Douthat's 'Unborn Paradox'

It's rare to see a fresh approach in the pro-life discourse, but this superb op-ed today in the New York Times, "The Unborn Paradox," by their regular columnist Ross Douthat, brings together two issues that are too rarely--if ever--paired.  First, the widespread, heartfelt and frequently unmet desire for children among childless parents (keying off a very sobering New York magazine article on women seeking to get pregnant after years of using "the pill"); and second, legalized abortion.  How can our society so value and so disvalue life at the same time?  Douthat's jumping-off point is a recent MTV special "No Easy Decision," which followed a young woman's decision to have (or not have) an abortion.  

The ending of Douthat's piece is an argument so cogent that even the most passionate "pro-choice" advocate will find it hard to rebut.  It is a genuine contribution to the pro-life movement.  "This is the paradox of America’s unborn," he writes. " No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed."

Read his piece by all means here.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Kang Dole
6 years 9 months ago
I didn't find the conclusion to his argument to be all that cogent, and I found the subtext to be pretty disturbing: In column A, we have couples who can't conceive who want surrogates, and in column B, we have prgenant women contemplating abortion. Who would deny that there will be a huge disparity between these two columns in terms of race, economic status, and class? Throw in the force of government (supplying the protection of embryos that Douthat sees as being so lacking), and it's not that hard to imagine a system that implicitly requires the forced sale of babies from the poor to the rich.

Some women want babies. others don't: lightbulb! Except that it's far from being so simple. So, so far.
Sean Gallagher
6 years 9 months ago
I'm glad that Douthat wrote the column and that the Times chose to run it.  It may indeed be a "fresh approach" to many of the Times' readers, but I would venture to say that it's not to pro-life activists.

I've served in the past as a sidewalk counsellor and me and my fellow counsellors exhorted those walking into the abortion facilities to consider adoption, that there were so many people out there who would love to adopt their children.

This approach might not be discussed as much in the media or in political discussions, but on the front-lines of the pro-life movement, it's brought up all the time.
6 years 9 months ago
My comment deserved deletion? My God - I was complimenting the blog.
Marie Rehbein
6 years 9 months ago
Maybe both sides of this paradox connect back to the values of our society.  Maybe it has to do with having to be in control instead of letting nature take its course and with equating a good life with material wealth. 
ed gleason
6 years 9 months ago
He points out well that the pro-choice  culture tries to  call the embryo a 'bunch of cells' in order to minimize the guilt.
The 'just a bunch of cells' definitely will always be a losing augment in the secular arena on both moral and scientific grounds.
Bill Collier
6 years 9 months ago
I think that Douthat's "[w]hen we want to know this, we know this" line is equally as cogent as the final lines in his column. Despite the proliferation of euphemisms for  developing life in the womb-euphemisms intended to deflect reflection on the nature of the irreplaceable and unique human under construction-we can't run away from the truth in the end.   
ed gleason
6 years 9 months ago
I have not seen any studies that say abortion has huge class/race differences in frequency. The African American teenagers seem to  have far more babies than Anglos in my city. And  I do know that births at elite colleges are rarer than anywhere and I doubt the answer is effective birth control. Any studies?
6 years 9 months ago
@ Fr. Martin -

Just wanted to make sure my New Years' Resolution wasn't awry already!

Kudos on the link to Mr. Douthat - who is underappreciated by New York Times readers (just take a gander at some of THOSE comments!).

Also found the hesitance on the part of liberals to change the law re: abortion ironic in light of their unbridled faith in the power of government to coerce markets and individual behavior, as if we should boldly aim eradicate McDonald's but reversing Roe would be a total sham.
6 years 9 months ago
Thank you, Fr. Jim, for alerting us to the excellent op ed of Mr. Douthat.  He has illustrated the pain and paradox of our time so elequently and I do appreciate Beth's comment and its wisdom.
A bit of personal history may be interesting to readers.....in the 50's and 60's when I worked in adoptions at Catholic Charities, St. Paul, there were more babies than homes available for adoptions.  We actually called couples who had formerly adopted through the agency and asked them if they would like to adopt another child.  This, of course was before Roev Wade.  In the 90's when I worked in adoptions for a large urban county in the Southwest, many of the children had been born to drug addicted mothers.  Others were hard to place for reasons of disability and/or racial background.  We advertised and actively recruited adoptive parents.  I did learn first hand the meaning of kinship in the African American community and "La Familia" in the Hispanic community.  Many generous and loving adoptive parents in those communities!

