Botched Arguments

Hurting or Helping the Prolife Cause?

In one of its first items of business this year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” The bill would prevent federal subsidies in the Affordable Care Act from going to any insurance plan that covers abortion or to providers and facilities that perform them. (The Affordable Care Act already keeps federal subsidies from being spent on abortion coverage itself.) With Democrats in control of the Senate and a prochoice president in the White House, this was essentially a symbolic gesture pandering to the prolife movement and opponents of Obamacare. It was never going to have any practical effect.

Do such political gestures hurt or help the prolife cause? The vast majority of Americans have serious moral reservations about abortion, and doubtless welcome recent reports that abortion rates are at a forty-year low. At the same time, voters have made it clear that, given the unique vulnerability of the women involved, they do not think the procedure should be recriminalized. Punitive and narrow legal strategies that would effectively ban all or most abortions have repeatedly been rejected by voters even in conservative states such as South Dakota and Mississippi. In championing such extreme proposals, the prolife movement appears to be alienating the broader public and strengthening its opponents’ hand. 

Abortion-rights groups claim that the new state laws Republicans have passed have had grave consequences for the health of women, especially poor women. In addition, late-term abortions have become increasingly rare, as fewer and fewer doctors are willing to do them for both moral and medical reasons. Making sure such procedures are done only in order to save the life of the mother—and only under the safest medical conditions possible—should be something prochoice and prolife advocates can agree on. Yet neither side seems willing to budge.

Illustrative of this impasse is a recent article in the New Yorker, “A Botched Operation” (February 3), about the alleged crimes and medical errors of a doctor who specializes in “advanced-gestation” abortions. Eyal Press, the author, writes from a prochoice position; indeed, his own father was an abortion provider. In many ways, Press’s abortion-rights views make the case he presents about the dubious medical and business practices of Dr. Steven Brigham all the more damning. Brigham has been forced to relinquish his medical license in Pennsylvania, and his clinic operations in New Jersey and elsewhere are under constant scrutiny. Although Brigham thinks of himself as a champion of women’s rights, the results of the doctor’s “care” are a moral abomination. In a raid on one of Brigham’s facilities in Maryland, authorities discovered a “freezer filled with red biohazard bags that contained thirty-five advanced-gestation fetuses.” Brigham was subsequently charged with ten counts of murder, but the charges were dropped because the state could not determine where the abortions had taken place.

Press contends that violence and harassment by anti-abortion protesters have scared doctors away from providing safe and legal abortion services, especially late-term procedures. “Rogue” operators like Brigham, and the notorious Dr. Kermit B. Gosnell, are now the only option available to many women. In its nuanced and sympathetic treatment of women seeking abortion, and in its rehearsal of the often shocking history of violence perpetrated by prolife renegades, “A Botched Operation” is a sober reminder of why most Americans are reluctant to embrace the prolife cause. Despite its vivid descriptions of the pain and trauma inflicted on Brigham’s patients, Press makes the case that desperate women will seek abortions regardless of the dangers, and that restricting access to the procedure only guarantees their further victimization. 

This has long been the argument for keeping abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” If the prolife movement is going to respond to it persuasively, it will have to convince Americans that its concern for the women involved in abortion is as great as its compassion for the unborn. As Peter Steinfels wrote in these pages (“Beyond the Stalemate,” June 14, 2013), the movement needs to shift more of its energies from partisan gestures and all-or-nothing legal gambits to the tasks of persuasion and witness. Gestures like the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” will change no one’s mind—and are not intended to. Neither do they protect the unborn—and they are not expected to.

Galvanized by the aggressive legislative strategy of the Republicans, prochoice advocates like Press are making their case in a variety of venues and with renewed vigor. Yet no one who reads the New Yorker article can avoid being impressed by the ugliness of abortion, for women and especially for the unborn. A freezer full of “advanced-gestation fetuses”—tellingly described by Press as “medical remains”—damns us all. Pregnant women and the unborn both deserve better. 



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The abortion issue has served Republican politicians well over the decades.  No political adviser would suggest that they do anything that would end abortion in the US.   Hence, Roe v.Wade is actually more secure under Republican leadership.

