Sunday, September 13, 2009

Abortion & the Problem of the Human Will

I was all set the other day to post an excellent article by Dinesh D'Souza posted on the Sept. 9 Christianity Today website, when a news story appeared on Friday morning that made his words seem all the more timely. Mr. D’Souza’s article, "Sex, Lies, and Abortion," addressed the question of why, despite all the time and effort expended by pro-lifers in the past several decades attempting to educate people about the devastating effects of abortion on every person involved--the mother, the child, and those closest to them, not to mention the overall effect on society at large--we seem to be losing rather than gaining ground.

The story in question was, of course, the
tragic news out of Michigan that James Poullion, a pro-life activist in the township of Owasso was fatally shot at point blank range while sitting in his customary spot on the sidewalk holding a poster to demonstrate against abortion. Photos taken at the scene showed Mr. Poullion's portable oxygen tank. At this writing police are still attempting to determine exactly what drove the suspect, Harlan James Drake, to kill Mr. Poullion and also Michael Fuoss, the owner of a gravel pit business in the area. A police spokesman said that Drake appears to have held a grudge against both of them, noting that the suspect, "was offended by the manner of Mr. Pouillon's message." The Lansing State Journal reported this morning that Mr. Drake has been hospitalized, apparently having attempted suicide while in custody.

Coming as it does on the heels of the cold-blooded murder last May of George Tiller, the notorious late-term abortionist from Witchita, Kansas, the so-called "culture war" over the dignity of human life feels more like a real war these days.

Expressions of outrage from the powers-that-be are noticeably scarce this time around, unlike what we saw in the wake of Dr. Tiller's murder. I'm not inclined to hold my breath, but we will see. The Washington Post buried the
story on p. A4 this morning with the headline, "Prosecutors: Gunman with grudge kills 2 in Mich."

Having pondered the question since yesterday, I have decided that Mr. D'Souza's article is perhaps even more timely than I thought. He is correct--a lack of knowledge is not the central problem. Women seeking abortion know intuitively that the unborn fetus is a human being; and anyone with a trace of intellectual integrity can see where all of the scientific evidence points. The pro-choice position just doesn't wash, because it does not stand up in isolation from the actual thing that is being chosen. It did not stand up to scrutiny when the choice in question was human chattel slavery, and it does not stand up now with regard to the abortion issue. 

If Mr. Drake "was offended by the manner of Mr. Pouillon's message," that was probably at least in part because he didn't like being confronted with the truth of abortion. Mr. Poullion often displayed graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, so his tactics may have been irritating, but he certainly did nothing to deserve this.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that people will do what they want to do. It is the problem of setting the human will in opposition to God. In particular, the pro-life position has failed to prevail, in Mr. D'Souza's words, "because abortion is the debris of the sexual revolution."
We have seen a great shift in the sexual mores of Americans in the past half-century. Today a widespread social understanding persists that if there is going to be sex outside marriage, there will be a considerable number of unwanted pregnancies. Abortion is viewed as a necessary clean-up solution to this social reality.
Indeed, Mr. D'Souza is not the only one who has picked up on the rather obvious connection between our contraceptive culture and the hardening of the pro-choice position. See for example, Mary Eberstadt's extraordinary essay in the Aug./Sept. 2008 First Things, "The Vindication of Humanae Vitae." And for a real eye-opener, see the papal encyclical she was referring to, Humanae vitae. I wrote about it in July of 2008, the 40th anniversary of it's publication by Pope Paul VI.

D'Souza concludes the article by pointing out that any attempt to move the pro-life position forward will not succeed without an understanding of the entrenched sexual libertinism of our opponents.
If you're going to make an omelet, the Marxist revolutionaries used to say, you have to be ready to break some eggs. And if you're going to have a sexual revolution, you have to be ready to clean up the debris. After 35 years, the debris has become a mountain, and as a society, we are still adding bodies to the heap. No one in the pro-choice camp, of course, wants to admit any of this. It's not only politically embarrassing, it's also painful to one's self-image to acknowledge a willingness to sustain permissive sexual values by killing the unborn.This analysis might help to explain why otherwise compassionate people fight so tenaciously against the most helpless and vulnerable of all living creatures, unborn persons.
If I'm on the right track, pro-life arguments are not likely to succeed by simply continuing to stress the humanity of the fetus. The opposition already knows this, as probably do most women who have an abortion. Rather, the pro-life movement must take into account the larger cultural context of the sexual revolution that invisibly but surely sustains the triumphant advocates of abortion.
It won't be easy, but somehow the case against abortion must include a case against sexual libertinism. It is time to return to the drawing board.
This is why I find Mr. D’Souza’s words so timely, even encouraging, because looking squarely at the underlying problem will help us know how to talk about it and, more importantly, how to pray about it.

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