“One third of all pregnancies in Detroit ends in abortion.” Such was the shocking May 22, 2014 headline of the Detroit News in huge black letters above the fold. The article reported on statistics for the year 2012 released from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The distressing numbers revealed that while there were 18,360 women who became pregnant in Detroit, 5,693 of these pregnancies resulted in the deaths of unborn children killed in abortion. Reporter Karen Bouffard cited “public health officials” who blamed the Detroit abortion rate on “poverty and dwindling access to affordable contraception.”
I quickly responded and on May 28, 2014 the Detroit News actually published my op-ed. I can speak with a certain authority on this subject, as can my husband Edmund Miller, who runs a Detroit sidewalk counseling apostolate and pregnancy help center called Guadalupe Workers. Since 1977 I have stood outside abortion centers in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit and have helped hundreds of women turn away from abortion, providing many of them extensive material assistance. Edmund has been doing the same since 1986. When the Detroit News article cited “poverty and dwindling access to affordable contraception” it barely scratched the surface why a third of all Detroit pregnant women flocked to the doors of abortion centers. My op-ed pointed out:
Sadly, health care experts, social workers, educators and clergy are simply unwilling to discuss, much less even admit, the true causes of Detroit’s staggering abortion rate.
After 35 years of helping inner-city women in crisis pregnancy, I can say with confidence that the abortion cocktail is mixed with two lethal ingredients: sexual activity without marriage and the irresponsibility of men who beget children and do not father them. The article itself noted that nearly 90 percent of women obtaining abortions in Detroit are unmarried. These are women who face motherhood without the support of an intact family, a husband, or at least responsible live-in boyfriend who supports her and nurtures his children. This causes women to experience poverty, low-self esteem, abandonment, a sense of being overwhelmed and unstable personal circumstances. This leads women, often coerced by their boyfriends, to the doors of Detroit abortion centers.
Poverty is very real in Detroit, but we also need to honestly consider how non-marital sexual behavior and absentee fathers contribute to poverty — how these elements hold women back from jobs and educational opportunities. And throwing more birth control pills at women will not get at the real source of Detroit’s economic problems or tragic abortion rate either. Heal the family, call men to responsibility and you will do much to bring life back to the Motor City for the born and the innocent unborn.
It is now quite likely that in Dobbs v. Jackson the United States Supreme Court will reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Court ruling that has led to murder of sixty-two million unborn children. The Court’s decision is expected by the end of June. Over twenty states are poised to ban abortions, or at least seriously restrict the killing of the unborn. Even if all the Court does is uphold Mississippi’s fifteen-week abortion ban, the central issue of the Dobb ’s case, thousands of unborn children will be spared death. For those who believe in the sanctity of human life and long to see the right-to-life of the unborn respected, all this is good news indeed.
Addressing the primary cause of abortion
However, here’s the bad news. The pro-life Protestant churches, the pro-life Jewish congregations, the Catholic Church, and the pro-life movement must all recognize and address the primary cause that has led to sixty-two million murders of the innocent unborn. It is one thing to outlaw abortion. But we must face, in practical terms, the major cause of abortion—children being conceived outside the bond of marriage.
Even the 2014 Detroit News article admitted that 90 percent of all pregnancies in Detroit were out-of-wedlock. Here are some statistics to ponder. According to the Center for Disease Control, in the year 2020, the latest year such statistics were reported, 40.5 percent of all births were to unmarried women. The rate of such births to white women came in at 28.4 percent, nearly one-third. Among black women the rate of births to unmarried women was 70.4 percent. Broken down by age, the rate of births to unmarried white women between the ages of 20 to 24 was well over 50 percent at 56.6, while births to unmarried black women in the same age group was a soaring 89.6 percent.
I recently had a disturbing conversation with a close family member. He was against ending legalized abortion until the pro-life movement resolved the reasons women seek abortion. Nevermind how unjust it is to keep members of a whole people-group subject to extermination until those reasons are resolved! Nonetheless, we must indeed take seriously why it is that women do seek abortion—and will continue to feel the “need” for abortion in a post- Roe era. These statistics from the CDC tell the whole story:
Among the 42 areas that reported by marital status for 2019, 14.5% of women who obtained an abortion were married, and 85.5% were unmarried … The abortion ratio was 46 abortions per 1,000 live births for married women and 394 abortions per 1,000 live births for unmarried women.” The statistics for each state, listed in Table 7, are even more disturbing. In 2019, within the state of Florida 52,629 unmarried women obtained abortions, 83.9 percent, compared to 10,136 married women who obtained abortions at 16.1 percent. In Illinois 33,868 abortions were obtained by unmarried women, 90.5 percent, compared to 3,575, 9.5 percent, obtained by those who were married. In a less densely populated state such as Iowa, 2,925 unmarried women obtained abortions, 82.2 percent, while 633 were obtained by women who were married, 17.8 percent.
I’ll add my personal anecdotal experience. In the last forty-five years, I have logged in thousands of hours as a sidewalk counselor outside of abortion facilities. I have met and talked with hundreds of women scheduled for abortion. The vast majority of the unborn children about to be aborted were conceived out-of-wedlock—I could easily say up to 95 percent. Of the many women I have been able to turn away from abortion, over these forty-plus years, only four of them were legally married, and one was in a common law marriage. And contrary to the usual pro-abortion accusation flung at pro-lifers, my group—Citizens for a Pro-life Society—provides extensive follow-up to the mothers who choose life, sometimes providing material aid to mothers for years after the babies are born!
In most cases, I have never actually met the fathers of these saved unborn children. Most of the women we help are minorities—blacks and Hispanics. A consequence of conceiving children outside of marriage is the absent fathers—men who beget children, but never actually father them. This lack of material and emotional support is what leads many unmarried women to the doors of abortion facilities.
