BOOK REVIEW: “Abolishing Abortion”

Abolishing Abortion, by Fr. Frank Pavone. (Nelson Books 2015).

Reviewed by Maria Ferguson

I sometimes feel that the abortion debate has gotten tired over the years. The pro-life side asserts that all human life is sacred, and the pro-choice side emphasizes each woman’s right to choose. Several state laws acknowledge that a fetus is a human being, but under federal constitutional precedent, the unborn are not considered “persons” entitled to protection under the law. Should society defend the rights of the unborn or the rights of women? Or does it depend on the situation? How important is it really?

Fr. Frank Pavone leaves no room for debate. Of all the potential reactions provoked by his book Abolishing Abortion, apathy is not an option. His scorching indictment of the fear, silence, and cowardice that has allowed abortion to remain legal in the United States is enough to stir up guilt in the hearts of all who have remained passive in the face of such a horrible reality.

But the goal is not to make us feel guilty, but to call us to repentance and action. As Americans and as Christians, we have a duty to protect the God-given right to life upon which our nation was founded, especially on behalf of those who cannot protect themselves. Fr. Pavone is unequivocal on this point: we cannot wait, cannot be passive, cannot compromise, cannot try to protect our reputations. We must be willing to sacrifice our very lives for the lives of the unborn.

To those who claim that separation of church and state necessitates a right to abortion, he says, “The goal of the pro-life movement is not to impose our beliefs on anyone, but rather to protect the innocent from those who believe they can be killed” (21). In the fight against abortion, there can be no agreement to disagree.

Even international law clashes with abortion. In the United Nations’ 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child, the text states that the child “needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth” (34). The fundamental human right to life must be protected by law.

Despite this, politicians and ordinary citizens alike engage in “doublethink,” praising the dignity of life, protection of the vulnerable, and the Golden Rule while advocating the “right” to dismember a child in the womb. Pro-abortion propagandists fervently avoid considering the details of an abortion while upholding the concept in the abstract. And so, asserts Fr. Pavone, we must cast away the curtains! Throw off the blinders! Show the nation what it permits under the guise of the “pro-choice” movement!

Fr. Pavone’s stance might seem extreme: he sees no problem with the display of graphic images of abortion victims, or videos depicting abortion procedures. The intent is not to manipulate, but to make our society confront the true evil of abortion. Just as images of victims helped stir up outrage to abolish slavery, segregation, and child labor, showing the bloody truth that abortion means killing human beings will force our nation to acknowledge the violence inherent in the practice.

After demonstrating through perspectives of logic, history, and theology that abortion obliterates God-given rights, and that we must exercise our sovereign responsibility to abolish it, Fr. Pavone discusses our rights to free speech. We have every right to speak up against abortion. As individuals, our freedom is unfettered, and we must use our voice.

Within churches, however, particularly in the Catholic diocese, the tax code has inspired a fear of making statements that could be considered political. All churches are tax exempt by law, but most parishes choose to file under the 501(c)(3) umbrella, which prohibits “political intervention.” The provisions of this code forbid tax-exempt organizations from focusing a substantial part of their activities on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation—but do not forbid lobbying altogether. The Johnson Amendment, introduced in 1954, prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing candidates in political campaigns.

To preserve the churches’ tax-exempt status, many diocesan memos caution against any discussion of political matters or distribution of voter materials not issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some of these warnings go so far as to state that the distribution of pro-life fliers such as those produced by Priests for Life endangers the church. Bishops, prompted by misinformation and fear, discourage leafleting and certain pro-life homilies. Any “outside materials” or overly political preaching are dangerous, so collaboration and discussion are stifled.

Fr. Pavone sheds crucial light on the situation, denouncing such actions as not only harmful, but also unnecessary. The provisions in the Internal Revenue Code regarding political intervention have no teeth. The code is vague, and even the IRS is unclear as to its exact interpretation. The IRS has done its fair share of barking, but has yet to bite. In the 60 years of the Johnson Amendment, only one church has had its tax-exempt status revoked—for a single day. This half-hearted slap on the hand was issued in response to the church’s full-page newspaper advertisement urging people not to vote for Bill Clinton.

Many a church has undergone an extended audit from the IRS, but with the one exception noted above, the decision is always the same: the church keeps its tax exempt status, and is told not to repeat the offense. Why, then, should the Church hierarchy urge caution? Why should we allow the desire to “avoid needless legal entanglements” and fear of the fight keep us from carrying out our mission? Distributing materials that teach parishioners how to vote pro-life is neither illegal nor dangerous, but the practice is being curtailed by none other than the Church herself. This self-defeating behavior breeds “isolationism, exclusiveness, and extreme territorialism” (97), and demoralizes those in the pro-life movement.

The book comes full circle in its final chapters to assert that yes, abortion does kill a child, and no, abortion does not benefit women. In this modern era, the age of viability of a fetus is ever-decreasing. Modern technology and imaging give us clearer images of the unborn than ever before. Even certain court cases already highlight the fallacies in thinking of the unborn as non-persons. Under some federal and state laws, if a pregnant woman is murdered, her murderer can be held accountable for two deaths—hers, and that of her unborn child. The Kermit Gosnell case in 2013 highlighted the absurdity of it all—as an abortionist, he was convicted after a long trial determined that he had killed babies outside the womb. Is the distinction of mere physical location and exact timing truly so crucial?

Furthermore, psychological studies and personal testimonies have made clear that abortion does not help, but rather hurts women. The Silent No More campaign in particular has shown that abortion only creates new problems, leaving women with intense feelings of remorse and guilt. The testimony of the women and men who regret their decision to choose abortion has demonstrated that abortions often arise not from freedom of choice, but from feeling trapped.

We must reframe the abortion debate as not a conflict between a mother and her unborn child, but rather the entire family standing together against a corrupt and unregulated abortion industry. And all the while, we must remember that the campaign to abolish abortion is an act of love. Those who support abortion are not our enemies, but fellow sufferers in a painful situation we must work together to remedy.

It is time to forget about being liked, to forget about reputation, risk, or safety. It is time to take action. We must show the world the evil we have permitted to occur. We must encourage abortion clinic workers to be whistleblowers in the face of malpractice. We must cut off the supply of abortions by converting providers. We must evangelize, in accordance with and—if necessary—in opposition to the tax codes limiting the free speech of the church. We must observe an annual Day of the Unborn Child, to join together as families, as parishes, as communities, and as human beings, in repentance and rejection of abortion.

Fr. Pavone’s much-needed message is clear: we must march, and we will march to victory. Christ has already trampled down death through His death, and we, too, will triumph over this culture of death. There will be great obstacles and challenges along the way, but we will overcome them. We must heed the victims’ cries, allowing our hearts to be broken and our eyes to fill with tears, and refuse to turn a blind eye.

Though written for a pro-life Catholic or Christian audience, Abolishing Abortion will stir the hearts of pro-life, pro-choice, and the uncertain alike. Fr. Pavone’s rousing wake-up call is captivating, both for its passion and for its practical information, and is a must-read for anyone in the pro-life movement. It reminds us that the movement does not require a massive mobilization of millions, but rather the total dedication of the relatively few: those willing to risk everything in the fight for life.

Available on Amazon —


Originally published in Lifeline Vol. XXIV, No. 2 (Summer 2015)