Public opinion about abortion in America can best be described as ambivalent: uncomfortable with unrestricted abortion, yet unwilling to ban it totally.
Another word for public opinion on abortion is “stalemate.” It has not moved much over the years since Roe vs. Wade. One time it did move was when partial-birth abortion was being debated publicly in the late 90’s. People were more willing to identify with the pro-life position during and after that debate, because the debate focused on abortion itself, rather than on abstract issues of freedom and choice.
And it is only in the specific arena of partial-birth abortion that our nation has succeeded, at any time since Roe vs. Wade, in actually prohibiting an abortion procedure in many states and on a federal level, and have that prohibition upheld by the highest court in the land.
When the question is, “Should we allow abortion?”, the debate is unwieldy and ambiguous, catching people in a seemingly endless and wearisome maze of arguments and counterarguments. But when the question is, “Should we allow a child to be pierced in the skull with scissors while still alive and partially delivered?”, the public comes much more quickly to a consensus. And that consensus in turn affects their view of the overall abortion question.
Now it’s time for Act 2.
The most common abortion procedure performed after the first trimester of pregnancy is the “D and E” (Dilation and Evacuation), a procedure which is legal throughout the nation, and which the Supreme Court itself described in this way:
“The doctor grips a fetal part with the forceps and pulls it back through the cervix …, continuing to pull even after meeting resistance from the cervix. The friction causes the fetus to tear apart. For example, a leg might be ripped off the fetus as it is pulled through the cervix and out of the woman. The process of evacuating the fetus piece by piece continues until it has been completely removed.” (Gonzales vs. Carhart, April 18, 2007)
Now is the time to ask the American public, whether pro-life or pro-choice, a simple question: Should dismemberment of a living child in the womb be permitted? Let’s go beyond the all-encompassing question of “Should abortion be allowed?” and ask, “Should this specific procedure, in which a child’s arms and legs are ripped off, and head crushed, be allowed?”
As we saw in the partial-birth abortion debate, we will see again that many people who consider themselves “pro-choice” and who would want abortion to be generally available will nevertheless oppose this specific procedure and even work with us to prohibit it by law. It is time to mobilize that segment of the public.
Every abortion is wrong, no matter what method is used; every child must be protected. We do not in any way retreat from that principle and goal. But helping people focus on one procedure at a time is a quicker way to get there. See StopDandE.com for more info.
(© 2011 Fr. Frank Pavone)