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.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Abortion and the Holocaust: perception vs. nature of the act

John O'Herron writes:
I think your last post on MOJ identifies a common societal discomfort with the pro-life movement. But, I think, your concern I think is misplaced. I don't think calling abortion a Holocaust is particularly helpful or meaningful and that is why I avoid it. I am 100% pro-life and feel at home but resist using the language. I believe that communication in the pro-life movement is essential and should be better.  Calling it a Holocaust doesn't carry much meaning and, like you say, makes people think critically of us rather than positively. But if the issue in abortion is that it takes a human life, abortion is at a minimum, just as evil as the Jewish Holocaust.
Taking the life of a 12 year old is not worse-it only seems worse because we can see, and no one disuptes, their humanity.  While people dispute the humanity of a baby in the womb, they are wrong. Objectively speaking, both are equally human and killing one is as evil as killing the other.  Is the morality of an act measured by how the victim senses that act? Or do we judge the morality of the act from the nature of the act and the intent of the actor? That is why you, and the "we" you identify with, are wrong to call those who try to physically stop the killing of unborn life "extremists."  It is uncommon but not extreme-is it human or not? If its a human why is it extreme to go to such lengths?
Now, to be sure, there are other ways to fight for life and those ways can be, and often are, more useful and effective. I know personally of dozens of cases where physical intervention has saved human lives. The hard choices and moral considerations you mention are what make it harder to identify abortion with the Holocaust. But in terms of the objective destruction of human life, the slaughter of innocent Jews and others has much in common with the destruction of children in the womb. Why are gas chambers worse, morally speaking? Because they were public and killed adults? They didn't even come close to killing as many humans as abortion does. I think your failure to recognize these commonalities and distinctions lead you to fall into the perception trap rather than recognizing the nature of the two acts.

January 29, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Abortion, Nazi Germany, and the Culture of Death

Another reader comments:
Let me say first that I agree that the strong language often used by members of the pro-life movement can be counterproductive, misleading, and needlessly hurtful.  A woman who chooses to have an abortion is not even close to the moral equivalent of a Nazi, and anyone who equates the two is at best unthinking, and at worst deeply uncharitable.

On the other hand, I think the way you have framed the issue also falsifies reality in a significant way.  You seem to think of the typical abortion situation as one in which a woman chooses, on her own, to have an abortion because she feels she has “no other choice.”  I happen to be very close friends with several women who have had abortions, and their experience was not like that at all.  Moreover, the experiences of these women, who did not know each other when they had abortions, and are from different backgrounds, were remarkably similar.  Here is the story of one of them, whom I’ll call Rachel (after the Rachel’s Vineyard program for women who have had abortions):   

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January 29, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Collett on legalized abortion and the Holocaust

My colleague Teresa Collett writes:

I agree with you that  the Holocaust is not a good analogy for the deaths of millions of unborn children. The final practices of the Nazi regime differ in important ways from the current American practice of permitting abortion through all nine-months of pregnancy. In its final years, the Nazi government killed thousands of its own citizens in furtherance of its goals of racial purity and improvement.  At this point in time, neither state nor federal governments require pregnant women kill their unborn children, regardless of the women's circumstances or the unborn children's condition.  To employ the language of constitutional law, abortions are not state actions, unlike the imprisonment and killing of the Jews by the Nazis.

This is a crucial distinction to citizens, like myself, who believe that each abortion results in the death of a human being.  If the abortions were compelled by law, as they often are in China, we would have to seriously consider, in your words, "overthrowing the government that [forced] this to happen."  Even at this juncture, some have raised the question of whether we are nearing a time when "the Church collectively [must] decide at what point a government becomes sufficiently corrupt that a believer must resist it." http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=3945 

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January 29, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

What abortion analogy works for progressives?

Greg Pocak has a challenge for "progressives" regarding abortion:

I appreciated your comments on the Mirror of Justice blog regarding whether abortion is a holocaust.  I don’t agree with you (well, I do agree that killing a 12 year old is subjectively worse—for the audience—than killing a fetus, but I would argue that as far as the fetus and 12 yo are concerned personally, it’s not a whole lot different. Especially since the fetus can experience pain and some degree of awareness much earlier than expected.  And even if they didn’t, objectively you’re still killing human life.  And yes, you do sound like a Pinker who lacks the courage to take your argument to its logical conclusion) .  But, that said,  I respect that you had the courage to write what you did “out loud.”  I respect your honest and forthright attempt to wrestle with this.

I have a somewhat tangential question, though.

Your comments are, in some way, similar to Cathleen Kaveny’s comments at dotCommonweal the other day who stated that she rejected the pro-life “analogy” that being “moderate on abortion is akin to being moderate on slavery.”  Likewise, at the America blog, a commenter essentially said that while he knows that objectively abortion is murder, he is uncomfortable with the term because it makes the women who have abortions, “ murderers”—and  thus the analogy complicates the Church’s ability to be pastoral to post abortive women.

In response, I guess I am struggling to understand what an appropriate progressive analogy for abortion would be.  What would be the progressive answer to the following analogies “Abortion is to the Dignity of Human Life as…”  and “Abortion is to slavery as…”

I think progressives will have a difficult time gaining a fair hearing from more mainstream pro-lifers unless they can come up with a more accurate analogy and compelling analogy than those of murder, holocaust, or slavery.

January 29, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sen. Casey disappoints

Here is the vote on Sen. Martinez's efforts to restore, legislatively, the Mexico City policy.  With the exception of Sen. Ben Nelson (a longtime and consistent pro-life vote), every Democrat in the Senate voted "nay."  Including Sen. Casey.

