The Case for Abortion as the “Preeminent Priority”
by Fr. Jim Hewes
Top Ten Reasons
- Wars killed over 100 million people in the last century. It took a hundred years to reach that number. The United Nations estimates 45-50 million abortion each year, so it would take only two or three years of abortions to surpass that number.
The brutal reality is that the lives of 900,000 pre-born children end every year in the United States from abortions. What would we think if 900,000 school children or 900,000 immigrants were killed every single year (or 900,000 lives lost to Covid-19)? Abortion is the number one cause of violent death in the world and in the United States, making abortion the number one priority. The immensity of that violence dwarfs every other issue by a mile.
In addition, there are millions of women wounded and damaged for many years after their abortions, which also affect fathers, siblings, grandparents, other family members, and abortion industry workers.
- There is the undeniable fact that if one doesn’t exist, then other human rights won’t come into play. Since abortion is at the very beginning of life, it sets the trajectory of what kind of society we are creating: not a culture of life but a culture of death, which excludes a whole group of human beings simply based on arbitrary characteristics of their size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency.
- An injustice has almost never ended unless the evidence of the injustice has been shown. There’s the heartbreaking photo of 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, after a napalm attack in 1972, showing the horror of war. One can view the 3-year-old Syrian refugee child, Alan Kundi, lying dead, face down on a beach in Turkey, to demonstrate the plight of refugees. One can show pictures of homeless people in cardboard boxes, living on the streets, to show their terrible situation. One can watch emaciated bodies to see the effects of hunger or poverty.
Yet you rarely ever see pictures of pre-born children. Pre-born children are viewed differently, especially by the media which shapes so much public opinion on issues. They never show abortion victims, because they are being hid away and forgotten, which absolutely lessens their value. So, society is never brought face-to-face with the ugliness and the horrifying nature of this terrible evil.
The day of George Floyd’s death, with all the subsequent media coverage and protests, there were 800 African American pre-born children killed, completely unnoticed.
- Pre-born children are never heard, only silent screams; they’re never able to give horrifying testimonials of what’s been done to them. They’re the one group that doesn’t get asked about the meaning of their abortion. They need the unparalleled attention, the strongest protection, and the most outspoken voices advocating on their behalf, lest they continue in silence to be marginalized, ignored, and brutally destroyed. In abortion. the pre-born are basically without a voice because they’re not considered human, but a mere concept (a product of pregnancy) or an abstraction (health care / reproductive rights); in abortion their humanity isn’t even recognized but simply seen as an outpatient surgical procedure, or just mere cells.
- Violence and death are more readily accepted by society to solve complex problems when vulnerable life is destroyed at the very beginning of life, and the killing takes place within the very heart of, and with the complicity of the family. As Mother Teresa stated: “abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships.”
- Those who have died by euthanasia, the death penalty, the crime of murder, or in war are ordinarily afforded some type of dignity, by a funeral service and burial. Pre-born children are dismembered, then thrown in a trash bag as medical waste, and dumped as garbage.
- Seventeen death-row inmates were executed in 2020. If even one person is executed, it’s one too many. But would there have been an earth-quaking event of a civil war back in the 1860’s, if there were a total of 17 slaves in the entire country? When slavery was legal in much of the U.S., with about four million slaves, 13% of the nation’s population, it took on paramount importance. Slavery wasn’t the only evil in 1860, but it was a fundamental evil and thus a preeminent social issue. It had to be eliminated to create a new foundation for true justice to emerge across a wide variety of other social issues. To say that slavery was the most important social issue didn’t detract from the importance of other issues (like child labor, etc.). Instead, it highlighted the foremost evil that had to be overcome for the good of the entire nation. Such is abortion today.
Another example: imagine we’re in Germany during the early 1940’s (or Pol Pot’s Cambodia in the 1970’s or Rwanda in 1994) and someone stated: “I don’t understand the argument for giving the Holocaust more weight than all other killings in Germany. People’s lives are no less taken away when killed outside the Holocaust than within it. If during the early 1940’s in Germany, the Holocaust is inherently more important than all other issues, then all other issues are inherently less important than the Holocaust.” Would this approach make any sense?
