The Elephant in the Pro-Life Room

The great hulking elephant in the room for the pro-life movement is fornication, or perhaps, more generally, traditional family values. The movement wishes to ignore it, and does so for some genuinely legitimate reasons. But in the long run, we cannot ignore it forever.

I’ve had these thoughts for a few years now, but two recent events have brought the matter starkly into focus. The first was Ireland’s resounding legalization of abortion, after years of being the only major holdout in the west. The second is the massive upsurge in pro-choice sentiment in America now that Roe and Casey are finally jeopardized again with Justice Kennedy’s retirement.

The heart of the matter is this: you can’t have a society where abortion is illegal, but where sex outside of marriage is commonly and shamelessly practiced. You can’t have a society where abortion is illegal, but traditional family structures and values are treated as merely one set of lifestyle choices among many. It Just Doesn’t Happen. Ireland erroneously thought that it could – in the last 40 years, the nation blithely loosened legal restrictions on contraception, fornication, divorce, and gay marriage, all the while assuming they could still draw the line at legalized genocide on unwanted babies.

Often, more moderate liberals (a vanishing species, to be sure) will suggest that we find ways to reduce the causes of abortion. By this, they mean that we should make contraception more available, make welfare to the poor more generous, and make single motherhood less stigmatized. But do any of these proposed solutions really address the deepest causes of abortion? In 1950, single motherhood was far more stigmatized, contraception far less available, and welfare far less generous. And yet, abortion, both legal and illegal, occurred at a minuscule rate compared to today. If we’re truly focused on addressing underlying causes, we have to look some place else.

Read any demographic report about abortion patients, and one number rather jumps out at you. Something like 85% or more of these patients have never been married. Add in the divorced, the cheating, and the widowed, and you have over 90% where the baby in not being conceived by a monogamous husband and wife. The brutal truth is clear: if you want to get rid of abortion, you have to get rid of sex outside of marriage – fornication above all.

For many pro-lifers, and especially for young pro-lifers who want to feel that they’re striking a noble blow for human rights, no accusation stings as much as the one that they’re patriarchal tyrants who just want to control women’s sexuality. And out of reaction, the entire movement bends over backwards to stress that they’re not in any way against sexual freedom, but wish only to stand up for the right to life. The elephant remains unacknowledged. The movement will say loudly that abortion is wrong, but for the act that directly causes abortion 90% of the time, the movement has nothing but awkward silence.

As I said above, there are some genuinely legitimate reasons for glossing over fornication and traditional sexual morality. Consider the crisis pregnancy center volunteer, working on the front lines. Day in and day out, they see unwed mothers who have a good chance of aborting the second they catch even the slightest whiff of judgmentalism  regarding their sexual choices. A real baby’s life hanging in the balance is a very good reason to temporarily shelve the lectures and judgment about premarital sex.

The upshot of all this is an inescapable paradox. In the short run, more baby lives will be saved by shoving the elephant aside. But in the long run, as Ireland demonstrates, more lives will be lost by ignoring the fight for traditional sexual and family morals. I can’t blame the crisis pregnancy centers for the angle they take, but it’s not an angle that has any power to ever totally overcome the phenomenon of widespread abortion.

Everything fits together. Abortion isn’t some island that came out of nowhere. It’s connected directly to sex and marriage. Divorce, gender relations, and religion are all a part of the picture as well. Mess with just one piece of the larger puzzle, and eventually everything will be ruined. As appealing as it is to some in this generation to say ‘as long as no babies are killed, everything else is all right,’ realistically that’s not the way the world works. All the puzzle pieces have to be there.

A great slogan of the pro-life movement is the desire that abortion be not just illegal, but unthinkable. One day, it will have to come to grips with the fact that abortion will never be unthinkable until all sex outside of marriage is likewise unthinkable.