I've read the New Yorker article, and I disagree that Brigham "thinks of himself as a champion of women’s rights." It would be more accurate to say that he pretends to be a champion of women's rights. He is taking advantage of the huge gap in reproductive care resulting from the terroristic activities of the anti-abortion movement, which has successfully intimidated many physicians from providing needed services for their patients.

There are exceptions, like Eyal Press' father. I highly recommend Press's book, Absolute Convictions, which reveals his father to be a man of great courage and principle.

How on earth can you expect a pro-life advocate to budge on the issue of late term abortion?To take the position that since it's legal it should be done safely and effective [for the woman] is to accept the senseless suffering and  murder of an innocent human being. How can a Christian or any humanist accept this?Yes it is better for only one person to suffer then two but that is not a moral argument for pro life advocates to budge on.It  IS an all or nothing gambit because otherwise we're taking the position that the vulnerability of the woman trumps the vulnerability of the unborn. THAT is patently false as a woman can theoretically decide to not have a late term abortion. It is only the unborn life that is totally helpless and vulnerable.A woman is vulnerable in the same way that all people are vulnerable because  the human body is vulnerable.Being a vulnerable human body is part of being human at whatever stage or circumstance of life.The vulnerability of pregnancy is not a licence to kill.To stand in solidarity with the woman and not the unborn is to deny the legitimate value of the innocent  human being. THAT is unchristian and inhumane.It certainly goes against Catholic doctrine which says we were created by God in his image and therefore ALL life is sacred[good] from it's onset.To frame the relationaship as if the womans vulnerability  is greater then  the unborn life's  is to proclaim a false hood.The push should be to change womens attitudes towards unwanted pregnancies and societies.

"Commonweal Catholics" need to figure out on what side of the fence they sit: are they really committed to dealing with abortion, the human and civil rights issue of our day, or do they want to keep their credentials burnished with the Left and the Democrat Party, for which "free, universal, and unjudged" abortion is de fide definata?  In light of the Gosnell revelations, the media coverup following it, and the feting of politicians like Wendy Davis and Nancy Pelosi, who want to pretend that they know nothing of the Gosnell case or that it has any bearing on pro-life issues, please stop dumping on legislators that want to make a difference, rather than wimpishly wring their hands, not unlike Pilate.  The Falls Church abortion clinic challenging Virginia protective legislation has a dirty record, including bloodied stirrups where repeated abortions are done, and yet nobody suggests that the lead plaintiff has a vested interest in its blood money.  No, courageous state legislators who want to do something are blamed, with the tacit acquiescence of Commonweal and others who do not want to come out and take a stand that means anything in the real world.  "Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' " worked for Dusty Springfield; it won't work as a strategy for addressing America's genocide of the unborn.  

I think John Grondelski has brought up a good point, and a challenge to the editors of Commonweal, which needed to be raised. Commonweal need not compromise its championing of the needs of the poor and marginalized in this country and around the world, its long time opposition to most wars and the over emphasis on military solutions to problems, its championing of the rights of minorities, and all those stands that make it a voice for good in our society, if it were to put pressure on the Democratic Party to take pro-Life stances and not pro-Abortion stances. The editors who are often stalwart in the promotion of stances which are not alwasy popular, are very wishy-washy when it comes to their opposition to abortion -- although they claim they are. It almost seems like uncharacteristic cowardice on their part. Come on guys, and gals, take a real stance on this issue that will have a real effect!


"Abortion" continues to mean everything from the morining-after pill to the late stage terminations of obviously human fetuses. This is one of the reasons why, it seems to me, it is so hard to talk about with many of good will who support "it" - whatever "it" is.

And this relates to what seems to be the most practically challenging aspect of the discussion - what law and how enforced has any chance of widespread support or effectively creating a pro-life culture? The current state examples certainly do not and it is hard to imagine how one proposes to deal with women who would seek an "abortion" or the providers who administer abortifacients in emergency rooms and those like the doctors cited above.?

What works to create - and then protect (or does one protect by creating?)- a culture of life? 

I just read thearticle references- "A Botched Operation." It is a tragic and searing acount and I encourage all to read it.

