Noodling the Problem of Prolife Witness in a Pluralist Culture

Yesterday, we looked at the problem of 13% of the population who want abortion criminalized and doctors–and even post-abortive women–to suffer the penalties of law for “murder”. This can only mean, if they get their way, either very long prison sentences or the death penalty. In future posts, we will look at the many, many problems which attend the monomaniac desire to address abortion, not by reducing demand, but by punishing suppliers and customers.

But for now, I want to simply focus on the problem raised here yesterday of punishing people whose religious tradition (in this case, Judaism, but there are others as well) not only permits abortion but in fact specifically bids that mothers be privileged over the unborn.

Many conservative Christians (particularly Catholics) have, as I have noted, given very little thought this matter. In many cases, the vague notion appears to be that there are “real Jews” who think more or less like Catholics about the unborn and then there are “fake liberal Jews” who don’t. This is simply not so. Even in the case of Orthodox Jews who take a stricter view of abortion, the mother remains privileged over the unborn and, when the unborn threatens the life of a mother, is regarded as .a “murderer”:

If there is a threat to a woman’s life, the safety of the mother takes precedence over continuing the pregnancy at any stage. Many sources illustrate this graphically and rather unambiguously, and all modern poskim, or religious decisors, agree on this. In fact, in certain circumstances, a fetus that endangers the life of the mother is legally considered a “murderer” in active pursuit.

For example, in a case of maternal danger, we find in Sanhedrin 72b (further clarified with Rashi’s commentary) that “a midwife may insert her hand into the womb and kill the fetus … [the reason is] for as long as the fetus has not emerged into the world, it is not a nefesh [a being with a soul]; one is therefore allowed to kill it and save the mother …” 

According to Mishna Oholos 7:3, “If a woman is having trouble giving birth, they cut up the child in her womb and bring it forth limb by limb, because her life comes before the life of [the child].” 

Jewish law prohibits killing in all cases — except if one person is trying to murder another. If an individual is trying to end someone’s life, killing that person is actually a requirement. How much more so, a fetus (not yet a full person) who threatens the mother’s life may be aborted.

In his Mishneh Torah, Maimonides writes the following: The sages ruled that when complications arise and a pregnant woman cannot give birth, it is permitted to abort the fetus in her womb, whether with a knife or drugs, for the fetus is considered a rodef [a murderer in pursuit] of its mother … If the head of the fetus emerges, it should not be touched, because one life should not be sacrificed for another. Although the mother may die, this is the nature of the world.”

In other words, when a fetus endangers the life of the mother, unless it is in the process of being born, abortion is a halachic requirement.

The point here is not to debate the considerable difference between this and the Catholic belief in the sanctity of life from conception rather than birth. Rather, it is to point out that attempting to use the power of the state to impose penalties that include life in prison or even death for Jewish doctors who are obeying the teaching of their religion in good conscience is a manifestly insane approach to the problem.

Perhaps a thought experiment will help:

It seems to me to be obvious that abortion is the taking of innocent human life. As Atheists for Life admirably expresses it: “For the embryology textbook tells me so.”

What is not obvious apart from a number of highly conditioned philosophic and theological suppositions is whether that innocent human life is a person possessing dignity as a creature made in the image of God (as the discussion above illustrates). Because of this, I do not see how it can be just to arraign for murder people who honestly and in good conscience cannot see the Catholic and conservative view of the unborn. I can absolutely accept that it is the duty of Catholics to try to persuade others of our view of unborn as the best one, just as I think it our duty to try to persuade those who cannot see it that our understanding of the Eucharist as the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ is true.

But here’s the thing: Would we as Catholics expect the state to impose penalties of law for even greater sins than murder in a pluralist culture that does not share our presuppositions as Catholics? I say it is clearly not so.

So, for instance, it can be (and would have been, six hundred years ago) argued that desecrating the Eucharist is a far graver sin than murder since it is an assault, not merely on innocent human life, but on the Son of God himself. As far as the gravity of the act, I see no choice but to affirm that, given what the Eucharist objectively is, to descrate it (as the Pharyngula blogger did some years ago) is an insult to God even graver than the murder of a human being. Yet, who in their right mind would call for the execution of the Pharyngula blogger (barring a few Reactionary nuts)?

