Response from the Editor (and author of the piece):

While I guess I should have been better prepared than I was for the range of feelings expressed above, still, even from this I think some very good lessons can be learned.

1st. That terminology is important: the phrase "pro-abortion" cuts off any conversation with those who champion the cause of "choice". If they be disallowed the use of the term "pro-choice" then may they not in turn object to the anti-abortion camp's attempt to claim the term "pro-life" exclusively for themselves -- especially when so many self-styled "pro-life" people seem to have no qualms about cutting off public aid to the needy or executing murderers? If the subject of the debate is the permissibility or legalization of abortion, then the rules of debate (as well as the possibility of debate to begin with) would seem to suggest that the terms "pro" or con/"anti" be applied to the immediate issue (e.g. "pro-legalization" versus "anti-legalization") not to the act of abortion itself.

So too, while the decision as to whether or not to conceive a child is an important one, the decision not to is certainly something less than "abortion" -- even though, as some social critics have pointed out, the availabilty of (as well as the failure of) contraceptives seems to have also fostered a mentality that has accompanied the rise in, rather than a lessening of, the prevalence of abortion. Certainly this is a point worth discussing (although perhaps best left for consideration in connection with the discussion on "The Future of Sexuality" in Dialogos Issue #10). For the purposes of this debate, the term "abortion", I think, needs to be understood simply as "the deliberate termination of a pregnancy" that has already begun.

2nd. That while the approach which would view the issue simply as one of the process of the beginning of life as a whole -- regardless of the debate over the existence of a human "soul" -- certainly has much to recommend it, the presuppositions regarding the idea of the "soul" -- whether it exists from the moment of conception (or even pre-exists from all eternity according to those who believe in reincarnation) or is, instead something that only develops (or, according to the medieval theologians, infused ) in time, not only goes to the very crux of the issue, it is also the factor that seems to most affect the final judgement that people make regarding the seriousness of the whole matter. A broader outlook (as well as gut feelings) regarding the sanctity of life in general may certainly play an important role, but exactly when it is an actual, irreplaceable human life (or "soul") that is being terminated, and not just a potential person, is the ultimately the "bottom line".

3rd. That while the object of the debate may be to arrive at a legal consensus, the debate has to be conducted on a philosophical plane. In a pluralistic society, there simply is no other way of reaching a consensus, especially when the religious belief and commitments of people are so radically different. Even though philosophical concepts may differ widely, they at least can be debated, while it is evident that for many, convictions based strictly on religious belief cannot. This is why the article appealed for a better understanding of the philosophical ideas that have often been confused with religious beliefs. In fact, once these philosophical concepts, including their origins in outdated world-views, are better understood, it could be that we will find that the deeper spiritual values that underly their often widely different religious expressions may turn out to show that underneath we are really not so far apart as we might imagine -- especially when the political and religious rhetoric otherwise all but drowns out any hope of reasonable discourse.

Nor, despite the legal aspects of the battle, is our English-based "common law" tradition very well-equipped to deal with the issue, in that it is based more on appeal to precedents rather than philosophical underpinnings. Thus when America's founders sought a firmer foundation for our system they went beyond common law to invoke what they claimed was a "self-evident" (i.e., philosophical) assertion of what they asserted to be theological truth. Why? Even though most of them were at least nominally Christians, even back then a significant minority (like Jefferson) could be more more accurately called "deists", for whom the Bible may have been an inspiring reference book, but hardly the final voice in the matter, or even if they had taken it to be so, they were well aware most of the rest of the world would not necessarily read the Bible that way. Nor did they -- especially when it came to granting freedom to black slaves.So ultimately, philosophy, whether we acknowledge or not, seems to play the most decisive role. But neither can any philosophical system play the final role, for philosophy, in turn, generally, even if often unconsciously, depends on a particular world-view (in our founders' case, philosopher John Locke's interpretation of a now somewhat out-dated Newtonian clockwork universe).

4th. Thus a developmental (i.e. evolutionary) approach: and this is where I would hope the direction of the debate might move, even while it raises -- as our professional philosopher points out -- some rather unsettling questions. Nevertheless this seems to give the best hope of society ever arriving at anything like a consensus. The reasons are manifold: not just scientific (i.e. in terms of the biological evidence); but also historical (in terms of the philosophical and even theological thought on the issue); and even sociological and psychological -- inasmuch as you'll probably never reach any agreement (even an agreement to disagree) unless there is something like a "graduated" or nuanced approach. Either/or dichotomies (abortion as "murder" versus abortion simply as an exercise of "free-choice") get us nowhere but back to "square(s) one" (at completely opposite ends or extremes).

For all these reasons, but especially the latter, I've saved a remark by Eric Sotnak made in response to one of mine -- that Pat Stonehouse was probably realistic when he said that we'll probably never succeed in changing anyone's mind and that this whole attempt to debate the subject is probably a waste of time. To this pessimistic conclusion, Sotnak answers:

I can't agree, since people do change their minds on the subject -- I've seen it happen in my ethics classes. The problem is that many people are accustomed to making their minds up on the basis of feelings or communal pressures, rather than on the basis of examining the arguments and issues (this is not just true of the abortion issue, but of many other issues, as well). If it is impossible to get people to do otherwise, then my job is a waste of time (sadly, there are already some people who seem to take this view of humanities in general, and philosophy in particular).

Well, having once attempted to teach philosophy to some bright (as well as some dull) young minds years back and having seen at least a few of them begin to look at things from more than just one point of view, then just maybe debating this issue may not prove to be futile after all. If nothing else, it might prove whether or not Archie Bunker's famous retort "Don't confuse me with any more facts -- my mind is already made up" is still the best most of us can do. (R W Kropf, ed.)

