Friday, August 29, 2008

A brief note on proportional reasoning

It occurred to me, as I was finishing cleaning my garage (a carry-over from last weekend), that proportionality only comes into play when one is deciding between two options both of which fall short of being a true moral good (Hey, I never claimed to be smart). This fits voting to a T, which is why many people accurately describe their experience of voting as choosing the lesser of two evils. In many important ways, though not all, this is exactly what we do, which is why prudence is so necessary. Therefore, we can see that there are times when choosing the lesser of two evils is the best we can do, thus we choose either means or even ends that in an ideal situation we would not choose. It is morally licit to do this when voting. I urge everyone to read Faithful Citizenship, it addresses this quite well. It's like that one psychological test, which I had to take, along with several others, before being admitted as a deacon candidate, that gives you two bad choices, say, between clubbing a baby seal or smacking your mom and you have to pick one with no caveats and no skipping.

I cannot emphasize too strongly my opposition to abortion. Healthy mothers aborting their children is one of the most horrible things imaginable, which is why we react so strongly to this issue. It is also why many women who make the unfortunate decision to have an abortion are often deeply wounded and scarred. One of the biggest lies associated with abortion is the post-abortion trauma experienced by many, many women, who were told that it is just a medical procedure to remove some cells, especially in an early-term abortion, like a melanoma, or some other malignant growth that you are glad to be rid of. Instead of being glad, often women find themselves sad, depressed, and self-condemnatory.

Finally, in the U.S., abortion is a constitutional issue. There are things, such as parental notification, forbidding the crossing of state lines to obtain an abortion, recognizing that fathers have parental rights, and banning infanticide, known as partial birth abortion, that we can legislatively and executively do something about and in most of the above instances, with the exception of recognizing a father's parental rights, we have legislatively acted in an often bi-partisan manner. So, find out where your candidate stood on these issues, how s/he voted if they were in a position to do so. On the issue of the partial birth abortion ban, which passed Supreme Court scrutiny and is now the law, Senator McCain voted in favor and Senator Biden did not vote. Senator Obama was not in the U.S. Senate, but has expressed his support for this ban. He also opposes late-term abortions and insists on a health of the mother exemption that really and truly only allows such procedures if the mother's life in danger. This is alright. So, the two candidates are not that far apart because McCain is alright with embryonic stem cell research, which is morally equivalent to an early-term abortion. As regards partial birth abortion, the AMA stated explicitly that a health exemption was not needed because this procedure basically consists of a woman giving birth, only to kill the child just prior to exiting the birth canal. In other words, it is never medically necessary. The subject of the requirement of a health exception for partial birth abortions was a controversy at the time of the passage of the ban because pro-abortion people admitted to lying about the frequency and medical necessity of this grotesque caricature of medical practice.

Even if a law were passed limiting abortion it would probably still allow abortions in cases of rape and incest, which, as Catholics, we oppose. It would be a step forward, however, and I would support it. The reality is that nobody is likely to do much, if anything, about abortion whether they oppose it or support it. I think it is okay to factor this in to one's decision. I also think it is important to find out what a candidate intends to do if elected.


  1. While I am blatantly opposed to McCain's position on embryonic research, I think there is a distinction to be made between it and early abortion.

    These embryos (that he theoretically favors experimenting on) would be those created in labs, generally "extras" made for "use" in fertility clinics, for IVF. (Either that or they would be created specifically for research.) If said humans are experimented upon, they will die. If they are not experimented upon, at some point they will be left to "thaw" and die.

    What really needs to be banned is this creation of embryos! It really is NOT ok to say "well, either they die one way, 'wasted', or they die with us getting some use out of them, with scientific research." But one can see how one might justify "using" other human beings before killing them, instead of just killing them. Their fate is sure, either way. Not so a "traditionally" aborted baby.

    The whole thing is so sick. The objections need to start back where the practice is objectionable, and that is with creation of embryos, regardless of whether they are allowed to develop or not.

  2. Marie:

    What distinction is there to be made, one between "traditionally" and non-traditionally aborted zygotes or fetuses? Abortion means to terminate, to end. In both cases what is ended, or aborted, is a nascent human life. The means used either to create life (i.e., sexual intercourse or sophisticated laboratory techniques), or to abort these lives does not matter. Hence, they are morally equivalent because they are both abortion. You make this case quite well.

    Further, one cannot make a moral distinction on the basis on intention alone. The intention that drives IVF is the desire for an infertile couple to have a child and the intention in the case of an early term abortion is the desire to be rid of a child already conceived. So, yes, this constitutes a distinction, but only at the level of intention. “A good intention . . . does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just, the end does not justify the means” (Catechism 1753). In other words, I may have the best intention in the world and still do something objectively wrong and it remains wrong in spite of my good intention. In this case, both are objectively wrong and morally equivalent because both result in the intentional destruction of innocent human life.

    Even as it pertains to early term abortion, the confusion is often the same as that regarding the destruction of these “extras” that result from IVF: that at these early stages we are not really dealing with human life. To wit: how can you be for stem cell research and opposed to RU-486 (i.e., the morning after pill), or other early term methods of abortion? Well, you can be for one and against the other, but you aren't making a moral distinction, just drawing incomplete conclusions from the axiom life begins at conception.

  3. The distinction I am trying to draw (while realizing of course that morally, there is no difference between one form of killing and the other) is that some might see the baby in the womb as having a chance to be saved, while seeing the baby in the freezer as "doomed," with no hope for life.

    Indeed the only hope is for the parents'/clients' decision to proceed with the implantation of all created embryos, or an embryonic adoption arrangement. But it is my understanding that all embryos potentially consigned to research are beyond these options.

    So the distinction is not about morality or not, but rather a distinction about exactly which moral errors are being made. And about the need to protest yet another way human life is exploited.

  4. In my previous statement I was a bit ambiguous. It does matter how life is created, not when it comes to destroying life, but in creating. Sex and procreation must not be separated! See my impassioned HV posts. Can we posit a distinction between creation and pro-creation?

  5. I think to say or suggest McCain and Obama are similar in their views regarding abortion, or their views have some moral equivalence, is a mistaken analysis.

    I cannot in good conscience cast a vote for any candidate who advocates abortion. This is true at any level of government. If no candidate on the ballot is prolife, then I don't vote, but work hard between elections to affect prolife attitudes and policies in the community and with those elected to serve in government.

    One does have to have some way of understanding and evaluating the priorities of the many prolife issues facing us today: abortion, capital punishment, war, assistance for pregnant women in unplanned pregnancies, health care, housing, nutrition, etc. Obviously, neither McCain or Obama shares all of our Catholic life values.

  6. 1) I am not stating, nor have I stated that McCain's and Obama's stances on abortion are equivalent. I have been pretty rigorous in pointing out both where they converge and diverge.
    2) It is precisely because neither candidate shares all of our Catholic values, not just the ones pertaining to abortion, which, while fundamental, is not the only issue, that we have to use proportional reasoning.


A political non-rant

In the wake of yesterday's Helsinki press conference, which, like a lot of my fellow U.S. citizens, as well as many people abroad, left ...