In 2004, the Allan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, conducted a survey of 1,209 women who obtained abortions at 11 large abortion facilities. The focus of the survey was to gather information as to the reasons women sought abortion. Those participating were permitted to list more than one reason that led then to choose abortion. Seventy-three percent of the women stated that “they could not afford a baby now” and forty-eight percent stated they “did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems.” Financial burdens and relationship issues are common reasons why women seek abortion.
But the survey failed to account for the source of such problems. In other words, the conception of children out-of-wedlock is never considered or examined as the underlying foundation for such difficulties, though more than 85 percent of all abortions are performed on women who are unmarried.
Abortion and the disordered sexual ethic
Abortion is a very peculiar kind of murder. Unlike other instances of unjust killing, abortion is inherently connected to human sexuality—connected to sexual practice. I will put it bluntly: abortion on demand is the consequence of a disordered sexual ethic. Indeed, it feeds off such a disordered sexual ethic. The abortion industry depends on the vast majority of women conceiving children outside of marriage, as such conceptions make up 85.6 percent of the business of abortion. Shut off that pool of customers and the abortion industry would go out of business in a week. The disordered sexual ethic upon which abortion providers depend is sexual intercourse without the security of the marital commitment, as it is the marital bond that erects the protective wall around those conceived in such bonds. The numbers prove this to be the case!
One cannot argue with the numbers. Shut off sex outside of marriage and the primary “need” for abortion will also be shut off.
The sixty-year-old so-called Sexual Revolution ushered in our current era of sexual activity divorced from marriage, sexual activity divorced from procreation, made possible by the invention of reliable birth control methods, most notably the invention of the birth control Pill. Now that men and women could engage in sexual intercourse without fear that children would be conceived by such actions, marriage itself is simply not required in order to establish a stable family environment in which to welcome and raise children. We are living in a time of sexual explosion, an era in which it is simply taken for granted at every level of society that there is no inherent moral connection, no moral requirement at all, for sexual activity to be related in any way to marriage, love, commitment or responsibility.
We need look no further than Planned Parenthood to see how the denial of the inherent connection between sexual activity, marriage and children leads to abortion. One third of all unborn children killed each year in the United States are put to death in a Planned Parenthood abortion center, over 300,000 annually. And what is Planned Parenthood’s sexual ethics? According to this organization, sexual activity is whatever the person wishes it to be—casual sex, multiple partners—it simply doesn’t matter. After studying Planned Parenthood’s sex-ed programs, which start as early as elementary school, the pro-life group Live Action has stated:
Planned Parenthood’s sex ed programs attempt to normalize inappropriate sexual behaviors while allowing them to build a customer base. They teach teens to think that sex at a young age and with multiple partners is not only ‘normal’ but ‘safe’ and tell them to go to Planned Parenthood for services. When that sex fails to be safe as promised, those teens will head to Planned Parenthood for STD testing, pregnancy testing, and ultimately, abortions.” It is impossible to deny that sexual activity outside of marriage, without commitment, without responsibility leads to abortion. Planned Parenthood itself demonstrates that abortion feeds off a disordered sexual ethic.
Their answer, of course, is more contraceptive use. But contraception has created a false confidence that sexual activity will not result in the conception of children. Even the Guttmacher Institute admitted in a 2018 report that over fifty percent of women who obtained abortions used a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant, 54 percent in the year 2000 and 51 percent in the year 2014. This contraceptive failure rate led to the killing of thousands of unborn children. And yet, for those who support legalized abortion, the answer to ending the “need” for abortion is greater use of contraception as the Detroit News article advocated.
Perhaps it is true that contraceptives have resulted in fewer abortions. Without contraception the overall abortion rate would be even higher among the married and the unmarried. But simply increasing contraceptive use among the number of sexually active women is a superficial response to a deep and complex human problem. Whether they used contraception or not, the overwhelming majority of women who obtain abortions are unwed. A contraception-saturated society does not alter this fact. Nor does it alter the fact that children conceived out-of-wedlock are more likely to be aborted.
In 1987 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Donum Vitae, the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”. That incredibly insightful document observes that not only must the human being’s right to life be respected—what must also be respected in how human beings come into existence. In other words, how one is conceived is a human rights issue. The very manner by which we are conceived is a question of human dignity. While Donum Vitae was especially focused on the problem of artificial reproduction, its moral principles apply to the problem of children conceived outside of marriage. The document teaches:
The child has a right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up within marriage…a child is a gift, ‘the supreme gift’ and the most gratuitous gift of marriage … For this reason, the child has the right, as already mentioned, to be the fruit of the specific act of love of his parents; and he also has the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.
Roe v. Wade may soon be overturned. The reversal of Roe, a Supreme Court decision that was “egregiously wrong from the start,” to quote from the leaked Alito written opinion, will open up new opportunities for the legal defense of the unborn. However, we must give attention to the other pro-life task—rejuvenating a cultural awareness that human dignity requires sexual activity, marriage, and children to belong together. That is, the creation of a true culture of life.
But perhaps it is too late. Perhaps the Sexual Revolution is so complete and so entrenched that reversal is impossible. Yet, the truth still needs to be spoken. Still, we need to recognize the primary moral problem that leads to abortion, and better appreciate the other work that needs to be done. Of course, in bringing up the issue, one risks becoming a pariah of society—accused of being a prude, of being judgmental, of being a throw-back to the 1950s. But if we really wish to end abortion, we must at least begin to recognize and address the disrespect for life that first occurs in sexual activity outside the bond of marriage, an activity that creates causalities of a disordered sexual ethic—the unwanted unborn conceived without love—and who die without love.
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