion-rights movement needs to accept its existence and its value. It may not have a right to life, and its value may not be equal to that of the pregnant woman, but ending the life of a fetus is not a morally insignificant event.
Stop. Re-read that paragraph again. If you call yourself pro-life, read it one more time: ending the life a fetus is not a morally insignificant event. For some time now, the pro-life argument has centered principally upon defending the life of the fetus. But pro-abortion proponents have long-since been making another claim that perhaps the pro-life side isn’t hearing: it’s not if the fetus is a life, it is rather when and why are the best conditions to bring that fetus into this world.
In other words, it’s not a doubt about believing in the fact of unborn life; it’s a question of hope and happiness—when and why favor life?
The de-funding of PP is the first step towards a deeper question our American society must answer honestly. The defenders of PP funding cite the need to provide pro-women an out; they talk about all the other services, such as HIV testing, counseling and contraceptives PP provide; they cite the absolute difficulty a woman in poverty faces in raising a child. Yet, for those of us who believe in a common good and a public life that promotes what matters most, our values, none of these things compels the funding of PP.
Indeed, PP is a private organization. The government neither funds the ACLU to protect the First Amendment nor the NRA for the Second. And yet, the standard libertarian line that government ought to stay out of culture wars impoverishes our Public Square. Governments do reflect our values; if they did not, then the current unrest in the Middle East would be nothing more than a temper tantrum. The underlying legitimacy to those who lament the de-funding of PP is precisely this: a need to identify what ought to be the hope and happiness we desire for everyone in our society because of our common humanity.
The abortion model fails to deliver. Those favoring abortion largely lean on “ideal circumstances” as the determinative factor for bringing a child into the world. Mere “choice” is not enough: a women has to be emotionally, physically and financially ready to bring up the baby . They implicitly recognize the difficulties of motherhood. But their solution is largely one of “cowboy compassion”: if she can’t do it on her own, then we ought to help her not to undertake the journey. The mother in America has become the loneliest of lone-rangers.
For some time now, an alternative to the PP model of mothering has emerged: the crisis pregnancy center. Spurred on by the pro-life commitment to the whole person, crisis pregnancy centers don’t offer abortions. They offer support. They ask a woman, “Why do you want to abort? Are you afraid? Do you not have a job? Has something else happened to you?” And upon listening they say, “We can offer you whatever we need out of the little we have: doctors, a warm bed, diapers, a family to house you, even parents willing to adopt. Is that enough for you to consider bringing this life into the world?” The alarming result for the pro-abortion world is this: almost all the women who walk into a crisis pregnancy center carry their baby to term. They find people who realize that they are not meant to be alone. And they provide help and hope.
The final analysis here is not that government ought to fund crisis pregnancy centers over abortion facilities. The fact is that compassion is not about resources, but about people. But in a society as rich as ours—in time, resources, and opportunity—the sad question is why any women, should she feel alone, would actually be alone. The willingness to throw money at the problem of the crisis pregnancy betrays a vision of the public good that merely sees men and women as a problem to be solved and managed. But our common discourse needs to be about something much, much more: what is good, what can make us happy, and how can we help one another choose that.
The philosophy that animates PP and its supporters ought to be relegated to the dust bin of our history. But what will we put in its place? That’s a question that all the money in the world can’t answer. Only we can.