Breaking the Hold
As political thrillers go, it remains one of the best. Set in the years following the Korean War, The Manchurian Candidate tells the story of a captured American soldier brainwashed to kill on command. He was ordered to kill a presidential candidate delivering his speech at the nominating convention. His death would propel forward the vice-presidential candidate, in reality a Communist stooge. The story – especially at its climax – was riveting.
There were claims that during the Korean War, the Chinese Communists actually did brainwash captured American soldiers. The Army and others have disputed them. But whatever happened, the ability to reach deep into our minds is hardly debatable. It’s called social conditioning – the process of training individuals to respond in a certain manner to what society deems as proper. Advertisers constantly re-run ads both to reach new viewers and to condition whomever they’ve previously reached. We’re always being told about the value of products, whether they’re objectively valuable or not. Gradually, the message takes hold. Men buy House of Testoni shoes and women buy Prada high heels because we’re conditioned to believe that being a fashion plate is good. And we are conditioned to do lots more, too.
Our conditioning goes far beyond our attitudes toward material goods. We see it in our attitudes about life itself. In January 1973, Roe v. Wade ushered in the era of legalized abortion. But while the Court effectively changed the Constitution, it could not change people’s attitudes towards abortion. Most people rightly saw the killing of an unborn baby as a ghastly evil beyond all bounds of decency. There was a stigma attached to it. A woman who obtained an abortion would not dare speak of it because of the connotation about her life and actions. The Court itself recognized that abortion remained a morally controversial matter. So most observers felt that the number of abortions would remain relatively low.
That didn’t happen. The incidence of legal abortions exploded nationwide, and for several reasons. One was the sexual revolution of the late ’60s, which dropped the social barriers to unmarried sex and marital infidelity. “Free love” meant free sex, but as many learned, little in life is free. The cost of an abortion paled in comparison to the costs of rearing an unwanted child. Another reason was the growing clamor that a woman could not be truly free unless she had total control over her body. Legal abortion became the centerpiece of ’70s-style feminism. Before long, politicians realized that support for legal abortion could translate into votes. By 1980, a plank of the Democratic Party platform called for its continued legalization. And of course, there were the abortionists, those who made more money than they dreamt possible. An industry was born, ironically, out of death. Or more precisely, out of killing.
But none of the reasons could erase the stigma. Protests against legal abortion continue, as do the efforts to return the law to its pre-Roe status. Those efforts are gaining ground, and people pushing abortion know it. And so they work to condition the attitudes of the public into believing that abortion is acceptable, and even a good.
One method of doing so is to censor any evidence about its brutality. The mainstream media refused to cover the 2013 trial of Herman Gosnell, who butchered babies and women alike. The networks have censored the Congressional hearings over Planned Parenthood’s illegal sale of baby parts. And if something is reported, it is downplayed. Recently, a National Public Radio report called an unborn baby’s heartbeat mere “sounds from the fetus,” as if a heartbeat were a burp. Governments also censor. An Oklahoma court recently overturned a law authorizing an educational campaign that abortion kills a human being – an indisputable scientific fact. Then there are the schools, some of which have banned pro-life clubs.
People are also conditioned with messages that abortion is a good thing. Politicians call legal abortion – killing an unborn baby – a “fundamental human right” essential to a woman’s autonomy. Women are encouraged to tout their abortions as liberating. The media tries to condition viewers’ attitudes through stories, even comedies, about it. A TV character said that God won’t know about an abortion if a couple didn’t tell a priest. The website recently posted its “best abortion moments of 2016,” including a show in which the sound of Silent Night filled the background during an abortion. As for schools, Georgetown University hosted a conference to discuss the “reproductive injustice” of barring taxpayer funding of abortion and banning do-it-yourself abortions. At Loyola University in Chicago, medical students performed an abortion on a papaya in an effort to de-stigmatize the process. A child likened to a papaya. Wow.
Some believe that with the election of Donald Trump, Roe v. Wade may soon be a thing of the past. That time may come, but will only mean that each state must decide on whether to permit abortion, and if so, under what circumstances. So how people have been conditioned over the years will have a great impact on what the individual states will do. We, the people, are the ones who will elect the representatives making the decisions.
If we are to restore a culture of life, we must break abortion’s hold on us. We have just concluded our Year of Mercy. We were reminded that two spiritual works are instructing the unlearned and counseling the doubtful. A third is admonishing sinners. Given the Church’s purpose to save souls, the logical and natural step is to now proclaim a Year of Life. We don’t need a papal pronouncement, only a willingness to actively teach in our dioceses, parishes, schools, and homes about the value, dignity, and beauty of life. We need to teach how to face life’s challenges in the right ways. And we need to call men and women to repentance so they can be freed from abortion’s web. This will take time. But, God willing, we have all year.
And hopefully, years after that.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.