Public opinion polls should not inform morality. Yet, as we enter into another long and grueling national election cycle, we're already starting to experience just that. Politicians are taking stands on issues that aren't aligned with their true beliefs, but rather they’re taking stands that the polls tell them are palatable to the electorate. Perhaps no issue speaks more clearly to this reality than abortion.
There are two ends of the spectrum; there are those who oppose any form of abortion and there are those who oppose any restrictions to abortion. The "safe harbor" crowd somewhere in the middle either favors exemptions in case of rape, incest, or the life of the mother or a restriction based on the gestational age of the child. The recent release of a series of videos has turned the spotlight on one of America's leading providers of abortion and on the practice of fetal tissue research has caused this issue to be particularly hot this year.
The Church's position is clear and unimpeachable: all life is precious, has dignity, and is valuable. This position applies to the elderly in advanced stages of terminal diseases, to the poor and homeless, to the richest of the rich, to farmers, to urbanites, to blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, to criminals, to victims, to business owners, to the unemployed, to the mentally disabled, to the physically disabled, to the mentally insane, to the middle class, to genocidal dictators, to children, infants, and to the unborn. There has not been a single case in history where the Church has declared that any one individual or group of persons have no value.
How do we reconcile the Church's opinion with our own when it comes to abortion? Those of us who oppose abortion of any kind, at any time, do so for two reasons. First, we believe that life begins at conception because logic does not support any other possibility. Second, we believe that the life of the unborn child has intrinsic value and dignity, and that cannot be taken away simply by the means by which conception was achieved.
Let me be clear. I, with the Church, have nothing but compassion and the deepest empathy for mothers who find themselves in terrifying and dire circumstances. I support efforts of crisis pregnancy centers to help these mothers with the material and emotional support that they require. I also know that even in the darkest and most desperate of circumstances, beauty, hope, and joy can emerge.
I’d like to focus on the “palatable” option today, the rape, incest, and life of the mother argument. This is a position, that, in all likelihood, is statistically insignificant. Yet, it's still widely espoused and built on faulty logic. This argument supposes that the life of a child has worth based solely on the circumstances surrounding the conception of the child. Said another way, if a child is conceived in a consensual sexual encounter, then the child is worthy of life. If, however, the child is conceived in a forced sexual encounter, it has no value and can be disposed of. Stated this plainly, the absurdity of the argument is laid bare. Abortion perpetuates the cycle of violence and often leads to a lifetime of guilt for the mother.
Turning now to the life of the mother exemption. Thankfully modern medicine is able to ensure a relatively low maternal mortality rate in childbirth with medical care teams being able to intervene when either the child's or mother's life is in danger during childbirth. The abortion exception for the life of the mother sets a new low for humanity. The essence of parenting is sacrifice, even to the point of death. This exception turns that noble calling on its head. Allowing for a parent to end their child's life solely to save their own is the epitome of selfishness. It’s the modern day parent taking the last spot on a lifeboat and leaving their child on the sinking ship to die.
This is why the belief that life begins at conception is the only viewpoint that can withstand logical attacks. At conception, an entirely new being, with its own unique set of chromosomes and DNA is created and grows within its mother. Left to the natural course without external interference, within ten months, the child enters the world. There’s no other point in human development that definitively marks the beginning of “personhood.” It’s the only argument that logic supports.
Logic is a major component of philosophy and a life skill that is immensely helpful in critical thinking. While it may be socially or politically convenient to take a position on abortion that either has certain exceptions or no restrictions whatsoever, even a cursory scrutiny of the position by logic causes the argument to disintegrate.
All people have value, and all people have a right to live, regardless of their utility. To say otherwise is, truly, extreme.