January 29, 2009 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Lisa Schiltz on "Dueling Vocations"

MOJ's own Lisa Schiltz will be the featured speaker for tonight's "Catholic Lawyer's Programs" event here at Fordham.  If you are in the New York area, feel free to join us for what we are sure will be a fantastic presentation and discussion.

Dueling Vocations: Managing the Tensions between our Private and Public Callings

01.29.09 | Thur.
Time: 6:00 p.m. - 7:45 p.m.
Location: Room 430 B/C, Fordham Law School

Practicing attorneys face a number of pressures as they strive to provide excellent service to their clients and also to fulfill their obligations to their families and to the community. Second in a two-part series considering how Catholic social teaching on labor, work-life balance, and gender might shed light on these pressures and tensions.  NY CLE Credits: 2 non-transitional, ethics, register at the door.  More info here.

January 29, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Space to listen: "...in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes"

Thank you, Eduardo for posting John Wittig’s thoughtful response to our ongoing conversation about generational tensions.


I think he hit the nail right on the head in identifying the core challenge: to create environments for thoughtful and genuine dialogue in which people feel that they can honestly work through the questions and issues that they are struggling with in their day-to-day lives.  The comment brought to mind these passages on the “spirituality of communion” from John Paul’s Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, n.43 and 45:


43. To make the Church the home and the school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God's plan and respond to the world's deepest yearnings. . . . A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as "those who are a part of me". This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship. A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a "gift for me". A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to "make room" for our brothers and sisters, bearing "each other's burdens" (Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy. Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, "masks" of communion rather than its means of expression and growth.


45. Communion must be cultivated and extended day by day and at every level in the structures of each Church's life. . . . The theology and spirituality of communion encourage a fruitful dialogue between Pastors and faithful: on the one hand uniting them a priori in all that is essential, and on the other leading them to pondered agreement in matters open to discussion.  To this end, we need to make our own the ancient pastoral wisdom which, without prejudice to their authority, encouraged Pastors to listen more widely to the entire People of God. Significant is Saint Benedict's reminder to the Abbot of a monastery, inviting him to consult even the youngest members of the community: "By the Lord's inspiration, it is often a younger person who knows what is best".30 And Saint Paulinus of Nola urges: "Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes".


January 29, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Is legalized abortion a Holocaust?

I have never been a fan of Roe v. Wade, as my first fumbling effort at legal scholarship showed (108 Harv. L. Rev. 495).  At the same time, I have never felt totally at home in the pro-life movement.  One reason is the totally unnuanced rhetoric often employed by some pro-life advocates, such as the insistence that Obama voters need to justify their vote in heaven to the victims of abortion.  (If so, then Bush voters should do the same to the children killed by American bombs during our preemptive war in Iraq.)  Another example is the tendency to call the legalized abortion regime a "holocaust," which I heard again during last week's anniversary of Roe.  I realize that the term predates World War II (originally referring to a burnt sacrifice), but it only became seared in the public consciousness as pertaining to the slaughter of human life in the wake of the Jewish genocide.  The abortion regime in this country is horrible, but it is not the Holocaust.  Portraying it as such contributes to our tendency to ignore the hard choices and more complicated moral (and legal) considerations that lurk behind our easy abortion labels.

First, the mothers who choose abortion often feel as though they have no other choice, and admittedly, the choices they face often are not easy ones.  I do not think that choosing to kill their unborn children is the answer, but choosing that answer does not make them the moral equivalents of the Nazis, and neither does our government's willingness to permit them that choice. 

Second, and this is where I may be treading into more controversial waters, killing a twelve year old is worse than killing a six week old fetus.  They are both wrong, make no mistake.  But if there was a clinic in our town where mothers were dropping off their twelve year olds to be killed, I highly doubt that any of us would be content to remain in the comfort of our law school offices, writing an article now and then about the need to overturn Roe.  We would be blocking the clinic entrances, physically rescuing the children, overthrowing the government that allowed this to happen.  There are a few who take this same attitude toward legalized abortion, but not many, and we view them as extremists.  In my view, we do care -- and should care -- more about killing the twelve year old because the twelve year old is self-aware, capable of suffering, cognizant of his existence and of loss.  I sound like Peter Singer, I realize, but I reject his conclusion that attributes like these (along with the loss felt by those who love the person killed) are the only reasons to protect human life.  I think we should protect human life, period.  But I think the development of a particular human life brings even more reasons to protect it.  And I think almost all of us act as if this last sentence is true, even if we fear the consequences of admitting it.  Abortion clinics are a moral blot on our society; recognizing that fact should not prevent us from acknowledging that gas chambers are worse.

January 29, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Did the Majority of the U.S. Bishops Support the Democratic Ticket?

Some time back I cited a column in the Washington Post which claimed that the Bishops supported the Democratic ticket. Because of the criteria that have been employed to support what I think is a large majority of the Bishops, I found that claim to be surprising. Someone who works for the Bishops (who prefers to be anonymous) has written me to say that the claim of Bishops supporting the Democratic ticket is not at all plausible. I would welcome any light that can be shed on the subject (understanding that no one followed the Bishops into the voting booth).

January 29, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The world falls back off its axis

Well, so much for cosmic harmony.  As Michael P. predicted, Duke lost to Wake Forest (despite an amazing comeback) in a great game in Winston-Salem.  Ah well, like the man said:  "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,"

January 28, 2009 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)