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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 I’m elected president, I’ll make abortion illegal—and I’ll 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 isn’t 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, I’m 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.

That’s 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 Today’s Most Controversial Issue.

Kreeft’s 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 won’t 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.
"Pro-lifers find it intolerable that the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society and our species are legally slaughtered. Pro-choicers find it intolerable that women be forced by law to bear unwanted children against their will. Neither side can or will budge, in principle."

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 ( , 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: …It’s a fact, it’s 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 don’t have to demonize your opponents to disagree with them on a controversial issue like this.

"Isa: I don’t demonize pro-choicers. I don’t even demonize abortionists. But I demonize abortion. Because I don’t agree with you that it is a controversial issue at all. I say it is a very clear-cut evil."

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 Kreeft’s 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 consensus.

Read Introduction to Three Approaches to Abortion | Peter Kreeft's Author Page

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.

Three Approaches to Abortion:
A Thoughtful and Compassionate Guide to Today's Most Controversial Issue

Author: Peter Kreeft
Length: 101 pages
Edition: Paperback
Your Price: $9.95

The popular author and professor, Peter Kreeft, tackles the most controversial issue of our times in his always unique and compassionate style. He presents approaches to the abortion issue from a logical, psychological and dialogical explanation of the pro-life position. Kreeft hopes that clear reason, rather than force, will help convince people of the truth of abortion and the need to protect innocent human life. He presents the objective logical arguments against abortion, the subjective, personal motives of the pro-life movement, and how these two factors influence the dialog between the two sides of the abortion issue.

“What is left to be said about the abortion debate? First of all, that is it usually not much of a debate. Peter Kreeft points the way to taking deepest disagreements seriously in creating and sustaining honest debate.”
—Rev. Richard J. Neuhaus, Editor, First Things

“We all condemn the atrocities of September 11. Yet many Americans support legalized abortion, in which we execute every day more innocent human beings than were killed in the World Trade Center. Peter Kreeft, with his rare talent for explaining the obvious without patronizing or pretense, offers here a unique guide for inviting sincere persons to consider a basic truth – that the law can never validly tolerate the execution of the innocent.”
—Charles E. Rice, University of Notre Dame Law School

“Peter Kreeft’s book argues for the humanity of unborn human beings and their right not to be destroyed. Kreeft practices philosophy the way a skilled brain surgeon practices his own art, i.e., with care, caution, courage, cunning, capability, and conviction.”
—Donald De Marco, Author, The Heart of Virtue

Peter Kreeft, a Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, is one of the most widely read Christian authors of our time. His more than 25 best-selling books include Back to Virtue, Love is Stronger than Death, Catholic Christianity, Prayer for Beginners and A Summa of the Summa.

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