Your Notre Dame commencement address encouraged honest discussion and debate on abortion without demonizing others.
I would like to respond to your challenge.
For the sake of honesty, I acknowledge that I am a Catholic who opposed Notre Dame’s decision to offer you the commencement podium and confer the honorary law degree.
Those most profoundly touched by each abortion are the unborn child and the mother. We should never lose sight of the humanity of the unborn. You asked Notre Dame graduates, “Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort?” The answer is clearly “no” for the innocent unborn whose hands are prematurely stilled.
The other person profoundly affected by abortion is the mother who decides, often under pressure, for abortion. Your past statements indicate recognition of some value in the lives of the unborn. You believe, however, that abortion should be without restrictions for the benefit and autonomy of pregnant women. I ask you to consider the possibility that abortion does not ultimately benefit women.
There is research, broad and deep, showing that many women who have experienced abortion have negative life outcomes. This research deals with topics such as suicide, need for mental health care, difficulty in bonding with future children, alcohol and drug abuse, and promiscuity with repeat abortions. (See “Women’s Health after Abortion,” by Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy.)
While the science is important, I will want dwell on cold empirical evidence. Rather, I want to draw a comparison of abortion to slavery using the classic “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” One of the themes of the Frederick Douglass narrative is that slavery damaged the humanity and lives of slaveholders.
In 1825, at the age of seven, Frederick Douglass had the good fortune to be sent from a brutal plantation to Baltimore to live in the service of Hugh and Sophia Auld. Young Frederick was amazed by the kindness of Mrs. Auld, who never had a slave under her direction. Douglass wrote, “My new mistress proved to be . . . a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings . . . I was utterly astonished at her goodness . . . My mistress . . . commenced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another.”
The wholesome character of Sophia Auld did not survive the experience of “the duties of a slaveholder.” Douglass wrote, “Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone . . . The first step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now commenced to practice her husband's precepts. She finally became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself.”
Please consider, Mr. President, the possibility that abortion, like slavery, injures those who are the apparent beneficiaries. The malformed relationships of slavery could not help but corrupt the humanity of the slaveholder. Wouldn’t we expect at least as much harm to beset the mother who chooses the death of the new life in her womb? Would we be surprised to find deleterious effects rippling throughout her life?
I realize that highlighting a few passages of literature cannot prove my point. I hope, nevertheless, that my argument opens the door for a real and serious consideration of the harm of abortion to many women. In abortion, one victim loses his or her life. Another victim is the mother who lives on with the haunting memory of her choice. And there are impacts beyond the mother. There is the father, grandparents, friends, and workers in the abortion clinic who often come to realize that abortion cannot be the fruit of compassion and justice.
At Notre Dame you stated the laudable goal that “we must find a way to live together as one human family.” With each abortion, one member of the human family is extinguished and others live on with the debilitating remembrance of their transgression.
John Pisciotta is Associate Professor of Economics at Baylor University, faculty sponsor for Baylor Bears for Life, and president of Pro-Life Waco. John_Pisciotta@baylor.edu
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