Now the question is: Why do we believe it would be insane? And I think the answer is pretty plain: Because the culpability for such an act is effectively zero and there may even be mitigating circumstances that are (subjectively) meritorious. Clearly, the desecrator did not believe for one second he is actually literally insulting Jesus Christ, really present in the Eucharist. He may even hold Jesus (or what he knows of him) in high regard. Indeed, nearly every critic of Christians compares them to Jesus and finds them, not fools for admiring him, but appalling failures in comparison to his shining example. So here. Pharyngula thinks he is offering an insult, not to Jesus Christ, but to people who, for all we know, merit the insult (such as an abusive priest, for instance). Would burning such a one at the stake achieve any good end whatsoever? Clearly not.

Now mark this: This does not mean we are “soft on the Real Presence” if we don’t go around demanding the state punish people who do not reverence the Eucharist or even disrespect it. It means that in the case of this core theological belief, we understand that people need to travel a long way from where they are to where we are in order to even see what we are talking about. We understand that we catch more flies with honey and that carrots work better than sticks in winning hearts and minds.

My point then is that culpability matters enormously here. I therefore deny that any justice would be done to the unborn by punishing post-abortive women or doctors, the vast majority of the latter not sharing the complex and highly conditioned views of unborn human life that conservative Christians have and, in the case of a practicing Jewish doctor, actually taught by his tradition that to not privilege the mother is sinful. I cannot see how compelling the state to punish him is substantially different from compelling the state to punish him for failing to genuflect the Host. It’s not a perfect analogy. But I think it’s an awfully strong one.

So I conclude that with the issue of criminalizing abortion we are bound to a course similar to that we must pursue with the Eucharist: we work to persuade, not to rely on force and fear to compel. Criminalizing abortion seems to me to be analogous to criminalizing disbelief in the Real Presence. There are some things that simply cannot be forced.

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27 Responses

  1. Would you prosecute religious parents for refusing to seek medical treatment for their child based on their religious beliefs if said inaction results in the death of their child? For example, if the child comes down ill with something that is treatable, and the parents choose to forego said treatment in favor of prayer and supplication to the Lord?

  2. But it’s so much easier to deal from a position of superiority, and look down on people, than it is to admit that we have not convinced others that we’re right, and that at least part of the fault lies with ourselves. Easier to long for the days when the Ten Commandments were posted in classrooms and everybody knew what to do and did it. Easier to pass laws against things we thing we’re too good to do.

    1. Why then are some people suggesting the USA needs to enshrine abortion rights after Roe is overturned? Wouldn’t it be more simple to stay away from such legal endeavors and focus on convincing the pro-life movement?

  3. While I entirely agree that the “hearts and minds” approach is undoubtedly a task we must continue to take up, I respectfully submit that you bow a bit to profoundly to pluralism. Tolerance for differing beliefs and approaches to problems is an absolutely necessary attitude on a great many things but, in simplest terms, sometimes there have to be winners and losers. Not all things can be reconciled.

    You and I and our Jewish friends (trusting your explanation of common Jewish belief is accurate) would agree that we have a duty to protect innocent life. That duty may even require us to kill an aggressor. Were I to come upon a fellow beating his wife and she were in danger of death, I would be duty bound to attempt to stop this. Being an out of shape guy who has not been in a fist fight for 45 or more years now, attempting to subdue him in hand to hand combat would be futile and, lacking a baseball bat being handy, I would be duty bound to resort to pulling out my 9mm to threaten him into submission or to kill him if need be. The question arises, believing as I do that a yet to be born human is as deserving of respect and protection as much as any other human created in the image and likeness of God, how is my duty to defend his life when threatened any less than my duty to the wife who was threatened? (While it should be obvious, this is in no way a justification for assassinating abortion providers or other acts that have been shamefully perpetrated by anti-abortion but not-pro life people.) Balancing my duty to protect innocent life against embracing a tolerance that is usually wise in a pluralistic society it is clear that the duty to the protection of life is superior to the wise preference for tolerance. As I have never been invited to an abortion, nor do I expect to be, my duty to protect that innocent life is one I pass on to the state and is given effect through legislation. Thus, I am duty bound to seek to legislate against abortion. To my mind such legislation should include an accommodation for our theoretical Jewish doctor as we should value the life of the child equally to the mother, not superior to it. Even if it did not have such an exception, pluralism cannot reconcile his position and mine. One of us must give way. One of us will be prevented from performing what he sees as a duty. Our respect for pluralism should be great, but our duty to life is greater. As Jewish law is generally tilted in favor of the defense I suspect the common Jewish attitude would be as ours would be, that the doctor who does not perform the abortion commits no sin because the civil law prevents him from following what he believes is the moral course. Being duty bound in conscience to do what is possible to protect innocent life, I do sin if I fail to attempt to fulfill that duty. Sometimes there have to be winners and losers. I have been expected to peaceably accept that the pro-choice forces have won since 1973 so I see no reason that I should somehow regret winning now if legislatures agree and SCOTUS allows. (I will leave the questions of punishments for another day, though I would not usually impose them on the mother. That may be logically inconsistent, but there are arguments that can be made.)

