Douthat’s abortion distinctions

Ross Douthat’s column in today’s Times, “Not all abortions are equal,” goes where other Catholic pro-lifers often do not: In arguing that law and policy must make distinctions on abortions, as people do.

“The argument for unregulated abortion rests on the idea that where there are exceptions, there cannot be a rule. Because rape and incest can lead to pregnancy, because abortion can save women’s lives, because babies can be born into suffering and certain death, there should be no restrictions on abortion whatsoever.”

“As a matter of moral philosophy, this makes a certain sense. Either a fetus has a claim to life or it doesn’t. The circumstances of its conception and the state of its health shouldn’t enter into the equation.”

“But the law is a not a philosophy seminar. It’s the place where morality meets custom, and compromise, and common sense. And it can take account of tragic situations without universalizing their lessons.”

“Indeed, the argument that some abortions take place in particularly awful, particularly understandable circumstances is not a case against regulating abortion. It’s the beginning of precisely the kind of reasonable distinction-making that would produce a saner, stricter legal regime.”

Douthat argues that this would best be done by returning such decisions to “the democratic process”–the familiar argument that absent Roe and the courts, states would decide the matter. But I’m not sure at all how much “stricter” or “saner” such state legislation would be, at all. [And of course his characterization of the argument for “unregulated abortion” is really a caricature. Who makes that argument anyway? But straw men are useful.]

But Douthat’s larger point, while important, is also perilous for pro-lifers and especially for Catholic teachings: Once you admit such distinctions, the argument for protecting life in its earliest, most “abstract” (to most of our imaginations) stage begins to lose its moral and emotional force–even though Catholic teaching holds that terminating an embryo with a Plan B pill, e.g., is murder every bit as much as a third trimester abortion.

Yet this is already happening, and manifested itself in Scott Roeder’s murder of George Tiller: Roeder killed Tiller because he performed “late-term” abortions on fetuses that, as Douthat writes, “involved destroying something that we wouldn’t hesitate to call a baby if we saw it struggling for life in a hospital bed.”

Roeder did not shoot a fertility doctor, whose work with countless embryos is far more damaging under the Catholic view than Tiller’s ever was. But try enshrining that into public policy, or turning it into a successful lobbying effort. That’s when moral philosophy and democracy diverge.

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posted June 9, 2009 at 8:34 am

I don’t quite follow the reasoning of the anti-abortion group.
They are pro-torture.
Pro-death penalty.
Pro-murder (see Dr. Tiller)
Pro destroying existing gay marriages, forcing gays into electro-shock therapy and taking away their children.
They have zero interest in children once they are born.
Yet they demand we call them “pro-life”.
If they truly were “pro-life”, wouldn’t they be interested in people after they’re born, too?
At this point, more than thirty years after Roe, it is clear that neither abortion nor contraception are going to be banned in the US, no matter how many people the conservative Christians murder.
Douthat is right that we need a dialogue. I doubt, however, that one is possible when the religious right refuses to stop killing people.

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posted June 9, 2009 at 9:27 am

Abortion is not murder in the law. It never has been. Religions can teach what they like about it, but, just as we don’t require prayers in schools or forbid divorce just because some religions get upset about it, their teachings don’t define our laws.
It would be nice if the anti-abortion activists, particularly the Roman Catholic ones noticed that the Republicans did nothing to further their aims but cheerfully took advantage of RC and other anti-abortion activist support to do things that were contrary to RC doctrine. Of course, the bishops have made it clear that they listen to no one, so the only dialogue will have to be with individuals of good will.

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posted June 9, 2009 at 9:34 am

I’m anti-abortion.
But I am also:
Anti-death penalty
Anti-vigilante “justice”
Also, I DO care about what happens to children after birth, and while I’m against gay-marriage, I’m also against forcing anyone into ECT and stealing children from gay couples. Last I heard, though, this kind of thing doesn’t happen. I can’t remember the last time I saw a headline about rounding up gays and zapping ‘em with with electricity… but maybe they do that where you’re from?
Point is, I don’t think you should paint us pro-lifers with such broad strokes. That would be like me saying that all pro-choicers are relativistic, amoral, baby-killers. And I would NOT say that.

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posted June 9, 2009 at 9:50 am

During the last election one of our retired bishops (RC) made that very statement. That for the past 30 years Republicans have had the ability to change the law and didn’t, and that was to be food for thougth as we went to the polls. It is a manipulative ploy that the RNC has used for years.
I have come to realize that as a church we are very poorly informed about Catholic Social teaching. We believe it is all wrapped up in our sexuality, which I find very interesting. I wonder sometimes, if we were really committed to changing the world through faith, if we would allow ourselves to live the “American Dream” as we have come to feel entitled to. I think it is an easy out to place all of our values in one basket. I find it convenient that when in conversation the same people, they dismiss the follow up question of “what do we after that”. I do not condone abortion, I do understand desperation though. I do know the faces of people who have had them and who have thought of having them. This is not a legislatable thing. We try so hard to control everything that we forget that God is in control. What difference could be made by a person who opens thier heart to hear the heart of someone young, confused, suffering or terrified. THAT is being pro-life. To say, your life matters as much to me as the one you are carrying. I believe in the end we all answer to God for how we handle these situations.