The constantly recurring theme of the political anit-abortion movement is to make use of criminal law, or to deny benefits avaialble to others. Such memes ignore the real and practical nature of the problem itself. Studies thus far done attribute abortion to fear on the part of the mother, fear of [worse] poverty, fear of loss of work --> still worse poverty, fear of loss of education --> life long poverty. These are concerns which a program of social justice can address. Once cannot merely assume that private ogranizations can/will provide cures for the problems perceived by the pregnant girl/woman. Criminal law is most inappropriate response of all. 'Hey, lady, choose between poverty/homelessness, and jail.' And we call ourselves a Christian nation.

Mr. Grondelski makes several claims about the public discussion of abortion that are not supported by actual facts. He suggests that the Gosnell case was covered up by the press, and that Wendy Davis and Nancy Pelosi claimed ignorance about the Gosnell case.  I suggest that a review of the claims made reveals these claims as inaccurate.

A Google news search of the Gosnell case shows 1,730 news articles in both mainstream and advocacy publications. If there was a coverup of this case it was a spectacularly unsuccessful effort. 

Wendy Davis was attacked by The Weekly Standard for not agreeing that her own advocacy for abortion law reform was linked to Gosnell's late-term abortions. At the time the Standard's piece on Davis she was campaigning to alter a Texas bill limiting access to abortion services. The bill had nothing to do with late-term abortions which were already illegal in Texas, a law Davis was not challenging. Gosnell preyed on women who did not have access to legal services. The Weekly Standard chose to conflate the two separate issues and paint Davis negatively with as broad a brush as possible.

Nancy Pelosi doesn't claim ignorance of Gosnell. She has responded a number of times to direct questions about him and late-term abortions. She believes Gosnell represents a tiny minority of abortion procedures in the U.S.

The discussion about abortion is not well served by promoting inaccurate representations of those holding a different point of view and reflects poorly on those who choose to make those claims as well as on the movement that allows those claims to be made.


Until those who advocate no more legal abortions have at least discontinued their push for cuts in SNAP, TANF and WIC and other welfare programs designed mainly for poor pregnant women, I won't listen to them.  They are speaking with forked tongues.  In thinking about abortion, you can't start logically and empathically with the fetus or embryo or zygote.  Who can love and care for them without loving and caring for the women and her womb? 


We are implicated in every abortion if we are not doing all we can to help pregnant women know and experience a welcoming world for her unborn. If we create such a world and then women still seek abortions, then MAYBE seek to make abortion illegal.   Even for women of means, the corporate world demans the value of pregnancy, birth and children.  They get in the way of workplace productivity and profit.  To the extent we accept our current corporate model as almot God-given, we are also implicated when women of means have abortions. 

Marching against abortion and seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade is effort better spent administering to women and working to change family-harmful economic practices.  IMHO.

I've heard that over 800,000 abortiions were performed annually in the sixties. If that's true the rate was higher than now. Restrictive laws, even the repeal of Roe v. Wade, will not accomplish much. I am prolife and am waiting for prolife policies from conception to a dignified death. There is no common ground if we continue plowing the same old ground. Find the higher ground. I should not have to explain what I mean but I will give a hint. I will not support a tax cut until I know what prolife policies and programs will cost. They won't be cheap.

It may be time for the editors of Commonweal to come out with a complete recommendation of what a Pro-Life/anti-Abortion/Catholic position should be in this country. Sniping at those who take a legal or other approach is not good enough. There is need for real leadership here.

The statistics in Our Sunday Visitor (BEHIND THE NUMBERS Of the 1.2 million U.S. women who have abortions annually) reflect the fact that abortion will be with us as long as the "have less" and "have nothing" are with us whether or not abortion is legal. Most disturbing is the fact that the statistics show that it is our fellow-believers (73% report a religious affiliation) who are the young ladies (58% in their 20s) who are taking advantage of the remedy of legal abortion.  These young fellow-believers are first victimized by their economic disadvantage (69% are economically disadvantaged) and then when faced with a pregnancy have to choose between killing the child or raising a child.  We among the population of "have's" and "have more", like the January 22, 2014 marchers who like us are college educated and white, are being entreated by Pope Francis to see the world as it is and bring new thinking to alleviate the desperation of the "have less" and "have nothing" especially when they are for the most part fellow-believers. 


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