Understanding the Human Cry behind the Pro-Abortion Cause

Published May 29, 2022

National Review

The abortion debate often sounds less like a debate and more like a deafening cacophony of shouted slogans and euphemisms made confusing by design: the right to choose, reproductive justice, women’s health care.

But if you listen closely and make a sincere effort to dig to the bottom of these cries, you’ll hear one tiny, desperate refrain: I want to live my life on my own terms.

Is that not the cry of every human heart?

The argument for abortion is, at its root, a plea for control. It’s an assertion that women deserve to have as much control over their lives, their choices, and their futures as men do. In a post–Sexual Revolution world, men can participate in sex unencumbered, presumably enjoying the experience and walking away without another thought, if that’s what they prefer. Women, because of our biology, don’t have that supposed luxury. There is always the possibility of new life.

And so there must be the possibility of abortion, which some say will place women on equal footing with men. If men get to have sex for pleasure and without commitment, retaining the option of walking away, women will be equal only if we can do that, too. Never mind that, for a woman, walking away from pregnancy requires assenting to an act of lethal violence against her own child, which my colleague Erika Bachiochi argues is in fact an anti-woman proposition. But pro-choice feminists argue that abortion makes women the same as men, letting us have sex on our own terms while still controlling our destinies, just like men do.

But there’s the catch. None of us, man or woman, controls our own destiny. This is perhaps the most fundamental truth and frustration about being human. We have agency and free will, to be sure. But our choices are no guarantee of outcomes; our desires have no power to predict what the future will actually hold.

In March, I debated feminist writer Jill Filipovic about abortion, and in her concluding statement, she gave a perfect summary of this defense of abortion:

Sometimes abortion is an act of trying to keep one’s life on its same path. I know this will not be a popular comment here, but if I had gotten pregnant in my twenties, there is no amount of money you could have paid me to carry that pregnancy to term. There was nothing you could’ve offered me.

And if I had gotten pregnant in my twenties, I wouldn’t have the career that I have. I wouldn’t have my husband. I would never have met him. I wouldn’t have a life that I think is beautiful and incredible and that I value a tremendous amount. If I had gotten pregnant, it would’ve taken my life in a completely different direction that I would not have wanted it to go in. I am tremendously grateful that I have had the ability to prevent pregnancy where needed and that I would’ve had the ability to end a pregnancy that I know would’ve been the wrong thing for me.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this comment, because while I cannot accept that Jill uses this logic to justify the choice to intentionally take another human life, I empathize deeply with the spirit behind her words. Jill, like all of us, wants to live a beautiful and meaningful life. Jill, like all of us, has fallen victim to the illusion that, if we fight hard enough, we can control our own destiny. Jill, like all of us, has succumbed to the temptation to believe that there is no possible life more fulfilling than the one we’ve imagined for ourselves.

The desperate plea for access to abortion comes from a deep, human place — from the fear of missing out on what we think we need or deserve, from the fear of losing control, from the fear of the unknown. And yet all I could think when I first heard Jill’s comment was that the most beautiful things about my life, the things for which I’m most grateful, came to me not because I predicted or controlled them, but as pure and unexpected gifts. By Jill’s own admission, the same is true of her, and, I’d venture to guess, it’s true of nearly everyone reading this.

The argument at the root of the pro-abortion cause is compelling to so many because it comes straight from the depths of every human heart. The temptation at work in abortion is a temptation we face every day, in big and small ways: to reject our human nature, to make ourselves like God, to claim for ourselves the power to decide good and evil, life and death.

And as it was in the beginning, it remains a lie. None of us can control our lives, and though our lack of control so often results in unexpected, undeserved suffering, it so often results in unexpected, unmerited beauty.

If you read the stories of women who became unexpectedly pregnant and chose life, you’ll find they nearly all repeat a common refrain: My child is the best thing that ever happened to me. That new life upended everything they had planned and took from them many things they thought they needed. Yet almost uniformly, they name their child as the biggest blessing of their life. There is a lesson for all of us in that.

Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Photo by Tessa Rampersad on Unsplash

EPPC Fellow Alexandra DeSanctis writes on culture and family issues, with a particular focus on abortion policy and pro-life advocacy, as a member of the Life and Family Initiative.

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