Readers of the New Testament are familiar with one way Jesus and later Paul explained to their listeners and readers the difference between what evildoers argue and what is true: “It is written.” For example, when Satan asked Jesus to turn stones into bread (chapter four of two gospels, Matthew and Luke), Jesus replied, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” This “it is written” phrase, followed by an Old Testament quotation or paraphrase, appears 63 other times in the New Testament (English Standard Version). I’d like to use that approach in regard to five frequent memes we hear from abortion advocates. I’m not saying the responses I suggest have biblical authority, but I am saying they undermine pro-abortion propaganda. First, if you watch or listen to abortion advocates, you’ve heard that abortion follows a discussion between “a woman and her doctor.” That suggests the two deciders have a pre-existing relationship of the kind popularized in TV shows like Marcus Welby, M.D., which in 1970-1971 ranked #1 in the Nielsen ratings. (Actor Robert Young, the kind father in the 1954-1960 Father Knows Best, played Dr. Welby, with a warm and fuzzy bedside manner and a willingness to make house calls.)
Delve into documents, though, and you’ll find that it’s rare for a woman climbing onto an abortionist’s table to have seen him before. Any counseling comes from somewhere else: The clinic abortionist is an assembly-line worker.
Second, abortion advocates who acknowledge the rarity of a Santa Claus Dr. Welby often say that the woman makes the decision by herself. Studies, though, show that the most ardent abortion proponent is often the male partner. For example, one researcher in abortion-friendly Norway found that 25 percent of aborting women spoke of “pressure from male partner.” And if we look at the historical record of abortions in America, 100 percent of the first three clearly documented abortions involved such pressure.
Some specifics: It is written in the Archives of Maryland (1652) that Captain William Mitchell mixed an abortifacient—a potion that could kill the unborn child—with a poached egg and forced Susan Warren, the indentured servant he had impregnated, to eat it: “He said if she would not take it he would thrust it down her throat, so she being in bed could not withstand it.” Four years later Francis Brooke beat his pregnant wife Ann with a large pair of wooden tongs. Brooke then forced an abortifacient on her, and their unborn child died. Midwife Rose Smith described the 3-inch corpse: “a man child about three months old and it was all bruised one side of it.” The Archives of Maryland in 1663 show Jacob Lumbrozo reneging on his promise to marry pregnant Elizabeth Weales. Lumbrozo gave Weales an abortifacient and there “came sumthing downe as big as her hand from her bodie.”
Other colonies showed the same pattern. One young Massachusetts woman, Sarah Crouch, testified in 1669 that Christopher Grant demanded sex and promised that “no hurt should come of it,” because if she became pregnant he would marry her. When she did become pregnant, his marriage proposal became conditional: “He said he would marry me if I would make away with the child, which I did refuse to do, for which I bless my God.”
Third, abortion advocates say the “post-abortion syndrome” spoken of by prolifers is myth or exaggeration. And yet, it is written: The New York Times in 1976 ran a column by Linda Bird Francke that contrasted her abstract thinking during a pro-choice march with her “panic” moments before she was about to abort. Francke wrote, “Suddenly the rhetoric, the abortion marches I’d walked in . . . peeled away, and I was all alone with my microscopic baby.” Her tale ended poignantly: “It certainly does make more sense not to be having a baby right now But I have this ghost now. A very little ghost that only appears when I’m seeing something beautiful, like the full moon on the ocean last weekend. And the baby waves at me. And I wave back at the baby.”
(Even in the 1870s Dr. Rachel Gleason described how “Remorse for the deed drives women almost to despair.” In 1875 Elizabeth Evans’s The Abuse of Maternity quoted women who mourned their abortions years after they occurred. One said her “thoughts were filled with imaginings as to what might have been the worth of that child’s individuality; and especially, after sufficient time had elapsed to have brought him to maturity, did I busy myself with picturing the responsible posts he might have filled. [I never] read of an accident by land or by water, or of a critical moment in battle, or of a good cause lost through lack of a brave defender, but my heart whispered, ‘He might have been there to help and save.’”)
