By Paul Stark
The use of “choice” in the abortion debate was never substantive. Everyone understands that some choices are morally unproblematic (choosing to exercise, to eat ice cream, to talk with friends) and other choices are not (choosing to rape, to steal, to abuse children). So the question at hand is What kind of choice is abortion? The question is whether the act of abortion is morally permissible or impermissible and/or whether it is the kind of act that should be permitted under the law. To talk only of “choice” is to completely sidestep the issue.
Planned Parenthood, after commissioning some opinion polls, recently announced that it is moving away from the rhetoric of choice. Why? Because abortion is “complicated” and “not a black and white issue,” and the pro-life and pro-choice labels “limit the conversation and simply don’t reflect how people actually feel about abortion.”
This language strikes me as disingenuous—a ploy to make unlimited abortion more palatable—because Planned Parenthood’s own position is not nuanced or ambiguous. It is black and white. The nation’s leading performer and promoter of abortion still contends that elective abortion is morally permissible and should be legal (and, in at least many cases, publicly funded) for any or no reason, at any time during pregnancy, with virtually no restrictions. This is the radical abortion-on-demand, no-conceivable-limits view that most Americans reject and have always rejected.
Planned Parenthood now touts the high percentage (40 percent, according to the group’s polling) of Americans who say the morality of abortion “depends on the situation,” but that is not Planned Parenthood’s view. It just sounds better than Planned Parenthood’s view because it is far less extreme.
Anyway, in lieu of “choice,” the organization has introduced a new website [www.ppaction.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pp_ppol_notinhershoes] and video titled “Not in Her Shoes.” The website summarizes: “Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision for a woman to make. You can’t make that decision for someone else. Nobody knows a woman’s specific situation—we’re not in her shoes.”
This approach is not really new, as some have suggested. It is decades old. And though it might serve as an effective rhetorical device, it obscures, rather than clarifies, the truth about abortion.
Is abortion complicated? It can surely be emotionally or psychologically complex for a pregnant woman and other persons involved. But morally the issue of abortion is straightforward, hinging on the moral status of the being in the womb who is dismembered and killed. For if the human embryo or fetus is a rights-bearing member of the human family, like you or me or a five-year-old child, then killing him or her for socio-economic reasons, however complex, is no more justified than killing a five-year-old for those same reasons.
The circumstances (and other factors) no doubt affect the subjective culpability of a pregnant woman—whom we should not judge—but they do not affect the objective morality of the act, just as the desperation of a young parent does not affect the morality of child abandonment.
The crux of the debate over the ethics of abortion is the nature and value of the unborn: Is the human embryo or fetus a human being? Since, as science has established, the unborn is indeed a living individual of the species Homo sapiens, how should we treat him or her? Do all human beings, at all developmental stages, have a right to life, or do only some? These are the questions that matter, and they are questions that Planned Parenthood continues to ignore when making its case to the public.
Difficult circumstances call for a compassionate response to meet the needs of women and their families. They are not a reason to authorize killing or an excuse to abandon women to that choice (pardon the term). Pregnancy care centers across the nation are doing the hard work of grappling with the complexities of women’s lives while affirming the dignity of both mother and child.
They are doing what Planned Parenthood ought to do. They are putting themselves in her shoes.
Editor’s note. Mr. Stark is Communications Associate for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, NRLC’s state affiliate. This essay appears here.