    The argument using the Eucharist seems to be a bit of a straw man. While there are certain sins that must be criminalized in order to preserve an orderly society, (murder, rape, theft, assault) it is sometimes sufficient to allow God to see to the punishment of some offenses. Granting that the offense against the Eucharist is greater, there is insult but no injury to God. His capacity for vengeance is greater than ours if He sees fit to issue it. Surely, I should seek to prevent this offense to God, but Pharyngula should not be burned at the stake. (Since he pulls these stupid stunts for no reason than to take pleasure in being a jerk I would be sorely temped tp look the other way if someone with a nasty right hook used it on him, but I will struggle against such temptation if I ever see it happen.)

      1. What do you suggest we do that is adequate to fulfill our duty to protect innocent life? You assert it is Jewish belief that “If an individual is trying to end someone’s life, killing that person is actually a requirement.” I strongly suspect you libel Jews by asserting they require the death of the aggressor when it seems far more likely they are not that bloodthirsty and would be required to kill only if lesser acts such as those that might be achieved with a taser and zip ties fail to end the attack. That aside, I would posit that “If an individual is trying to end someone’s life, stopping that person is a requirement, even to the point of killing him if necessary.” Whether that is a more truthful expression of Jewish belief or not, I believe it to be an accurate statement of Catholic doctrine. The breadth of acts allowed makes the burden to act heavier, thus we are obligated to do all that is allowed to bring about the prevention. I take it as given that we are in agreement that an unborn child is deserving of protect and that anyone seeking to end his life is an unjust aggressor. While the “hearts and minds” approach must continue to be part of our arsenal, it has been obvious since 1973 that that is insufficient to provide the required protection against the unjust aggressors. Persuasion, supporting mothers and all the other things we have diligently attempted for 49 years have failed. If employing the use of legislation becomes possible I am hard pressed to understand how we can justify failing to use it. If you would prevent legislation, how do we satisfy our obligation, or do you suggest we concede unborn lives to the unjust aggressors?

      2. I am citing Jewish sources. As to what to do, I have already said: We need to focus on lowering demand rather than supply. But that would threaten core MAGA commitments to greed, cruelty, selfishness, and misogyny, which is why the Cult constantly uses the unborn and human shields while pursuing policies that increase demand. That is why abortion rates *rose* 8% in 2017-2020, reversing a 30 year downward trend: because the most Prolifyest President and his cult of Liars for Jesus do not care about the unborn in the slightest. They care about greed, cruelty, selfishness, and misogyny. If you actually want to do something about abortion, focus on demand, not supply and stop parrotting the lies of the MAGA “prolife” cult of death. Criminalizing abortion is the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas.

      3. What’s the legal alternative? Keep in place unjust laws that render the unborn as literally worthless, less than nothing? There’s no middle ground here. In a rights-based society, either you support laws that recognize the fetus as a human person, or else the fetus is treated as worthless, or as nothing in the eyes of the law. As less than a dog, because at least there are things you can do to a dog that will get you punished. The fetus is worthless, disposable, less than a piece of garbage in the eyes of our current law. NO ONE should be fine with that kind of law, and it should be decried as unjust, immoral, and inhuman.

  4. ”Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs!”

    General Napier, reacting to Indian Priests objecting to the ban on burning women.

    I think it would be a great idea though. I move to the USA, start a church that thinks it’s taboo to pay taxes, gain some followers who tithe me and instead of even daring to think of making me pay taxes, you will spend your time *convincing* me to pay taxes. Bring the honey and the carrots.

    1. I’m laughing because you’re kind of late to the party; what you describe is pretty much how churches operate in the US, functionally speaking. Churches in the US are tax exempt, as long as they don’t get involved in politics; however, that provision is almost never enforced, so its de facto non-existent. They’re also exempt form a lot of oversight and transparency regulations that ordinary non-profits are subject to.

      I’m guessing that at some point, the rationale behind these exemptions were that churches were providing a social good that warranted such benefits. But what has happened in practice is that they created (even more) incentives for all kinds of amoral grifters who want to set up shop and defraud both the government and the people they’re supposed to serve.

      1. @ 3vil5triker

        I completely agree. And what do you suggest we do with amoral grifters who defraud the government? Enforce the law/change the law, or send a nicely worded letter in which we try to convince them that they should be nice and pay taxes, pretty please?

      2. @Artevelde

        I think the government should make accommodations for religious beliefs as much as it can, even if it allows for a (large) amount of amoral grifting to seep through. But only up to a point, where the government has a compelling interest to protect its citizens from harm. Where to draw that line is the topic of much debate.

        I believe that the current, and possibly soon to be overturned, Supreme Court standard for the regulation of abortions in the US, was able to strike that balance between those two competing interests.

  5. Now that I think about it, this “rodef” mindset reminds me of a nice Jewish abortionist I once interviewed. He was very affable and I could see why my conservative Catholic friends went to him. I was shocked when I discovered that all the doctors in the practice performed abortions. His response was a shrug and the comment, “well I could never off my own kid for being imperfect…”. That cavalier comment appalled me.

    My distaste had every bit to do with how casually it was delivered. Do the math. How could I ever expect the man to be the guardian of my child’s life, or even fight for it if need be if his other appointments of the day were to do the opposite. Religion doesn’t even enter into the equation.

    There was something so heartless there—a nice guy whose conscience had been hardened in such a critical way.

    It was like going from the frying pan and into the fire when the next OB GYN I went to almost lost her license for a pattern of refusing to intervene quickly enough when an illegal mother and her unborn baby were in distress and she was on call.
    Poor Guatemalan? Rodef.

    This idea of rodef reminds me of something humans do to avoid regret:
    “I didn’t want that house anyway!”
    “He can’t dance and dresses badly anyway!”
    “his family has no money anyway!”
    “He has a lousy job anyway!”

    “I could feel him plotting against me from the day he was conceived!”

    How very **primitive** to make the baby into some kind of malignant incubus so nobody is tempted to shed a tear.

  6. My point then is that culpability matters enormously here. I therefore deny that any justice would be done to the unborn by punishing post-abortive women or doctors
    ….
    we work to persuade, not to rely on force and fear to compel. Criminalizing abortion seems to me to be analogous to criminalizing disbelief in the Real Presence.

    I definitely agree that culpability matters in the legal realm of this discussion. In fact, I’ll go a step further and argue culpability matters in the canonical realm of the discussion, as well, so that even when a Catholic mother has an abortion, Canon’s 1323 and 1324 might preclude them from the penalty of excommunication. With that said, I do not think it is simple to discern the subjective state of the soul, considering the gravity of the objective nature of the act in this case, so I think prudent pastoral counsel to any Catholic who has had an abortion to humbly presume excommunication may have occurred, but not to despair, because the Church genuinely does want to bring mercy to them.

    Fortunately, Pope Francis seemed to have this and related concerns in mind when he gave priests the universal faculty to absolve the sin of abortion, so that regardless of whether there was sufficient culpability to have incurred excommunication, the individual can speedily return to full communion with the Church.

    Circling back now to the legal realm, I also disagree with seeking to punish mothers who seek abortion in states where it might become prohibited (it’s legally irrelevant where it is not prohibited). But as to whether or not we should seek to outlaw abortion, as I read it, Evangelium Vitae addresseded the concerns you raised. The legal situation as I see it in the context of Evangelium Vitae is that we must seek to end the legal allowance for abortion, but we also should recognize that we will not succeed until we have convinced others it is wrong. We must do so justly, not by dishonesty or attempts to undermine our political process.

    I’ll take a moment here to agree with the really important point you continuously raise: there will be perhaps no more effective practical means of convincing others that abortion is wrong and must cease than by eliminating the material factors that lead families to seek it.

    There is a distinction here compared to the desecration of the Eucharist. Our beliefs about the Eucharist are not verifiable from observation. They are truly religious beliefs, so the legal protections we can pursue basically extend to our freedom of practice and the security of our possessions, and can’t reflect the religious significance of the Eucharist.

