What Atheists Knowrnby Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr.rn’When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcomernis terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.”rn—Flannery O’ConnorrnThe Politics of Virtue:rnIs Abortion Debatable?rnby Elizabeth Mensch and Alan FreemanrnDurham: Duke University Presa;rn264 pp., $M.95rnFullness of Faith: The PublicrnSignificance of Theologyrnby Michael /. Himes andrnKenneth R. Himes, O.F.M.rnNew York: Paulist Press;rn224 pp., $14.95rnIn response to the charge of obsessionrnwith a “single issue,” pro-life activistsrncontend that the abortion debate isrnreally paradigmatic. As Joseph Sobranrnsuggested several years ago, “The debaternabout abortion is really the kind of debaternAmerica shies away from: a debaternabout what man is, and what societyrnshould be.” That is, abortion is a surrogaternfor the larger, and more abstract,rnquestion of the nature and purpose ofrnhuman existence. When pro-life andrnpro-abortion advocates scream at onernanother, they use the image of abortion,rnbut they are really arguing about a wholernhost of issues, such as marriage, sexuality,rneuthanasia, religious commitment,rnfreedom, and “rights.” As it turns out,rnone’s stance on abortion is a highly reliablernindicator of where one stands onrnthese and on other moral, cultural, andrnpolitical problems.rnBut the abortion argument is paradigmaticrnof another, more serious problem:rnthe incommensurabilitv of the moralrnschemes and paradigms each side invokes.rnWords like “freedom,” “choice,”rn”life,” “human,” “justice,” even “male”rnand “female,” when used by the twornsides, are barely more than alphabeticalrnKenneth R. Craycraft, ]r., is an assistantrnprofessor of moral theology at St. Mary’srnUniversity in San Antonio, Texas.rnaccidents. The content each side ascribesrnto these words renders them differentrnsymbols, pointing to different andrnmutually exclusive moral “realities.”rnThus, the fundanrental c]uestion at issuernis not “what value docs one ascribe tornhuman life?” but “to which morallinguisticrncommunity do you belong?”rnBut the problem gets een stickier forrnthose on the pro-life side. For while theyrncertainly do not intend to invest theirrnwords with the same meanings as thernpro-abortionist dietoric has, in large partrnthe pro-lifers have lost the game by concedingrnthe legitimacy of that languagernin the first place. Or, more precisely,rnthe pro-life side has allowed itself to bernseduced by a rationality detrimental tornits ease. When it adopts this rationality,rnbut still tries to cling to moral notionsrnforeign to it, it makes coherence literallyrnimpossible—with the result that thernshouting gets louder and the shootingrnmore common.rnThis double jeopardy is best illustratedrnby the phrase “right to life,” so oftenrnused by the antiabortion side. The proabortionrnargument is that the fetus canrnlegitimately be considered an intruderrnon the rights of the woman who mustrncarry it to term. If she so decides, thisrnviolation of her rights can be seen asrnqualitatively similar to a physician deliberatelyrninjecting a virus or bacteriumrnthat causes prolonged, chronic disability.rnNo one would deny that she has thern”right” to rid herself of this virus by anyrnmedical means at her disposal. So toornthe fetus, as an intruder upon a woman’srnpersonal autonomy, is subject to herrnright not to be so burdened. The prolifernside thinks it can trump this argumentrnby defending the “rights” of thern^. unborn child. The rights of the moth-rnI er—so the argument goes—end whenrnJ” their exercise results in the death of an-rn^ other “rights-bearing” individual. Butrnby granting the legitimacy of a rationalisticrnscheme based upon the recognitionrnof “rights,” they have rendered their argumentrnmeohcrcnt and lost the battle.rnThe argument from “right” impliesrnthat the fetus and mother are autonomousrnindividuals with moral claimsrnagainst one another. When pro-lifersrnargue that the fetus has a right to life,rnthey simply cannot avoid the implicationrnthat this right is exercised as an intrusivernclaim against another person, arnclaim the other person has the greaterrnright to deny. For the fetus to “claim” itsrnright, it must positively transgress thernwoman’s rights of autonomy and selfexpression.rnBut since in any rights-basedrnargument the strong presumption of justicernis always against the active trans-rnTo order these books, (24hrs, 365 days)rnplease call (800) 962-6651 (Ext. 5200)rn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn