Time to Rethink the Abortion Question

“Can a woman forget her nursing child that she should have no compassion for the son of her womb?”  ∼ Isaiah, 49:15

“Every man is in a direct relationship with God. Faith claims no more for the first man than for each one of us, and vice versa no more for us than for the first man. Every person is more than a product of heredity and environment; no one is solely the product of calculable, this-worldly factors; the secret of creation hovers over each of us…. Man was willed by God in a specific way; not just as a creature that is ‘there,’ but as a creature that knows him, not just as an idea that he thought, but as a creature that can, in turn, think of him.”  ∼ Joseph Ratzinger, 1977

We are by now used to the statistics in given countries and the world of the millions of babies aborted in recent decades: 61 million in the United States since 1973; 1.5 billion in the world since 1980. Many are appalled; others claim this procedure as a “right.” In addition, we now see in many states, like Virginia and New York, the removal of any restriction on abortion, sometimes including killing the unwanted child if it survives abortion.

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The philosophical justification for these conflicting views of abortion can be traced back to the development of the natural law and natural reason and its systematic rejection in modern times. The natural law, however it is defined, means that an objective order is found in existing things. Man discovers this law; he does not “make” it. This order of things, if followed, leads to upholding all human life. The rejection of this order leads step by step to the “abolition of man,” as C.S. Lewis described it. Ironically, the logical consequence is a gradual move away from normal sexual relations. The begetting of children by parents is replaced by the work of scientists and human-re-designers in labs.

The modern denial of the natural order is premised on the elimination of final and formal causes from nature. This denial means that the mind refuses to consult anything in nature to determine right action. It is “free” from the judgement of the natural order. By contrast, freedom or liberty in classical thought meant that man was “free” when he followed the truth of things that already existed. The formal and final causes were what told us the purpose and proper function of a thing under consideration.

Freedom was itself ordered to truth. Man, exercising his free will, had to acknowledge this order by understanding and following it. He could freely refuse to acknowledge or follow it. He was not “determined.” This freedom was the glory of his status in the hierarchy of being. When this natural order was rejected, it set in motion the progressive elimination of all institutions and customs that supported the procreation and nurture of human beings. Logically, this limitless freedom enabled man to think that his goal was to reform himself, both his soul and body, according to his own making. His radical “revolution” would improve on the “image of God” that had originally defined the human status in its natural state.


If we look at abortion for what it is, we can see, ironically, that no aborted fetus ought to have existed in the first place. Abortions were the result of conceptions that, since they were sins, ought not to have existed. The child aborted ought not to have existed in the first place. The initial sin that resulted in its conception should have been avoided. This position means that every child born into this world should have a father and a mother, and a family, in which it is conceived and comes to exist as a human being for its four square years and ten. The world should contain only wanted children in a proper home context.

The reasoning behind this view rests on the purpose of human life in the first place. Each conceived human is specifically willed by God to be the person he is. Each person is irreplaceable and offered the same ultimate end—everlasting life. This understanding of the person includes the aborted children who were never allowed to see the light of day. Thus, if mankind observed the natural law, abortion would never happen. The children that we slaughter in abortion would not have been conceived. In short, no abortion problem would exist.


But, of course, we know that sin did come into the world, made possible by the freedom which we were given as fundamental to our nature as rational beings. We will not share the Trinitarian life unless we choose to live rightly in this life. This approach brings up what I call the “problem of ‘other’ Eve” in its modern setting. The Eve of Genesis, the initial mother of our kind, after her sin seems to have settled down and acknowledged her fault. She did not rebel at being a woman as such. She had children. However, the capacity to reject what she was remained within the orbit of possibility for her and all women who followed her. She, as with Adam, could deny what she was by nature. This denial would essentially consist in rejecting that natural order in which she was to conceive, bear, and care for what was begotten in her.

In modern terms, this denial would entail a legal “right” to kill whatever is begotten in her. Thus, we now see myriads of women marching “for” abortion under the aegis of “reproductive rights.” This term is an objective lie, but must be used since no one can act without some species of good to justify what he does. This scene is equivalent to women rejecting what it is to be a woman, which is to carry new life from generation to generation.

