Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Betrayed by Choice

We live in a consumer culture; one, in which nearly every decision involves a dizzying number of choices.  Whether selecting one of the dozens of brands of deodorants on the drug store shelves, a DVD among thousands of titles at Blockbuster, or a cafeteria-style benefits plan from our employer, the choices before us are enough to confound even the most determined free-spirit.


Consider Jenny Norenberg, a twenty-something lawyer who grew up being assured that she could "go anywhere and do anything." Jenny is one in a generation weaned on the promise that personal happiness—the ultimate goal of human existence, we’re told—is the outcome of boldly exercising one’s free, unlimited choice. The reality for Jenny and her friends is another story.


As Jenny told Newsweek, "Since graduation, we've struggled to make our own happiness. It seems that having so many choices has sometimes overwhelmed us. In the seven years since I left home for college, I've had 13 addresses and lived in six cities. How can I stay with one person, at one job, in one city, when I have the world at my fingertips?"


How, indeed? With no map as their guide or agreement on "true North," Jenny’s cohorts are, as Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote, "condemned to be free," thrashing about in the vertigo of inexhaustible choice.


Unhinged from truth

In times past, folks like Jenny had the benefits of steadfast, universal truths to help them steer through life’s junctures. But with the compass of objective truth smashed, Jenny is left with no bearings, save those beneath her own hairline. For her, "North" is whatever she says it is, making her not only the arbiter, but the creator of truth. It is a development to which even network news is succumbing.


Figuring that today's viewer is uninterested in traditional news programming, CBS has put the viewer in the bureau chief’s chair. In CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer, the home audience gets to tell correspondent, Steve Hartman, "where to go and what to do."


Amazing. The press--that stalwart defendant of constitutional freedoms--is now abdicating its liberty to the tyranny of popular opinion. And the result?


During a week marked by escalating concerns over nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, continued controversy over climate change, rising energy prices and ongoing horrors in Africa, the TV audience directed Hartman to investigate something of real importance: Why Andy and Opie, but not Barney, got statues in Mount Airy, North Carolina.


"Yeah, who needs those stories about ballistic missiles and ethnic cleansing, anyhow? That stuff is depressing! Besides, who are we to judge and by what standard?   And why should I upset my 'happiness quotient' with an unpleasant news piece? Better to have something entertaining…Hey, pass the clicker."


The belief that happiness is the product of choice unhinged from value judgments is Article I of the secularist creed. It is a tenet that has created a crimson stain on us and our nation.


From exception to rule

Over 300 years ago, Blaise Pascal commented about a condition in his time, writing, "[You] make a rule of exception…from this exception you make a rule without exception, so that you do not even want the rule to be exceptional."


Prior to Roe v. Wade abortion was legal in most states under the exception of saving the mother’s life. Yet, notwithstanding the scientific fact that a child is a genetically complete human being from the moment of conception, Court rulings over the last three decades have unswervingly declared a woman's right to abort, inviolable. 


So inviolable that despite the medical facts concerning personhood and fetal pain, not only is a woman's choice to be free from State control, it is the duty of the State to see that her choice is free of consequence as well, at State expense, if necessary.  


Today, according to data collected by the Guttmacher Institute--a pro-choice group--less than 3 percent of abortions involve concerns about maternal health and slightly over 2 percent involve rape or incest.  The rest are performed for reasons such as: not wanting children or to postpone children; concerns about finances, relationship with partner, or disrupting career/education; and objection of friends and family members.


Thus, what was once intended to be an extraordinary procedure to preserve a woman's life has now become a billion-dollar industry to preserve her happiness. Pascal saw it coming: what was once an exception is now the rule, with a vengeance.


A revealing conversation

Recently I overheard a discussion between two individuals about the merits of a certain national organization. Both were high-level church officials in a conservative denomination. One remarked that, as a Christian, he couldn’t support the organization because of its advocacy of abortion. To which the other intoned, "It doesn’t advocate abortion, it advocates the woman’s right to choose." As if to cede the point, the first individual shifted the discussion to another topic.


This brief exchange shows how rhetoric has shaped the discussion to cloud the real issue in this debate: the taking of innocent of life.


