Restructuring the Case For Life

In his latest article for Christianity Today, one of my favorite Christian apologists, Dinesh D’Souza, argues that it is no longer sufficient – and indeed has not been for some time – for the pro-life movement to assert the humanity of the unborn as its primary argument against abortion. Assessing abortion rights as the necessary foundation of the sexual revolution, D’Souza writes,

If I’m on the right track, pro-life arguments are not likely to succeed by simply continuing to stress the humanity of the fetus. The opposition already knows this, as probably do most women who have an abortion. Rather, the pro-life movement must take into account the larger cultural context of the sexual revolution that invisibly but surely sustains the triumphant advocates of abortion.

It won’t be easy, but somehow the case against abortion must include a case against sexual libertinism. It is time to return to the drawing board.

I think D’Souza is on the right track, and that it is time to return to the drawing board.

I attempted to do so, at least in a very preliminary and rudimentary way, in an article and subsequent essays (here and here) on abortion and consumerism. The sexual revolution of the 1960s is, in my view, the consequence of a materialist-consumer paradise created through the fortunes of the post-war boom and in response to the challenges of Soviet Russia, which during those decades was not a lumbering failure but the world’s second strongest and fastest growing economy.

I don’t wish to return to the topic of consumerism here, as important as I believe it is for an understanding of the Culture of Death (indeed, John Paul II once described the victims of abortion as “victims of consumerism”). But I do wish to address other ways in which we might begin discussing the abortion issue that do not focus exclusively on the humanity of the unborn child, a premise that is increasingly unchallenged and even accepted by some of the leading commentators and advocates of the pro-choice movement.

The strength of the pro-choice movement has never been derived from outright denials of the humanity of the unborn child, but from the manner in which it presents itself – as a champion of women, and particularly poor and minority women. Abortion is almost always referred to as a “woman’s issue” and all too often pro-lifers end up stuck in the rhetorical boxes created for them by their opponents. We end up somehow arguing against women. Of course much pro-life literature and propaganda focuses on the harm that abortion does to women as well as children, but all this tends to do is reinforce the notion that abortion is then, if not a “woman’s issue”, a mother’s issue.

Perhaps you can tell where I am going with this. In my view, what is often missing from the abortion debate are men. Behind every unwanted pregnancy is a man, and behind many abortions – possibly the vast majority of abortions – are the actions of men: of husbands, boyfriends, friends and fathers. Abortion is not always (and I have to imagine, hardly ever) the decision of the idealistically independent, strong-willed woman determined to do as she pleases in spite of a patriarchal society. This is a radical feminist fantasy.

Rather abortion is often the decision of a woman who has, in one way or another, been done wrong by the father of her child. Perhaps the father is absent, having fled the scene of his crime. Perhaps he is still in the area but unwilling to accept his responsibilities. Perhaps he is pressuring, even threatening his girlfriend or wife into having an abortion, threatening to leave her if she doesn’t. Perhaps the father of the pregnant woman has utterly failed in his duties as a father – to protect his children, and to support them when they need it the most. Perhaps the mother and father together, out of a desire to avoid having to take care of a grandchild, are pressuring their daughter into an abortion.

At least one study by the Elliot Institute which sought to discover women’s reason’s for abortion found that “in 95% of all cases, the male partner played a central role in the decision.” The study also cites the testimony of a security guard at a Massachusetts clinic, who said that “women were routinely threatened and abused by their boyfriends or husbands who took them to the clinics to make sure they underwent their scheduled abortions.”

I don’t doubt for a moment that almost every pro-lifer understands the role that fathers play in the abortion of children. But what we need to do is incorporate it into our political program. The role of men in abortion must become more widely broadcast, it must be expanded beyond the occasional nod it gets in an obscure journal or pamphlet. When abortion is discussed on national television, in the major newspapers, on the radio, in any venue where a multitude of people will be listening or watching, the role of men must occupy a much greater place that discussion.

It must be done, first of all, because it is the truth, and as studies have shown, a truth that must not be ignored. Secondly, it must be done in order to demonstrate that to be pro-life is not to oppose women, but to oppose all who would abandon their parental responsibilities and obligations. It is high time we acknowledge the partial truth behind one of the most commonly used pro-choice slogans: “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be legal” or some variation thereof. It is only a partial truth, of course, but it does highlight a failure to hold men accountable for their own sexual promiscuity and often appalling behavior towards their pregnant wives and girlfriends.

