The other day I got into one of those unfortunate situations known as a Facebook debate. Like reality television series, they are easy to be sucked into, nearly impossible to stop, and leave you wondering where the last hour and a half of your life went.
On my Facebook page, I posted this article about the investigative results that revealed the incineration of thousands of aborted babies’ remains to heat UK hospitals. My intent was hopefully to alert people who either were not aware of such things happening in today’s world, or to re-alert and re-invigorate the people who were.
But a friend of mine took what I intended to be a sharing of information and launched into a diatribe against the pro-life movement as a whole. (This is not an attack post! But my friend is not alone in her perspective, and it’s the perspective, not the individual person, that I’m addressing here).
She complained that all the pro-life movement, and indeed the vast majority of Catholics, ever talk about is abortion, abortion, abortion. We beat to death the topics of abortion, contraception, and gay “marriage”, at what she felt was the expense of other important humanitarian concerns, like social justice, income inequality, capital punishment, and war. If we were truly pro-life, she and others like her have challenged, we would be concerned with all these things and be far more even-handed in our activism.
She also argued that the pro-life movement was dead anyway, because it wasn’t accomplishing anything and wasn’t going to. Infanticide and abortion had been around since the dawn of time, and would remain with us for still longer. Finally, if we would insist on talking about abortion, why were we so concerned with the unborn, when the more fruitful area of ministry would be towards the mothers, towards those women who felt they had no choice but to abort?
I found myself, as did my soon-to-be sister-in-law, who had joined in the conversation on my side of the issue, arguing vaguely for hope and perseverance. Plus, there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to stop other kinds of murder, or to give love and material support to expectant mothers with crisis pregnancies. But I found myself bucking against the idea that abortion-centered pro-life ministry was dead and done, and that we were somehow wasting everyone’s time and energy reminding the world that babies are still being killed.
So, following my Facebook discussion with my friend, I questioned myself squarely:
What justification do we have, as Catholics and Christians, for continued emphasis on abortion, specifically?
Two of the other big killers always brought up by the camp opposed to the modern pro-life movement are war and the death penalty. “Oh, so you only care about a human life being taken if it’s a fetus? What about all the soldiers? What about all those death row inmates?” Well, consider the following:
- Number of babies aborted in the U.S. since 1973: at least 55,772,015 (source: the Guttmacher Institute, a liberal thinktank who is more likely to underreport or report accurately than to overinflate the numbers)
- Number of Americans who have died in all U.S. wars since 1776: 1,321,612 (source, which is citing all kinds of other sources)
- Number of people executed by capital punishment since 1976: 1,362 (source)
This means that in just 40 years, we have aborted forty-thousand times more babies than we have executed criminals, and forty-two times more babies than Americans killed in all conflicts from our nation’s conception. Let that sink in.
For you visual people, take a look, or watch this video:
So as far as the more immediate concern, we have, on one side of the scale, the genocide of several generations’ worth of children, and on the other…well…let’s also consider the identity of the victims in all three types of violence:
- Soldiers, who volunteer out of patriotism and courage to defend their country, knowing the risk.
- Criminals, who have committed a violent crime and possibly murdered others themselves, and who have been deemed unfit to be returned to society, for society’s protection.
- Unborn babies, who are totally innocent and have no protection, no agency, and no voice.
Does this mean it’s ok that there are soldiers dying in unjust wars? No! Does this mean it’s ok to execute a criminal as though his life has no value? No. (Or, not necessarily. This is a far stickier issue, and until the Church actively forbids it, I believe that capital punishment has its place in our society, and its justification in Aquinas as a charity). But it does mean that both the soldier, who has a choice to serve, and the criminal, who has received just representation in a court of law, have far more of a fair shake than the baby, who has done nothing more criminal or deliberate than to be conceived.
Not that any of that makes the unborn baby’s life intrinsically worth MORE than anyone else’s, but rather, that it demonstrates that it is the most vulnerable, and clearly, as the numbers show, the largest casualty by leaps and bounds, and therefore requires our continued attention.
To ignore abortion or push it aside in favor of trendier crises, is to say to the Nazis, we see what you are doing to the Jews, but we would like to talk to you first about what you are doing to the Russians. Was the huge number of casualties in the Russian army that took place on the Eastern Front terrible? Of course! But was it larger in scale or more pressing than the wholesale, assembly-line style slaughter of innocent and defenseless Jews in the concentration camps? No.
And don’t forget the collateral damage of abortion–those mothers. One in every three women has had an abortion. That abortion torments them–whether they realize it or not–emotionally, psychologically, and often, physically, for the rest of their lives (the fathers, too, assuming it is not kept secret from them). So for every one aborted baby, you have one physical casualty and one, maybe two, more psychological ones.
So should we ignore all other issues just to focus on abortion? Definitely not. As Pope Francis said, we must have a context. But the context at this moment in time is that abortion is taking so many more lives than any other type of moral or ethical issue against which we might, as Catholics, want to protest, that it is rightfully the most spoken-of and the most heavily activized.
I don’t particularly feel obligated to justify myself now when I post pro-life things to Facebook. I don’t feel the need to apologize or compromise with people who think we are ‘too obsessed’ with abortion. If being concerned about the mammoth-scale murder of children–about nine times as many children as the population of New York City in 2013–is obsession, then fine, I am obsessed.
This is not an issue where we are ‘choosing’ to prioritize one issue over another, any more than anyone else passionately moved to speak out against genocide feels that it is a ‘priority’. One cannot simply put aside the abortion issue like an old newspaper and pick up some other cause. To reduce the defense of innocent human life to a preference does a grave disservice to those very soldiers being killed in the wars, and the society which a system of capital punishment seeks to protect.
It is certainly the duty of a Christian to try his hardest to champion all life, from conception to natural death, regardless of age, sex, race, creed, and condition.
But if we in the pro-life movement should be careful not to forget the born because we are so focused on the unborn, neither can those who are merely ‘tired of hearing about it’ neglect 55,000,000 children.
And by the way, war and capital punishment have been with us since the beginning of humanity too.