    That an unborn human is a unique human individual is observable. I am not able to agree with your suggestion that from the secular standpoint (I recognize we agree from the religious standpoint) it is merely a “conditioned supposition” that all human persons have rights. Rather, it is instead a “conditioned supposition”…nay…a conditioned superstition, that something magical happens during the passage through the birth canal to cause human rights to be bestowed.

  7. How about the reverse, is that a “conditioned response” as well? Do women magically lose their human rights to privacy and bodily autonomy at the moment of conception?

  8. Good discussion about the nitty gritty of just law and regulation. The *best* case scenario for an illegal abortion state is probably pre-2018 Ireland. Of course, a woman died there in 2012, which was what precipitated Ireland making abortions legal. That is one of my concerns. Are we introducing so much red tape and liability that actual innocent women’s lives are in danger….?

  9. Given the stark disparity, going back centuries, between Christian and Jewish views on abortion, this raises an interesting question…
    You sometimes hear smart-aleck atheists point out “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality”, which is true, but as some conservative Christians have in turn retorted, the same smart-aleck atheists point out “Jesus lived and died a Jew” and opposition to homosexuality was part of the wallpaper of Jewish culture 2,000 years ago.
    So, it seems, acceptance of abortion – not quite on demand but for a wide variety of reasons – was also part of Jewish culture 2,000 years ago. It is also something that could be practiced even with the low technological level of that time. (Various Catholic blogosphere experts have stated that the ancient Romans used to use a plant with abortifacient/ contraceptive properties, but that plant no longer exists because the early Christians exterminated the entire species. You have to respect the determination of people willing to irreversibly alter Nature to make it conform to Natural Law).
    So, why didn’t Jesus call out abortion in first-century Jewish culture? Why is there no “You have heard it said, The unborn is a home invader; but I say to you, Whoever terminates a pregnancy commits murder” not even in Scripture. but even in the capacious byways of Tradition?

    1. On the “Pro Choice” side of the ledger, there’s quite a cognitive dissonance between “Hey, you dumb Christians, ever realised that the erudite Jewish rabbis who wrote the first part of your Bible have for millennia considered unborn foetuses too undeveloped to warrant legal rights?!” and “Hey, you dumb Christians, ever realised that the Bronze Age nomads who wrote the first part of your Bible were so primitive that they thought that whales are fish and bats are birds?!”.
      That said, it’s true some Christians really are dreadfully dumb.

      1. It’s not cognitive distance. As is usually the case, (online) propagandists do not strive for logical or moral coherence as such. They will use whatever comes in handy. In your example, the cause is both pro-choice *and* scientist Bible bashing, a not uncommon combination.

        It seems to me that the Christian tradition’s path is one of ever more encompassing love, especially for the weak, the vulnerable and the oppresssed. This is why we (now) go beyond the Jewish and Pauline/Patristic tradition. We consider life sacred from conception to natural death, we no longer tolerate slavery, we are against the death penalty and we certainly don’t preach slaughtering Canaanites.

      2. I raised this point with one Latin Mass sede-semi-vacantist type who retorted “Jesus didn’t specifically speak out against internet porn either.” Yes, but internet porn didn’t exist in first-century Galilee: I understand methods of abortion did, and also in the wider Roman Empire. This would have been a prime cue for Jesus to deliver a denunciation akin to the one about divorce – another area of sexual morality where (in the Christian view) Judaism of Jesus’s time was unacceptably laxer than what God wanted, as opposed to unacceptably stricter in most other areas (eg Sabbath-keeping).
        Jesus also had an approach of saying “You know that X is wicked: well, know also that X+1 is wicked also.” (Murder, anger: adultery, lusting, etc). Again, if Jesus had held the modern conservative Catholic/ Protestant view on abortion, something along the lines of “You have heard it said that Herod was wicked for killing born, wanted children; well, know also that it is also wicked to kill an unborn baby, at least one you can feel kicking, even if it is unwanted.” So the silence is significant, I think. It is possible that Jesus (and St Paul the Apostle) considered abortion a bad thing and would have so answered if questioned, but it’s hard to reconcile the Mother Theresa position (that abortion is Article I in the syllabus of evils, is so non-negotiably wicked that Ceausescu’s dictatorship in Romania, which banned it, was therefore a more just society than post-1973 USA, which allowed it) with the actual silence of the apostolic record.

