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roland merullo

Finding common ground in the abortion debate

On the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, the issue continues to tear the American fabric. Still, Roe v. Wade will probably not be overturned in the foreseeable future, given the likelihood that President Obama will make one or two Supreme Court appointments in the next four years. Given that, and given that the abortion issue has been a bitterly contentious one in this country for the past generation, how might we move the discussion into more constructive, less hateful territory?

I am close to people on both sides of the abortion battlefield. It seems to me that if “pro-life” Americans truly believe abortion is murder, then, given the above reality, the wisest use of their energies would be to work tirelessly to reduce the number of abortions.

If you really want to reduce abortions, then you must really want to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. For some, that means counseling young people to abstain from pre-marital sexual activity. An uphill battle. Some young people will abstain, for sure, but when we talk about unwanted pregnancy we’re not talking only about the young and unmarried. Moreover, thousands of years of human history suggest that the sexual urge — as General Petraeus’s recent troubles show — can overwhelm all other considerations: job and marital security, health, a warrior’s discipline, and fear of an unwanted pregnancy. It’s time to stop pretending that abstinence education is a complete solution to the abortion question.

I pray often, for various things, mostly the health of loved ones. It’s relatively easy to pray. It’s even easier to wring one’s hands, point fingers, and find someone to finance a few billboards. But sincere abortion opponents might also consider something more difficult: starting a discussion with the Catholic Church. I say this as a person who was raised Catholic and who retains a great respect for the belief of my many Catholic relatives and friends.


Some studies show that over 90 percent of Catholic women use birth control. So let’s stop pretending. Let’s talk openly about contraception — and not just for women. Men use birth control, too — a fact too often ignored.

On the other side of the aisle, it’s time for “pro-choice” people to speak out loudly — as some have — and say, “We are not pro-abortion!” No one aspires to have an abortion. It is not enjoyable, physically or otherwise. Yet it sometimes seems that asking pro-choice people to say “yes, let’s reduce abortions” is the equivalent of asking NRA members to say “yes, let’s get automatic weapons off the street.” There is no slippery slope here.


It’s so easy to shout, “If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one!” on one side, or “Abortion stops a beating heart,” on the other. Slogans make us feel righteous, especially with like-minded friends. But they do nothing to solve the problem.

How about imagining a new America in which people on both sides of this battle sit down — from the local to national level — and say, OK, we’re a million miles apart in what we believe, but there’s one thing we have in common. Without demonizing anyone, let’s work together to reduce the number of abortions. The next step is to ask: How can we educate young people about physical intimacy without trampling on the rights of parents and encouraging premature sexual activity? Why not have more campus discussions on considerate, careful sexual pleasure? How can we respect the belief of those who are against abortion availability, while acknowledging the fact that it is legal and likely to stay that way?

Right now is the moment in our history when instead of making ourselves feel good by shouting slogans, we can take concrete steps to begin peace talks.

The alternative is dissension, bitterness, anger, and . . . more abortions.


Roland Merullo’s most recent novel, “Lunch with Buddha,” was published in November.