In the last week before an election in which the pro-abortion-choice party will lose a lot of seats, Father Charles Curran delivered a lecture critical of the US Catholic bishops’ approach to abortion in law and in the voting booth.
He doesn’t dispute that abortion is a grave evil, just that the bishops have been approaching it the wrong way: putting too much emphasis on that one issue at the expense of others.
His first argument is over the “speculative uncertainty” about when, precisely, the new member of species homo sapiens is infused with its soul and thus becomes human. “Speculative” is a fancy theological word to mean “theoretical,” and “splitting hairs.” Bottom line: it’s a new, living, separate human being from the moment of conception and will not ever be any other thing. But this point plays into argument number 2.
His next argument is on the issue of whether passing a ban on abortions is “feasible and possible” in our society. The bishops, he says, need to recognize that they risk getting nothing if they only will accept everything. For instance, he says that one could consider that since there is no consensus “in our society,” on when, exactly, life begins, then it is not feasible or possible to expect that this society will accept an outright ban on abortion. In that case, he says, a person is justified in erring on the side of the freedom of the mother rather than the life of the child.
Two problems with this approach:
1) It is unavailable to the Catholic citizen who is called never to make a deal with the devil. The zeitgeist might not recognize that the human person is a new, separate human being from the first moment of conception, but the Church does, and has.
2) It is unavailable to anyone who believes in the foundational principle of our system of justice, i.e., innocent until proven guilty. Even the consistent, honest secularist would recognize that, given the uncertainty about whether or not the contents of the womb are human, the defense of the fetus’s right to her own life trumps the mother’s right to her body.
His third argument flows from what he faultily concluded in his second argument and thus falls for lack of substantial premises.
His fourth argument is that “intrinsic evil” is a moral term and not a legal one, and since the Church isn’t pushing for laws against all “intrinsic evils” (e.g., adultery) she has less standing to call for the outright ban of abortion.
The problem there, of course, is that adultery, prostitution, and other intrinsic evils he may point to are evils one commits against oneself and another person, but they do not result in the death of the other person. So long as the person remains alive, they have the opportunity for repentance and salvation. An aborted child has no such chance, not even for baptism. The injustice done the child far exceeds that done to an illegitimate lover. As far as the grounds for abortion being a subject more worthy of legal attention, as pointed out above, the new human being, since she is a separate, living member of species homo sapiens, she has a right to her own body and her own life and a rightful demand on the mother to nurture her and carry her. And this right supercedes that of the mother to her own body.
In the end, with the Catholic vote swinging in historic proportions toward the party that far more consistently defends life at all stages, I don’t believe Father Curran’s “sophisticated and complex” argument will sway many. Sure, it’ll give more fireproofing to the consciences of some Catholyc politicians like Nan Pelosi, but no one who actually believes in the Catholic Church.
Bottom line: if we don’t have the right to life, no other rights matter. If a new human being cannot be guaranteed that she will be allowed to grow unmolested by her mother and her mother’s doctors, what other rights will ever matter?
Oh, and the cardinal-designate who runs the highest tribunal in Rome also recently weighed in on this, not in Father Currans favor.