Abortion is the Crux

In this age of ours, an age of generalized decay, of compromise and discouragement, and also of license and anarchy, I think it is more important than ever to hold on to that simple yet profound conviction which I had when I began my priestly work and have held ever since, and which has given me a burning desire to tell all mankind that ‘these world crises are crises of saints’. –  from St. Josemaria Escriva’s Friends of God (“The Richness of Ordinary Life,” paragraph 4)

Make this concrete. The answer to riots and lawlessness?  Personal sanctity.  To the curtain of falsehood that must fall upon us following Bostock?  Holiness.  To the widespread ignorance, hypocrisy, and malice that we see clearly each day?  “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Take it as a starting point, then, that spending an hour in prayer each day, receiving the Eucharist, reading the Gospel, saying the Rosary, and attempting to practice the virtues – these are infinitely more important for us than holding right opinions.

Still, there is the question of what practical path forward is best for our Res Publica or “public thing,” one of the “three necessary societies” for a Christian, to which we belong.  And here I will argue that the best path forward, so much so that it asks for an intense and single-minded concentration, is the pro-life cause.

By “pro-life cause” I mean action on all fronts: the appointment of judges, the election of officials, the education of children, the use of media, and the persuasion of fellow citizens – but mostly the last.  We must speed up the slow drift of public opinion toward a predominating consensus; that abortion is a merciless evil and should in nearly all cases be illegal.

First, the line of “privacy cases” of SCOTUS, by which the family and civil society have been re-engineered on false notions of autonomy, is most vulnerable on the matter of abortion.  By the “privacy cases’ I mean Griswold, Eisenstadt, Roe, Casey, Lawrence, Obergefell, and arguably, if implicitly, Bostock.  These are likely to be followed by decisions affirming polyamorous marriage, a right to suicide, and the protection of the genetic manipulation of human offspring.

It’s on abortion, among these matters, that ordinary citizens are best able to gainsay the Supreme Court. The wrongness of abortion has an obviousness to it that does not obtain for birth control or putative same-sex marriage.  It occupies the accessible “middle level” of the natural law – not the most basic or more refined – just as does the Decalogue.

The wrongness of abortion is easily articulated with the language of rights, equality, and non-discrimination, which is the coin of the realm for American public discourse. But overturn abortion and the other decisions based on a false “right to privacy’ and “the sweet mystery of life” of Casey must eventually fall too, if not de iure then at least within one’s conscience.

Second, legal abortion is demonstrably the wellspring of the lies and totalitarianism of political correctness.  To reverse the latter, one must reverse the former.   Beginning with Roe, one finds speech rules among elite culture and the media, which are designed to hide the truth (fetus not unborn child, anti-abortion not pro-life, termination of pregnancy not killing the unborn), as well as a “gentleman’s agreement’ within the media not to report Roe correctly or show what an abortion really is.


With legal abortion came the “treason of the intellectuals,’ as for example in amicus curiae briefs by historians which shamelessly distorted the history of states’ abortion legislation.  (The medical profession fueled States’ abortion laws, after discoveries about the nature of conception and fetal development.)

Robert Bork was the first victim of the “cancel culture;’ his nomination hearing was the first poisoning of civil discourse by vituperation, character attacks, and the careful collating of evidence, designed to misrepresent and malign him.

Third, we sense that a vice-grip is tightening among Americans who want to raise their families, school their children, and run their businesses on Christian principles.  Trying to figure out who and what is behind it, we grope and strain with the language of “elite culture’ and so on.  Academia, professional bodies, the mainstream media, big tech, environmentalism – all seem to have been possessed by this spirit.  But whatever the force of movement is, this is certain: its most cherished commitment is to legal abortion.  These institutions need to be discredited, which will happen justly if abortion is discredited.

Fourth, as a matter of fact, for persons taken one-by-one (the only way they come), a conversion on abortion has the most dramatic potential for opening someone up to truth about the family and society and the Gospel.

Once after a long conversation on abortion with a particularly truthful person, when he had become persuaded intellectually, he pulled back and exclaimed, “If I reject abortion, I have to give up sex.”

Indeed, abortion is the necessary backdrop of the hookup culture and the sexual revolution (as Casey admitted).  To reject one compels practically the overthrow of the other. And let Bernard Nathanson stand for the truth that the path away from the abortion clinic converges with the roads that lead to Rome.

Fifth, the elimination of legal abortion – abortion as a “right” – is arguably the ground for the restoration of piety and patriotism.  I do not mean simply that it seems repugnant for a soldier to die for liberty conceived of as the freedom to abort.  I mean rather that, classically and conceptually, patriotism as piety is love for one’s country, as the source (like one’s parents) of one’s life, sustenance, and education.

But for a clear-thinking person, how is it possible to have gratitude for one’s parents for a birth that hinged on a calculation? Or how can you love deeply a country that can claim no interest in your being born at all?

It is clearly the crux: legal abortion is the main evil that afflicts our country, and the others depend on it.


*Image: The Angel of Mercy (study) by Joseph Highmore, c. 1746 [Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University, New Haven, CT]. An angel tries to stop a woman holding a cord tight around her baby’s neck, intending to kill it. The angel also points the way to London’s Foundling Hospital (built in 1739). Mr. Highmore was a benefactor and governor of the hospital. The painting was intended for the hospital’s board room but was rejected for its “stark brutality.”

Michael Pakaluk, an Aristotle scholar and Ordinarius of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, is a professor in the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America. He lives in Hyattsville, MD with his wife Catherine, also a professor at the Busch School, and their eight children. His acclaimed book on the Gospel of Mark is The Memoirs of St Peter. His most recent book, Mary's Voice in the Gospel of John: A New Translation with Commentary, is now available. His new book, Be Good Bankers: The Divine Economy in the Gospel of Matthew, is forthcoming from Regnery Gateway in the spring. Prof. Pakaluk was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas by Pope Benedict XVI.