Abortion is often sold using popular falsehoods, and the consequences to self and society are worse than many have been led to believe. What is the truth about abortion, and will society ever be free from the terrible crime of murdering the unborn?
You would be hard-pressed in recent years to find a topic that has been more hotly debated than the question of abortion.
As Emma Green wrote in January 2018 for The Atlantic, “Abortion has always stood apart from other topics of political debate in American culture. It has remained morally contested in a way that other social issues have not, at least in part because it asks Americans to answer unimaginably serious questions about the nature of human life.”
Indeed, abortion touches upon many of the most basic, fundamental concerns of civilization itself. Personal autonomy and freedom. Boundaries of governmental authority. Evaluating competing societal benefits. Rights and responsibilities. Ancient and modern ideas of morality. Gender differences. Family life and structure. Parenthood. Childhood. Personhood. Life and death.
The question of abortion remains divisive and deeply charged, and we need to know the right answers—the truth that counteracts the many lies so widely circulated about this contentious topic.
Millions of well-meaning people on both sides of the abortion controversy think they are taking a moral stand in a deadly war of conflicting values. Yet others cynically see the abortion controversy as something they can exploit for financial, political, or personal gain. Some who say they oppose abortion are more eager to amass mailing lists of campaign donors than to take the difficult steps that would save the lives of the not-yet-born. And some who support abortion are more interested in personal profit or easy after-the-fact “birth control” than in any moral principle that would justify their position. With people’s lives and livelihoods at stake, it is no wonder that the abortion controversy can feel less like a discussion and more like a war.
Though its origins are often debated, the old adage remains as true as ever: Truth is the first casualty in war. And the warfare over abortion is no exception. When the goal is scoring political points over an opponent or advancing a desired policy, convenient statements don’t get the examination they deserve, and lies—whether purposeful or accidental—often go unexposed. Perhaps some have convinced themselves that the lies they tell are for some “greater good.”
But truth always matters. And to deny or ignore the truth about abortion puts the foundation of our civilization itself at risk. No society can long exist founded on lies and falsehoods, regardless of how sincerely they may be presented.
Lies about abortion abound in social debates, political speeches, and the claims of news-show talking heads. And while they generate a lot of smoke and heat, there is little light in them. Many sincerely believe the following lies—but their sincerity does not turn lies into truth. So, let’s tackle seven deceptions and smokescreens frequently put forward by the abortion industry.
In this case, the lie comes in the form of a red herring. Rape and incest are tragedies, indeed, but the abortion industry often weaponizes these tragedies as if they justified abortion on demand for any reason. In reality, statistics show that these incidents are rare. In the United States, for example, the state of Florida tracks abortions, and in November of 2018 reported that of the 70,239 Florida abortions performed that year, just 109—about 0.15 percent—were due to rape or incest. By comparison, 95 percent of the state’s abortions were for “social or economic” purposes and no medical reason at all.
Even a pro-abortion organization like the Guttmacher Institute confirms the low proportion of such abortions. Analyzing two surveys, 20 years apart, that asked women why they sought an abortion, the institute reported that the responses were consistent: “1% indicated that they had been victims of rape, and less than half a percent said they became pregnant as a result of incest” (“Reasons Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, vol. 37, no. 3. 2005, pp. 110–118).
It is nonsense to say that abortion on demand for whatever reason must be allowed due to these rare cases. When discussing the matter with someone making this claim, it can be revealing to ask, “So, if those 1.5 percent of abortions were allowed, how would you feel about banning the other 98.5 percent?” One usually finds that rape and incest are not the person’s concern, and that maintaining unrestricted access to abortion in all instances is the real goal.
Whether the life in the womb is a human being whose life is worth protecting regardless of how that life was conceived is a question worth discussing. But don’t be fooled; the misdirection that the “rape and incest” claim represents is often deployed to distract you in the service of supporting abortion on demand for any cause.
Equating all abortions with circumstances in which doctors are literally seeking to save a mother’s life when pregnancy goes tragically wrong is a common tactic—a common misleading tactic that ignores the facts. Fewer than ten nations—such as the Vatican, Malta, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua—do not allow abortions to save the mother’s life.
Most nations’ legal systems recognize that treatment to save a mother’s life is not morally equivalent to killing an unwanted child. They allow the treatment of ectopic pregnancies—the 1–2 percent of pregnancies in which a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus, often in the fallopian tube, which, given current medical technology, generally result in the deaths of both mother and child unless doctors intervene or God provides a miracle.
