The abortion debate has been over for years. Both sides agree on the fundamentals. Pro-abortion activists now routinely speak of their reverence for life. Admittedly, that reverence extends to baby seals, calves raised for veal, and porpoises caught in a tuna-fisherman’s net, but they are also sturdy advocates of protecting children from a cruel society that does not provide a sufficient number of daycare clinics and social workers to take care of all the children rescued by misguided right-to-lifers. Their favorite joke is that “those who oppose a woman’s right to control her body” think that life begins at conception and ends at birth.
On the other hand, abortion opponents take their stand on choice: “Choose life,” they say, and “It’s a beautiful choice.” So both sides are in favor of life, indiscriminately, and all are in favor of choice, also indiscriminately, though each side may criticize the application of these terms. If Humpty Dumpty were not courteous to a fault, he would tell both sides “Phooey.” We cannot be simply in favor of life, because we would end up refusing to use antibiotics for fear of killing the cuddly little bacilli. As Father Hugh points out elsewhere in this issue, the parents’ duty to safeguard their issue is the relevant moral category, not an undifferentiated right to existence exercised as a Rousseauian claim by everyone on everyone else.
Choice is an even more problematic concept. Ever since Milton Friedman popularized the utterly inane phrase “free to choose,” libertarians (and many conservatives) have taken it from the context of the market (where it has some, albeit limited, value) and put it through the distorted echo chamber of their unformed minds and attached it to every imaginable issue, from abortion to environmentalism, from junk food to junk art. Anyone worth knowing or talking to would ask immediately: “Choose what?”
Of course, human beings possess (at least hypothetically) the freedom to make moral choices, though it is odd how few of them ever do. Their taste in morals, as much as their taste in music or their preference for McNuggets, is molded by commercial forces outside their ken. The question is, What kind of a society are we going to live in? One that encourages mass-produced instant meals and a mass-produced moral code of casual sex and casual infanticide? Or the alternative, which is Sunday dinner with the family and a lifelong commitment to marriage and children? For once, Kris Kristofferson got it right. In America, at least, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, and, when people on either side of the abortion issue speak of the freedom to choose life or death, it is because they have nothing else to believe in, except for a morally empty category.
Right-to-lifers speak confusion in a good cause. Their opponents, however, are evil, and the evilness of their character is shown in the lies they tell, beginning with the term pro-choice. If they were simply in favor of a neutral right to choose, they would not spend so much time glorifying abortion as a moral ideal. They would also, as so few of them do, apply the same arguments to born children that they use to justify the killing of the unborn. Now that “partial-birth” abortion—the murder of newborn infants, to speak plainly—is one of their causes, they must face the fact that all but one of their justifications for abortion—rape, incest, birth defects—apply equally to born children. The exception is when a mother’s life is at stake, a percentage of cases that is so infinitesimally small as to be irrelevant. If you can kill a fetus, six months in the womb, because he is a retard, a mother should be able to do the same to her five-year-old if he scores below 90 on his first IQ test.
Then there are the dishonest analogies: acorns, blueprints, extraterrestrial implants—all utterly fantastic and irrelevant. One of the worst was Judith Jarvis Thomson’s scenario of a person kidnapped by music lovers and attached to a dying violinist with failing kidneys. Surely, the victim would have a right to detach himself and escape.
Anyone but feminists (exempted, by their own definition, from the rules of logic) would realize that the kidnap victim corresponds only to the victim of rape. The broader problem is that motherhood—even when involuntary or accidental—entails a particular, not a general, obligation. It is not contractual in nature, and it is not subject to the same abstract rules that might be applied to all mankind. If a hungry man appeared at the door, a nursing mother would not be obliged to suckle him with her own milk, even if that were the only food available.
Perhaps the most corrupting aspect of Thomson’s argument is the bad-faith attempt to apply the doctrine of double effect by distinguishing between the simple act of detaching the fetus, which might accidentally lead to his death, and deliberately killing it. In real life, a nonviable fetus, if aborted by any technique, will die—to say nothing of the abortifacient procedures that do, in fact, kill the fetus before removing him from the womb. If an infant could survive removal, according to Thomson’s argument, then both mother and physicians should be obliged to keep him alive at any cost—which defeats the real purpose of abortion. Why can’t abortion advocates say plainly and openly that killing babies is their only purpose? Surely not because they have tender consciences.
Garret Hardin is among the few abortion advocates who tell the truth, but even he, so befuddled by his desire to reduce the global population, lapses into dishonest analogies, describing fetuses as mere “blueprints for human beings” and, therefore, not deserving of protection. But everyone knows that a blueprint cannot grow into a house, no matter how much care and feeding it receives. As a scientist, Hardin must know that every human fetus is a unique genetic mixture of his ancestors and not a formula used to generate an infinite set of clones. Hardin self-righteously concludes that, “To a scientist, Catholic theology seems very much caught in a web of words that have only a tangential contact with the substantial world,” but this is the perfect description of all the bad faith and bad logic used by abortion activists in pursuit of their agenda. A lesser man might be called misguided. A man of Hardin’s caliber can only be lying.