    2. We’re not Protestants or even crypto-Protestants. We don’t believe that every single important moral commandment must have come ipsissima verba (or even ipsissima vox) from the lips of Jesus Christ during His time living here on Earth. We believe that Jesus left the Church on Earth and gave her the sacraments (esp. the Eucharist) so that the Church would become what she receives. There’s a quote attributed to St. Joan of Arc, not sure if it’s real or not, but it expresses a truth of the Catholic Faith: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing.” We believe that Jesus Christ has given His magisterium (composed of the Pope, and the combined bishops of the world acting in their official teaching office), and when these individuals agree on certain religious or moral dogmas, that Jesus Christ has preserved them from error. Thus this “why didn’t Jesus say this…?” argumentation is just beating a strawman to death. I realize you don’t believe in the Church or the Magisterium, but the argument you’re crafting isn’t going to be effective to any Catholic who is remotely educated. It might work against a Protestant who is more beholden to merely the text of Scripture itself, but we do not make a sole authority out of Scripture or out of the “red letters” in the New Testament. They are important and cannot be ignored, to be sure, but they are not the entire Deposit of Faith, not even by a long shot.

      And since you mentioned the first century, go ahead and Google “Didache” and read it, if you haven’t before. It’s a short read, about 10-15 minutes. Scholars date it to apostolic or just post-apostolic times. In the section on morality, you’ll see a clear prohibition against abortion. This was probably written at least within living memory of Jesus’ Apostles. So there’s an excellent case to be made that the Apostles taught against abortion. Hmmmmmm, I wonder who they got that from???

      As for why the Gospel writers might not have recorded Jesus’s sayings about abortion, who knows? Modern scholars have many theories about the individual Christian communities that the four Gospel writers wrote for, Maybe the issue of abortion just wasn’t coming up in the interreligious disputes they were having at the time. But at the end of the day, Scripture is inspired by God, but so is Tradition–and the consensus of the Church, via ancient tradition (going back to Didache, and never contradicted) is that abortion is prohibited.

  10. Ok we don’t have to criminalize it. But it shouldn’t be protected behavior. Can we give $25 fines for doctors performing it illegally? Same way we have decriminalized shoplifting candy bars but at the same time we discourage it as a civil infraction and do not protect this pathological harmful behavior the way we have with abortion, that has been enforced with the police power of the state as since 1973. Transubstantiation requires divine revelation to know and understand. An Unborn child being a distinct human being does not. That is why there is an “Atheists for life” in the first place.

  11. “What is not obvious apart from a number of highly conditioned philosophic and theological suppositions is whether that innocent human life is a person possessing dignity as a creature made in the image of God.”

    Here is a difficulty for this argument: If you change the subject of this argument from fetuses to Black people, this argument would be an effective argument against the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which ended slavery, bestowed equal rights on Black people, and — most importantly — authorized Congress to enforce those rights against all who would violate them, with the full force of the law. One of the great stains on our national conscience is that Congress failed to fully exercise that authority, and left Black Americans to toil in forms of forced labor and apartheid for another century at least.

    At that time, a large proportion of the American population did *not* believe that “the Negroes” were “persons possessing dignity as creatures made in the image of God.” Some considered Black Americans lesser persons or partial persons or potential persons whom the White man was called to raise up into civilization, and quite a few others really did see them as no more than chattels. Scientific racism was rampant, clothing their inhumanity to fellow man in the garb of intellectual respectability. We see this same dynamic today in the abortion debate. And you seem to be saying that our response to this dynamic should not be to take *correct* the timidity of the post-Reconstruction Congresses, but to *double down* on it, by disclaiming the power to enforce equal rights altogether — indeed, that “Criminalizing abortion is the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas.” One wonders what you

    You’re correct that criminalizing abortion is likely to cause a great deal of painful upheaval, and that many people who sincerely regard their actions as justified and even mandated by their religion may face penalties they consider insanely unjust. The history of African-Americans after the criminalization of slavery proves this point again and again! It was chaos! There was immense suffering on all sides! White supremacists (many of whom had a sincere religious belief, however deranged, that whites were the superior race called to rulership over all others) faced penalties they considered insanely unjust! But I do not think that “criminalizing slavery was the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas.” As a matter of fact, despite all that turmoil, I think criminalizing slavery was one of our best ideas.

    This is not a direct refutation of your argument. However, I think any argument that could have been deployed in favor of the Dred Scott decision and against the 13th Amendment and Reconstruction is *probably* a very bad argument. While all arguments should be explored to their roots, any arguments with these consequences should be approached with *extreme* caution.