We in the pro-life movement, in other words, must do the exact opposite of what the radical secular feminists and sexual revolutionaries wished to do, and are still trying to do. Whereas their answer to the double-standards to which women were traditionally held to was to remove all standards and insist that the sins and crimes of women become as acceptable as those of men, we must hold men to higher standards. For my part, I would insist that any reversal of Roe. vs. Wade and any criminalization of abortion include penalties for any man whose actions can be demonstrated to have contributed to an illegal abortion. Whatever charges could be brought against a woman who seeks or obtains an abortion, should be brought against any father who through negligence, coercion, or co-conspiracy also shares responsibility in the crime.

Whatever we decide to do, we must make it clear that abortion is not a woman’s issue. The role men play in abortion is too great for us to accept this label. The contemptible behavior of the bullies and scoundrels who drag the mothers of their children to the abortion mills must become a central concern of the pro-life movement.

33 Responses to Restructuring the Case For Life

  1. *Excellent* post, Joe.. I”m going to have to forward it to my Respect Life colleagues.

  2. […] View original post here: Restructuring the Case For Life […]

  3. Matt Talbot says:

    Great post, Joe.

    Quick story: a bunch of years ago, a guy I knew in my Army platoon got a local girl pregnant. I asked him what he was going to do – would he marry the girl? He responded that he didn’t know – he didn’t really care about her that much, she was just a fling, and he wanted her to “get rid of it” (that’s verbatim).

    I told him in no uncertain terms that I thought he should “man up” and do the right thing – marry her, or at least commit to helping her raise the baby they made together.

    “If she didn’t want a baby, she should’ve never opened her legs,” he said, dismissing the subject. He rotated overseas soon after that conversation. I seem to recall that the girl procured an abortion before he left.

    If she didn’t want a baby, she should’ve never opened her legs.

    That’s a huge piece of the solution: addressing that attitude.

  4. TomSVDP says:

    It’s one of the abortion movement’s defenses also to say, “Well, if abortion were a men’s issue, it’d be sacred” or something like that. So I wonder what D’Souza’s response would be to those shallow assertions though of course, I agree with D’Souza and this is a woman saying this. She says this with clarity and I’m glad it was brought to our attention.

    Of course, as far as Pro-Lifers go, between the 2 sexes, I think it is an even split between male and female.

  5. TomSVDP says:

    Matt and everyone else: Isn’t that what the vulgar colloquialism is about killing the rabbit?? I think so in regards to Matt’s story. Yes, that attitude is around as well.

  6. American Knight says:

    I seriously doubt that libertines are going to be interested in hearing directly about chastity so that their attidude about child-murder changes.

    What we have to realize is the culture of death was not created in the Supreme Court. It comes from Hollywood and Madison Avenue and the public school indoctrination.

    If we want to win, actually stop the killings. First we need prayer and penance. While we take Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the schools back. Americans are overwhelmingly disposed to taking ques from media and enterntainment we need to make faith, chastity and morality cool again. Sly like serpants, gentle like doves.

  7. Well said, Joe. I was actually thinking about this last night at work. Someone brought up the attitude of another fellow at work towards his children. While I try to ignore backbiting of this nature, It got me thinking about the role of the man in extramarital parenthood. This is a key factor that we should be paying much more attention to when defending the pro-life Truth. Unfortunately, we have a lot of men who seem to have absolutely no understanding of what being a man is all about. There is a lot of work to be done out there! May God give us the grace to step up to the plate and fight the good fight of faith! Thanks, Carl

  8. c matt says:

    I understand where’s he’s coming from, but I don’t see much hope in such an approach. A culture that has no qualms about murdering an innocent child is not going to suddenly respond to pleas for chastity. If the humanity of the unborn doesn’t convince, they are beyond convincing.

  9. I think you’re right — humans being the selfish creatures we are, talking about ourselves is often more compelling than talking about someone else. Talking about what sex means, and what it means to be a father or a mother, is probably more compelling for most people than talking about the humanity of the unborn child. Otherwise you get, “Don’t talk to be about a baby; I’m just not ready to be a father/mother!”

    So silly as these things sometimes come off, I think there is a real value to the “be a man” kind of messages that people try to get out to young guys about these issues.

  10. […] Hargrave at the American Catholic has an excellent post on “Restructuring the Case for Life.”  He bases it on a Dinseh D’Souza article for Christianity Today in which […]

  11. bearing says:

    95% of decisions to abort centrally involve the father of the child?

