Abortion Ought to be a Secular Issue....

For most of history, what is now the Catholic position on abortion (which has continued to be that of the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox, uniate and old Catholic Churches in schism, and some heretical organisations) has been that life should not be loosely disposed of.

The religious position is not really confused. With a lawyer's eye, it is possible to find some gaps in the Christian addendum in which to insert pro-choice arguments, but the process is a shaky one to say the least. Tertullian, for instance, based his arguments on Moses' extension of the Lex Talionis to anyone who attacks a pregnant woman and causes her to give birth prematurely. Even we punish this, however, and the passage referred to has to be extrapolated several times before we get to the woman actually procuring a premature birth. It actually refers to a mutable liability for assault.

Moving on, both the book of Psalms (51:5) and James place emphasis on the soul, which is apparently in place at birth, but St Thomas Aquinas questions when this happens (without knowledge of the difference between a cell, blastocyst, zygote or foetus). Aquinas would, however, still provide an argument for a very strict regulation of abortion to a few days after conception, read liberally (which I am sure was not what Nancy Pelosi was talking about when she sought to rest on Thomas for comfort--a point further confirmed when she referred to Thomas as 'Augustine'). The Council of Ancyra condemned abortion--but it also mandated the election of Bishops by worshippers, the witholding of communion from murderers, and the equivalence of leprosy with bestiality. Subsequent condemnations of abortion depend upon the letters of Popes.

None of this--and it is impressive in parts-- is evidence upon which, to say the least, one could find support when placing it before the court of skeptical opinion.

There's a greater problem with religious objections to abortion based upon tradition or scripture in general, and it is that both change and at best, both require interpretation. As a Roman Catholic, I can follow the changes and have faith in them; others might not. The lesson of history is that I should not force my religious views on other civilised peoples. Religious logic is also circular; a just war is possible, so the just despatch of an innocent from suffering may be, since war invariably kills innocents; yet how could one bear witness to the cross and believe such a thing?

Logic essentially becomes sick when faith is applied to reality like that, unless people are trained in the traps--and most will not be. However, by a strange coincidence, religious objections to abortion ought to be barely relevant anyway, in the sense that religious objections to letting people cut their own hands off are not primary. Secular arguments are actually better.

Abortion, for a society, ought to be a matter of reason and practicality. Reason is an easy one; Human Beings are ends in themselves. Any worthwhile person will accept this argument, because slavery and the use of people as a means to an end is implicitly wrong. It's wrong because meaning, dignity, and personhood are removed from the individual if they are not a person in themselves.

If people are ends in themselves, then they should not be killed for the purposes of another, with the exception of clear grounds of sacrifice in self-defence or the defence of others as a society. A foetus can be a person. Therefore a foetus should not be killed.

It follows that personhood conveys great meaning--in fact, an infinite meaning, since it is an absolute. It must surely therefore be that a process which will, without interruption, and with no interference, create a person is practically indistinguishable from the process of personal growth. The time before personhood is therefore just as much a part of the person as that after, when a child comes into its faculties. If we would not kill a child, we must perforce not kill that which, left alone, will become one. That doesn't apply to eggs and spermatozoa, and certainly does to the viable foetus, but it leaves room in between the two for a skeptic.

All fine so far. Nothing so magnificent as the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me, as Kant wrote. I happen to believe in natural law, but I don't need it.

But then what happens if someone comes along and says, 'all this moral law stuff is very reasoned and high minded, but the real world is messy and indistinct. That can't be the basis for policy'.

I don't see why not, but let's take this argument. We fall back onto a choice of arguments that is clearly persuasive to most liberals, the utilitarian one. The basic practical argument is that hospitals cannot save babies who are clearly independent beings at 18 weeks, and kill them at 24, because the destruction of one weak being as policy will mean the destruction of other classes later.

One basis of policy should be that, when the baby becomes a person, that person should not be killed. That would mean that abortion, which has psychological consequences for those left behind as well, should at least be very heavily restricted.

Another basis should be the effect upon the parents of an abortion. Parents in this society have a variety of options available, from adoption to benefits and tax credits. They at least should be counselled before any drastic step by people who have no financial or ideological interest in procuring the abortion. A society which promotes abortion as some sort of positive solution in a sinister way will not want this; and given that ours does not want it, it is not a tautology to suspect that there is something sinister about that reticence.

There's a further argument. A society that, like the UK since 1967, subverts the letter of its own clear law to create abortion on demand that prevented 7 million lives is one engaged in a great experiment, and not just with the rule of law.

