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Abortion - A Different Perspective

Abortion - A Different Perspective           Gerry O'Shea

The issue of abortion came up in a recent Friday night PBS News Hour program when David Brooks and Mark Shields were reviewing the events of the week. Shields began his comments on the subject by noting the ambivalence of most Americans about this emotive issue. He pointed out how studies show that while people recoil from approving abortion, they also  favor maintaining the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that permits a woman to decide whether or not to end her pregnancy.

About 25% of American women have an abortion during their lives. Polls show that close to 60% of Americans  favor maintaining the legal status quo, but that leaves more than 40% demanding the reversal of that controversial court decision.

Incidentally, despite repeated  strong condemnation of abortion by the Catholic bishops, polling results reveal  little difference between their congregations and other Americans.

In an article last June in the prestigious  National Catholic Reporter, the Jesuit writer, Thomas Reese, argues very cogently for a new approach by the pro-life community. He points out that it is highly unlikely that abortion will ever be banned in the United States.

 Even if the Roe v Wade decision is reversed, a distinct possibility with the current Supreme Court, abortion will remain legal in most parts of the country, resulting in women living in states where the procedure is banned  travelling to a location where it is still allowed - provided, of course, they can afford the travel and medical expenses.

Reese compares the practice of travelling to other jurisdictions to get an abortion to Irish women going to Britain for the procedure  prior to last year's referendum which ushered in legal pregnancy termination in Ireland.

 In the debates prior to the emotional Irish vote the blatant hypocrisy of Irish women being forced to go to another country to end an unwanted pregnancy was highlighted repeatedly in radio and television discussions. Polls showed that this issue greatly influenced the voting preferences especially of young people who recoiled at the moral pretentiousness of a society saying that abortion may be ok for Irish women travelling to London or Liverpool but certainly should not be permitted in the hospitals and clinics in their own homeland.

Surely there would be a similar negative reaction in the United States against the hypocrisy of compelling a woman, from let's say Texas, to travel to New Jersey to legally terminate her pregnancy.

Talking pro-life while opposing  welfare programs that support pregnant women makes no practical or moral sense. Think of the importance for young mothers of such progressive laws as generous parental leave after childbirth, free or greatly-reduced childcare, increases in the minimum wage or enhancing the Food Stamp Program. Talking about the beautiful gift of new life is fine, but let's be real about the big financial obligations that come for a mother with a new mouth to feed, an infant requiring nourishing food and affordable health care.

There is a blatant contradiction in political leaders from the political Right proclaiming their commitment to the pro-life cause, while, for instance, voting to reduce funding for SNAP, the Food Stamp Program, which, as a matter of fact, is on the  chopping block list published by President Trump's Budget Director and Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney.

It is one of the great paradoxes and ironies of American political life that the Republican Party will almost always oppose any benefit increase for poor people while proclaiming from every street corner that they are proudly and vehemently pro-life. On the other hand, Democrats, with very few exceptions, argue for a woman's right to choose and in every budget propose increasing and expanding support programs for the poor and middle class.

In elaborating on this point Fr. Reese points out that during the Presidential leadership of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the last two Democrats in the White House,  both elected as strong supporters of the Roe decision, the number of abortions declined significantly  by comparison with the record of their Republican predecessors. In Clinton's case the figures show a reduction from  1,330,414 abortions in 1993 when he came into office to 857,457 when he left eight years later. The Obama figures are just as impressive over a five year period, 789,217 in 2009  to 652,639 in 2014.

The American Catholic Bishops frequently recommend opposition to abortion as the core litmus test for  Catholic voters in considering  who to support at election time. Imagine if some church leader changed this recommendation on the basis that research clearly shows that the liberal approach of augmenting progressive programs that support poor and middle class families is by far the most effective means of reducing the number of abortions.

Fr. Reese warns that voters should beware when they hear the emotive rhetoric that is sometimes used by pro-life candidates while they vote against legislation that would actually help women struggling to maintain a job while rearing a family.

Public policy should also encourage the use of contraceptives. Common sense affirms that it is far more desirable to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than to face the trauma and expense associated  with pregnancy termination.

 High schools - public and private - have to face the fact that many of their students are sexually active, and they must be encouraged to behave maturely with proper regard for their partner's health and safety and that means easy access to contraceptives.

During the heated debates about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, unfortunately, the Catholic bishops opposed the mandate that requires coverage for the provision of contraceptives in all ACA insurance policies.

Fr. Reese points out that the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare is likely to result in a significant reduction in the number of abortions and as such should have been supported by the bishops.

Pregnancy termination remains a hugely important and controversial issue of public policy. The morning-after pill, which prevents a possible pregnancy before it starts, should be easily available and publicly recommended for women who gamble by having unprotected sex.  

Fr. Reese's argument that the focus should be on reducing the number of abortions by providing major improvements in the support programs for young women, especially in the areas of childcare and food provision, makes perfect pro-life sense.

 A woman's right to choose should not be compromised, but she should be given a meaningful choice of seeing her pregnancy through to birth by progressive legislation that would ensure generous support programs for her and her new baby.

 In accordance with Catholic teaching, Fr. Reese opposes all abortions, but he strongly suggests that a goal of reducing the number of pregnancy terminations in the United States to 100,000 annually would be really desirable but, admittedly  very ambitious. He believes that by using the progressive methods he proposes, it could be achieved and celebrated by both the pro-life and pro-choice communities.


Gerry O'Shea blogs at






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