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.