This experiment is already failing. Desperate to put women into the job market, it neglects the children who live whilst defending them as a collective hysterically; it promotes selfishness; it demands immigration that displaces its own workers inevitably, because of a collapse in the critical mass of native talent that keeps a society viable; and it ends up promoting procedures that turn abortion, which is and ought to be a traumatic process, into an industry full of specious defences. That industry then expands to the old, the uncared for, and the hospitalised weak, and leads to the obscenity of 'death paths' in places of medical treatment. This is not conjecture. This is happening. Why should anyone want to defend such a society, of any religion or of none?

This industry is then transferred to other places, which abort on grounds of sex, appearance, or disability, and, hey presto--you have millions of Chinese and Indian men, in nationalist societies armed to the teeth, with no hope of marriage or family in a world where resources are imbalanced. People in easy-abortion countries plunge into credit-fuelled hedonism because they have little to live for; and minorties and working people find themselves blamed for crime, and their own dwindling numbers lauded for its reduction. What are we proferred to justify this? Tablet computers which can play Sex and the City, but no population of balanced, happy or critical minds.

When you think of all of this, why on earth would anyone think that the appropriate language for this most fundamental of issues is that of rights or property? We have suffered, in recent decades, in that secularism has become liberal secularism--a matter of contract, property, legitimacy, representatives and rights. Liberalism is an ideology, however. In my experience, they are of questionable use in interpreting existence.

The real world, ideologies aside, can be judged by how happy people are, how reasonable societies are, how capable of self-protection, propagation, and the avoidance of self-destruction societies are. The New Left, Liberals, and the New Right--all species of liberals--fail on this ground. Their legacy is our suicide as a society. Abortion, as theory, fails; it fails as a policy; and absolute defence of it is not possible.

So a non-liberal secularist could be reasonably expected to deplore abortion, to want to restrict it, or even to abolish it. I think that understanding that is an important part of understanding why arguments about abortion shouldn't be on a faith versus liberalism playing field. No one can win that one.

Given that, why would anyone react so fiercely against the Dorries-Field bill currently before Parliament? The explanation of that mix of muddle, institutionalised liberal badness, and corruption should surely be for someone far smarter than I to explain.

A part of me wants to argue (and knows) that this sort of thing cannot go on; another fears deeply that it will. One adapts Jefferson easily; I tremble for the west when I reflect that karma happens.


berenike said…
The frenzy is bizarre at first, and worrying when one stops to think about it. Field seems not to be mentioned at all in any reference to the amendment in the press, only Dorries, who does seem to be a bit of an ass to say the least. SPUC is deeply suspicious of the whole thing. As far as I can see (and I hope I'm right, because I just left a furious rant on someone else's blog to this effect, and am wishing I'd stopped to consider before I pressed "go" on my comment :/) really all the amendment would do would be that GPs couldn't suggest things like Marie Stopes or BPAS as places to go for counselling.

Meanwhile, here in Poland the Sejm rejected a proposal that would have banned abortion altogether by 191 votes to 186. Five votes. And threw out a proposal to liberalise the abortion law by 369 to 18. The first proposal was brought before the sejm under a mechanism that allows "citizens' motions" or bills if they can collect 100,000 signatures in 12 weeks - this one collected 600,000 in two weeks.

Different world, but there's hope :)
Martin Meenagh said…
Nil Desperandum. Marie Stopes is a slight bugbear of mine; they've never really acknowledged how in tune with thirties eugenics they are, mostly because they invented or legitimised it all before that decade.

Dorries is not a favourite with the press, though you can't quite put your finger on why; possibly it's that she is an articulate, intelligent trained medic who is a bit religious and who isn't interested in the 'pop-bitch' world of the likes of spectacularly bad MPs like Louise Mensch. The bile and vitriol about what is, as you note, a minor proposal to take the 'counselling' away from mad abortionists who make money out of their practice is appalling.

For our part, we can keep praying to the immaculate heart of Mary. However, I am keen to make secular arguments, because they make sense and because they show that reason, and science and reality are capable of some degree of moralisation by reason. There are good people who are as appalled as we are, but who would run a mile if religion was brought into things--and religious people who would do very little for a real change who'd come the other way.
Martin Meenagh said…
She's also genuinely working class, but in a job and with a pull that they want. This sort of thing drives the English middle classes (codename liberal) spare.
berenike said…
My new co-blogger points out post by Frank Field on the amendment. Unless he's being very disingenuous, it's really quite hard to find a Crazed Abortion Abolitionist agenda!