The language of life

April 1, 2013 09:00 AM

By Denise Hunnell, M.D.

Planned Parenthood has seen the polling data and is backing away from the term “pro-choice.” This is not surprising.

You cannot claim to support a woman’s “right to choose” unless you fill in the blank and say what she can choose. In the case of abortion advocacy, the “right to choose” means the right of a woman to choose to kill her unborn child. Who is comfortable supporting that?

Planned Parenthood has produced a video, Not in Her Shoes, to supposedly break down both the pro-choice and pro-life labels and reflect the complexity [of] the decision to have an abortion. But the truth is that, while the circumstances that lead a woman to consider abortion may be complex, abortion itself is very simple.

Abortion ends the life of an unborn child. It kills an innocent, unique human person. Abortion subjects the weak and vulnerable to the whims of the powerful. Changing terminology cannot change that reality.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are some who oppose abortion who want to eschew the label “pro-life.” They view it as too soft. After 40 years of legalized abortion, they are impatient for legislative changes. They are embracing the labels “anti-abortion” and “abortion abolitionist.”

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, explains this shift by saying, “Anti-drunk driving groups are not pro-sober driver groups. Anti-smoking groups are not pro-clean air groups.” Troy Newman of Operation Rescue writes in “Refocusing the Pro-Life Movement for Victory”: “Our movement needs to take the public past the point of being ‘sentimentally pro-life’ to being aggressively against abortion.”

For those whose focus is a legislative means to stopping abortion, such a shift may be politically prudent. Since so much of the apparently weakening “pro-choice” movement is the denial of what abortion actually is, it makes great sense to keep the focus on the facts of how destructive abortion is. To see abortion for what it is, is to see something indefensible, which is why the lies about abortion must be exposed for what they are.

But being pro-life means recognizing the intrinsic dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. It means recognizing that life is a cherished gift born of the sexual embrace of a man and woman. It is not a commodity that can be manufactured, bought, sold, and finally discarded when no longer deemed useful. We must not abandon this principle for the sake of political pragmatism.

When a man breaks his leg, we can and should relieve his symptom of pain, but if we do not set the bone he will remain crippled. Similarly, abortion is not only a crime against humanity; it is a symptom of a much greater cultural disorder. Like any symptom, its relief does not necessarily cure the disease. We must win the legislative battles against abortion. If we do not confront the culture of death, then this disease will rear its ugly head in another manifestation of a deeper cultural malady.

The path of the culture of death can be traced as it has seeped through our culture like a cancer. The Anglican Communion’s 1930 Lambeth Conference declaration that contraceptives were acceptable within marriage made mainstream the idea that children were no longer cherished blessings and an intrinsic purpose of a marriage, but acquisitions obtained for the benefit of their parents. This attitude intensified with the ready availability of oral contraceptives in the 1960s.

Once children became a purely optional outcome of sexual activity, as predicted, they were dehumanized. It was a natural extension of this thinking to abort a child whose conception was unplanned and unwanted. And then the growth of the culture of death exploded.

If unborn children are disposable through abortion, then why shouldn’t we treat human embryos with a similar lack of dignity? If procreation is no longer a purpose of marriage, why should it be limited to one man and one woman? If inconvenient human life can be killed before birth, then why shouldn’t we kill any human life that is too burdensome?

Thus we can see that abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, the destruction of human embryos and the assault on marriage and the family are all symptoms of a common ailment—the rejection of the dignity and sanctity of human life.

Clearly, abortion must be opposed and anyone who is pro-life must be an abortion abolitionist. But when over 500,000 of us gathered in Washington, D.C. in frigid temperatures to march down Constitution Avenue in the annual March for Life, we were not just marching against abortion. We were marching in solidarity with the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, the infirmed, and all the vulnerable whose lives might be deemed unworthy by a society poisoned by the culture of death.

Just as we cannot dismiss or minimize the enormous tragedy of the 55 million lives lost to abortion and the countless men and women who suffer the physical and emotional scars of abortion, we also cannot believe that if we just made abortion illegal, that all will be right with the world.

The culture of death is a multi-headed dragon that must be destroyed at its heart. Just as there are organizations, and groups of organizations, who prudently target a single facet of the culture, there must be others who address the whole picture. It would be a mistake to redefine the entire pro-life cause as purely an abortion abolition movement. It is essential, but not enough, to oppose abortion. On January 25 we marched for all human life. We must courageously be pro-life.

Dr. Denise Jackson Hunnell is a Fellow of Human Life International. She graduated from Rice University with a B.A. in biochemistry and psychology. She earned her medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. She has contributed work to local and national Catholic publications as well as to secular newspapers including the Washington Post and the Washington Times. She also teaches anatomy and physiology at Northern Virginia Community College Woodbridge Campus. She received her certification in healthcare ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center in 2009.

This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at Spirit and Life: The Language of Life&utm_campaign=SpiritandLife-022213&utm_medium=email

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