Yes, Let’s Talk about Abortion

The Matter of Life Prepares the Way for Informed Conversations Across the Divide

Would you believe there was a time in America when two of the largest groups opposing abortion were journalists and feminists? According to Tracy Robinson, filmmaker behind The Matter of Life, a new documentary about abortion in America, that was the case in 1800s America. The other demographic actively opposed to abortion during that era was doctors.

Laws criminalizing abortion were the result of advocacy by early suffragettes. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton held that abortion devalued women, and because of feminist efforts, inducing an abortion became a serious crime in most states, except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger. Most of those state laws remained in effect for nearly a century.

Then came the sexual revolutionaries, many of whom were men who preferred sex without its natural consequences. In the 1960s, Playboy magazine became the first major consumer publication to advocate for legal abortion on demand. Abortion laws at the time were matters for states to decide, each through their own legislative processes. In 1967, Colorado became the first to decriminalize abortion in some cases, and California, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, and New York soon followed suit.

Then came Roe v Wade. In the mind of most Americans, the 1973 decision legalized abortion. That is effectively what it did, but to be more precise, Roe v Wade, along with its companion case Doe v Bolton, actually struck down laws the states had passed. In other words, Roe overrode laws that had been passed by the will of the people of the individual states.

By now, everyone's heard about the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court late last year. A ruling is expected in June, and people on both sides of the debate believe Dobbs could result in Roe being overturned. Some are already talking about preparing for a post-Roe world. Now that a draft of Justice Alito's majority opinion has been leaked to the press, that appears all the more likely. Still, it's anybody's guess as to what will happen between now and then, but if Roe is overturned, it will not mean an end to abortion. From a legal standpoint, it will return the matter of abortion law to the states.

Let the Conversations Begin

To be sure, some chaos will ensue. This means abortion will be a topic of conversation for the foreseeable future. We should both welcome this and prepare, then, for engaging in helpful, illuminating conversations about it. We should want people to know more about abortion, not less, and The Matter of Life is all about informing people about abortion and its history as a movement and practice in America. Here are three suggestions I took from the film about how we might wisely navigate the approaching moment.

Welcome conversations about choice. “The abortion debate is not a dispute between those who are pro-choice and those who are pro-life,” says Scott Klusendorf. Everyone is pro-choice about some matters and anti-choice about others. He lists several matters on which he’s decidedly pro-choice: women choosing their own worldview, choosing the men they wish to date, the clothes they wish to wear, the cars they’d like to drive, or pets they’d like to own. Then he lists several matters on which he and those on the other side of the abortion debate are anti-choice: most all of us are anti-choice, for example, when it comes to pollution, spousal abuse, and child abuse. The point of this exercise is to not let the vague term “choice” pass as a substitute for the subject at hand. When abortion activists use the term pro-choice, we should make the object of what’s being chosen the subject of the conversation.

Speaking of the subject of this conversation, focus on the question of the unborn. What is the unborn? Is the unborn one of us? “If the unborn is not a human being, then do whatever you want with it,” says Alan Shlemon. “If, however, the unborn is a human being, just like you and me, well then there is no justification for abortion.” In stark contrast to the activists’ obfuscating slogans, this offers cut-and-dried clarity. The unborn either is or is not a human being. Having clarified the question at the heart of the debate, the best reference to consult for an answer would be the science of embryology, which holds that from the earliest stages of development, each human embryo is a distinct, living, whole human being.

Framed this way, the pro-life case is very simple and straightforward. It holds that (1) it is wrong to terminate the life of an innocent human being, and (2) abortion terminates the life of an innocent human being. It follows, therefore that (3) abortion is wrong. Wherever possible we should help people contend with this, the crux of the issue. If the unborn is a human being, abortion is a violation of human rights. The case all but makes itself when extricated from the albatross of political sloganeering.

Finally, love the child by loving the child’s mother. One of the biggest reasons women go in for abortion is because they feel alone and unsupported. In an interview about her journey of making The Matter of Life, Tracy Robinson said four out of ten women choosing abortion had been attending church during the month when they became pregnant. Make of that what you will, but one thing it tells us is, Christians and churches should be proactive in demonstrating love and grace for pregnant women, especially those among the church community. I’ve seen this happen in my own church, and these situations (and the children) become living, breathing testaments that Christian grace is alive and well in the church. When the Pharisees got their hands on a woman caught in adultery, they tried to use her as a tool to put Jesus into a no-win situation. He instead treated her with dignity and respect, though without ignoring human sin. “Neither do I condemn you,” he said, “now go and sin no more.” We should follow suit.

The Matter of Life covers these and many more aspects of the history of abortion in America, from the convoluted machinations of Roe, to the talking points of Planned Parenthood, to the many organizations standing ready to support women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. It’s packed with information designed to equip you and me to step up and serve and contend for life at this pivotal cultural moment for our nation.

The Matter of Life will be showing in theaters on May 16 and 17. See the trailer below and click here to see a sneak peek and here for theaters and showtimes.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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