The single best way to reduce abortions.

When Lisa Selin Davis told a cabdriver she was going to have an abortion, he pulled the car over on the Brooklyn Bridge in a blizzard. He begged her not to do it. Davis, then a 22-year-old aspiring filmmaker, had conceived the child with a married man she met at a film shoot. But she “didn’t want that baby, with that man,” she wrote in an essay that printed in the Perspective section of the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday.

abortion essay in perspective

The story is sad but bold. When Davis resisted the cabdriver’s appeal, he took her to the clinic to which she had asked him to take her, where after it was over, she woke up sobbing in pain and a paper gown. She was sure she would never be a mother. She was wrong. Fifteen years later, she wrote, she gave birth to a daughter and later, to another.  And, she added, “I want my daughters to have the option of safe and legal abortion, of course. I just don’t want them to have to use it.”

Davis’s is one of countless voices that roots for the right to choose to abort despite an admitted distaste for abortion. Abortion is regarded and protected by many as a “necessary” evil — a procedure to be avoided, but to be accessible for when other options are undesirable. Davis wants her daughters to have the right to choose to abort but she doesn’t want them ever to have to exercise it. In the essay, she doesn’t say what her daughters can do to avert ever feeling like they need to. Other voices like hers have made suggestions:

In the essay’s combox, a commenter wrote that abortion can be avoided by teaching “safe” sex, and making it easier for people to access contraception. In a recent tweet, fellow author Rachel Held Evans issued a reminder “that the single best way to reduce abortions is to make birth control more accessible and affordable.” These suggestions are problematic because they propose — rather ambitiously — that the path to the prevention of abortion can begin at sex.

But that implies that conception is the problem, and that “not using contraception” is what causes it. It doesn’t consider the possibilities that conception isn’t the problem; that contraception — which has created a perceived gap between sex and procreation — is part of the problem; and that sex’s status quo in our culture can and should be transcended. It dismisses the true single best way to reduce abortions: practicing chastity.

Chastity acknowledges that “not using contraception” does not cause conception, and that sex at just the right time does. It acknowledges that consent alone doesn’t make sex safe, and condoms don’t make sex safe — that who you’re having sex with and when and why affects sex’s safety, too. Chastity acknowledges that the path to the prevention of abortion cannot start at sex, but must start at birth or adoption, when we’re chosen; that it must continue in our homes, where our parents are supposed to start our sexuality education; that the prevention of abortion does not depend on contraception, but on the the definition of sex (which — for chaste people — is a sacred, physical sign of the commitment spouses made to each other on the altar where they were married, ultimately designed to bond them and to make babies).

Chastity eliminates extramarital pregnancy because it eliminates nonmarital sex. Chastity eliminates unwanted pregnancies within marriage because married couples who practice chastity also practice NFP, because pregnancy is never not valued for people who practice chastity, even if achieved when a couple that uses NFP planned to avoid a pregnancy. Chastity eliminates conception in rape because a person who practices chastity does not rape.

But chastity is widely dismissed. It is sometimes scoffed. It is a cure that a culture rejects because using a Band-Aid is easier, because we are desperate to prove we can have our cake and eat it, too.

Chastity accepts that we can’t.

Click here to read Davis’s essay in full.

Chastity requires us to respect “the unity of the person” by accepting and honoring a person’s fertility (CCC 2338). It “includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom,” because we govern our passions and find peace or we are governed by them and unhappy (CCC 2339). Chastity “seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason” (CCC 2341). It “represents an eminently personal task (and) involves a cultural effort, for there is ‘an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society'” (CCC 2344).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • paulakiger

    Hi Arleen. Not sure why I’m the first to comment but I know from your post last night that you sounded anxious about this one so I feel compelled to say something. I appreciate your perspective (and the opportunity to fully read the post by the woman who had the abortion). I do believe abortion should be legal. I also know that at least for the people I know who have had the procedure, is is rarely “cut and dried.” And although I do understand your point about chastity, I do think it’s important to acknowledge that there are women in our country where the men in their lives use impregnating them as a power tactic. Not to suggest that abortion should be the solution in that situation, just that chastity is … not an option for some women in abusive relationships. I appreciate your candor and although we may disagree on some of the points, I think it’s an important dialogue to have.