A fourth “you have heard” is the contention by some newspaper editors that they’ve already covered the abortion debate, and enough is enough. Actually, when it comes to abortion, for 50 years now many newspapers have deviated from the standard journalistic practice of “show, don’t tell.”
Earlier Americans could get from their newspapers a glimpse of reality.
The New York Times, for example, emphasized specific detail in 1871 in a long and vivid story headlined “THE EVIL OF THE AGE. Slaughter of the Innocents . . . Scenes Described by Eyewitnesses.” The Times included descriptions of “human flesh, supposed to have been the remains of infants, found in barrels of lime and acids, undergoing decomposition.”
On the first day of summer in 1883, the New York Times headlined a story “TWENTY-ONE MURDERED BABIES.” The story showed a detective pushing his shovel through basement dirt and finding tiny skulls, ribs, and leg bones, the remnants of 400–500 unborn children killed by a Philadelphia abortionist. The Times reported that when a district attorney shook the cigar box containing 21 corpses, the bones rattled like “hard withered leaves.” A Philadelphia newspaper offered specific detail: The “remnant of arms and hands” had “their natural shape.”
Today’s abortion reporters, though, often abandon street-level journalistic best practice. Instead of speaking plainly about abortion and unborn children, they offer abstract terms like “pro-choice” and “products of conception.” But it is written: Reporters could learn from the work of Magda Denes, a 42-year-old Holocaust survivor in 1976 when her extraordinary account In Necessity and Sorrow hit the bookstores.
Denes supported legal abortion yet had the journalistic integrity to hate “the evasions, multifaceted, clever, and shameful, by which we all live and die.” Here’s one description that shows how she did not run from reality: “I look inside the bucket in front of me. There is a small naked person in there floating in a bloody liquid—plainly the tragic victim of a drowning accident. But then perhaps this was no accident, because the body is purple with bruises.”
Denes also quoted one abortionist who said, “You can feel the fetus wiggling at the end of that needle and moving around, which is an unpleasant thing.” She quoted another: “You have to become a bit schizophrenic. In one room you encourage the patient that the slight irregularity of the fetal heart is not important, everything is going well, she is going to have a nice baby, and then you shut the door and go into the next room and assure another patient on whom you just did a saline abortion, that it’s fine if the heart is already irregular, she has nothing to worry about, she is not going to have a live baby.” Here’s a fifth and last “you have heard”: For most women, abortion is no big deal. This meme began a half-century ago, when the Omaha WorldHerald quoted “Betty” describing her abortion experience: “I had to stay quiet for 15 minutes. When I got up, I felt like a brand-new woman. I felt so happy.” The Long Island Press quoted “Susan” telling the abortionist when the operation was over, “Oh, thank you, thank you.” The reporter added, “Within the next half hour she will have some cookies and a soft drink in the recovery lounge . . . and be on her way back home”—probably skipping, the article seemed to suggest. The San Francisco Chronicle told how a woman “put a bright scarf over her hair” and told a patiently waiting mother, “I’m starved. Let’s go to lunch.” The reporter said abortion “is so simple and over so quickly that [women] have no feeling of guilt.”
Magda Denes, though, described the women she observed: “Their pinched faces are full of determination and terror. Big-eyed, bird-like, pale, hawkhanded in fright, they seem like lost souls before the final judgment.” After an abortion, one patient’s drained face was “indistinguishable from the white sheet on which she lies.” Though Jewish, Denes was familiar with the New Testament, so I suspect it was no accident that when she portrayed a woman coming out of anesthesia and asking if the abortion was complete, she had a nurse answering, “It is finished.”
That’s what Jesus said just before he died, relinquishing his life for the sins of many, as aborted children relinquish their lives—but they can’t absolve their parents from wondering what might have been, or the rest of us from wondering what an America without hundreds of thousands of abortions could be.
Marvin Olasky is co-author (with Leah Savas) of The Story of Abortion in America: A Street-Level History, 1652-2022, published in January.