Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Abortion, Murder, Slavery...

In response to Rob's questions, George correctly identifies one key point in this discussion: 

My own view, having tried to think through the question as carefully and soberly as possible, is that the injustices supported by the Democratic Party (though, of course, not by all Democrats) are so grave, and their magnitude is so great, that it is not reasonable to act for the sake of bringing the party into power--even assuming for the sake of argument that the Democrats have the superior (including more just; less unjust) positions on issues such as immigration, welfare, taxes, social security, and foreign policy.  Obviously, the validity of my judgment here depends on the soundness of my assessments of the gravity and scope of the injustices on both sides of the equation.

George's emphasis on the gravity of the injustice of abortion is incomplete because it seems to assume a 1:1 relationship between abortion's legality and its practice, as Amy observes.  But setting that issue aside, the debate over how to weigh abortion's gravity is the same discussion we had about abortion a few weeks back (i.e., whether abortion is the same as murder, some lesser form of adult homicide, or whether it constitutes a form of homicide that is so morally different from the killing of an adult that it is not even useful to use the same nomenclature for the two acts).  On that score, George has, in his recent writings (and in his responses to MOJ posts) given us some indication of his view of the magnitude of injustice in permitting legal abortion:  in his NRO essay from the last election, he compares it to slavery; in his responses to MOJ posts, he suggests that perhaps it is like the intentional killing of hundreds of thousands or millions of civilians with nuclear weapons.  I've already given my thoughts on the comparison to slavery, which I find uncompelling.  In an e-mail to me, MOJ reader Antonio Manetti objected to my reasons for distinguishing between the cases of abortion and slavery, noting:

While I agree with your point, I think it's also necessary to recognize that those who have made this comparison justify it on the basis that slavery and abortion are both offenses to human dignity. They seem to ignore the fact that slavery is wrong, not simply because it violates some abstract principle, but because of the cruelty and injustice inflicted on the person enslaved. It’s the recognition of that personhood which animated the abolitionists’ zeal.  For me, and I suspect the public at large, no amount of rhetoric can bridge the ontological chasm between a person enslaved and a fetus, especially in its earliest stages of development. Those seeking a solid non-sectarian basis for placing restrictions on abortion need to look elsewhere.

This seems to come back again to our discussion of several weeks ago of the differences, notwithstanding the (in some sense) human status of the embryo, between our moral responses to the death of fully formed human beings and the death of human beings in the earliest stages of development.  As Steve asked in an earlier post, for example, why isn't the failure of a large number of embryos to implant in the uterus considered a public health crisis?  (My brother, a recent medical school graduate, tells me that medical students are taught that something on the order of 75% of embryos fail to implant.  I have no idea whether that figure is accurate or where it comes from, but even if the true number is closer to 25%, the number of embryos lost is staggering.)  I understand that embryo's failure to implant is not the result of intentional human intervention -- i.e., not killing -- but the question goes to the differences in our response to the death itself, a difference that seems relevant to the appropriate assessment of the moral status of embryos, and therefore of their intentional killing.

George wants to put the burden on Catholic Democrats to explain why they think the injustices perpetrated by this Republican government permit them to set aside their misgivings about the Democrats' position on abortion.  In my view, what stands in need of greater justification is his catgorical rejection of the view that a Catholic voter might reasonably conclude that (given both the imperfect fit between abortion's legality and its practice and the substantial uncertainty over how to weigh the injustice of abortion) differences over abortion policy are less important than, say, Republican candidates' and strategists' not-infrequent appeals to racial hatred (a tendency that traces its roots back to Nixon's shameful "southern strategy"), this government's advocacy (and, as of yesterday, legalization) of torture, and its prosecution of an unjust war that has now claimed well over 100,000 lives. (I know that many on this site will disagree with my characterization of Republican positions or this government's policies, but I think that there is ample evidence that the characterizations are at least within the realm of reasonableness.) 

Finally, a quick point of fact.  George wheels out the tired meme that the Democratic party is intolerant of pro-life views:

Pro-life Democrats such as the late Robert P. Casey (for whom I had the privilege of working as an advisor on pro-life issues) have sometimes been subjected to ridicule and abuse by those in their Party for whom support for abortion is a non-negotiable principle.  Even small victories for pro-life Democrats are few and far between.

In fact, in the current election cycle, Casey's pro-life son is the Democratic nominee for the Senate in Pennsylvania, and has been receiving unqualified support from the Democratic establishment.  In addition, the pro-life Harry Reid is the leader of the Democrats in the Senate.  I could go on, but the point seems clear.


| Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Abortion, Murder, Slavery... :