    • kbg

      But even in the case of abusive relationships, shouldn’t the idea be to get the women away from the abusers, rather than then just getting them abortions every time the abuse results in pregnancy?

      • paulakiger

        It would certainly be ideal to help these women get away from these dangerous situations. We can hope and pray they will (and support them since leaving these relationships often leaves them homeless and impoverished).

        • Mike

          The fact is that abortion is a tool of these abusers. It is vital to them, as well as human traffickers, to cover up their crimes. Just one more reason it needs to be abolished.

          • paulakiger

            I believe the situation is much more complex than that, but I respect your viewpoint.

    • John Morgan

      Maybe the women in our country need to learn how to discern Christian husbands who will not abuse them and force them to have babies. Not using abortion does not cause conception. It’s another Band-Aid approach. And if these marriages were built on who has power and who doesn’t, they’re really not godly marriages.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Thanks for the feedback, Paula!

      I think some of your points point to mine about how prevention of abortion can’t start at sex. It has to start far earlier in life. If chastity were valued in bigger circles, more parents would practice and exemplify it, and teach it to their children from day one. Those children would have been given the models and tools to be able to turn into adults who aren’t abusive or manipulative, for instance. Realistically, it’s “too late” for some people, in that their situations are too complex for saying “practice chastity” to them to be the thing that’s going to fix it.

      My hope, though, is that what I write about chastity helps the circle in which it’s valued to grow. It might not be able to independently solve every existent problem, but I believe it can prevent a lot of problems for a lot of people in generations that already exist, and in generations yet to come.

      • paulakiger

        Thanks, Arleen. I agree that so many values take root early in one’s life. Parents are a critical key to exemplifying what they want their children to grow into.

  • Alexandra Venturato

    In addition to supporting the abused woman (which should not be overlooked), we have to look at the human life that was created. It is not the fault of the child that he or she was conceived from an abusive situation. He or she is a true gift and should be regarded this way just as any other baby conceived in any other circumstances.

  • John Morgan

    We have indeed become a Band-Aid culture, always looking for a short term fix rather than a long term solution. I think a number of things have widened the perceived gap between sex and new life: Contraception, abortion, same sex marriage, IVF, and sexual ethics painted in shades of gray. Not to mention disrespect for the only two Christian lifestyle choices – marriage and celibacy.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      I’ve often called it a “deodorant culture.” Somethin’ stinks, so we cover it up.

  • You’re absolutely right Arlene. Society views sex as a normal, stimulating activity. In our culture, sex is no different than a day at the beach. Sex is a source of fun. What our culture needs to come to grips with is that sex, practiced any way other than God intended it, is one of our society’s major sources of suffering. Abortion is just another quick fix for the social and moral irresponsible person. You’re correct in saying we are having our cake and eating it too. What we are eating is a cake of wrath and destruction. God bless you and keep up the great work!

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Thanks, James!

  • Good post. There is also another way of looking at it–we can practice chastity to avoid the evil of contraception, but perhaps we could also begin to see sexual intimacy as something involving the whole person, including her history and future….married love is the only kind of sexual love which includes loving someone’s “future”….

  • Maximilian Hart

    Wonderfully done Arleen! It always takes guts to fly in the face of what people want to hear, but you seem like you’ve practically made a hobby of it! 😛

  • Lexi

    You think the Catholics have it bad? at least Catholics don’t scorn the celibate. I am a baptized Catholic, raised exclusively in devout Catholic faith. As I’ve grown into adulthood, I have gravitated to the Protestant realm for worship, and being a celibate single (and experiencing what I am discerning might be a call to consecrated celibacy) is ANATHEMA there. Utter, complete, flagrant IDOLIZATION of marriage and family, and none other. It’s horrific. It’s UNBIBLICAL (Matthew 19, folks. READ IT.) I am strongly considering coming back to the faith of my youth.

    • Julia Bakowski

      I hope you do come back to Catholicism! We would love to have you back!