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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

(Im)morality versus (il)legality and the Law (of abortion)

Both Susan and Eduardo have raised an interesting and important issue involving the questions surrounding the Guttmacher-WHO study and its bearing on the law and law-making. I am grateful to them for their calling attention to this subject. Before I get into the substance of this posting, I think it important to remember that the Guttmacher Institute was founded by Alan F. Guttmacher, a former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of American and a leader in the International Planned Parenthood Federation. He subsequently founded the Institute named after him in 1968 to provide research, policy analysis and education in the areas of “reproductive health, reproductive rights and population.” The Institute, PPF and the IPPF all have horses in the legal races involving “reproductive health, reproductive rights and population.” It is conceivable, so to speak, that the Institute would have more than a passing interest in laws dealing with abortion and related matters in the US and abroad.

Now, let me come to Susan’s point, and I believe that made earlier by Eduardo, about law-making that would criminalize abortion “but not reduce the incidence of abortion, but only make abortions more dangerous”; for them, this raises the “connection between views on morality and views on legality.” Both Susan and Eduardo have properly put their queries in the context of Catholic legal theory.

Here is the approach of one Catholic legal theorist (if I may call myself such):

Let us first begin by considering the duties of the law-maker (for us in the US, this means state legislatures, Congress, judges, and administrative agencies) that relate to abortion. The law-maker can make a law that criminalizes abortion, legalizes abortion, or regulates abortion. The law-maker may say nothing about morality in positing the law (statute, judicial decision, or regulation) made on the subject.

Moreover, the law-maker may be urged to conclude by the lobbyist or the litigant that the law made must be divorced from moral considerations. This argument has run a thread throughout jurisprudential debate for some time. Two examples would be the Hart-Fuller debates and the disagreements between the Kelsen school and the Rommen/Voeglin schools. Yet, when all is said and done, there frequently are discussions about morality and its nexus with the law and law-making when debates about tax laws, labor laws, education laws, environmental laws, and criminal laws (just to mention a few) occur. The Guttmacher Institute mentions, by the way, on its website that it executes its mission, in part, by “testifying before federal and state legislative bodies and in court cases.” Well, this is participating in the law-making process, and we can readily see what their aspirations are for law-making outcomes regarding abortion and where moral considerations don’t fit into the process.

And what about Catholic legal theory? There is nothing wrong or unusual with introducing moral considerations into debates that occur when law is being made. But, for the Catholic legal theorist I think this would be not only expected but would be compulsory. Moreover, I am confident that Catholic legal theory would have much to offer the law-maker who is positing law addressing the legality or regulation of abortion. And what might this be?

The moral considerations underpinning Catholic legal theory would enable the law-maker to consider more or all rather than some of the issues that must inevitably intersect abortion laws. Today so much of the law in this country pertaining to abortion permits abortion—with few restrictions—and bases the justification on Constitutional requirement (which I submit results from an erroneous interpretation in the Roe progeny), the argument from privacy, and, more recently, the argument from equality. The focus of abortion law seems to be on the welfare of the mother only. This becomes patent when judges, state and Federal, scrutinize legislation and regulation looking for the “essential” health exception clause to protect the mother only.

Catholic legal theory, in contrast, begins to look at other welfares, too. The mother’s health and welfare are surely important; but so is the health and welfare of the child whose life will be snuffed out should the abortion proceed. But it is also vital to recognize that the mother has other issues that are often ignored or dismissed as long as she can be allowed to terminate her pregnancy. What might these issues be? Well, informed consent is a place to start. Does she really know what is about to happen? Does she really understand what is inside her womb? Would she want to have an abortion if she could see her child? (Ultrasound imaging would provide her with this critical information.) Has she been provided with education about effective parenting skills? Is pre and post-natal care available for her and her child to ensure good health for both? Catholic legal theory would also provide for the welfare of the father? Where is he? Should provision not also be made for encouraging his responsibility for the life he helped promote by developing among other things his parenting skills? It seems that the law-maker is not restrained from including these provisions relating to these matters as well. Cannot the law-maker provide for orphanages, foster care, and adoption services for children whose birth parents will not or cannot properly care for the raising of the child?

Indeed, the law-maker can provide for all these things and more.

But the critic may well argue that the additional elements will cost money. The Catholic legal theorist can respond by reminding the critic that laws addressing defense, environment safeguards, historical preservation, criminal justice, wildlife protection, etc. (all of which have moral considerations) also cost money. But in spite of their cost, laws are made to advance these interests and protections. Why can the law not do the same to preserve young human life and the lives of those responsible for its conception? This is the response of one Catholic legal theorist.   RJA sj


Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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