Abortion: A Choice Like No Other

The June 21 decision by an English Court of Protection judge to order a Nigerian woman, in the fifth month of pregnancy, to have an abortion against her own and her family’s wills, stirred criticism. A three-judge Court of Appeal overturned the decision June 24.

Apart from the barbarism of forced abortion—hitherto the preference of totalitarian countries—the English case offers some interesting insights, directly pertinent to our own situation, into the internal contradictions of the “choice” ideology undergirding abortion. It is an ideology that, already in 1970, the California Medical Association called irrational but for the “very considerable semantic gymnastics” required to attempt to make “choice” appear coherent.

“Choice” did not come into widespread use among abortionists as a euphemism for abortion until the 1980s. Roe first trafficked in the “right to privacy” exercised by a “woman and her physician.” Since pro-abortionists found that their explicit advocacy of abortion as a political position was a loser, they began rebranding themselves as “pro-choice.” Indeed, current pro-abortion orthodoxy, according to one pro-choice advocate, is that “no one is pro-abortion.” Really? The woman who chooses abortion is not pro-abortion? The legislator who enacts a permissive abortion regime is not pro-abortion? In the rest of the real world, choosing something and providing a broad, unlimited license for that thing does not suggest or indicate reservations about that thing.

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If abortion is morally neutral or even a good “choice,” why wouldn’t one be for it, i.e., be “pro-abortion?” In every other sphere of life, someone who thinks something is morally good or even just morally neutral does not hesitate to say he favors it. People only hesitate to endorse something when they are morally ambivalent about it or opposed to it. This is how choice normally works: choice defaults in favor of what is chosen, not just the making of a choice (which is circular reasoning). Why is abortion the exception?

We are told by pro-abortionists that the only “appropriate” response to a decision to procure an abortion is affirmation. Indeed, we are counseled to “shout your abortion.” Affirmation, and more so “shouting” about something, are responses people make to things they see as morally good, not morally ambiguous or, even less, evil. So why is this “choice” so out-of-sync with how people ordinarily choose?

In the British case, the National Health Service brought the case before a judge in a court that normally adjudicates health care decisions for people deemed impaired or incapable of giving consent themselves. The NHS and Justice Lievan determined that abortion was in the “best interest” of this patient, notwithstanding her own and her family’s opposition (including her mother’s, a former midwife).

There was, of course, an outcry, even from pro-abortionists. Why?

If a patient is suffering from infected tonsils and the NHS turned to a judge to seek a tonsillectomy for that patient, deemed incapable of consenting, there would be no outcry.  Given that pro-abortionists assure us that an unborn child is but “tissue” or a “clump of cells,” why is the reaction to an unconsented-to abortion any different from the reaction to a tonsillectomy ordered by the court?

Let’s also consider that even some pro-abortionists objected to Lievan’s forced abortion order, on the grounds that the woman did not want it. However, in cases of impaired consent, we do not defer to the wishes of the patient. Decisions are made on the basis of objective facts and “best interests.” An incompetent patient who does not want a rotting tooth pulled would not receive deference; it is in her “best interest” to extract that tooth. We permit substituted consent because we recognize that an impaired patient may not reliably choose what objectively addresses her pathology. But the reaction to Lievan’s order clearly shows that, for some reason, this logic does not apply in this case.

Again, abortion is different.

Society recognizes it has a duty to ensure the objectively good health even of patients whose capacity for consent is impaired. It allows a judge to authorize procedures in those cases. We do not fear an epidemic of forced oral extractions or some plot to “improve the smiles” of the dentally deplorable.

But we instinctively sniff the scent of eugenics when it comes to abortion. We object when a blonde, WASP-like judge makes a decision regarding the reproduction of a woman of color, perhaps not native born, at the request of a government agency and perhaps its bean counters, too. Perhaps it’s not as blatant as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., thundering that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The skeptic might suggest that perhaps it’s a more subtle judicial, ideological, and gender solidarity regarding, as Justice Ginsburg admitted, “populations we don’t want too many of.”

When Justice Clarence Thomas warned rather extensively about new trends in eugenics by dissenting (in  Box v. Planned Parenthood) from the Supreme Court’s refusal to rule on an Indiana law banning abortions where the unborn child is diagnosed as handicapped or on the basis of sex, critics sprang forward, claiming eugenics is eugenics only when others compel it, not when it’s self-chosen. That’s not true, but even if we conceded that position dato non concesso, it nevertheless certainly suggests a eugenics dimension to this case.

Without even arguing the merits, we cannot deny that questions like these arise. They should force us to ask “why?” If abortion is just another “choice,” none of these questions should arise. But they do. This suggests abortion is a “choice” like no other.

In real life, we know that something being a “choice” is insufficient justification for its being a moral decision. Normal people usually pose a follow-up question: “what is the choice?” We assume that choice is a prerequisite to action: there is a difference between involuntary (e.g., breathing) and voluntary (e.g., strangling someone) acts. But this distinction also brings us back full circle to the fact that, where the ability to make a choice is regarded as essential, it’s because the object chosen has a moral quality.

But it is precisely this quality that the ideology of “choice” excludes and refuses to examine—without telling us why; only in the case of abortion is the moral quality amputated from the “choice.” Instead, abortion advocates pretend to derive moral value from the choosing itself. Again, where else in life does this happen? Does the fact that the murderer made a choice to kill sanitize the murder?

The fact that we recoil from a judge’s substituting her “choice” for that of a patient deemed incapable of informed consent and ordering an abortion—a state of affairs that would not exist for any real pathology—speaks loudly about how the rhetoric of “choice” is incapable of camouflaging the bogus “choice” on offer. God directly addresses true from false choosing when Yahweh puts before Israel “the choice of life and death, of blessing and curse” (Deut. 30:19; see also 11:26). No semantic alchemy can make a curse a blessing. Tortured semantics cannot convince us that the abortion “choice” is or ever can be ethically neutral. It doesn’t work like any other “choice.” It’s a “choice” like no other.


  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

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