    What percentage of decisions NOT to abort centrally involve the father of the child?

  12. brettsalkeld says:

    I have devoted a significant amount of time to the chastity cause as a speaker and author, so I want to be clear that it is something I support, but I’m not sure it’s useful to say that we need to make chastity cool again. I don’t think it was ever exactly ‘cool’. Perhaps it was respectable in some quarters.

    I agree with Joe that what we need to do is make coercing a woman into abortion disreputable. Sexuality without responsibility has distorted what ‘being a man’ means in the area of sex. Nevertheless the culture still has a general sense that being a man (heck, being an adult) means taking responsibility for one’s actions. I think appealing to this general sense will be useful. First of all, if it helps any particular man to stand up on behalf of his child and that child’s mother, it’s worth it. Second, I think Joe is right that it helps shift the focus of the public discourse in a helpful way.

    Last night I tried to write a post about the problem of the imagination (in the very technical sense) in the abortion debates. I’m afraid it wasn’t very clear, and so it needs cleaning up if I’m going to post it, but in essence I think that a culture that is ‘willing to murder innocent babies’ has simply imagined that that is not what they are doing. I think this (Joe’s) approach helps to undercut some of the rhetoric that has enabled this utter failure of imagination.

  13. Joe Hargrave says:


    I would imagine just as many. It’s not politically correct to say, of course, but I believe that most women make decisions with regard to childbearing in light of what the father decides to do.

    I don’t know the statistics, but what do you think the abortion rate is among pregnant mothers whose men offer them their unconditional support, or better yet, marriage?

    I do know that the statistics show that 2/3 of abortions are obtained by women who are not, and never have been married. How much of that is the fault of the woman, and how much of the man? It is men who are expected to propose marriage, it is men who ought to be stepping forward and at the very least taking responsibility for the lives they create. If this were done consistently, I am positive the abortion rate would be significantly less than what it is.

    The sad truth is that abortion means death for a child, it is always an emotional and physical risk for the mother, but for the unwilling father it means practically overnight relief. Who benefits the most from abortion? On the whole, I would say men.

  14. paul zummo says:

    Who benefits the most from abortion? On the whole, I would say men.

    Great post, and this comment is also a very good insight, and something I believe to be true. Abortion, and indeed the sexual revolution in general, has not done anything to improve the way men view women. In fact, it has made it easier for men to treat women as nothing more than sexual objects.

    Of course we should be careful and not completely remove blame from women and treat them as nothing more than passive agents in male in sexual aggression. They are independent agents as well. But it’s important to make the case that this is not just a woman’s issue.

  15. brettsalkeld says:

    Last night the local news in Toronto noted a study that shows woman are less and less happy since the 70s. The basic thrust was that now they are responsible for the home and for working outside the home.

    While there may be some truth to that, I am quite convinced that contraception and abortion have made sexual responsibility (however disfigured) totally a woman’s domain. Something of huge consequence in people’s lives, something that inherently takes two people, has become the full responsibility of one partner. One of the worst outcomes of legalized abortion (besides the death toll) is the more and more common suggestion that a woman who keeps her baby does not need any help. We already offered her a quick and easy abortion and she turned us down. Now she’s on her own.

  16. American Knight says:

    Why wouldn’t married women be unhappy? The false-feminists and the silent consent of most other women along with the cooperation of many males has gotten them exactly what they asked for.

    Emasculated men that are more similar to female roommates with adolescent boy impulses that are willing to help with the kitchen, and the kids and all the traditional female roles (the last of these points in and of itself is quite good). But what has been the cost? Men are still boys and often pretend to be girls and have shirked their true responsibilities because women have become more aggressive and basically behave like men and make men behave like women and all this transgender stuff is criss-crossing all over the place and sometimes we don’t even know what sex we are because although I am built like a boy I feel like a girl. Girls don’t become fruitful and fertile thanks to pharmacology and if they decide to have sex instead of remaining chaste, like whatever that is, they can always ensure that they aren’t punished with a human baby and neither is the puerile boy who got them pregnant, or they can just have sex with other girls so there is no chance of pregnancy, or they can just play tennis, no big diff, like totally.


    What woman in her right mind wants to marry into that?

    What man would put up with the headache when the Internet can bring him all the hottest images he’s ever seen to do exactly what he wants and they don’t talk back.