    (Since this is a Catholic page, I suppose it is worth noting that, while Catholic teaching about criminalizing desecration of the Eucharist is somewhat ambiguous in the wake of Catholicism’s pluralist revolution in the 20th century, the Catholic teaching about criminalizing abortion is not at all ambiguous: CCC 2272 says that the civil society and political authority affirmatively *must* protect “every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.” It is not immediately obvious how this is compatible with the argument you make here. I shall leave it to the Catholic Church to explain why it is more protective of the unborn than its own Blessed Sacrament, although I suspect the answer lies in its distinction between the natural law and the divine law.)

  12. Please wake up. Criminalizing abortion is not some stupid crackpot idea that “MAGA cultists” came up with. Even though they, in particular, might be really stupid and imprudent in their actualization of it, this is actually Ordinary Magisterium. Since you are Catholic, can you at least have the honesty to say, “I think the magisterium is wrong here”?

    I completely agree that we must reduce the causes of abortion, including eliminating poverty, accompanying families in their difficulties, etc. So please don’t call me a MaGA Cultist. I did not vote for Trump. I think he was a terrible president. But just addressing the causes of abortions is not enough. Each unjust law (such as laws allowing abortion) are a speech act, and they are an untrue speech act. They tell everyone who is listening that the unborn don’t matter, that their lives are less than worthless. So yes, we must criminalize abortion, We can do that without punishing the woman. But you are wrong when you say that making abortion illegal is a mistake. We can do it without turning this into a witch hunt. But I trust the Magisterium here, which says:

    (All of the following are quotes from Pope St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae)

    “The State is no longer the “common home” where all can live together on the basis of principles of fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant State, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenceless members, from the unborn child to the elderly, in the name of a public interest which is really nothing but the interest of one part. The appearance of the strictest respect for legality is maintained, at least when the laws permitting abortion and euthanasia are the result of a ballot in accordance with what are generally seen as the rules of democracy. Really, what we have here is only the tragic caricature of legality; the democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations: “How is it still possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is the most unjust of discriminations practised: some individuals are held to be deserving of defence and others are denied that dignity?” 16 When this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the State itself has already begun. To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom: “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34).”-
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    “By the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.”

    ******
    “In the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, John XXIII pointed out that “it is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected, co-ordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily. For ?to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority’. Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force”.94

    72. The doctrine on the necessary conformity of civil law with the moral law is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church. This is clear once more from John XXIII’s Encyclical: “Authority is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees enacted in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience…; indeed, the passing of such laws undermines the very nature of authority and results in shameful abuse”.95 This is the clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who writes that “human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence”.96 And again: “Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law”.97″
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    “While public authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which-were it prohibited- would cause more serious harm, 92 it can never presume to legitimize as a right of individuals-even if they are the majority of the members of society-an offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and under the pretext of freedom. 93”

  13. “So I conclude that with the issue of criminalizing abortion we are bound to a course similar to that we must pursue with the Eucharist: we work to persuade, not to rely on force and fear to compel. Criminalizing abortion seems to me to be analogous to criminalizing disbelief in the Real Presence. There are some things that simply cannot be forced.”

    Not convinced by the analogy. We understand that abortion is wrong via Natural Law. I was against abortion before I was even a baptized Christian (though one might say that the remnants of a Christian worldview did form my initial understanding–fair enough).

    As a thought experiment: Would you give the same argument if we lived in a world in which a certain race was persecuted as inferior, and almost everyone (except for some Christians) believed that they were inferior and shouldn’t have any rights? Would you say, “We should just accept what everyone else says about this race, that they’re inferior, and just work within the bounds of this unjust system to try to improve their plight, without forcing laws on people who won’t accept them?” We fought a freaking Civil War over slavery, and it was worth it, even though it took 100 years for the feds to even really start giving Black people rights. To our shame, too many Christians (and Catholics) were behind the curve on that issue.

    Please stop making abortion into a religious issue. You wouldn’t have “Atheists for Life” and stuff like that unless rights for the unborn were bound up in common sense and rooted in scientific truths that can be ascertained.

    Yes, desecrating the Eucharist is bad, but it doesn’t hurt God. Jesus doesn’t wince in pain when someone crushes the Eucharistic species. The main sin is the sin of scandal, and the damage that the person sinning does to their own conscience. But I think Jesus is more worried about how we treat other human beings than that some fragments of the Eucharist might accidentally fall to the floor and not be noticed.

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