Monday, November 21, 2011

Reading the History of Abortion

When I first became really interested in pro-life issues (about 7 years ago), I began reading in earnest many books on the pro-life movement. I couldn't read enough by pro-life apologists and by people who wrote historical pieces about abortion and pro-life in North America.

I have just finished reading The Death Peddlers, War on the Unborn By Father Paul Marx, a Bazilian priest who started the largest pro-life organization in the world, Human Life International. Father Marx had a PhD in sociology and, by some strange turn of events, he received an invitation to attend a pro-abortion forum held in California in 1970. The forum brought together pro-abortion people from all fields, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, even clerics. One of the main themes of the forum was the expected overturn of abortion laws in all states, with many presenters stating that they felt sure this would happen within the next five to ten years. Well, it happened a lot quicker than that and Roe v Wade opened wide the floodgates of abortion in 1973.

Father Marx attended the forum incognito and was taken to be a pro-abort, a perception he did nothing to alter. From this vantage point, he was able to record the entire forum and he then wrote the book from those recordings. Much of the book is just a factual presentation of what was stated by each speaker. Occasionally Marx will insert a comment of his own, but he leaves the majority of his evaluation to the final chapter.

What comes as new to me is the revelation of just how the sexual revolution came crashing into society at that time. I know that the advent of the birth control pill was the final gate-crasher in removing sexual inhibitions, but something must have preceded that. The ground was prepared long before the pill by people and forces that wanted to see traditional morals destroyed. Was it a few people, such as Margaret Sanger in advocating birth control in the 30's? Was it clergy in the churches who began to deconstruct the family and abandoned their condemnation of birth control at the Lambeth conference of 1930? It would be interesting to see all these people and institutions in a chart to see how they were all moving towards the same end, independent of one another. Or perhaps they weren't independent? I think another history book needs to be written, one that follows this decline in sexual morality in the western world.

Back to the book, The Death Peddlers.

What strikes me is the magnitude of the change that took place at this time. And also the speed at which it took place. Doctors who presented at the forum were already doing many abortions and it seems to me that they were doing these because they didn't know what else to do in the face of the numbers of pregnant girls who were coming to them. And then the forum becomes a way of rationalizing what they had already consented to do.

Dr. Joseph Fletcher, a professor of medical ethics and author of the book Situation Ethics noted
... that California's medical profession had been "overwhelmed" by the sheer numbers of women coming for abortions, he said many still carried on the "kitchen and barroom debates" about whether it was ever right to kill unborn babies.

He then proceeded to dismiss the idea of "unborn babies" completely. Arguing that women who had miscarriages didn't have birth certificates for those babies, and that pregnant women who traveled didn't have to have two passports, he claimed that the unborn was not a person at all. Rather ridiculous to argue that, because the culture doesn't recognize something as true, therefore it must follow that it isn't true. Many of the presenters would have been defeated in a logical debate.

He stated that the question of when does life begin had never received a satisfactory answer and therefore he said the question was a religious question, completely dismissing any scientific evidence for the humanity of the unborn. He even quipped that "Plato answered by saying that it is at birth and respiration. According to Aristotle, forty days after conception for a man, eighty days for a woman", a remark that caused laughter.

As Marx remarks:
He had stooped to the rhetorical trick of avoiding the data of embryology and fetology by eliciting laughter at an outmoded and false remark directed at an audience's existing mind-set. Thus had Alan Guttmacher ...blurred the all-important distinction between the expendable ordinariness of the separate body-cells of ovum and sperm and the self-directing uniqueness of the fertilized ovum by remarking ... that if we were going to worry that the fertilized ovum was human and more than a glob of protoplasm then we should indeed be busy catching each woman's monthly ovum and each man's daily millions of sperm. That remark had also been attended by laughter, getting Guttmacher past the pertinent scientific facts.

I have noticed pro-choice supporters still do this, even forty years later and with even more medical evidence before them. One young man, during the 40 Days vigil, even stated that very remark that we should be concerned about all the wasted sperm. Using humour to make light of scientific knowledge illustrates more than ignorance; it indicates a willingness to reduce an important issue such as the right to life of the unborn to a barroom (in this case, sidewalk) joke.

While reading this book, I was very aware of when it was written - 1970. And it was written in the state where the sexual revolution was probably the most active. It reminded me of the very first book I read when I became interested in the pro-life movement, Anti-Abortionist at Large by Raymond Dennehy. Dennehy was a professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco and he spent four decades, beginning in the late 60's, debating the abortion issue on campuses. At one such debate, he was interrupted by a young college freshman who shouted "so what, we have all had abortions".

Now, I realise just how true that girl's comment was. According to Marx's account, the number of abortions in California were in the thousands. Some hospitals even referred to the phenomena as "suction weekends" because so many college girls came in for abortions. What really saddens me is that this was my generation, I was at university in 1970, and these girls would now be women in their early to late 60's. To realise that that many women of my generation had an abortion, and probably more than one, is staggering. How many wounded women are walking around with this shoved down into their memories?

Another rather startling fact is that Planned Parenthood was not a promoter of abortions. It wasn't until 1963 that Planned Parenthood accepted abortion as moral (prior to that their mandate actually stated "an abortion takes the life of a baby after it has started"). And the journal of California Medicine, in 1970, admitted "the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death."

What comes clear to me, by reading this book after so many others, is the acceptance of abortion simply because of the numbers being done, and the eroding of prior statements against abortion - statements from all sorts of people and organizations, from Planned Parenthood to the medical profession to the Christian Church. The de-structuring of traditional sexual morals gained momentum, broke through all sorts of barriers in the 70's, and continues unabated into the twenty-first millenium. Anyone with a modicum of common sense can see the results: divorce rates doubled, the existence of single parent families increased many fold, the troubling rise of violence and crime amongst the young, the sexualization of the young. Just last week, a reporter on SunNewsMedia asked why we are more concerned about suicide amongst teens when we should be paying attention to the suicide rate of middle-aged men which is the highest of any age group. These things cannot be unrelated to the decline of Judaeo-Christian morality in our society.

The Death Peddlers is a sobering book. Even though it was written forty years ago, it is still timely. Marx's statements on the crux of the pro-life position are still bang-on (abortion advocates continue to evade the heart of the issue, which is the person in the womb). There is a section in the book that succinctly outlines the approach of Stephanie Gray who is now considered Canada's leading pro-life apologist and debater. The truth about the abortion issue hasn't changed very much; pro-aborts continue to state:

The question is not whether termination of pregnancy is justifiable but whether compulsory motherhood is justifiable. - Dr. Fletcher

This issue isn't going away anytime soon. In fact, it can never go away until it is resolved on the side of truth. And that is the side that acknowledges the child in the womb is a human being with rights just like those of us already born. Those rights are greater than the right of a woman not to be pregnant.

One thing is certain: we must continue to fight. With the advent of the abortion pill, formulated to kill an existing though unidentified early embryo, abortion will replace contraception as the chief method of birth control unless our nation rediscovers its disappearing values. It is sobering to envisage the dehumanizing effect on a society which has decided to condone not only the routine performance of the sexual act, whose power and mystery borrow from the power and mystery of life itself, but also the routine extermination of its young.

1 comment:

Elena said...

I think that it is Basilian not Bazilian. From the little bit of reading that I have done on birth control it seems that it has been around forever. Sanger and the resulting movement were more about getting effective birth control into the hands of women. In fact, many early feminists frowned on the condom as it was related to free access to brothels. It seems to me that morality has always been bad, technology has only just caught up with it. Or perhaps that read on history is the result of revisionist historians. Probably.