When Life and Choice Collide
Essays on Rhetoric and Abortion,
Vol. 1 To Set The Dawn Free,
Reviewed by David Beresford
Cardinal Newman once said in one of his sermons, “Half the controversies in the world are verbal ones: and could they be brought to a plain issue, they would be brought to a prompt termination.” Oxford Sermons, Epiphany, 1839.
The book When Life and Choice Collide is a collection of essays that examines the verbal controversies surrounding abortion. It is an extremely helpful book for the pro-life cause, giving a clear, often blunt, appraisal of both sides of the debate. The book is built on the belief that “. . . truth is intrinsically stronger than falsehood” (p. xi) with messages of hope and assurance underscoring each essay.
The introduction by Nat Hentoff, a self-confessed left-wing atheist, gives a very lucid explanation as to why abortion is not a religious issue, but rather a question of justice; the ultimate human rights cause; the defense of the very right to live.
Part one, Barriers to Communication explores who may take part in the debate; who is a legitimate participant and how this is both determined and manipulated. For example, a group may stress that its “. . . members are doctors, lawyers, and university professors selflessly working to advance racial justice and that its opponents are ill-educated members of the lower class who are racial bigots.” (p. 12) The essay by Keith Cassidy examines both sides of the abortion issue as to their strategies and effectiveness; and identifies one of the greatest obstacles in the pro-life cause:
“In fact, so complete is the alienation of the nation’s most authoritative classes and institutions from pro-life that the leaders of those institutions sense that a general triumph of pro-life principals could result in a serious challenge to their claims to moral authority and leadership. Should pro-life principles win in general and recognized acceptance, the very groups which have claimed to act as the keepers of the nations conscience might stand condemned as false prophets” (p. 24)
The second essay, by John Potts, focuses on Newsweek’s misrepresentation of third trimester abortions in the United States, which are available virtually on demand. A reader of Newsweek, however, would be misled into believing that such abortions were legal only if the life of the mother was at risk. Even those familiar with the pro-abortion bias of the media, the blatant falsehoods exposed in this essay are still disturbing.
Part two, Language and Public Opinion, opens with an analysis by David Mall of pro-life and pro-abortion arguments on the public, followed by Donald Granbverg, who develops the theme that the issue is “. . . in part, a struggle for the custody of the concept of abortion.” (p. 104) The legal depersonalization of both slaves in the United States and Jews in Hitler’s Germany have obvious lessons for our society where the unborn are subject to the same legal fiction, with similar gruesome results. Part three is devoted to studying these historical antecedents.
Donald DeMarco’s essay, Grace and the World, draws the various themes of the previous essays together into a cohesive whole, providing a clear framework with which to read the remainder of the book. The others focus on very specific aspects of the debate, whereas DeMarco makes sense of their conclusions and prepares one for the practical applications that are developed in the latter half of the book. He identifies the process by which communication is destroyed due to words that “. . . have lost their link with the world.” (p. 205)
DeMarco reveals that the very purpose of the pro-abortion argument is to deceive; to hide the reality of what abortion is, with the result that, “If one takes a neutral stand on the abortion issue, one becomes by force of gravity – drawn toward abortion.” (p. 207)
We all have experienced the frustration of being locked out of the debate by the fundamental dishonesty of refusing to let words have their meaning. In fact, the very use of the term “choice” is a lie; the killing of other people not being a matter of choice. In DeMarco’s words:
“The deterioration of words, then, is necessary in order to allow the “pro-choice” position to survive as a cultural force, for a deteriorated language provides an effective barrier against all moral values that transcend those of the mere individual.” (p. 219)
Perhaps the best way to give on an idea of the rest of the book is with a series of several quotes gleaned from the several essays that remain.
“I believe it is the nature of the pro-life movement that we are asking people to function at the highest level.” (p. 298)
“In essence, the view of the pro-life cause is liberal and progressive because it seeks not to restrict, but to broaden the present boundaries of social justice.” (p. 314)
“Who does the procedure? Never, never call him or her a “doctor” and certainly never a “surgeon.” There is a certain dignity to those words and the person doing the abortion does not deserve that stature of dignity. We should always call this person an “abortionist.”” (p. 324)
“This is a matter of the so-called sexual revolution. It seems clear to me that as long as this revolution us in full swing, it will not be possible to end abortion-on-demand in this country”. (p. 337)
I recommend this book with the highest possible praise. Each essay has a great deal to teach the reader, and the book would suffer from the exclusion of any one of them. This book presents an honest appraisal of the triumphs and mistakes in the efforts to deliver the pro-life message to society.