The Perverse Logic of Abortion

by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

The issue of abortion—once again front-page news—is not merely a major front in the nation's culture war. It is also a deeply personal tragedy. Every single abortion terminates an innocent human life, and each abortion represents an individual moral catastrophe. Yet the vast majority of Americans go about their everyday lives, even as the death toll from abortion continues to rise.

A poignant and chilling perspective on the issue of abortion has been provided by an article published in the Nov. 29, 2005, edition of the Los Angeles Times. In "Offering Abortion, Rebirth," reporter Stephanie Simon takes readers into the life and logic of one of the nation's most notorious abortion providers.

Simon focuses on Dr. William F. Harrison of Fayetteville, Ark. Dr. Harrison has performed abortions at his clinic on College Avenue in Fayetteville for more than 20 years. Now, at age 70, Harrison estimates that he has terminated at least 20,000 pregnancies.

Readers of Simon's article must have been shocked by Harrison's candor. He refers to himself as an "abortionist" and acknowledges, "I am destroying life." According to the article, Dr. Harrison gave up his practice of obstetrics in 1991, having delivered 6,000 babies. "Childbirth," he says, should be joyous; a woman should never consider it a punishment or an obligation." He adds, "We try to make sure she doesn't ever feel guilty for what she feels she has to do."

The very fact that Dr. Harrison has delivered 6,000 babies and aborted 20,000 others, coupled with his shocking candor, means that a look into his practice and philosophy of life offers rare insights into why a highly-trained medical practitioner, supposedly committed to the preservation of all life, would dedicate the largest part of his professional career to abortion.

Simon takes her readers right into Dr. Harrison's clinic. She describes an 18-year-old with braces who has come for an abortion. "She's 13 weeks pregnant, at the very end of the first trimester. She hasn't told her parents," Simon reports.

Once the young woman has been given an anesthetic, along with Valium and a drug intended to dilate her cervix, Harrison administers a dose of Versed, a sedative that "will wipe out her memory of everything that happens during the 20 minutes she's in the operating room."

After the doctor has observed the fetus on an ultrasound screen, noting the curve of the baby's head, the bend of an elbow, and the ball of a clenched fist, he tells his patient: "You may feel some cramping while we suction everything out." This warning is followed by his observation, "You're going to hear a sucking sound." According to the report, the abortion took only two minutes.

Speaking to the reporter, this young woman acknowledged that she understood that abortion is, at least in some sense, morally wrong. "There's things wrong with abortion," she commented. "But I want to have a good life. And provide a good life for my child."

Simon also provides insights drawn from other patients who have come to Dr. Harrison's clinic for abortions. One high school volleyball player "says she doesn't want to give up her body for nine months." A single mother of three "says she could not bear to give away a child and have to wonder every day if he were loved."

The logic offered by many of these women appears to be little more than an effort to convince themselves that they are not killing an unborn baby. A 17-year-old assures Harrison's nurse that she does not consider the unborn child within her to be a baby. "Not until it's developed," she explains.

According to Harrison, the moral status of the unborn child is entirely up to the woman herself: "It's not a baby to me until the mother tells me it's a baby," he stated.

A 20-year-old administrative assistant, preparing to end her first pregnancy, didn't like having to pay $750 for the abortion, but she demonstrated no doubt about her decision. "It's not like it's illegal. It's not like I'm doing anything wrong." Furthermore, "I've been praying a lot and that's been a real source of strength for me. I really believe God has a plan for us all. I have a choice, and that's part of my plan."

That last statement represents one of the most convoluted, and yet revealing, comments made by any of the women interviewed in Simon's article. The logic of "choice" finds its ultimate culmination in this young woman's decision to abort her baby as "part of my plan."

Another young woman came to the clinic seeking to terminate her pregnancy so that she can fit into her wedding dress in coming weeks. A 32-year-old college student acknowledges that she has already had four abortions in the last 12 years. Abortion, she tells Simon, "is a bummer, but no big stress."

In an article published in the August, 2002, edition of the newsletter of the Reproductive Freedom Task Force, Dr. Harrison explained, "No one—neither the patient receiving an abortion, nor the person doing the abortion—is ever, at any time, unaware that they are ending a life. We just don't believe that a developing embryo or fetus whose mother cannot or will not accept it, has the same moral claims on us, claims to autonomy and justice that an adolescent or adult woman has."

Perhaps the most shocking dimension of Dr. Harrison's candor is the manner in which he cloaks his practice of abortion in religious language. In the Los Angeles Times article, Harrison refers to women who have terminated their pregnancies as being "born again" through the experience.

In his statement published in the Reproductive Freedom Task Force newsletter, Harrison claimed to have heard "a still, small voice asking, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' to which I was at last compelled to reply, Here am I, send me.'" Here we confront the breathtaking delusion of a man who would cite God's call to the prophet Isaiah as a parallel to his "calling" to be an abortionist.

The debate over abortion is often reduced to a battle over statistics and politics. Stephanie Simon's article should remind us all that the reality of abortion is unspeakably ugly, undeniably tragic, and morally corrupting. The statements made by these women seeking abortions—and by the doctor who so gladly performs them—reveal the true nature of the challenge we face. The culture of death is rarely revealed with such clarity.

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