    Of course we are unhappy and women more so because while the male sexual impulse is transient, the female sexual impulse is infused with her fertility, her receptivity, her motherhood, her identity, her holiness. She has much more to lose with a libertine attitude that than the boy. Well, except the loss of a soul that is.

    Let us make man in our image, male and female he created them.

    Women need to be women and men need to be men. Not weak, feminine; not macho, masculine.

    We compliment each other and when you confuse those roles neither sex is happy and millions of babies are dead.

    I often think this started with contraception. If we didn’t stop women from being women then men may have remained men and we could have both improved in our respective and complimentary roles rather than confuse everything and degenerate the whole culture.

  17. American Knight says:

    How do we get so confused? Look at this media request for Business and Finance advice that I just received:

    “Need a couple that runs a small business to comment on effect of having
    children. Are they a crippling hindrance?”

    Talk about push-pull, the alleged journalist is looking for experts in business and finance to find him a couple who run a business that ALREADY THINK that children are a CRIPPLING HINDERANCE!!!!!

    I wonder what kind of article will come out with that honest journalistic integrity.

    Bussines Owners Say: Children, Crippling Hinderance!

    NORTHEAST LIBERAL CITY, NY – In order to stimulate the economy it is recommended that all business owners with children under the age of 5 have them retro-actively aborted. Congress considers bill. Democrats are worried this may damage the traditional pre-birth abortion market. Republicans want to offer a tax-credit for allowing one of the business owner’s to take care of the kids while the other keeps running the business and hires help. They state although the retro-ab bill HR 3201, known as the Big Universal Liberating Liquidity bill, or BULL, makes sense in its current form, but, they are afraid that they may lose the votes they now get by pandering to the pro-life wing of the party. One northeast senator recommended dropping that segment of the party all together since they represent a minority and the rights they are protecting aren’t even for voters.

    Gimme’ a break.

  18. […] we are to succeed in making abortion illegal, we must first succeed in altering the discourse that surrounds the issue.  Firmly entrenched in that discourse is a failure of imagination.  We […]

  19. brettsalkeld says:

    There. I managed to cobble something together, and I even linked to your post Joe. One of the first comments I got complimented my article as ‘good’ and the link to your article as ‘better’.

    You win this one Hargrave! 😉

  20. I thought your post was very good as well, Brett.

  21. cminor says:

    Good posts, both of you! Much food for thought there.

  22. Latte Links (9/25)…

    Happy Friday!  Here’s your getting ready for the weekend edition of my random miscellany.

    MSNBC: Woman gives birth to 19-pound baby (HT: The Buzz Log)

    John Ziegler: Palin’s Hong Kong Speech: I Can See Insanity From My Newsroom.

    Justin Taylo…

  23. gb says:

    A bit late to this thread but, as a post-abortive mom, please let me thank you for articulating this aspect of abortion. The commentor who said ‘men have the most to gain’ from abortion is wrong. This is ultimately a lose-lose situation like everything in the culture of death. The guy who, like the enlisted man who blamed his girlfriend for “not keeping her legs closed” may, in fact, be the biggest loser because, by denying the dignity of his child & his lover, he denies his own.

    For my part, my situation exactly fits into the majority of women in the Elliot Institute survey. Both the father of my daughter & my mom wanted this done. But its never made sense to me to blame them because she is just as dead no matter whose fault it was. There’s plenty of blame for everyone in the death of an innocent. Multiply that by billions of babies and everyone is this culture will have to be calling on the Divine Mercy because everyone is culpable.

    That said, it’d sure be nice to have more vocal male support in this prolife fight so thanks again for this post.

  24. Joe Hargrave says:

    Actually, I am both the author of the post, and that comment.

    And I think you are right. It really is a poor choice of words, to say that men “gain”, because abortion is always a loss.

    The point is that men, I think, face fewer of the consequences of abortion than women and certainly the deceased child.

    If you’ve made peace with and forgiven the people in your life who have caused you harm, I say that is a great thing. And there is plenty of blame to go around, I agree. But in many cases there is one person with the overriding drive to destroy a life, and often it is the father. I don’t think we can address abortion without addressing that issue.

    Thanks for your comment and God bless you.

  25. The question “who has the most to benefit from abortion?” is misguided. It will only lead to finger-pointing and tense debates over whether a promiscuous man or a careerist woman gets more out of permissive abortion laws.

    Rather, look to the specifics of what each sex accepts or rejects in an abortion.

