by Richard M. Doerflinger
October 11, 2002
Once there were basically two sides to the abortion debate. One side said that, whatever the moral status of unborn life may be, a woman and her physician must be free to make a choice about abortion. The other side said that, whatever value the struggle for greater freedom may have in other contexts, responsible freedom for women and physicians must stop short of destroying the life of an innocent child. Not surprisingly, these sides called themselves "pro-choice" and "pro-life" respectively.
Those were simpler times. For however useful these labels once were, it's becoming ridiculous to refer to abortion advocacy groups as "pro-choice."
This was already clear to anyone following the debate on U.S. funding of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) a few months ago. President Bush ultimately decided not to give this group any funds this year, because it helps the Chinese government implement a population program that uses coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization. His decision was greeted by howls of protest from pro-abortion groups, who ditched their commitment to women's "reproductive freedom" to defend their allies in the population control movement.
More recently the coerced-abortion agenda has come home to guide domestic policy. When the House of Representatives debated a modest measure called the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) last month, the idea that each individual should have "freedom to choose" whether to be involved in abortion was denounced as heresy by "pro-choice" groups.
ANDA builds on a law that Congress passed in 1996 to protect medical residency programs from being forced by government bodies to provide abortions or abortion training. It clarifies and extends that law to make sure that this protection covers the full range of health care providers, so everyone can make his or her own conscientious decision whether to participate in abortions. But to hear pro-abortion spokespersons talk, you would have thought that abortion was about to be declared a capital crime. If women can only get abortions from those actually willing to provide them, they seemed to say, there will be almost no abortions – an interesting comment on how widely accepted abortion is in the medical profession!
Pro-abortion groups opposed every aspect of this bill – including its effort to extend the conscience protection now enjoyed by doctors to cover other health professionals, such as nurses, who are mostly female. In opposing this modest step toward equal treatment, abortion advocates managed to promote an agenda that was anti-life, "anti-choice," and anti-woman all at the same time. Fortunately most House members ignored their tirades and approved the bill, which now goes to the Senate.
One bumper sticker produced by pro-abortion groups says: "Against abortion? Don't have one." That slogan always ignored the unborn child, who has no opportunity to choose not to "have one." But now women and doctors may join the child in having their choice disregarded, unless pro-life legislators are vigilant.
Against abortion? If you're in China, have one anyway. If you're a health professional in the U.S., perform one anyway. Oddly, that is now what being "pro-choice" is all about.
Mr. Doerflinger is Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.