License to Kill by David Mills

License to Kill

The Persistence of Abortion & the Responsibilities of Christians

In an essay titled “Like a slave, is an unborn child not a brother?”, published in October in the English newspaper the Telegraph, Charles Moore reflected on the opening of a museum exhibition on the history of slavery and asked how curators of a similar exhibit might see abortion in 200 years.

He imagined a museum buying a hospital and showing visitors “how, in one ward, staff were trying to save the lives of premature babies while, in the next, they were killing them.” The museum

could compare the procedure by which the corpse of a baby who had died after or during premature birth was presented by the hospital to the mother to assist with grieving, with the way a similar corpse, if aborted, was thrown away. It could display the various instruments that were used to remove and kill the foetus, rather as the manacles and collars of slaves can be seen today.

He ended his essay with the argument that “with the passage of time, abortion, especially late abortion, is slowly coming to be seen as a ‘solution’ dating from an era that is passing. It will therefore be discredited.”

Systemic License

I hope he is right, but the drive for—the need for, desire for, addiction to—sexual license is so great, and therefore the need for abortion so great, that abortion’s coming to be seen as outdated strikes me as unlikely, even two hundred years in the future.

Because contraception sometimes fails, women will get pregnant when they don’t want to be, or when their husbands or boyfriends don’t want them to be. A lot of these mothers will choose to abort their children. If you want sexual -pleasures without marriage, or want them within marriage without unexpected children—if you want intimacy without consequences—you must have some way to make the inevitable consequences disappear.

Abortion is the only widely accepted solution to the problem of children their mothers don’t want or at least won’t keep. The most the mainstream has done is try to make the need for abortion rarer by promoting contraception (some methods of which are abortifacient anyway) or to make abortion easier and more private, with morning-after pills and chemical abortions at home. But a society in which babies can be aborted with a pill and every abortuary has closed down is still a society in which unborn children are killed. That is not an improvement.

Abortion cannot become outdated until license has become outdated, and I see no reason to believe that sexual license is part of an era that is passing. Surveys keep showing that young people are more pro-life than their parents, but they are also more sexually abandoned than their parents—or, if that is unfair to them, certainly more fertile and less cautious—and in the end, for most, self-interest will trump belief.

And too many people have invested too much money in enterprises that depend upon the constant stimulation of sexual appetite for us to imagine society reversing its course. License is systemic because it is profitable, and because its enormous social costs are harder for the average man to see than its (apparent but delusory) immediate personal benefits.


David Mills has been editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things.

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more on abortion from the online archives

27.2—March/April 2014

The Rights of Aphrodite

on C. S. Lewis & the New State Paganism by W. E. Knickerbocker

26.1—Jan/Feb 2013

The Destroyer of Peace

on Abortion as a Matter of National Welfare by W. Ross Blackburn

30.3—May/June 2017

Known Trespassing

on the Misuse of Property Rights to Justify Slavery & Abortion by Robert Hart


more from the online archives

28.5—Sept/Oct 2015

Cambodia's Anti-Exodus

Remembering Angka & the Idolatry of the Khmer Rouge 40 Years Later by Les Sillars

31.6—November/December 2018

Of Single Importance

on the Church's Response to the Anti-marriage Tide by Diane Woerner

11.5—September/October 1998

Speaking the Truths Only the Imagination May Grasp

An Essay on Myth & 'Real Life' by Stratford Caldecott

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