Nearly one in 20 women will procure an abortion in her first 20 years of life, according to a recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. By age 30, that number approaches one in five. By age 45, nearly a quarter of American women will abort a child.
Such a staggering figure provokes disbelief. It must be a statistical sleight of hand — a small number of women obtaining many abortions, while the overwhelming majority of women abstain entirely, leaving an average of one in four. Some women do indeed procure multiple abortions. Nevertheless, according to the Guttmacher analysis, the one-in-four statistic reflects individual women. “We used age-specific first abortion rates to estimate the lifetime incidence of abortion,” write the authors of the study. No matter how many abortions a woman will procure during her lifetime, roughly one in four will obtain at least one.
For decades, the pro-life movement has focused on scientific evidence and ethical arguments. That strategy has helped to turn state law and public opinion increasingly against abortion. But if the one-in-four number is correct, evidence and arguments alone will never suffice. What role must guilt and denial play in many Americans’ refusal to acknowledge the reality of abortion? One in four American women will kill at least one of her children. As many as one in four American men will see, actively or passively, at least one of his children killed. If abortion ends a human life, then a quarter of Americans are murderers.
From a scientific perspective, abortion does indeed end a human life. In 1.3% of cases, women abort babies so fully formed they have fingerprints. Over 5% of abortions involve babies developed enough to hiccup. Well over one in ten abortions kills a baby who can swim, cry, and suck his thumb. In nearly one in five cases, mothers abort babies whose fingers, toes, and teeth they might have been glimpsed on an ultrasound. Over a third of the time, abortion kills babies with detectable brain waves.
The remaining two-thirds of abortions occur within eight weeks of the mother’s missed period, at which point the baby has already developed a beating heart. By week five, the baby starts to form his central nervous system. By week four, the baby has the beginnings of his digestive system. At the very moment of conception, the baby has unique human DNA and exhibits all the characteristics of life.
From an ethical perspective, the killing of innocent human beings is wrong. Unborn babies — that is, fetuses, embryos, and even “zygotes” — are innocent human beings. Therefore, it is wrong to kill them.
From a religious perspective, the Bible in both the Old and New Testament affirms the sinfulness of murder, the sanctity of life, and the humanity of unborn babies. As Fr. Frank Pavone, the National Director of Priests for Life, observes, the phrase “conceived and bore” appears repeatedly in Genesis. The psalmist, who was "knit in his mother’s womb," traces his identity to his moment of conception in Psalm 51:7. Luke uses the same word to describe children before and after birth. The Apostle Paul writes, “God … from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace.”
No argument for abortion survives scientific, philosophical, or theological scrutiny. Exasperated pro-lifers wonder how so many Americans can persist in denying the obvious. The better question is, how could they not? How could a quarter of Americans ever admit to murdering their own children? In recent years, abortion supporters have stopped calling for the practice to remain “safe, legal, and rare.” Today they “shout” their abortions. Who are they trying to convince? The pro-abortion movement, bereft of arguments, now seeks merely to ease the guilt of its practitioners.
As pro-life advocates continue to expose the scientific and ethical reality of abortion, we must also console the millions of Americans who carry the heavy burden of an enormous sin. A guilty mind will rationalize even an ultrasound image. As we show the world those pictures, we must also reveal the prospect of redemption.