By concentrating on the plight of the woman, the rhetoric of choice deflects our attention from the needs of the child. It then reframes true compassion: giving mother and child support during and after pregnancy, into an artificial one: supporting the woman’s choice to end her pregnancy. Never mind that nearly 98 percent of those pregnancies are the consequence of another unfettered choice.


This well-rehearsed rhetoric allows something unthinkable to slip beneath our moral radar: a child’s right to life is trumped by an adult's right to happiness, with nary a whimper for the child nor call to accountability for the adult.


Nevertheless, "choice" plays well to an American audience conditioned to think that happiness is our supreme aim and personal freedom, our boundless liberty; so boundless that in a 1992 decision upholding Roe, the Supreme Court stated, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." 


Since those concepts shape much of human behavior, the Court’s ruling erodes the means to denounce any action, even those involving the expendability of certain "undesirable" or "inconvenient" persons. The "sweet mystery of life," as it’s been called, is the ultimate sanction of unfettered choice, making freedom--to twist a familiar lyric—"just another word for nothing banned to choose."


Failed rhetoric

Has 40 years of choice delivered? Are those who have liberally exercised it any closer to achieving personal fulfillment and self-actualization? It seems the answer for Jenny Norenberg and her young colleagues would be, no.


But what about women who abort? Surely, emotional and physical health is enhanced by terminating an unwanted pregnancy. Not quite. According to numerous published studies, post-abortive women face risks of mortality and morbidity that are significantly higher than the norm.


For example, a major Scandinavian study concluded that the death rate within one year among women who abort is four times that of those who give birth. Other studies have shown that abortive women: have increased risks of cervical and ovarian cancer and a 30 percent increased risk of breast cancer; experience psychological aftereffects like depression, sleep disorders, anxiety attacks and self-hatred; are four times more likely to become substance abusers; are three times more likely to attempt suicide; and experience higher rates of infertility, sexual dysfunction, and difficulties with interpersonal relationships.


Although the aftereffects on men have been largely under-studied, evidence is building that men suffer as well. Not only are men vulnerable to the same effects of depression, guilt and grief; many are overcome by their powerlessness in having no legal standing in a woman's choice that involves his child.


After decades of assurances that "choice" is on high moral ground and guilt, a symptom of misguided thinking, the rhetoric is failing to ease the consequences of ignoring, what ethicist J. Budziszewski calls, "what we can't not know"—a morality that derives from something much higher than the highest court of the land.


As the Psalmist reveals,


When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.

I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’--and you forgave the guilt of my sin.


For Further Reading:

I Can Do Anything, So How Do I Choose?Jenny Norenberg, MSNBC

You Choose, Steve Hartman Reports, CBS News

Pensées, Blaise Pascal

Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries, The Guttmacher Institute

Psychological Sequelae After Abortion,a compilation of post-abortion studies, The Elliott Institute

Women's Health after Abortion: The Medical and Psychological Evidence

Scripture Reference: Psalms 32:3-5 (New International Version)


Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at:


For decades, the concept of truth has undergone a seismic shift. Whereas in times past, truth was associated with certainty and objectivity; today, truth is ephemeral and relational, a product of human creation rather than an object of discovery.

In the mid-1800s, Massachusetts enacted the first state law making abortion or attempted abortion at any point in pregnancy a criminal offense. By the turn of the century, almost all states had followed suit. In the early 1960s, only Pennsylvania prohibited all abortions, but 44 other states only allowed abortion when the woman's life would be endangered if she carried the pregnancy to term. Alabama, Colorado, New Mexico, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia permitted abortion if the life or physical health of the woman was in jeopardy; Mississippi allowed abortions in case of life endangerment or rape. -- Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries

  • 25.5% Want to postpone childbearing
  • 21.3% Cannot afford a baby
  • 14.1% Has relationship problem or partner does not want pregnancy
  • 12.2% Too young; parent(s) or other(s) object to pregnancy
  • 10.8% Having a child will disrupt education or job
  • 7.9% Want no (more) children
  • 3.3% Risk to fetalhealth
  • 2.8% Risk to maternalhealth
  • 2.1% Rape, Incest, Other