Introduction to Three Approaches to Abortion

By Peter Kreeft
Ignatius Insight

Abortion is the single most divisive public issue of our time, as slavery was for the nineteenth century, or as prohibition was for the 1920S. Intelligent, committed pro-lifers will not be satisfied in principle with anything less than the legal prohibition, or abolition, of all abortion (though most pro-lifers are pragmatic enough to accept partial abolitions as incremental steps toward that goal). And intelligent, committed pro-choicers understand this and resist, also in principle, any of these incremental steps. Pro-lifers find it intolerable that the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society and our species are legally slaughtered. Pro-choicers find it intolerable that women be forced by law to bear unwanted children against their will. Neither side can or will budge, in principle.

There are only four things that can possibly be done in such a situation.

First, we could simply accept the current standoff and hope it will not erupt into violence and civil war, as abolitionism did in the nineteenth century. Perhaps if we do nothing the problem will just go away. Obviously this is naive and irresponsible. It is also unhistorical. Already in the U.S. and Canada some have appeared who have murdered abortionists or even their office workers. They have already done what John Brown did at Harper's Ferry just before the Civil War: to protest violence, they have used violence. There is no reason to think that their ilk will simply disappear, or even diminish.

Second, we could accept the current standoff and put social protections around the dispute to keep it from erupting into war. What these protections are, is not clear. No society has yet solved the problem of assassination by fanatics, especially if the fanatics are willing to die along with their victim for the sake of their cause. The closest any society has come to preventing assassinations is totalitarian dictatorship. There were almost no private assassinations under Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, or Pol Pot; all assassinations were carried out by the government- Hardly a "solution"!

Third, we could hope that one of the two sides will simply go away, or weaken, or give up, or at least quiet down—not out of conviction but simply because of attrition: time, not logic, will solve the problem. I fear this is also wishful thinking, living in denial, and failing to understand the depth of conviction of both sides.

Fourth, we could hope that reason rather than force will convince one side it is wrong. This sounds to many people even more idealistic and unrealistic than the first three options; but it has happened before. Many practices--including both slavery and prohibition, as well as torture, cannibalism, blood vengeance by families, polygamy, and infanticide—have disappeared because humanity became convinced that these were wrong.

It is my hope that my book will help to make a little progress in this direction, the direction of peace not through force but through enlightenment-that is, through truth. Any other peace is perilous, for a peace not based on truth is not true peace. Certainly, any peace based on ignoring truth, scorning truth, indifference to truth, or disbelief in truth cannot be true peace.