Ed, for studies and statistics you could check with the Guttmacher Institute.  I believe that African Americans abort at three times the rate of white women and Hispanics abort at twice the rate.   I support a pro-life group called "Feminists for Life" which targets college women who abort at high rates.  It is non-sectarian and non-political and say:"abortion is a reflection we have not met the needs of women.  Women deserve better than abortion."  Amen to that.
Crystal Watson
6 years 9 months ago
It's true that some women want very much to be a parent, but can't, and some do not want to be.  Isn't this about choice?   I've never been pregnant, but I can imagine that someone who doesn't want to be a parent might not want to continue to be preganant and then give the baby up for adoption, as they'd still be a parent in a manner of speaking.
Bill Collier
6 years 9 months ago
Ed-

There is a link within the Douthat column to the stats provided by the Guttmacher Institute. Though this organization is affiliated with Planned Parenthood, I believe, it lso has a reputation for providing statistically reliable information. Janice is correct that African American women abort at approx. three times the rate of white women. Thankfully, a significant number of African American leaders are beginning to realize the effect this abortion rate is having on the African American community as a whole.  
Bill Collier
6 years 9 months ago
Janice-

I can't think of a more important group than "Feminists for Life" to take the lead on changing hearts and minds about abortion. May their numbers grow exponentially.
Bill Mazzella
6 years 9 months ago
I am constantly intrigued by the decibel level on this subject. As usual this thread will exceed most others in comment volume. Yet those five million children born every year in developing countries, who die before the age of five lacking basic food and medicine, get 1/1000 the attention that this issues gets. Further, this issue is used by too many as a political football so much so that Roe Vs Wade is political capital for many charlatans. If anyone is truly serious then why don't all those Catholics on the Supreme Court force a vote on it? This will never happen. Abortion is generally a feel superior issue for people, for the most part, who have or who never will face the problem. 
Crystal Watson
6 years 9 months ago
The little I've read about Feminists for Life hasn't encouraged me - this organization, of which Sarah Palin is a member, is against abortions in the cases of incest, rape, and even to save the mother's life. 
Craig McKee
6 years 9 months ago
SEVEN BILLION in 2011?
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 9 months ago
I read that article in the Times this morning, Jim, and it was indeed passionate and moving.

I think that Douthat has put his finger on the pulse of very sacredness of life in stating how it is both precious and expendible.  As human beings we are capable of the most profound creativity and the most devastating destruction.  And we exercise both.

I used to be much more certain of how to "fix" this human paradox than I am now.  It seems clear to me that we each hold tremendous God-given power in our ability to both bring forth life and to take it away.  Deep personal decision (conversion?) is being called forth from each of us.

Abraham Heschel said “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy.”  We honor, as sacred, our own life and the lives of each other.

6 years 9 months ago
Bill M.,

I don't know what Church you go to but my Catholic Church almost never mentions abortion.  We have many homilies and initiatives for the poor.  I don't think this is unusual.  I have only been to a rare chuch that deals with abortion front-and-center.  In fact we had a new priest that was run out of the parish for giving homiles concerning Catholic sexual morality and abortion.  One of the fathers at a men's club meeting told me that he was furious that his 16 year old daughter had to hear this priest talk of such things.  This guy must not know what is going on in the local public high school!

We should never complain if we are hearing the truth whether concerning killing of innocent human life or neglecting the poor.
david power
6 years 9 months ago
The problem may also be if we refer too often to the abstract.The us and them so common to dialogue may bypass the experience of the individual which is the strong point of Christianity as it is the strong point of Jesus. It also does not help us in the Church that we do not have a woman as a public face on this matter and other such issues. Not as a bow to political correctness but as a bow to reality and experience. Even in this little comment section I find myself far more impressed by Janice Johnson than any of the male commentators no matter how educated and informed their words.      
Crystal Watson
6 years 9 months ago
Thanks for the information, Tom.  I looked them up and did see this page about when a mother's life is in danger ... http://www.feministsforlife.org/Q&A/Q3.htm

I feel pretty conflicted about the abortion issue and don't feel really happy with any of the alternatives.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017
Protestors rally to support Temporary Protected Status near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Around 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans have been residing in the United States for more than 15 years under Temporary Protected Status. But that status is set to expire in early 2018.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 20, 2017
At the heart of Anne Frank’s life and witness is a hopeful faith in humanity.
Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.October 20, 2017
Forensic police work on the main road in Bidnija, Malta, which leads to Daphne Caruana Galizias house, looking for evidence on the blast that killed the journalist as she was leaving her home, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Caruana Galizia, a harsh critic of Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat, and who reported extensively on corruption on Malta, was killed by a car bomb on Monday. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)
Rarely does the death of a private citizen elicit a formal letter of condolence from the Pope.