As we noted in the previous post, the abortion discussion can be divided into two parts: the ethical and the political. These are not unrelated questions, but they are distinct. So first, the ethical-
Is abortion moral?
This question is the elephant in the room. Almost no one in the pro-choice camp is willing to answer in the affirmative. They will always say that abortion is to be regretted, yet there are other influential factors that may make certain abortions morally justifiable.
We can already anticipate more questions, but we must not run off just yet. Let’s stick to this one question. Is abortion moral? Or rather, is it moral to end the life of (kill) a human entity (person? being? life?) prior to its birth?
I think that most everyone agrees that this question is answered in the same way the more basic question of murder is answered. Peter Singer is willing to distinguish along the lines of consciousness (rather than life), but Peter Singer is evil. He would say that it is morally permissible to abort a newborn. But again, he also says that the only problem with bestiality is that it is too difficult to determine consent. Am I poisoning the well here? Perhaps I am. My apologies. I have stepped outside the bounds of my calm and clear discourse. I am very sorry. Let us return to it.
Most people think that ending a human life, apart from some morally and legally justified reason (the forfeiture of rights through a crime, self-defense, war), is wrong. This is a basic moral principle. It’s a “thou shalt not” kind of thing. Ending human life, even in the womb, is wrong.
We could defend this from the Bible. You’ve seen the verses. We could defend this from reason- the natural law. We could even defend this from the golden rule. Abortion survivors are rarely pro-choice.
So abortion itself is immoral. But as we know, the conversation does not end here. Perhaps it is a necessary evil. Are there other reasons why one might procure an abortion, and if so, would those reasons outweigh the basic moral question?
What is most important? (or Do we make decisions based on inherent virtue, perceived consequences, or efficiency? or Are we already men without chests?)
There’s an old philosophical question: Do you like things because they are good, or are things good because you like them? This can be given all sorts of descriptive titles. “Realism” vs. “Voluntarism.” Aristotelianism (and then we have to decide if that’s good or bad!). Here’s a starting point for this conversation.
Basically, to even entertain the question of “Are there other reasons to have an abortion which outweigh the basic moral issue?” is to itself entertain the larger question of how one comes to decisions and which commitments have priority in ethics. It is not merely one question. This is actually the entire farm. Someone’s about to sell it.
We are not at the “legal” level yet. We’ll get to that. Morality and politics do have a meeting point. But we aren’t there yet. We’re just on the individual level of deciding morality. On what basis do you make your judgment?
We have to be very careful here, even with our language. “Judgement” is already tricky. “Values” is even worse. We can influence the debate, without even realizing it, as we use words that connote ideas which may contradict our theories and beliefs.
Classical ethics side with Aristotle. Things are good because they are good. Inherently so. We could go further and say that the Good is united with the True and the Beautiful. In Christian-speak, God is the Good and His Will is identical with His nature.
This is also the core view of the New Testament. Men are not righteous merely by following the rules. That’s how slaves operate (Gal. 4:1-5). A righteous man does not do what is right because something tells him to do so, but rather he does right because that’s just what he is. He is a tree that produces fruit. Good things come from good people. Furthermore, we are instructed that merely “going through motions” or following instruction in order to merely avoid punishment (rather than to also positively seek the good) is insufficient. “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,” (Colossians 3:22-23).
C. S. Lewis, in his brilliantly-titled “Men Without Chests” (the first chapter of The Abolition of Man), makes the case that only this way of thinking can provide for objectivity. Further, an ontologically objective- or a transcendent- grounding for ethics is necessary in order to satisfy our need for honor, liveliness, goodness, and respectability. Brains and bellies both cry out for a heart. Lewis writes:
We were told it long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the “spirited element.” The head rules the belly through the chest– the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest– Magnanimity– Sentiment– these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. The operation of The Green Book [a book which rejects the existence of virtue, calling it all only subjective value, SW] and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests…
And all the time–such is the tragi-comedy of our situation–we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more “drive,” or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or “creativity.” In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
(p 34-35, Collier Books 1955)
It seems only prudent that we take a pause here. There is much more to be said, but I’ll leave you with this thought about ethical foundations. Have you ever thought that someone or some group of people were “heartless”? Have you been careful to make sure that you weren’t one of those who first performed the excision?
More ethical questions will be raised in the next post.