A Timely Book for a Troubled Time (and An Election Year)
A review of Peter Kreeft's Three Approaches to Abortion
By Valerie Schmalz
During a recent election my young son Martin was asking about politics .Like any proud mother, I said, "and some day you might want to run for office."
Martin shot back: "When Im elected president, Ill make abortion illegaland Ill make my brothers clean the White House."
With every election, I wonder who will take on the burden and the responsibility of running for office. One of the greatest things we can do as parents is to encourage our children to step out and take on the mission of carrying our Catholic values into the public square. Making them do chores isnt a bad thing either!
In the case of my now-10-year-old, I can see great things ahead. As I can for each of our four boys with their tremendous talents. Of course, Im their mother and like any parent, I think they can change the world. Meanwhile, their father and mother and aunts and uncles oh, and grandmothers--are trying to create a world where human life is respected and where people can live in peace.
Thats why a book by Boston College professor Peter Kreeft strikes such a cord for me. Published by Ignatius Press, it is called Three Approaches to Abortion: A Thoughtful and Compassionate Guide to Todays Most Controversial Issue.
Kreefts Three Approaches to Abortion is a book to give to a pro-choice relative or friend with confidence and yet it is inspiring to pro-lifers in the way it defines the debate over this critical issue.
"Abortion is the single most divisive issue of our time, as slavery was for the nineteenth century, or as prohibition was for the 1920s," Kreeft says in his opening sentence. Kreeft believes abortion is an issue that wont go away until we reach consensus--but he believes it is possible to reach a pro-life consensus.
"This widely-read author and professor of philosophy tackles the abortion issue with reason and compassion," First Things wrote in its book review.
The National Catholic Register calls it "a slender book that hits like a stiff punch."
Kreeft takes three approaches. The first argues logically in 15 steps from the premise that we know what an apple is to the conclusion that abortion must be outlawed. The second, titled "Why We Fight: A Pro-Life Motivational Map," is an inventory of 15 motives that fuel pro-life work. The third he calls a "a typical pro-life/pro-choice dialogue," and it addresses the 15 most common pro-choice arguments.
Here is how Kreeft lays out the two sides:
"Intelligent, committed pro-lifers will not be satisfied in principle with anything less than legal prohibition, or abolition, of all abortion (though most pro-lifers are pragmatic enough to accept partial abolitions as incremental steps toward that goal). And intelligent, committed pro-choicers understand this and resist, also in principle, any of these incremental steps.
Kreeft wrote the book for two groups: pro-life people to give to their pro-choice friends, to explain themselves and their position; and for pro-choice or undecided people who want to understand the pro-life position.
Each approach is different.
The first "apple" argument contends that if we share a view of what is real
we must accept what abortion is and if we believe human life is an ultimate value then abortion is always wrong.
"Why We Fight " is the second and subjective motives approach of the book. "It is not an option, it is a necessity," Kreeft says to explain what drives pro-lifers. Kreeft lists 15 reasons. They include love of family, love of country and love of sex.
Here Kreeft nails the lynchpin of support for legal abortion: We have no fault divorce and no fault auto insurance, "why should abortion not be our no-fault sexual insurance policy that removes our responsibility for sexual accidents?"
And the crux of the pro-life opposition: "But what are those sexual accidents? People! New little people."
Why else do pro-lifers fight? To stop violence, to fight for women. In an argument espoused by pro-life feminists such as Feminists for Life of America (www.feministsforlife.org) , Kreeft says: "One of the biggest lies of abortionists is that they are feminists. This is like calling cannibals chefs.
"We provide alternatives to abortion not only to save babies but to save women. That was the message of all the great, early feminists, who saw abortion as the ultimate betrayal and abuse of women."
Finally, Kreeft imagines a dialogue between a pro-life and a pro-choice advocate.
Because Kreeft is presenting two sides and yet he is clearly on the pro-life side, pro-choicers may quibble with his approach. However, the heart of his dialogue and the heart of his book is this exchange:
"Libby: Its a fact, its not a theory but data, that serious and intelligent and honest people of good will can and do take opposite positions, principled positions, on abortion. You dont have to demonize your opponents to disagree with them on a controversial issue like this.
Three Approaches to Abortion exhibits an honesty
and a willingness to engage with pro-choicers which is refreshing and
surely needed. It also provides definition and affirmation for those who
are already pro-life. Recent polls show an increase in those who believe
abortion is wrong; a sign of optimism for pro-lifers. Peter Kreefts
book is a great, honest, resource for anyone who wants to continue the
dialogue, and perhaps, person by person, help our society reach a pro-life
Valerie Schmalz is a free-lance journalist, married and the mother of four boys. A member of Feminists for Life of America, she lives in San Francisco where she works for Ignatius Press.
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