To find what some truly "liberal" activists are up to, see Pamela Schaeffer's article on the Seamless Garment Network in the Jan. 21, 2000 issue of the National Catholic Reporter. It's nice to see that some "pro-life" people are beginning to be more consistent. (RWK, ed)

Some more from Nan Snyder:

I want to clarify that my statement supporting quality not quantity refers to childrearing and is not meant to support abortion of any "imperfect" fetus. In my work with children I have known many with Down's, CP, and other abnormalities. They have been a joy in my life as well as their families. I have seen their effect on the lives of other children in classrooms as positive and bringing about caring and responsibility toward others. They challenge us to be fully human.

I believe that all children possess genius and that it is the job of parents and teachers to encourage that discovery. I believe that we all have a purpose in life and a place in the cosmic order which must be fulfilled.

My pro-choice position is not pro-abortion. I have never had an abortion and would not have chosen that course personally. I do support that choice in these cases: parents choosing that course for a minor who has been impregnated against her will, a woman making that choice after being impregnated through rape or when the mother's life is at risk.

I believe a more important factor in our society is the mass murder committed in wars. Would that all the support and concern for conflict resolution in our society extended to our world leaders. How can we possibly expect future generations to prevail - rather than just survive - when our children have these kinds of models? Our male-dominated society has forced decisions upon us that have almost irreversibly ensured our extinction and they would now impose upon us that women who choose to make their own decisions regarding pregnancy are somehow evil.

It is fitting that the Pope has apologized for the murders of the past committed in the name of religion as well as the mistreatment of women. The question is: Will this prevent future atrocities?

As for the pro-life movement - I reiterate - if they would legislate that abortion be banned, then let them take on the financial responsibility for each and every child of every mother who is unable to give that child a quality life. I propose that all those who sign their names to any such legislation be held financially responsible for all such birth, basic needs and education expenses up to the age of 21. Let's tax all those who sign their names to such legislation at a higher rate.

And while we are at it - let us legislate against murder by banning war.

It is no mistake that Justice is always portrayed as a woman. AMEN!

Nan Snyder

Sam Osborne writes:

From a scientific standpoint, under what we might call natural conditions, life does not begin at fertilization; it takes a "live" sperm to fertilize a "live" egg to produce the continuance of life we call an embryo. So, shouldn't the pro-lifers' concern for life prompt them to speak out in support of the rights of an even larger group than the "unborn?" I am thinking of the "unconcieved" --- the abandoned sperm and eggs that need homes or they will die.

A consistent concern for basic life might prompt the pro-lifers to advocate the freezing of all of these unconcieved until homes can be found for them among married couples that have good family values.

Let's hope that pro-lifers do not come up with some convoluted personal, religious and philosophical arguments as to why there is a difference between the life of the unborn and the life of the unconceived. Open that debate and we may have some woman claiming that she also has a right to exercise her own moral judgment in such personal matters. Next thing you know some fools will start saying that this what religious freedom is all about --- the exercise of one's own personal conscience in matters of faith and morals. Sam Osborne

Comment: Although I think I detect a bit of sarcasm in Osborne's remarks, I think they also serve to underline a point I may have made a bit too subtly in the lead essay -- namely, that attempts by pro-life groups to draw too strong a line between what is human life (e.g. from "conception onward") and what is not, also have the unintended effect of undermining the anti-contraceptive teachings of the principal pro-life group, the Roman Catholic Church. Would not a truly consistent "seamless-garment" approach to would have to protect human life at all stages, even the seemingly prehuman ones? (RWK editor)

C. Pat Sabatini sent the following article summary and reference.

New Study Shows Abortion Four Times More Dangerous Than Childbirth

Springfield, IL -- A recent government funded study in Finland shows that women who have abortions are approximately four times more likely to die in the following year than women who carry their pregnancies to term. In addition, women who carry to term are only half as likely to die as women who were not pregnant.

"This is an impeccable, record-based study," said David C. Reardon, Ph.D., who authored a review of the Finland study and other related studies in the latest issue of The Post-Abortion Review. "It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that abortion is not safer than childbirth."

Researchers from the statistical analysis unit of Finland's National Research and Development Center for Welfare and Health examined death certificate records for all women of reproductive age (15-49) who died between 1987 and 1994 a total of 9,129 women. They then examined the national health care database to identify any pregnancy-related events for the women in the 12 months prior to their deaths.

The researchers found that compared to women who carried to term, women who aborted in the year prior to their deaths were 60 percent more likely to die of natural causes, seven times more likely to die of suicide, four times more likely to die of injuries related to accidents, and 14 times more likely to die from homicide. Researchers believe the higher rate of deaths related to accidents and homicide may be linked to higher rates of suicidal or risk-taking behavior.

"Even though this important study was published in the top Scandinavian obstetrics journal, it has been completely ignored by the American press," Reardon said. "Even worse, abortion counselors continue to lie to American women. They are telling women that abortion is safer than childbirth, when this and other irrefutable studies prove exactly the opposite. The entire body of medical literature clearly shows that abortion contributes to a decline in women's physical and mental health. Women aren't hearing this. Nor are they being told that giving birth actually contributes to women's overall health, not only in comparison to those who abort but also in comparison to women who have not been pregnant."

Reardon believes that abortion providers are collaborating with population control zealots to conceal the risks of abortion in order to advance their own financial and social engineering agendas. "If they were really pro-choice, they would want women to know about abortion's true risks," he said. "Instead, they are offering women a bundle of half-truths and complete fabrications."

Source: Elliot Institute; June 18, 2000

A link to a full text copy of The Post-Abortion Review article can be found at

Sabatini can be reached at

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