    From the man’s perspective, abortion is the rejection of fatherhood. Appealing to the humanity of the fetus is meant to trigger paternal reactions in him. But if fatherhood is in decline, absorbed into non-specific “parenthood” or “social responsibility,” these appeals won’t work.

    In the man’s case, abortion is also the perversion of husband-ship. Having used a woman like a wife, he then uses his male authority or strength to persuade or coerce or affirm her in doing wrong.

    When the privileges and duties of a husband are unclear and perceived to be temporary, appeals to doing the “honorable thing” won’t work.

    Likewise, telling someone to “man up” won’t work if manliness itself is a contested and confused topic.

    As for D’Souza’s comment on libertinism being the key figure, it seems to me that anti-pornography efforts would be a good indirect way of challenging permissiveness. That’s where the “anything goes” attitude is most propagandized, and also most open to ridicule and shame.

  26. Joe Hargrave says:

    “The question “who has the most to benefit from abortion?” is misguided.”

    I don’t think it is, if our task is to “go back to the drawing board”. Abortion is presented as something that is good for women. I think it is relevant to show that what it really does is allow men to more easily behave like animals. As I said, abortion is risky for women, but for men terrified of fatherhood it is a “get out of jail free” card.

    At this point anti-pornography seems to = anti-internet. There are millions of pornographic pages on the web. I don’t know how you fight that.

  27. Micha Elyi says:

    “Perhaps… Perhaps… Perhaps… Perhaps… Perhaps…”from “Restructuring the Case For Life”

    Perhaps the author of that commentary is stuck in the same old cliches. Restructuring ones premise from women are victims of men to men victimize women is the same old infantilization of women and bashing of men. There’s no progress in such a supposed restructuring.

  28. Joe Hargrave says:

    What is it with you, “Micha”?

    Did I accidentally run over your beloved childhood pet? I don’t believe I have ever made a post or comment on any topic that you have found agreeable. Regardless of what position I take, it seems I can always count on Micha Elyi to be hovering around with a negative and disparaging comment.

    I don’t care one single bit about “infantilization”. If the statistics are true, if the testimony is true, then it must be dealt with, not ignored so as not to offend. Why in heaven’s name would you want to let irresponsibile, violent men off the hook? And what’s next, calling an acknowledgement of domestic abuse or rape “infantilization”?

    “What, you’re saying women can’t take care of themselves? That they let men beat them? That’s not very empowering! Let’s pretend every woman is a strong willed warrior princess and that domestic violence is a fantasy invented by men to make women think they are victims!”

    There’s certainly no progress in the ceaseless stream of bitterness that seems to emanate from every comment you leave on every post. You act as if we are long standing rivals, when the truth is that I don’t believe you have ever had a kind thing to say about anything I or anyone else has ever written.

    What IS your problem?

  29. gb says:

    “There’s no progress in such supposed restructuring”

    Recognizing the dignity of women does not equal “infantilizing” women. The culture of death insists on seeing all persons as objects. Plentiful Porn is the data to support that claim, if any more is needed.

    The original post, as I read it, was simply a call for fathers to accept their fatherhood, which is a gift, and not run away from it. The fact is that, like all that is real, there is no running away from it. Even dads who are many many years post-abortive still suffer from it.

    To me, Fathers taking responsibility for their children is a “restructuring” that would only be a good thing for the dad, the mom, the baby and this culture.

  30. […] Next there is the case of Spalding University in Kentucky, where a “prominent administrator” has, in the course of her “community involvement” served on the board of Planned Parenthood. Some people might wonder what the big deal is, if she is only an administrator. Well, this same university co-hosted a conference with a CCHD-funded group called “Women In Transition”, at which a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest gave a speech. The topic? Here was the title of the presentation: “It begins with me: Confronting reproductive health issues.” A fitting title, since abortion is the height of selfishness, whether it is a woman choosing to dispose of her child or a father threatening, coercing, or encouraging the mother to do so. No, pro-aborts, it isn’t all about women. […]

  31. […] this will help, at least to some degree, address the problem I wrote about […]

  32. Thank you for your advocacy and support for proposals such as Tennessee’s Freedom from Coercion Act. We’re grateful for this important step toward holding accountable those who would pressure or force women into abortions they do not want.

    Tennessee is a strongly pro-life state and the overwhelming, bi-partisan passage (87-8 House and 27-4 Senate)demonstrates an area where agreement exists: COERCION IS CRIMINAL!

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