Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Re: Abortion—Question #1. Morality and Legality

It's been years since I last broached the subject of abortion on this blog. I tend to avoid the subject because the debate over abortion gives me headaches. I hate that the debate often is cast as a struggle between two rigid ideologies; and I hate that people on both sides of the debate often refuse to acknowledge their opponents' legitimate concerns. Still, abortion is an issue that never seems to go away (as evidenced by the recent controversy surrounding Notre Dame offering an honorary degree to President Obama), and it's an issue that I often find myself thinking about.

Since I don't have strong opinions on this subject, I won't bother you with my thoughts. Instead, I'd like to ask some questions to get a better sense of what's at stake in this discussion. Here's my first question:

If one opposes abortion on moral grounds, must one also believe that abortion should be illegal?

The short answer is "no," because a significant number of people believe that abortion is "taking of a human life" but that it should nonetheless be legal. And I know people who take this position. So maybe I should ask: Is the wrong-but-legal stance ethically tenable? Why, or why not?

I ask in part because Catholic politicians who are denied communion because of their views on abortion usually are reprimanded not because of their stance on the morality of abortion but because of their stance on the legality of abortion. (For example, one of these targeted politicians, John Kerry, said during a 2004 presidential debate that he felt that abortion was immoral but that it should be legal on constitutional grounds.) I also ask because I take the wrong-but-legal stance on other moral issues. For example, I am ethically opposed to gambling but do not advocate criminalizing gambling. (I do, however, oppose state-sponsored gambling and understand that state funding also comes into play in the abortion debate.) Obviously, abortion is a more serious and more legally complex issue than gambling.

So that's my first question. If I get some good answers to this one, more will follow.


Blogger Matt Wittlief said...

Well, it will probably not be much of a surprise (if you read anything that I write) to know where I stand. But, in interest of keeping the discussion alive, I will offer.

Simply, morality does not equal legality. Law walks hand-in-hand with force. Laws cannot be enforced without the use of force. Hence, equating morality and legality would imply immorality must be rectified with force.

Morality is subjective. Law is not. You and I surely share a great deal of common beliefs on morality. But is my version of morality better than yours? Is yours better than any other random human being? Of course not.

It is a great shame that any moral principle which does not violate the basic rights to life, liberty or property of another human being would ever be subject to legislation by the state - the only entity who can legally use force to violate one's aforementioned rights.

6:22 PM  

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