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Shocking Numbers Out of New York

January 26, 2011


Shocking Numbers Out of New York

By Rev. Robert Barron

A few months ago, I was in a cab with some of my Word on Fire colleagues, heading to the Baltimore airport. Our driver, an African American woman, enquired who we all were. When I responded that we were part of a team working for the Catholic Church, she launched into an anti-Catholic diatribe that lasted, pretty much without interruption, until we arrived at the airport. She complained about many of the usual subjects—birth control, women’s ordination, the sex abuse crisis, the Pope, etc.—but her strongest and most passionate words were directed against the church’s prohibition of abortion. “Don’t you realize,” she asked, “that women have a right to choose what to do with their own bodies?” I’ll confess that, probably out of fatigue or cowardice, I didn’t really engage this lady in debate, but she came back to my mind rather vividly last week when I read some shocking statistics that came out of New York. According to a recent study, 41% of pregnancies in New York City end in abortion. That figure, of course, is breathtaking enough, but consider this specification: among black women, the number rises to 60%! My cab driver friend was complaining bitterly about a Catholic church that opposes itself to abortion, when a genocide of the unborn among her own people—fully sanctioned and protected by the law of the land—is proceeding apace. This kind of confusion is all too typical, I’m afraid, among the adepts of the anti-anti-abortion position.

The terrible New York numbers reveal corruption, stupidity, and failure at a variety of levels. First, for years now, pro-choice organizations and politicians have lectured us that better sex education and the availability of contraceptives would dramatically reduce abortions, making them, to use a favorite phrase, “safe, legal, and rare.” Well, in New York City, sex education is offered at all levels of the school system, and condoms are handed out like lollipops. (Indeed, as Archbishop Timothy Dolan observed last week, condoms can often be found in public places in those large glass bowls formerly reserved for candy). And yet, abortions in the “capital of the world” are pretty much the opposite of rare. There is an interesting parallel here to the AIDS situation in Africa. Again, it is commonly asserted that condom distribution will prevent the spread of AIDS. Yet, in South Africa, where the latex contraceptive is as available as it is in New York City, the number of new AIDS cases is spiking, while in Uganda, where the government has instituted a strong abstinence program, the disease is on the decline.

Secondly, many pro-choice advocates have for years complained that pro-lifers are insensitive to the awful struggle undergone by those who opt, only in the most extreme circumstances, to terminate their pregnancies. Now, I know that there are many mothers who do agonize over the decision to abort and who find themselves caught in the vice of desperate circumstances. Without for a moment sanctioning their choice, I can at least begin to understand the anguish of it. But here is my point: when we are talking about 41% of pregnancies ending in abortion, we are talking about an awful lot of people who are treating abortion as simply another form of birth control or family planning. And this indicates a gross coarsening of our moral sensibility. The ancient Greek political philosophers taught us long ago that law not only orders society but also educates a community morally. What is allowed and what is forbidden by law forms the minds and directs the wills of those who are subject to the law. Should we then be surprised that a country which allows abortion on demand, which has sanctioned the killing of over 50,000,000 unborn children since 1973, exhibits a profound ethical dysfunction?

Thirdly, the New York figures disclose a terrible truth that we would rather not mention in polite society, namely, that abortion is disproportionately harming minorities and those on the margins. The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was an unapologetic advocate of eugenics, which is to say, the cleansing or purifying of the race. She felt that people of low quality—and for her this meant non-whites—were reproducing at far too high a rate and that these unpromising types should be prevented, if need be forcibly—from passing on their genes. One might be forgiven for thinking that this sort of attitude is a relic of the distant past, but consider this. In 2009, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was granted an interview with The New York Times Magazine. In the course of the conversation, she turned to a consideration of the Hyde Amendment which blocks Medicaid from funding abortions, and she said, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of…” One wonders just who Justice Ginsburg thinks these undesirables might be. If nearly two-thirds of black womens’ pregnancies are ending in abortion, are we not justified in concluding that Margaret Sanger’s racist fantasy has come true?

My fondest hope is that, at the very least, these startling statistics out of New York might prompt all of us to wake up and consider with requisite seriousness this most compelling moral issue of our time.