Implementing legal restrictions on abortion

“The Silent Scream,” directed and produced by Dr. Bernard Nathanson, vividly shows, via ultrasound, an abortion in progress. It’s shocking. The unborn baby cries in response to the pain the fatal procedure inflicts. Even the website warns, the film “graphically shows an abortion 11 weeks after conception and therefore should not be viewed by children.”

This is the reality – a reality that has persuaded millions like Dr. Nathanson, co-founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League, to conclude this violent procedure should be restricted. Once he realized the moral consequences of his actions, having played such a key role in the liberalization of America’s abortion laws, he repented and converted to Catholicism.

Yet, millions more in our society, almost totally insulated from this reality, rationalize abortion, convincing themselves it is the only way to deal with a pregnancy that will impose too great a burden, economic or otherwise – forcing a woman to forego, or delay, the rise up the promising career ladder, or to give up some of life’s comforts, or to triage some of life’s necessities for a time.  Of course, poor women, such as the mother of Mike Oher, living in the Memphis projects, depicted in Oscar-winning film “The Blind Side,” would seem perfect candidates for abortion.

The suffering caused by such life-altering circumstances is not to be dismissed. But, at the same time, it’s helpful to consider the relative moral weight. What’s worse? A career that dips and/or may not rise quite as high as one hoped for; or a life, painfully cut short, that does not even have a chance to begin and take a baby step let alone a step up the corporate ladder (or out of the projects) – and will never enjoy life’s simplest pleasures?

No one is arguing that, with the stroke of a pen, hearts and minds will change. As St. Thomas More noted, there are limits to the state’s ability to influence private behavior.  And, attaining a “culture of life” is surely a matter of such change!

At the same time, allowing unlimited access to a procedure so gravely at odds with the basic parameters of justice (taking one life to enable another’s life preferences to continue uninterrupted) and morality (“Thou shalt not kill”) begs for a better “solution” than the one currently on the books, i.e., the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision overturning state abortion laws.

Just ask Norma McCorvey – the Roe v. Wade plaintiff – who also repented of the role she played in the liberalization of abortion laws, converted to Catholicism and wrote a book, “Won By Love – Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe Of Roe V. Wade, Speaks Out For The Unborn As She Shares Her New Conviction For Life.”

Dr. Jerome Lejeune – considered the “father of genetics” for discovering the Down syndrome gene and revealing how human life, not some blob of cells, is what conception begets – believed a good society would have few abortions.

Yet, clearly, there are times, when an abortion, through the “principle of double effect,” is not immoral, e.g., when the mother has a life-threatening illness. (Though some women, heroically, choose to reject treatment and/or to bring their babies to term, resulting in their own death – as in the case of Italian pediatrician Gianna Beretta Molla, whom Pope John Paul II canonized in 2003. She died in 1962 after refusing to end her pregnancy despite warnings it could kill her.)

But, in most cases, to choose abortion is an act that cries for justice. Of course, enlightened personal moral behavior is the best way to ensure a just outcome – the abortion “choice” often being the final decision in a string of bad decisions that, were they educated, would make abortion a moot point.  And, true education – from the Latin “educare” meaning to “lead” forth from ignorance – is the only way to ensure  the rights of all are respected in the abortion “choice” and, by extension, our culture upholds the dignity of each and every human being, born and unborn.

But, absent this ideal circumstance, a good and just society must, of necessity, call for legal restrictions on abortion.