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posted June 9, 2009 at 10:54 am

Your Name – a pen name would not hurt, by the way.
1) Right now I “am from” a civilized country where my marriage is recognized both legally and by my Christian church. It is the US we are talking about. In a few weeks time, my husband and I will be returning to the US for a while. Here, we are married and protected against the hatred and filthy prejudice of people, the next moment we aren’t even permitted to visit each other in the hospital.
2) The conservative Christians – people like you – very much still use EST as well as other instruments of torture in their “reparative” programs, mind-washing and torture used in the attempt to destroy gay’s ability to love. These programs are supported by the LDS and many Bishops of the Catholic church in the US. So don’t commit false witness and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.
3)Both Florida and Arkansas have, in the last months, taken steps to remove children from their gay parents – both adoptive and biological, on the sole grounds that the parents were gay.
Maybe you didn’t pull the trigger, but your hatred, intolerance and desire to oppress those whose sexuality doesn’t agree with your personal, private sense of what you want to allow who tacitly support the murder, beating, torture and rape of over 1500 gays and transgender in the US every year. Not to mention that all the violence and all the murders taking place in the abortion discussion are coming from your side.
Instead of washing your hands in innocence and accusing me of painting a too broad brush, why don’t you get down on your knees and apologize before God and the family of all the victims of your side in the culture war for the sin you have committed?
It is precisely the arrogance you have displayed here which leads to this violence. You, not we are the ones committing these horrible crimes.

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posted June 9, 2009 at 5:27 pm

“…EST… mind-washing and torture used in the attempt to destroy gay’s ability to love. These programs are supported by the LDS and many Bishops of the Catholic church in the US.”
Name just ONE Catholic Bishop who supports just ONE of the policies you listed and document it if you can. I on the other hand gave you a link of documentation on ‘pro-choice’ violence on another blog which you saw fit to ignore, which by the way contradicts this statement:
“…all the violence and all the murders taking place in the abortion discussion are coming from your side.”
I, for one, do not murder gays or transwhatevers, though I be conservative Christian.
FYI, I’m not ‘Your Name’ from 9:34am, just someone who’s fed up with disinformation coming from the posts of the ill-informed (be they straight, gay, domestic, foreign, male, female, black, white, whatever.)

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posted June 9, 2009 at 7:48 pm

You mentioned that you and your husband are coming to the USA in a few weeks. I sincerely hope that you both have a good visit!!

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posted June 9, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Panthera, I am pro-life and feel that all human life is precious. I agree somewhat with the poster of 9:34 AM. But I agree with a lot of what you say also. I am upset that many US bishops do support reparative therapy programs. To Tom, Archbishop Neinstedt of St. Paul – Minnesota, has supported NARTH and reparative therapy. I think there are other bishops also that support such programs that do violence to gay people. I mirror Pagansister and wish you and your husband a great visit.

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posted June 10, 2009 at 3:30 am

Thanks pagansister and Mareczku.
Be careful what you ask for Tom.
If you want to argue like a Jesuit, first do what they do: Check whether your “prove it” statement is, in fact, incapable of substantiation. Not, of course, whether ’tis true or not, merely, whether it may be refuted by your opponent.
I think it would be well worth keeping in mind here that the gays who are forbidden to marry, the transgender who are discriminated against are real human beings. You will never attain anything by trying to tear my husband and me apart, just the opposite. Twenty-four years of love and happiness, loyalty, faithfulness and standing together and your flat-out reject our relationship?
No wonder the religious right is losing ground. Not all Americans are as hard-hearted.
The abortion situation is very complex and very difficult. If there is to be a reduction (which any sane person must desire, and we as Christians truly work for) then the violence must stop. The attacks on clinics must stop.
I understand that for the religious right, anything short of absolute submission by women is unacceptable. Perhaps, tho’, there can come a time when it will be possible to settle our differences verbally and not by murder?
Tom, whatever link you might have entered does not show here on my browser. The user interface at beliefnet may be the only thing upon which you and I are capable of agreement: It is awful.

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posted June 10, 2009 at 9:37 am

Bishops supporting NARTH and other forms of reparative therapy isn’t what Panthera was alleging. He implied that EST as well as other instruments of torture were included in the programs that bishops supported (go back and read his post). I doubt rather seriously that he can verify this. NARTH doesn’t involve EST or ‘other instruments of torture’ as far as I know.
Though I may not know how to ‘argue like a Jesuit’ whatever that means, I can assure you that I’m very meticulous.

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posted June 10, 2009 at 10:49 am

Who’s doing the name calling here and acting like a wounded victim? Panthera: No one’s spitting at you, hanging you or slamming doors in your face. We only want to protect our future. And we will only have a future if we promote the birth, nuturing and education of children. That is why heterosexual marriage is more equal than others and should remain so. Gay marriage may make you and your partner feel good about yourselves, but it does not offer our society a future. Let’s stop being so self-centered and think about 2050 and 2090.

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