Just because a particular issue is the defining issue, which surpasses all other important issues of life in a particular time and place, this wouldn’t diminish the other life issues, just highlight what needs the most focus as long as that overriding injustice lasts. Those previous situations of intrinsic evils no longer exist and are no longer priorities now, because the circumstances have dramatically changed in those countries. If the pre-born were declared persons by the Supreme Court and abortion became illegal for the entire country (not just returned to the states to decide) then the pre-eminence of abortion might change in the United States.
- We’re not so much choosing the approach of pre-eminent priority, but rather it’s being forced on us by the magnitude of the injustice and the vulnerability of pre-born children. When a society legally and morally/ethically removes protection from any group of people, then you endanger the protection of everyone else. The principle applies no matter what group of people you formally deprive of personhood. It just that the pre-born are the only group today who have been deprived of that legal status. So, in a sense, it is not we who choose to make abortion the priority issue. The court and society chose it.
- Abortion has lessened the value of life outside the womb and has desensitized us to the horror of violence for those who have already been born.
If a parent can kill an innocent, helpless, unwanted child because of “choice,” why can’t anyone kill someone else because of “choice”? This was exactly what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “If we say that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell others not to kill one another?” Also: “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love but to use violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
- People who don’t have solidarity with the pre-born lay the groundwork of not being in solidarity with anyone vulnerable after birth. Most CLE people would generally agree that there should be “a preferential option for the poor;” no one is poorer, more weak, more defenseless, more vulnerable, more marginalized, more frail than pre-born children.
One of the confusions, especially around election time, is the mistake of thinking that a “single-issue voter” has the same meaning as one who holds “abortion is a preeminent priority.” Abortion as “a preeminent priority” always sees an essential strong link of abortion with all the other issues of the consistent life ethic / seamless garment / non-violence. If abortion is really a true preeminent priority, it doesn’t automatically mean that abortion is the only issue; nor does it mean that one sets aside all other issues of life. One’s opposition to abortion, as well as holding the preeminent priority of abortion, will not really be credible if one does not work against the other threats to life outside the womb.
It’s human nature and the make-up of American society to tend to be competitive. But prioritizing an issue doesn’t lessen other issues or other lives, unless it’s looked at only through a competitive lens. It’s not meant to cloud out all other considerations of life issues.
For it’s not just about having a right to be born, but a right to an abundant life, It’s vitally important to help those same babies who are not aborted for the rest of their lives. This includes supporting mothers who are single parents or struggling in poverty or facing violence in wars or other conflicts.
Unfortunately, too many single-issue voters don’t challenge anti-abortion politicians on other important social issues. These also have an impact on those not aborted as well as other human lives. What happens too often after anti-abortion politicians get elected is that many single-issue voters remain silent and give these politicians a “pass” because they were against abortion. They allow the pre-born to be “weaponized” for certain political purposes or for helping one political party.
Those who hold abortion as a preeminent priority, on the other hand, know it’s not enough to just get a human life born and prevent that life from being aborted, if that same life is then destroyed or gradually harmed by certain policies that perpetuate the violence of war or poverty, or leave women after the birth of their child with little or no support.
If you take into account all these reasons (and more), the right to life is foundational and the centerpiece to the whole structure of society’s existence and underlies every right. The right to life precedes and undergirds every other issue of life, and prioritizing abortion is the key underpinning for all other issues of life. Abortion outweighs all other issues and doesn’t admit of exception or compromise. It’s intrinsically always unjust, and gravely immoral regardless of motive or circumstance. Abortion is first and foremost wrong universally, in every place and in every conceivable circumstance. Without the right to life, all meaning and purpose is erased and lost forever.
All evils are not equal, which is why abortion is of such paramount importance. If the fundamental right to life is not secure but contingent on others, no rights are ultimately secure. If there is no right to life, society and all other rights are built on sand.
It’s just a reality that none of us can do everything, so we naturally prioritize something. This preeminent priority approach doesn’t diminish the value of the other issues or other lives, nor does it mean ignoring or neglecting the other issues of life; for each and every life is in God’s image and likeness, with infinite dignity.
For more of our posts from Fr. Jim Hewes, see:
For differing opinions on the balance of issues, see:
Is Abortion Different from Other Violence? / Julia Smucker
Equal Concern for Each Human Being, Not for Each Human Issue / Richard Stith
Does the Consistent Life Ethic Water Down Life Issues? / Bill Samuel