Parents facing such a tragic situation deserve compassion and support. They do not deserve to be made a distraction from the issue of elective abortions where the mother’s life is in no danger at all. Consider that the same Florida statistics cited earlier note that only 0.3 percent of the abortions in the state that year were due to life-threatening conditions for the mother. It is a callous misdirection for abortion advocates to cloud and confuse the issue of elective abortion with these heartbreaking-but-rare circumstances; the vast majority of abortions are performed when both mother and child are healthy, but the child is simply unwanted.
According to sources such as Cambridge University Press’ Abortion Care (2014, p. 178), women seeking abortion commonly ask, “Will the baby feel anything?” They are often told that before 24 weeks of gestation the child has not developed enough neurologically to feel pain—and possibly that the child is “sedated by the uterine environment” and “is not fully conscious.” But those claims no longer hold water—if they ever did.
For instance, in November 2019, the Journal of Medical Ethics published a report titled “Reconsidering Fetal Pain,” by neuroscientist and specialist in pain sensation Stuart W. G. Derbyshire and U.S. Army physician assistant John C. Bockmann. Their conclusion was clearly stated: “Overall, the evidence, and a balanced reading of that evidence, points towards an immediate and unreflective pain experience mediated by the developing function of the nervous system from as early as 12 weeks” (vol. 46, issue 1, pp. 3–6). In their paper, they recognize that there are outstanding questions, but that, all things considered, “we no longer view fetal pain (as a core, immediate, sensation) in a gestational window of 12–24 weeks as impossible based on the neuroscience.”
The researchers go so far as to state that doctors should consider providing analgesia or anesthesia to the fetus before abortions in later weeks of development, and that acting as if fetal insensibility to pain is a certainty “flirts with a moral recklessness that we are motivated to avoid.”
Before his research, neuroscientist Derbyshire had supported the widespread assumption that a fetus could feel no pain early in its development—even consulting with Planned Parenthood on the subject. While his pro-choice stance remains unchanged, the clear implications of his research led him to reverse his position on fetal pain.
No, the “right and wrong” of abortion does not fundamentally depend on the ability of the developing child to feel pain. But truth is truth—even when it is uncomfortable.
The debate about abortion is often framed as a “men versus women” issue, or as part of a larger, hypothetical “war on women.” But such framing is objectively false.
In 2018, the Pew Research Center published results that made this falsehood abundantly clear: “Organizations that advocate for legal abortion often frame it as a women’s rights issue. But in many European countries and the United States, women do not differ significantly from men in their views about abortion, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data from 34 European nations and the U.S.” (“In the U.S. and Europe, women are about as likely as men to favor legal abortion,” PewResearch.org, December 14, 2018, emphasis added). This trend has not changed significantly over many years.
Indeed, the stance of “leftist” organizations such as Feminists for Life (slogans of which include “Women deserve better than abortion” and “Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women”) and New Wave Feminists (which states on their website that “we believe every human being should live a life free from violence, from the womb to the tomb”) demonstrate that advocates for “women’s rights” need not adopt a pro-abortion philosophy.
The politicization of abortion is so strong that some pro-life women’s groups have been barred from joining in the popular “Women’s March” in Washington D.C.—even though, as Emma Green reported in The Atlantic, “[in] many ways, the pro-life movement is a women’s movement, too: The March for Life is headed by a woman, Jeanne Mancini, and so are many of Washington’s most influential pro-life advocacy groups” (January 19, 2019). Solidifying the wall that keeps out pro-life women, the Washington D.C. “Women’s March” in 2021 was officially titled the “Rally for Abortion Justice.”
The question of abortion transcends gender politics and posturing. It is not a “woman’s rights issue.” It is significant for every member of society. In fact, many who claim to be concerned about “erasing” women are more than happy to wield the eraser themselves when women disagree with them.
Like dehumanizing the developing human being—trying to suggest that the words “fetus” or “embryo” mean something unhuman, unlike the clear implications of “baby” or “child”—deceptive language tries to hide the fact that an abortion ends a life, even though facts reveal that it does just that. As Dr. David Molloy of the Australian Medical Association told reporter Madeline Healey, “at the end of the day, the truth is that when you perform an abortion you are killing something” (“Abortion Starkly Depicted in Film,” News.com.au, July 22, 2004).
Molloy was reacting to a British pro-abortion documentary, My Foetus, by filmmaker Julia Black. To Black’s credit, her documentary did not shy away from this unavoidable truth: abortions kill. Writing for the Guardian, Black laments that her fellow pro-choice advocates are too easily repulsed by images of aborted fetuses, too often unwilling to address the real facts of what their philosophy empowers—a philosophy she herself supports. “Rationally, we know abortion ends the life of a potential human being, but why when we see what they look like are we so shocked?” (“My Abortion and My Baby,” April 3, 2004). She argues that pro-choice advocates hurt their own cause by denying the reality of what abortion is.
