Prolifers can learn from the marvelously practical language of Alcoholics Anonymous. In AA, the phrase “stinking thinking” refers to destructive habits of thought that tend to return the alcoholic to the bottle. Those of us concerned with abortion do well to be alert to how our own thinking might serve—or fail to serve—our cause.
Rationalizing the Bad Logic
The alcoholic tells himself, “Just one more drink, and tomorrow I’ll stop.” Likewise the gambling addict, “Just one more win, and then I can go home.” And many an abortion begins with a similar rationale: a man saying to his partner, or a woman saying to herself, “We’re not quite ready. We’ve just got to get past this pregnancy, and then we’ll be in the clear for whatever we want down the road.”
Pope Francis describes this habit of thinking as the “use and throw away” logic, because he sees it operative in poor ecological choices as well as in the exploitation of people:
The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labor on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary.
—Pope Francis, Laudato si (123)
We tell ourselves that the past is in the past; but in reality it endures, not only in the accumulating trash, but in our decision-making habits, our “stinking thinking.” We reject the lie from obvious addicts who tell us that today is an exception, tomorrow will be different. But as Francis observes, too many of us accept the lie when it comes to matters of ecology—whether environmental ecology, or human ecology and the problem of abortion. The habit of throwing away children to get what we want in the short term becomes a culture of death, poisoning all our institutions: sexual relations, family, law and jurisprudence, politics, journalism, even social security!
The Special Damage of Abortion
When it comes to human ecology and throwing away children, there is a third consequence, beyond the loss of children and the perversion of our social institutions: Because people never truly go way, abortion alienates us from each other, the born from the unborn.
This is one of Jesus’ lessons in John 11, the story of the raising of Lazarus. Martha’s brother Lazarus had died, and Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise again. Martha concedes the point, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day,” as if this distant reality consoles her very little in the moment. Jesus famously responds, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
What Jesus teaches in this crisis is that though he may be dead to the world, Lazarus isn’t really dead: He lives in Jesus! Martha should be consoled not only by the promise of resurrection on the last day, but by the assurance of life now. As Jesus says elsewhere: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living: All are alive in him.” (Luke 20:38)
If Lazarus’s ongoing life is consolation for his sister Martha, then the life of the unborn, though aborted, is a challenge to all of us. Do we think that by abortion we have evaded the consequences of that new life? On the contrary, we have intensified our difficulties, for we have assumed the burden of the sin of killing, and we owe an account of ourselves both to the unborn and to the Lord in whom they live. That debt comes due not only on “the last day,” but must be serviced beginning immediately.
And lest I be misunderstood, let me hasten to explain that the debt is owed not only by mothers and abortionists, but by all of us who, to one extent or another, fail to create the conditions necessary for new life to be welcomed into the world.
Leavening Logic with Truth
Following the passage above, Pope Francis goes on to explain:
We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.
—Pope Francis, Laudato si (123)
Here Francis’s explanation applies again not only to environmental ecology, but to human ecology, and he points toward a higher goal for prolifers. Though the precise purpose of the pro-life movement is to secure the protection of the unborn in law and in fact, the force of law and our political efforts will never by themselves be truly adequate. Even if we pose as pro-life, so long as we refuse to submit ourselves to truth beyond our own convenience we will corrupt the law and the culture itself—and in a direction that leans pro-choice.
So let prolifers lead the way—not only in welcoming the unborn, but in speaking the truth. Let us put the common good ahead of our own good, and put adhering to higher principles ahead of our own convenience. By living thus, we weaken “use and throw away” logic, and strengthen logic ordered to the truth—that every person, born and unborn, is a gift.
Fr. David Poecking is the regional vicar of the South Vicariate of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.