Abortion is the direct and deliberate destruction of a human being at any time, and by any method, from fertilization through birth. The establishment of surgical abortion centers, legalized by Roe v. Wade, has focused the problem on one set of specific methods by which babies are killed.
Yet a special challenge facing our movement at this time is this question: If a baby is killed by a chemical method, or killed at an earlier age than surgical abortion can be done, is that a real child, and is that a real abortion? Morally and philosophically, it is not difficult for us to answer “Yes.” Psychologically and emotionally, however, we may find it more difficult.
One reason is that a lot of people are aborting their children without realizing it, because of the way birth control pills work. These drugs do not always prevent fertilization. If a new life is conceived, these drugs are designed to make the uterine lining inhospitable to the child, causing the body to expel that child rather than implant and nourish her. In the end, the mother does not even realize that she conceived a child. Yet, in reality, she both conceived and aborted one.
A fascinating thing happens here among some people who are otherwise opposed to abortion, and it is the same thing that happens to many others who only oppose late-term abortions but cannot bring themselves to comprehend that the destruction of a child at eight weeks is every bit as grievous. Denial takes over. Somehow, this is “not really a child.” Somehow, this is different.
The hard question, however, is “Precisely how is it different?” After all, human life begins at fertilization. Then, either that life is implanted in the uterus where it continues to grow, or is expelled from the body, stops growing, and dies. If the reason the new life cannot implant is because of something we did, then we are the ones who killed that unborn child. That's an abortion.
The only difference between this and a surgical abortion at eight weeks — or any other time — is the age of the child and the method by which that child is killed.
It is understandable that many find it emotionally and psychologically difficult to acknowledge all this. What, for example, does this say about their friends or relatives who are using birth control pills? Are they now to be viewed as baby-killers? But then again, isn't this the same reason that many cannot bring themselves to admit that surgical abortion kills babies, even in the first trimester?
Is this emotionally and psychologically difficult? Yes. Nor do we condemn anyone involved in either abortion method. But it is morally incoherent to say that abortion is wrong at some stages, and by some methods, but acceptable in others. Human life is indivisible in its moral value. Either it is always and everywhere sacred, or it is always and everywhere disposable. There can be no middle ground.
Fr. Pavone is the National Director of Priests for Life. You may contact Priests for Life at PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314; Tel: 888-PFL-3448 or 718-980-4400; Fax: 718-980-6515; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.priestsforlife.org.