Some abortion supporters go so far as to describe children in the womb as “parasites” living off their mother’s support—a grotesque and unjustified description of human reproduction. Yet the extreme language can serve to clarify the point: Would anyone argue that parasites are not living things? When someone takes medicine intended to kill and remove a tapeworm, no one in their right mind claims that “nothing has died.” How much more is the human life, developing in the womb designed to nurture and care for it, a living being?
The claim that an abortion does not really kill anyone has no basis in reality, regardless of the child’s stage of development.
This lie in particular has been a powerful talking point since at least the 1973 Roe v. Wade case of the United States Supreme Court. However, when abortion is restricted, studies find an increased use of other birth control options. Abortion on demand increases the number of those who ignore means of birth control that would prevent conception. It also increases the number of botched abortions; a 2007 study found that more than 66,000 women die each year because of legal abortions.
But what about abortionists’ claims regarding “back alley” abortions? The figures cited in Roe v. Wade were later exposed as fraudulent to begin with, according to one of the most prominent figures in that case, Dr. Bernard Nathanson. As one of the founding members in 1969 of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, Roe v. Wade was, at the time, a great victory for Dr. Nathanson. Yet, as he later wrote in his famous essay, “Confessions of an Ex-Abortionist,”
We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200–250 annually. The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000.
When medical advances such as ultrasound imaging began to make the humanity of the life in the womb undeniable, Dr. Nathanson’s conscience did not let him continue as an abortionist. He turned to pro-life advocacy, and remained, until his death in 2011, committed to the cause of reversing the policies he had helped instate. The lies he once deployed in the service of abortion on demand, however, continue to live on in the public consciousness.
Variations of this make for a common claim: the idea that abortion is all that stands between vast numbers of young women and lives they come to hate and regret, raising children they resent.
Actual studies, however, suggest the opposite. Dr. Diana Greene Foster of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, addresses such questions in her comprehensive 2021 book The Turnaway Study. As a book generally supportive of abortion, the findings are all the more credible:
One week after abortion denial [that is, seeking an abortion but being denied one], 65% of participants reported still wishing they could have had the abortion; after the birth, only 12% of women reported that they still wished that they could have had the abortion. At the time of the child’s first birthday, 7% still wished they could have had an abortion. By five years, this went down to 4% (p. 126).
Note that, five years after seeking an abortion but being denied, 96 percent of women no longer wished they had succeeded having an abortion. As Dr. Foster later wrote, if the numbers are restricted to those who chose to raise their child instead of putting it up for adoption, those wishing they could have had the abortion drop to only 2 percent.
Dr. Foster is no pro-life advocate, which makes her numbers even more convincing. The notion that widespread access to abortion on demand is the key to saving women and girls from lives of regret and bitterness is utterly false.
We have addressed powerful truths in response to just seven of the abortion industry’s dangerous lies. Yet, if we had the time and the space, we could list many dozens more. Language-twisting, such as dismissing a fetus as “a clump of cells”—aren’t we all “clumps of cells,” and does this give anyone the right to kill us?—is a standard tactic the abortion industry uses to desensitize and distract us. And deceptive attempts to gain sympathy from false premises is another tactic that pro-abortion forces use again and again in new and insidious ways.
In all of this, we should appreciate the importance of Jesus Christ’s declaration that knowing the truth makes us free (John 8:32). Though He was certainly speaking of truth in the largest sense, the truth about life in the womb is a profound part of that greater truth. Without a sound understanding of the world, we clamor around in darkness, bumping into walls, scraping our knees against furniture, and stumbling over obstacles we can’t even identify. If we are ever to come to terms with abortion, lies and misinformation must be set aside.
Once we accomplish that, we will be free to see developing children as what they truly are: individual human beings, made after God’s own image, just as Genesis 1:27 declares of us all. All human lives, unique in all of creation as bearers of the Creator’s image, are sacred. Their value—at any stage of development—is not determined by whether they are wanted or whether they are convenient.
Ultimately, we cannot treat pre-natal children as anything less than human without the risk of dehumanizing us all. Because of this, the questions abortion brings to light are among the most important any civilization can consider. As we consider these issues, casting off lies and devoting ourselves to the truth—even painful and inconvenient truth—is a vital first step. Let us all have the courage to take it.