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Abortion and the culture of death

7 May, 2012 3 Comments

Mercy and forgiveness more persuasive than reason

By Dr John Lamont*

Support for abortion is one of the mysteries of our times. By support for abortion I mean a range of activities that include presenting abortion as morally acceptable, opposing legal restrictions on abortion, trying to make it easily available, encouraging it as a choice, pressuring or coercing women into having abortions. Everyone can see how widespread such support is, in the form of propaganda carried out through the media, political activism, government policies of various sorts.

Some forms of this support are not hard to explain. They result from the actions of rich and powerful elements of society, that see abortion as promoting their interests. Keeping down the population of Third World countries, and of non-white communities within First World countries, are more or less clearly acknowledged motivations for the promotion of abortion by U.S government policy and by organizations like Planned Parenthood, which is funded by rich American men. More generally, abortion is supported because of its function in sustaining our secular capitalist society. It helps to ensure the availability of women as a docile and exploitable part of the labour force, by enabling them to avoid the encumbrance of children. It facilitates male sexual irresponsibility and exploitation of women. This facilitation plays an important role in sustaining the ethos of instant gratification that is the economic motor of our consumer society.

But these reasons are not enough to explain the wide, deep and strongly felt support for abortion in Western societies.

The view that pro-choice advocates are in favour of abortion itself, not just in favour of the right to abortion, is liable to be contested. There are however two considerations which, when taken together, can show it to be true. The first is that it is not very plausible, upon reflection, to maintain that people who support abortion do not realize that abortion is the killing of an innocent human. As Anthony Kenny remarks, “If a mother looks at her daughter, six months off her twenty-first birthday, she can say to her with truth ‘If I had had an abortion twenty-one years ago today, I would have killed you’…Truths of this kind are obvious, and can be formulated without any philosophical technicality, and involve no smuggled moral judgments.”[i] Attempts to refute the charge that abortion is murder do not play a large role in pro-choice apologetics. When they are made, they generally take the line that a blob of cells without any nervous system cannot be considered a human being. The fact that pro-choice advocates generally hold that abortion should be allowed when the foetus has a well-developed nervous system and body structure shows that they do not take this line of argument too seriously.

The second consideration is that the goals and strategies of pro-choice advocates are not compatible with their simply being in favour of having the right to choose between having and not having an abortion, because they are only interested in supporting the choice of one of these alternatives. The goal of the pro-choice movement, as no-one will dispute, is to prevent obstacles being put in the way of women who want to have abortions. The obstacles that confront women who want to have children are a matter of indifference to pro-choicers, and pro-choice organizations never try to do anything about them.

This second consideration raises a difficult question; why would anyone want to encourage the choice to kill? I want to suggest two motivations that people have for doing this.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Anthony Esolen says:

    No freedom without virtue

    A brilliant article — my deep gratitude to Dr. Lamont.

    I have been showing my students for years now that the great poets of the Renaissance did not follow Ockham in this important regard. They did not define freedom as non-interference. They all affirm, and often in the most dramatic ways, that freedom without virtue is a contradiction in terms; that freedom always has a natural end, the goal that human beings as such are ordained to seek; that if you are talking about freedom but not talking about love, even the love made manifest in obedience, you are not talking about freedom at all but license. And license not only is not the same thing as liberty; license enslaves.

    You can see this in Dante’s Divine Comedy, in Milton, in Shakespeare, in Spenser, in Sidney, in Cervantes, in Tasso, in Petrarch, in Chaucer … In fact, if you cannot see the connection between freedom and charity, you simply will not understand what is going on in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, or The Tempest, or Measure for Measure, or Macbeth, or King Lear …

    Anthony Esolen
    Professor of English
    Providence College
    Providence, Rhode Island, USA

  2. Thomas Storck says:


    Very interesting article. I’m inclined to think that our irresponsible desire for sexual freedom explains most of the support for abortion – except perhaps for a few radical feminists who may have darker motives – and the ease of its justification lies mostly in the widespread acceptance of consequentialism today, even (at least in the U.S.) by those who pride themselves on being orthodox Catholics, although in reality they are usually conservative Catholics. This point about consequentialism has been made by Daniel Nichols of the Caelum et Terra blog, and I think he is right. In the U.S. if you argue that the mass bombing of World War II was wrong, you will immediately find yourself confronted by consequentialist arguments, very similar to those which are used to justify killing children in the womb.

    Thomas Storck
    Westerville, Ohio, USA

  3. Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S. says:

    Justice as non-discrimination

    I think another important reason for the widespread acceptance of abortion needs to be emphasized as well as the false idea of freedom highlighted by Dr. Lamont in this article.

    It is the false modern idea of justice, which equates this virtue with “equal” treatment for all. Instead of the classic principle of the ‘perennial philosophy’ that sums up justice as “suum cuique” – “his own to each”, i.e., awarding to each person what is due to him (and, therefore, “different strokes for different folks”) – justice is now popularly equated with “non-discrimination” – powerfully helped along by the US 14th Amendment and interpretations given to it by a secularized Supreme Court.

    Thus, a very powerful ideological motivation behind the push for abortion – one pretty much independent of our innate aggressivity and violence lurking in our subconscious “id” – has been the ‘gut-level feeling’ among radical feminists and their fellow-travellers that justice for women demands that they have the same freedom over their bodies as men have. Men’s activities are not hampered by pregnancy, therefore women must be given “equal” opportunity with men to be ‘un-pregnant’. Paradoxically, “emancipation” for women is thus seen in terms of a new form of male domination: modelling female life-style ideals on a distinctively male paradigm.

    The same distorted understanding of justice as “equal treatment” is seen right now in the assumption that any form of “profiling” is self-evidently unjust, and in the push for “gay marriage”. The most powerful propaganda tool in the militant homosexuals’ armory is not an attempt to defend the moral acceptability of sodomy as such, but rather, their constantly trumpeted demand for “marriage equality”, and its corollary – the claim that the traditional definition of marriage is “discriminatory”.

    Paradoxically, this new, absolute and inviolable “11th Commandment” now getting carved in stone in courthouses by activist judges – “Thou shalt not discriminate!” – itself springs from moral relativism: if all substantive “values” and moral codes are just subjective opinions, then it seems that the only option remaining for public policy is to be ‘neutral’ toward all of them, without “imposing” any of them. So in practice “non-discrimination” itself becomes a new ethical absolute to “imposed” remorselessly on those who still hold to a traditional Aristotelian/Judae-Christian ethic.

    Fr Brian Harrison OS
    St Louis, Missouri, USA

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