Abortion and the Slippery Slope

 There are some people—and I am one of them—who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them. —G.K. Chesterton, in Heretics

Unrepented unethical positions have extensive, almost logically connected, consequences. I emphasize “unrepented” unethical positions, since anyone can lapse into evil actions and soon repent. But, for example, a student who cheats habitually and unrepentedly on tests may require some intense honesty training in later life when it comes to business dealings, filing income tax returns, etc. And it is difficult to imagine an inveterate bully in school magically becoming an unassuming, fair, cooperative boss or community leader later on.

Similarly, among our acquaintances we meet persons who are for unrestricted access to abortion; and we may think, well, we may be able to get together with them on other values that we share. But the possibilities of sharing may be severely limited.

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What would be the probable ethical implications of someone favoring elective abortion? I specify “elective” abortion, because the three exceptions (rape, incest, and threat to the mother’s life, usually identified as “therapeutic” abortion) complicate the issue, since they bring in considerations of conflicts of rights (see my earlier article on that aspect); and because if we focus only on strictly elective abortions, we are considering an area about which over 70% of Americans are in agreement. In these three sad cases, women who would never consider abortion might be motivated to abort.

Support of abortion is multi-faceted, involving a spectrum of motivations, however.

If the purpose of a supporter is to recognize the right of women “over their own bodies” (as if their offspring were just part of their body), they are implicitly granting to pregnant women a “license to kill” (like agent 007 James Bond). Assuming the right over life and death, they are assuming the prerogatives of the Creator, thus in effect trumping His rights. Can religion or even belief in God coexist with this assumption?

If, on the other hand, one is  “personally opposed,” but has no objections to others aborting, the implication must be that they actually don’t have any moral qualms about killing offspring.  They are not interested themselves in having abortions, maybe because they want to have heirs, or they just enjoy kids, or they have a narcissistic yen to see concrete extensions of themselves.  But if they had any moral objections, they should be willing to apply the principle in general. If it’s wrong for them, it’s wrong for others, too. Otherwise, they would be favoring a relativistic morality, in which it is impossible to say what is right or wrong.  They could not even claim to be “personally against” because relativists are not consistently against any immoral practice. To paraphrase Kierkegaard: if it is sad to see persons hobbling around because of physical handicaps, it is even sadder to view people walking about without a conscience.

There may be a few who would be willing to actually destroy the baby themselves, possibly dumping it into a toilet or a trash container. But presumably, most humans would never be willing to do the action by themselves; rather, they will leave it up to “professionals”—after the manner of bosses who hire “hit men” to do their dirty work. This implies that the same person, following the same line of thought, would not have any qualms about doing damage to someone they don’t like, or would like to get rid of—as long as they could get someone else to carry out the messy work for them.

Since abortion essentially has to do with eliminating small humans who are weak, susceptible to certain diseases, or unproductive, this attitude will necessarily carry over to those elderly who are similarly weak, handicapped, etc.  A person committed to such elimination would consistently be willing to eliminate elderly persons considered useless. An elderly person may not want to entrust “power of attorney” to certain pro-choicers.

If one chooses to abort only females, or only certain minorities, or only babies with possible physical or mental deficiencies, we would be naive to believe this prejudice would not enter into their social and political calculations in everyday life. If you are female or a member of one of the most aborted minorities, or with physical or mental handicaps, you may not be able to expect fair treatment from certain pro-choicers.

If the abortion supporter is an idealist who just wants to avoid overpopulation by poor people, and assure a better living for the survivors, we will not be surprised if he or she shows a certain amount of disregard for the overcrowding poor, and tolerance of decrepit conditions, as well as habitual action to bolster his or her own enhanced quality of life.

If they are voters and want to promote “social justice” by always voting for the Democratic Party (for which “social justice” requires furtherance of abortion throughout the world) they are denying, in their unthinking and robotic party fidelity, the most basic principle of social justice, the right to life. “Other issues” like immigration, minority rights, and building homes for the underprivileged cannot trump millions of murders. Even the Democrats for Life in America (DFLA) refused to endorse Barack Obama in 2012 because of his clear pro-abortion stance. Adherence to a political party can never override basic moral obligations of a voter in a democracy.

If they are Catholic politicians, following the lead of dissenting Catholic theologians and priests, they are abdicating Catholic beliefs as representatives of Catholicism—which is a strange and contradictory place to be in.

What if we, in decisions about who we are to entrust our children for child care, or for elementary or high school education, or even college education, were to take someone’s position on abortion to be a telling factor? Or even if we were just choosing a fellow volunteer to work with indigents or on areas of women’s rights? Or even if we were just thinking of getting married, and took into account our prospective spouse’s position on abortion.  Would this be considered a hate crime? In Canada now, there is that danger.  Perhaps also here?

On the other hand, as emphasis on abortion grows and is even mandated by the powers that be, and the moral atmosphere becomes murkier and murkier, many “unrepentants” may begin to feel remorse for the first time, like Lady Macbeth, and cry, “Out, damn spot!”


  • Howard Kainz

    Howard Kainz is professor emeritus at Marquette University. He is the author of several books, including Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).

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