Saturday, September 20, 2008

Abortion: a policy, not a posture

An anonymous commenter writes:

"It doesn't matter how many brilliant advisors (sic) you have, if you are trying to argue that 2+2=5. There's no amount of rationality or intellectual asistance (sic) that will get you to a fundamentally irrational argument.

"What you want in this situation is a marketing campaign that will make it appear that you are arguing that 2+2=4. Cuomo thought he had found that marketing strategy, but it collapsed under the weight of rational analysis. So now they need a better marketing campaign.

"Somehow, I don't think that relying on Augustine and Aquinas to justify policies that have led to the abortion of 50 million children is going to hold water.

"They need to consult PT Barnum, not Aquinas if they're going to have any luck at this strategy."

I respond:

I normally do not publish anonymous negative comments, but this one had to be published in order to stand as a monument to the emotionally-charged response this issue, understandably, provokes in people across the spectrum. Precisely because of what is at stake we have to keep our wits about us and act rationally, which does not mean acting without conviction and passion. After all, we want to be persuasive.

Abortion is wrong, except, possibly, in cases in which a woman's life is really and truly threatened by pregnancy, but even in such cases the intentional killing of the child is not permitted because such a deliberate (i.e., an act intended only to abort the child) cannot be justified under the principle of double effect as I understand it, which understanding is certainly subject to correction and improvement. Suffice it to say that nobody, least of all me, is arguing for a PR campaign to pull the wool over people's eyes and convince them that the current legal situation in the U.S. vis-à-vis abortion is morally acceptable. While it seems to be wholly lost on the anonymous commenter, the whole point of my post was to point out that the strategy on abortion being employed by the Democratic presidential ticket and by certain Catholic congressional leaders in the current election year is a failed one, not an argument for its effectiveness. Of course, I do not rule out the possibility that I am a bad enough writer to be entirely misunderstood. Neither am I advocating for the Obama/Biden campaign's Catholic Advisory committee, to use what has become a stupidly explosive metaphor, to put lipstick on pig. I am looking for them to advise in such a way that comments, like Sen. Biden's "personal and private," get corrected and that if you are going to err due to not knowing when life begins, to err in favor of life and to point out that you can oppose abortion without calling for or requiring an all-out assault on Roe.

When we look to change the situation with the intent of restoring justice we have to recognize that this can and will be done only incrementally. Evangelium Vitae recognizes this reality:
73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. "They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live" (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: "the midwives feared God" (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for "the endurance and faith of the saints" (Rev 13:10).

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".98

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions. Sometimes the choices which have to be made are difficult; they may require the sacrifice of prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopes of career advancement. In other cases, it can happen that carrying out certain actions, which are provided for by legislation that overall is unjust, but which in themselves are indifferent, or even positive, can serve to protect human lives under threat. There may be reason to fear, however, that willingness to carry out such actions will not only cause scandal and weaken the necessary opposition to attacks on life, but will gradually lead to further capitulation to a mentality of permissiveness.

In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).

To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, the human person would be forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatible with human dignity, and in this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaning and purpose of which are found in its orientation to the true and the good, would be radically compromised. What is at stake therefore is an essential right which, precisely as such, should be acknowledged and protected by civil law. In this sense, the opportunity to refuse to take part in the phases of consultation, preparation and execution of these acts against life should be guaranteed to physicians, health-care personnel, and directors of hospitals, clinics and convalescent facilities. Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal, disciplinary, financial and professional plane.
So, looking at the current situation there are certain givens we must recognize in forming a well-reasoned stance against abortion.

1) Roe v. Wade, with its constitutional recognition (creation?) of the right to privacy, which extends to privileging a woman's privacy (i.e., her right to choose) over the right of her child to life, is the law of the land. It is undeniably an unjust law that abdicates the duty of the state to protect innocent human life. Despite this, it is a constitutional matter and cannot be legislated away by federal or state statute.
2) While I would support such an amendment, the likelihood of getting very far with a constitutional amendment severely restricting if not outright banning abortion is very improbable. The improbability is reinforced by the lack of initiative shown in drafting and seeking the ratification of such an amendment, even by those in office who forthrightly oppose abortion. Many such legislators content themselves with passing symbolic laws in order to satisfy their constituents knowing full well that such statutes will not pass judicial review, making these actions nothing but a waste of time.
3) Even many who consider themselves to be anti-abortion, would permit them in cases of rape and incest, not to mention favoring immoral ways of creating/harvesting fetal stem cells. So, there are problems even among many who oppose the current regime of abortion-on-demand. This would further hinder any effort to draft a constitutional amendment.
4) If Roe were overturned by the SCOTUS this Monday, it would not mean the automatic end of abortion on demand. It would de-federalize abortion laws and return the regulation of abortion to the states. The results would run the gamut from abortion being practically eliminated in some states to it being even more available in others.
5) One thing Sen. Biden was correct about in his MTP interview is that even among those who believe that life begins at conception, there are differences about exactly when conception occurs. Does it begin when a sperm fertilizes an egg, as the Catholic church teaches? Or, does conception begin when the fertilized egg implants on the wall of the uterus and begins rapid cell division/differentiation? This is a vital question and the reason that many who oppose late-term procedures are not opposed to very early term ones, like the RU-486 "morning after" pill, or birth control pills that sometimes and unpredicably act as an abortifacient.

So, in face of these realities and a few others, what can we do? This is where any reasonable political stance begins. If the Dems, especially Catholic Dems, were to pick up here they would overcome the arguments that expose the inconsistency and hollowness of their "personally opposed, but . . ." positions. The one issue that ought to play a part when voting for president or a senator, who must confirm appointments, is who they would appoint to the Supreme Court. I have written before that President Bush gets a solid A for appointing Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Nonetheless, the court has not accepted any cases that would necessitate a reconsideration of Roe. So, what would happen remains to be seen, especially given the chaos that would likely ensue should such an overturning occur.

To answer the question about what can we do, or what has been done, there are court-upheld restrictions on abortion, some by states and some by federal statute, most notable among the latter is the ban on partial-birth abortions, which amounted to infanticide, and in the former category are the enactment of parental notification laws and laws against crossing state lines with a minor for the purpose of obtaining an abortion, etc.

None of this is even remotely akin to trying to make 2+2=5. In short, there is too much ambiguity in too many arguments both against and in favor of abortion. Reason demands that we be clear and that we account for reality without formally cooperating with evil, which is never permissible.

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