After I began writing on the subject of divorce a few years ago, and specifically about its traumatic effects on children, I was struck by a realization I did not expect: the arguments for divorce are the same as the arguments for abortion.
Now, I am not equating the destruction and death of a baby (abortion) with the destruction and death of a family (divorce), but both are moral evils that upend the most basic foundations of human society created by God in the garden: life and marriage. Both abortion and divorce are contrary to the law of life and love set down by Christ, and their justifications are eerily similar.
1. Hard cases. Whenever anti-abortion or anti-divorce arguments are made, there is an immediate appeal to the “hard cases.” For abortion, the reflexive retort is, “What about rape, incest, or the life of the mother?” The counterpart for divorce is, “What about abuse?” The Church, and reason alone, provide excellent responses, yet the person posing the question is generally trying to shut down debate on these issues to promote the status quo. (For more about what the Church teaches on “hard cases” and the need for physical separation, go here: When Does the Church Tolerate Divorce?)
2. Freedom. I heard an abortionist once explain that she felt as if she was giving women their “freedom” when she killed their unborn children. “I give women their life back,” she said, unironically. A divorce is similarly sold as “freedom” for the suffering spouse, who is also described as getting her life back.
3. Once-and-done. Aborting one’s own child is naturally repellant, but it can be made more palatable if presented as a once-and-done event. Abortion is hard, the theory goes, but once it’s over, you will be okay. Just get through it, and you’ll come out the other end, relieved and happy. The pain will be a distant memory, and there will be no adverse effects down the line. The same deceptive argument is used for divorce.
4. Moving on, trying again, second chances. You’ve heard it: this baby was not meant to be. This baby had too many issues. This baby came at the wrong time. You were too young or immature or misinformed or ill or poor or ignorant when this pregnancy commenced, and unfortunately, it has to end. But there’s next time! You can move on, try again, have your second chance when you are older or mature or wise or healthy or stable or knowledgeable. Same with this marriage—end this one, the one with so many issues. Move on, and try again with that next chance to get it right.
5. You deserve to be happy. God wouldn’t want you to suffer. When a pregnancy is unwanted, or when a marriage is miserable, the suffering is intense. The prospect of many dark years ahead seems a cross too difficult to bear, especially in a culture where suffering is to be avoided at all costs. “It’s okay to get the abortion (or divorce),” loved ones assure, “because you deserve to be happy. God would not want you to suffer.” The temptation to throw off our crosses and seek temporal happiness instead of holiness is a trap as ancient as the serpent’s first whisper to Eve.
6. Everyone will be better off. Abortion will be better for you, they say, better for your partner, your parents, the children you already have, and even better for the baby killed (saving that child a life of suffering and heartache!). Divorce, we are told, is also best for you, your family and friends, and especially the children. The children of broken homes are much better off and “doing great!”—despite the empirical evidence and social science to the contrary.
7. It’s not a baby (or valid marriage) anyway. Just as those encouraging abortion often claim that the baby is not actually a baby, Catholics justifying divorce often claim that the marriage is not actually a marriage. “It’s not a baby.” “It’s not a valid marriage.” Psychologically, these words clear the way (and the conscience) for the abortion or divorce to go forward. After all, what’s the moral problem if there is nothing real or valuable being destroyed?
Why is it important to understand that the arguments for abortion and divorce are essentially identical? Because Catholics—and everyone else, really—need a wake-up call. I often say Catholics are against divorce in theory but not in practice, and that is not acceptable. We must be all in for God’s moral law and fight for truth at every turn. My hope is that when we find ourselves or others using these seductive, dangerous arguments to justify divorce, we will wake up, take note of the lie, and reverse course. In fact, let’s find new phrases and words to counter the false narratives above.
Because when all is said and done, we can’t assert that “hard cases” justify killing a baby or blowing up a marriage. We can’t pretend personal “freedom” trumps service and duty. We can’t kid ourselves that grave sin is “once-and-done” with no consequences or temporal effects. We can’t thumb our noses at God’s first chance because we feel that the “second chance” will be more to our liking. We can’t claim to throw off our crosses because Christ couldn’t possibly be asking us to follow him in suffering. We can’t delude ourselves that our acts will not leave generations of broken people in their wake. And we can’t casually deny the biological humanity of the unborn, nor can we reject our Catholic obligation to presume the validity of every marriage.
We must oppose the death of marriage as strongly as we oppose the killing of the unborn. May our words be words of help, healing, and truth, whether we encounter a woman contemplating an abortion or a couple contemplating divorce. The Church is our mother and can lead us through our difficult crosses with grace. We Christians are recipients and heralds of redemption, not excuse-makers for destruction.