New research on global abortion rates seems to indicate that making abortion illegal does little to reduce the actual number of abortions.
That conclusion, which many immediately trumpeted, seems to make huge assumptions about our ability to accurately compare the actions of individuals and attitudes of nations that vary in many ways far beyond simply their abortion policy.
To actually make a determination that abortion laws have no impact, researchers would have to study individual nations or states where the laws have been changed.
But even if we can determine that outlawing abortion has no immediate impact on the number of abortions in a country, I believe it is still something for which we should strive. Why? What we say about life in our laws speaks to who we are as a nation.
Beyond Outlawing Abortion
I noticed articles at Christian sites (like this one at Relevant) referencing the research and saying it should encourage pro-life individuals to rethink how we combat abortion. I should start by noting that I agree with much of what these pieces argue.
We should expand the fight against abortion to include preventative measures like addressing poverty. A pro-life ethic should also work toward the improvement of life beyond the womb. Those should be part of our policy battle against abortion and the current dim view of human dignity.
Even beyond those governmental measures, we should work to the change the hearts of people. Currently, large portions of the population are held sway by the narrative that personal empowerment should come at all costs. We have to tell a better story.
Positively, everyone should be shown how protecting life in the womb leads to an increase in human flourishing for everyone. Negatively, we must work to remind people that the devaluing of life at any stage is a threat to the value of life at any stage.
My ultimate desire would be to see us so change the narrative that abortion is all but eliminated prior to any laws ever being changed, and the laws are changed to reflect the perspective of the citizenry.
But that final part is more than ceremonial. It matters what our laws say about life.
But Still Outlawing Abortion
While I agree with much of what is said in those articles about redirecting the attention of the pro-life movement (I’ve written myself about our need to get past our obsession with politics as the solution), I worry many will misunderstand those pieces and this research as evidence that we should completely ignore the legal battles against abortion.
We should still seek to outlaw abortion regardless of any temporary changes to the actual abortion practice in our nation because the law will speak about our values and will influence our culture. It matters what is codified into our law.
It’s often said (and I’ve said it myself) that politics is downstream from culture. That is true in an oversimplified way. More often than not, laws reflect what has already become accepted culturally.
However, laws also influence culture and push it in certain directions. That was definitely the case with slavery and Civil Rights laws. Our country was not where it needed to be in those areas, but changes in our laws helped to move us in the right direction.
Regardless of your opinion of his moves, President Obama recognizes how law can shape culture. He has intentionally pushed an agenda of affirmation toward the LGBT movement through executive actions and directives. Those moves are designed to direct our society to a certain end.
Changing abortion laws, including outlawing the practice, is part of working toward a society that values life. Oddly enough, because individuals who are opposed to abortion should be—and most often are—much more than merely anti-abortion, they want to see abortion outlawed, regardless of the immediate result.
If abortion were outlawed in the United States tomorrow, I know women would still attempt to have abortions. My hope would be that by changing the law eventually cultural attitudes would change and no woman would seek that.
It does not matter if slavery is no longer an institution in America, if there were unenforced laws allowing it still on the books today we should work to change those because allowing that to continue to have legal status says something about us as a nation.
The fight against abortion is less against abortion and more for a proper valuing of human life. The goal is to have life viewed and treated as it should be.
Even if banning abortion does not automatically reduce the number of abortions, the act affirms the value of life and as such would be a positive development. The is less about pragmatism and more about cultural values.
As life is more valued in our laws and in our culture, abortions would decrease and the need for a ban would diminish completely. But whether an abortion ban is pointless because it is unneeded or unheeded, it will still have value. It will proclaim to other nations and future generations that our values have changed and we now recognize and honor the gift of life.
Laws matter because life matters.