The women who hold this view—not all do—arrived at this point logically from the systematic declination of the good in the natural order. (See Robert Reilly, “The Culture of Vice,” in the November 29, 1966, issue of National Review.) The path, when spelled out, is a direct line from divorce, contraception, and abortion to single-sex “marriage,” in-vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and designer babies and now to a refusal to continue to increase and multiply with transgenderism, population decline, and, ultimately euthanasia. We even have science experiments on human life that have little relation to sex. In laboratories, scientists fertilize ova with donated sperm in order for them to gestate wholly outside the mother.

This effort is presented as a way to improve the human race by allowing man full control over the begetting process. This approach ultimately removes the begetting process from the loving family and hands it to the state, itself now modeled on absolute liberty. Each declination is connected with the one before it when the previous step, too, is seen to fail. The legal killing of live babies who survive abortions is the logical conclusion of a “right” not to be burdened with anything to do with life conceived in the womb.

I do not here intend to exempt the masculine disorder in these reflections. It is probably true to say that we are most often witnessing a “parliament of women” as a reaction to irresponsible initiatives and sins of males. The responsibility of males is subject to a different analysis; but I at least want to mention it here. In the case of males and females, the refusal to live a virtuous life (see Aristotle and Aquinas) results in many disorders, the most obvious current one being that of unrestricted abortions. In this sense, the “shadow of Eve,” as I see it (Adam has his own “shadow”), is the carrying out of that original fault of Eve whereby she initially chose to accept the devil’s lie and prefer her will to that of the gentle command she had been given. We have here, as it were, a world of unrepentant Eves.

What we see today, however, is no longer a private sinful act of one person, but the carrying into the public order of this implicit rejection of what a woman is by nature. The sin of the man was the greater sin, if one can accept this view given today’s ideology. The two were not equally guilty. Within both man and woman there remained the option of rejecting in their lives both the natural and supernatural orders of being. Once this order is rejected, implicitly or directly, one finds himself following the path that leads to a deformity of both soul and body, usually under the impetus of some political movement that is legally empowered to enforce the deformed view of man.


When we take a look at the other side of these reflections, we see that men and women do sin; they do what they ought not to do. They invent elaborate justifications for bad behavior. The abortion of this or that particular child, however, could not have happened without the initial sin whereby a child was conceived. This realization does not mean that the child is evil or wrong. The sin is not the child’s. In terms of the reality in which we find ourselves, we must grant that each aborted child is also intended for eternal life. God was the source of that child’s existence as much as he is in any other conception.

The order that we now live in includes a redemptive factor. Our sins require that we take responsibility for their consequences. The effects continue in reality whether we are forgiven or not. We thus have a world in which millions of babies are destroyed. We need to deal with those who caused this destruction. We are in a remedial order that does not eradicate the results of our sins, but draws good from the good from which our sins deviated. No one can sin without having some good intention that he purports to follow. His sin consists in willfully acting contrary to the right order of things. Moral evil is putting a lack into the order of being. Evil as such is the lack of something that ought to be there, a lack made by human persons in their own souls.

The fact is that our sins do not ultimately defeat the plan or purpose of God in creating us and endowing us with immortal souls and destining us to eternal life. Those who are born of the sin of their begetters were intended to exist and could not have come into being without the sinful act of their parents. Every existing human being, however begotten, remains free and must himself accept or reject the right order of his natural being and the invitation to live the eternal life offered to him.

If we were to eliminate abortion, we must freely stop committing the sins that initiate disordered conceptions. Again this implies a radical conversion of soul. Without this conversion, we will continue on the same path on which we now are traveling. Ultimately, we must practically and intellectually rethink the abortion question so that we place our emphasis on the sins that result in what are now called unwanted babies. The aborted children, who could not have existed without our sins, do exist and fall within the range of divine providence. The elimination of abortion must reverse the steps that have, one at a time, lead us logically away from the natural and supernatural good that guides us in the marital relation of one man and one woman in their own home with their own children.   


  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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