Monday, September 3, 2012

The skewing of the abortion debate: Reinterpretation of human rights

John Waters writing in the Irish Times presents a very thought provoking article, which highlights a number of important issues. Whilst I agree with John on much of what he says I must express a difference of opinion on one point. The full article is set out below and is also accessible on this link.

My point of difference lies in the paragraph which reads:
The idea that an abortion to save the life of the mother is on the same moral plane as one obtained to avoid the inconvenience of a baby is as fatuous as the suggestion that there is no distinction between an accidental death arising from self-defence and a premeditated murder.
To which I reply it is never necessary to directly attack an unborn baby to save the life of a mother.
Every woman is entitled to all the life-saving care she needs but this must be done without first aborting her unborn baby.  Should an unborn baby perish as a result of the mother's lifesaving treatment that is an unfortunate consequence but is not abortion, which is the intentional killing of an unborn baby.

John Waters article follows: 
 A striking aspect of the culture we are industriously constructing is the automatic assumption that individual claims regarding “rights” must trump more established concepts of societal organisation and human self-reflection.

By a process of purposeful osmosis, Irish culture has of late been painstakingly manipulated to make one set of understandings appear outmoded and pernicious, and the other axiomatic and benign. And because this arriviste thinking clicks into a superstructure of logic which supports it to the disadvantage of prior or contrary ideas, it becomes easy to caricature different ways of seeing things as outmoded, obscurantist or Neanderthal.

The caricature in relation to abortion was given eloquent expression by Fintan O’Toole in this newspaper last Tuesday.

O’Toole sketched, in effect, a community – the Catholic community – that believes things because it is told to – indeed that believes several mutually contradictory things at once and plays “silly linguistic games” to effect symbolic sleights-of-hand.

He advanced a superficially plausible profile of Irish anti-abortion campaigners failing to take their logic to its ultimate conclusion.

“If they really believe what they purport to believe – that a fertilised ovum is a human being in exactly the same sense as Nelson Mandela or Lady Gaga or the pope”, he declared, “they are disgracefully moderate” in the face of – in effect – the obliteration of the equivalent of the population of Limerick over the past decade.

Anti-abortion protesters have many times been roundly condemned from the ranks of O’Toole’s liberal fellow travellers for – to give one example – marching with posters with placards bearing photographs of dead foetuses.

Now, they are condemned for being insufficiently “extreme”.

Yet again, a liberal offers opponents of industrial abortion a Hobson’s choice: be the fascists who endanger women’s lives or the vexatious cranks who cling to vacuous symbols.

Thus, liberal culture constructs its double-binds to trap those voicing contrary perspectives.

The cultural conditions by which “pro-choice” logic has come to dominate our public thought processes renders the pro-life position increasingly disabled by persistent insinuations of blind fanaticism.

To see how this works, we need but thumb along to Fintan’s next paragraph, in which the term “lunatic fringe” is used to dismiss anyone who expresses an “absolutist” position on abortion.

To further their case, liberals demolish the ethical subtlety informing the Catholic position, and then accuse their opponents of denying complexities.

There is nothing inconsistent in the Catholic position that abortion, to begin with, amounts to the killing of a human life, but that this may in certain circumstances be unavoidable and therefore permissible as the lesser of evils.

The idea that an abortion to save the life of the mother is on the same moral plane as one obtained to avoid the inconvenience of a baby is as fatuous as the suggestion that there is no distinction between an accidental death arising from self-defence and a premeditated murder.

The ethical distinction arises from the context, and is not obliterated (as O’Toole implied) because the word “abortion” happens to be used for both. Catholics may require a broader range of words to overcome such semantic trickery.

The prejudice that anti-abortion positions are adopted “for religious reasons” fails fundamentally to understand either religion or abhorrence of abortion. Catholics are people who understand reality in a particular way, not people who have been given a list of things they must believe in. The Catholic position on abortion arises from a moral perspective centred on the dignity of the human person.

Catholicism is the expression of this perspective, not its motivation.

There is no possibility of reconciling the liberal and Catholic worldviews, not because one is enlightened and the other obscurantist, but because they see the human condition in two utterly divergent ways. One sees man as flawed, fragile but redeemable, the other sees a species perfectible by its own endeavours, for which all things are possible through the imposition of individual “rights”.

Catholicism seeks to optimise the conditions of the greatest number in the common good, whereas liberalism sees only one context at a time and is blind, in each instance, to the wider ecology. Catholics tend to set out from, yes, absolutist core principles that can be mediated in exceptional circumstances on the basis of compassion, necessity, reason, mercy and forgiveness; liberals come from the opposite direction, latching on to exceptions and peripheral case studies to create a useful confusion.

The liberal approach is to break down absolutes by pitting one set of rights against another, a kind of relativist draughts game out of which the most convincing victim emerges triumphant. Ultimately anybody’s rights can be obliterated by the superior claim of another’s. This is why liberals talk incessantly about rape victims, even though this arises in the tiniest minority of cases.

What frightens liberals about the prospect of a resurgence of Catholic involvement in the abortion debate is not so much that gullible and petrified politicians will be told by bishops what to think, but rather that, if Catholics begin to understand the trick that has been played, they may still be capable of overcoming the skewed and inhospitable conditions which the liberal hosts have established to nobble their opponent’s case before it is made.