An Apology for the Necessity of Legislating
A familiar red flag commonly raised against those who are seeking to preserve or reinstate strict abortion laws is that they have no right to impose their morality on other people especially on people who question the personal status of the unborn child and who do not regard all persons as worthy of equal esteem. In this regard two sections of a statement distributed recently by the Mountain States Women's Abortion Coalition are illustrative:
The claim that the fetus is a person does not come from science; this idea can only be based on philosophical opinion.
While... the anti-abortion forces have the right to hold the belief that the fetus is a person, and to conduct their reproductive lives accordingly, they have no right to impose this philosophical belief on everyone else in the United States. 1
What have we here? One group (pro-life) is told by another (pro-abortion) that they ought not (because they have no right to) impose their beliefs on other people if those beliefs are based in philosophy but have no basis in the science. Interesting! What might be said in response?
Quite apart from the fact that the personal identity of the unborn child, as previously shown, does have some basis in science as well as in philosophy and theology, the claim that only moral beliefs based in scientific facts may receive the privileged status of moral oughts binding on all people is preposterous. In what scientific fact is this belief about beliefs based? Is not this belief itself based in a particular philosophical viewpoint? And who says that I ought not impose my beliefs on others? Precisely those who say this are imposing their own ought upon me.
I am reminded of a statement in Steinbeck's East of Eden that represents the same philosophical viewpoint:
This I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I would fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. 2
If I might venture a personal reaction to the viewpoint expressed above, I would say that I, likewise, do not wish to unnecessarily limit or destroy the individual; I, too, would oppose any idea, government, or religion that would attempt to do so.
But if someone should say to me that it is wrong for me to hold a particular idea, religion, or government to the exclusion of other particular ideas, religions, or governments because such particular and exclusive ideas, religions, and governments destroy the freedom of the individual, then I would have to say that I believe this man's idea is wrong and inherently contradictory.
Who is right? If the other man says that I am wrong, then he has limited me and has thus disqualified his own idea about ideas.
If he says I am right, then he has disproved his own idea about ideas because his idea is antithetical to mine.
If he says that we are both right because all ideas, regardless of whether or not they are logically contradictory, and acceptable, then I must ask him: "What is going to be your reaction when I tell you that the particular idea I have in mind with regard to you is one that will be personally threatening to you? Suppose I tell you that I have an idea that I must measure your value in terms of how well you function. Therefore since you are sixty-five years old and a detriment to society (by my standards), I have decided to physically dispose of you."
He might respond by saying: "Ah, but such an idea with regard to me proves the destructiveness of entertaining particular ideas to the exclusion of other ideas!"
To which I would have say: "The problem is not with my idea, nor with the particularity of my idea. The problem is that my particular idea is a wrong idea; but there is to it a corresponding right idea, namely, that I should love you as myself. I would not do away with myself for reasons of failure to meet adequacy criteria of others; neither should I do away with you for such reason."
Is it not true, after all, that freedom construed as openended opportunity to do whatever one may wish is in actuality not freedom at all, but enslavement to a kind of arbitrariness that inevitably impinges on the freedom of other men even their right to life?
Does not my freedom to swing my arm end at the tip of another man's nose? Does not my freedom to determine my own morality relative to my body, my reproductive practices, and my personal privacy end at the exact point that such rights begin to impinge destructively on the rights of another person?
Another example of the destructive, philosophically based mentality that pervades the ego-centric pro-abortion movement
came to me as I listened to an attorney from Washington D.C., lecture on "Morals" at a World Affairs Conference at the University of Colorado. Morals, he affirmed, are a good thing, even though they don't really exist. They are a form of public speaking: a discussion of the outward aspects of the deeper inner meanings of behavior. It is good to talk about outward behavior, but not to insist that such public discussion should in any way determine or change what each individual from within himself decided to do or not to do. Morals ought not to interfere with behavior.
Each individual must learn (according to this attorney) to consult his instinct (his inherent mechanism of sex) again. He must look within himself to his own built-in censor and search no further for an ultimate appeal by which to justify his behavior. What he does he should decide to do accordingly to his own instinctual standards, not on the basis of what others say. Not to look within the self and consult the instinct is to denigrate one's own personality and lose oneself as an individual.
As I listened to this attorney speak, some questions arose: Why is he using a forum of public discussion to tell me that I must learn to consult my instinct again when, within his framework of thought, it is illegitimate to base any "ought" on such discussion?
And another question insisted on an answer: Why is this man an attorney at law? Laws have to do with telling people what is right and wrong. How can this man tell me that I am my own god who needs to consult only my own instinct in moral decision-making, and then turn around and tell me, by his very identity as an attorney, that he has a right to insist that the standards of a moral society apply to me?
In a sense I want to agree with the attorney. Morals ought not in and by themselves determine the mores (behavior patterns) of people. But morals do not exist in a vacuum. Morality does not just happen.
What does happen is that people behave in certain ways because they make judgments about that behavior in terms
of some standards they embrace, to which standards they attach the term morals. Behind the morals are principles, which are in turn based upon an ultimate ground, or reality.
Regardless of what the attorney said and regardless of what he may in the future do in his ambiguous position of functioning as an attorney, it is nevertheless a fact that his behavior, like the behavior of everyone else, is governed by a standard that is in turn based upon a principle that is in turn based upon a particular view of reality. In the attorney's case, ultimate reality seems to be nature or physical energy; the locus of moral value (principle) is feeling or awakened instinct; the standard (moral) is to do whatever feels good; the behavior pattern (mores) is a life lived in obedience to the above standard.
And yet, despite what the attorney thinks, does he not act or function as an attorney at law because he recognizes that not all men are naturalists (or perhaps that not all naturalists are rational, which introduces still another standard) and that he must therefore resort to law as a means whereby to enforce his ethic upon others?
The same ambiguity apparent in the philosophy and life of the attorney is manifest in the thinking and actions of many pro-abortionists. They raise stringent objections against those who are seeking to preserve or reinstate abortion laws because, they claim, such laws are an imposition of morality. And they are! But are not the civil rights laws passed in the sixties and fought for by many people in the pro-abortion movement today also impositions of morality? Yet who would deny that an imposition of morality to protect a black man from a white red-neck lyncher is legitimate and necessary?
Morality must be imposed when the actions of one person impinge on the personal welfare of another. Such is clearly the case in abortion. Abortion laws are indeed both legitimate and necessary.
I conclude this argument for the necessity of an imposed morality with a short story.
Once upon a time man decided that there was no God. And all metaphysical inquiry ceased. So some men looked to the natural order (which was all there was left to look to) and said: "Natural is absolute." And the world of scientific facts had sole freedom in the city, though a haunting awareness of a deeper, ultimate reality remained. But then, from close behind them, they heard the voices of other men saying: "We are absolute." And then each man began crying: "I am absolute." And then there was war. And the justification was law, based on consensus. But in the end there was God. And His way was peace because men could agree, by looking to Him, about what was love and how it ought to be shown. And His justification Himself, for He was the beginning as well.
Chapter 7 || Table of Contents
1. From a handbill distributed by the Mountain States Women's Abortion Coalition.
2. John Steinbeck, East of Eden, chapter 13.