Matt C. Abbott
Recently-received readers' e-mails
By Matt C. Abbott
In response to "Pro-life (dis)unity," Terry Carroll wrote:
December 23, 2009
In response to "Pro-life (dis)unity," Terry Carroll wrote:
'I'm with you (I think) on pro-life purity. On principle, I reject 'no abortions except in cases of rape, incest or threats to the mother's life.' I recognize, however, that many who have not thought about this issue deeply balk at the purist approach. Some disagree with the purist approach on principle: They don't recognize the inconsistency of their position, but that's what they believe. Even Billy Graham does not espouse the purist position!
'I also recognize that strategy and principle are two separate things, and I understand that incremental approaches to a goal can have merit without compromising principle. If the offensive strategy of a football team was to throw long passes into the end zone on every play, they wouldn't score as many touchdowns as an offensive strategy that was more incremental.
'Incrementalism doesn't bother me as much as the lack of attention to the 'pure' truth. Perhaps it is good strategy for the bishops to support some kind of Hyde amendment, but I think they should be more explicit that they consider this a strategic compromise. By never acknowledging that exceptions are compromises, it reinforces the validity of these exceptions in the public and Catholic mind. I suspect many faithful Catholics are opposed to abortion except in the typical hard cases, and believe that's what the Church teaches!
'It is vexing to know that the pure truth cannot be legislated, but various compromises can, and that lives are saved through these compromises that would be lost if we waited for the pure truth to be fully known, understood and legislated. So I'm in favor of strategic compromises, but not at the expense of speaking the pure truth and acknowledging that what we are supporting are compromises.
'Catholic teaching on abortion does not admit of exceptions. Yes, I understand the principle of double effect, but that isn't an exception. It is never permissible to attack the life of an unborn child. It is, however, permissible to attempt to save the life of a pregnant woman in a manner that may endanger the life of her unborn child (chemotherapy, for example). A mother may choose to refuse treatment that would endanger her child's life, but it's never permissible to attack the pregnancy itself (pregnancy isn't a disease).
'None of these situations are trivial moral issues. I know several women who, because of their pregnancy history, have been advised not to become pregnant again. They've been told that another pregnancy could endanger their lives. If they find themselves pregnant again, after such warnings, I can understand and sympathize with the moral quandary. Just to make you think, consider how some women respond to such medical warnings. One obvious response is to justify (rationalize) abortion. Some very faithful Catholic women justify (rationalize) another response: contraception.
'To the majority of Catholic women who justify (rationalize) contraception anyway, this second response isn't even morally challenging. Having been contraceptive before, being contraceptive again isn't much of a change.
'But consider a third possible response. I once knew a woman who, after a stroke, was partially paralyzed on one side but, more importantly (and interestingly), had lost much of her ability to feel 'affect,' i.e., emotions of happiness or sorrow. She was still able to recognize when it was appropriate to have certain kinds of feelings (laughter, for example), but she was incapable of feeling them. She could know that she loved her husband and that her husband loved her, but she couldn't feel anything in response to that knowledge.
'This created problems in the bedroom. The male ego wasn't able to handle sex without praise (apparently), so this woman's husband divorced her 'because she was no longer able to do things important to a man.' Rather than (what I would prefer) an epiphany that he was now called to love his wife in a new, different and unexpected way, this man felt fully justified in divorcing his wife (with the enthusiastic support of mental health professionals) and finding someone else who could 'do things important to a man.'
'This same challenge (IMHO) presents itself to all couples who have been advised by their doctors to avoid getting pregnant again. Such couples are invited to 'lift their game' to a new level: practice Natural Family Planning, even abstinence. Contrary to the ubiquitous ED commercials on TV, there are an infinite number of ways to tell your spouse 'I love you.' I know concupiscence is real and self-control is almost forbidden in our culture, but God didn't call us to live in Cialis-sponsored bathtubs.
'If God could ask His own Son to die rather than compromise the Truth, there has to be a lesson there for the rest of us. It doesn't mean that incremental strategies are wrong. Our spiritual life, if you think about it, is one long incremental strategy. But we should never hide the full truth behind our incremental strategies. I applaud the bishops for resisting health care proposals that include coverage for abortion. I just wish they would be clearer about the issue of abortion itself. We've been scandalized for decades by a lack of clarity on this issue.
'Concerning graphic abortion pictures, have you noticed that no one thinks it problematic that we can appeal for funds to prevent abuse of animals and use graphic pictures to elicit sympathy? If the same 60-second ads addressed the issue of abortion, even if all they showed were sonograms, there would be riots! Everyone I know finds graphic pictures of dismembered babies to be highly offensive. But maybe that's the point?'
'Regarding your column 'Pro-life (dis)unity,' I would say that the only way that the divisions in the pro-life ranks would be healed, and indeed abortion itself overturned, is when the current earthly human element of the Catholic Church finally begins to act like they believe that abortion is murdering innocent human beings. This entails not only forcefully proclaiming God's revealed and natural law from the rooftops no matter what the cost, but also having bishops wield the tremendous spiritual power with which they are endowed as successors to the Apostles: This includes not only forceful preaching and disciplining of wayward faithful, but also exorcisms of abortuaries.'
'I have fairly regular debates about the use of contraception with both Catholics and Protestants. I always ask them how the propagation of contraception brought on by the sexual revolution of the 60s has worked out. It's pretty obvious that the wide use of contraception has been the catalyst for the sexualization of American society. The negative effect on moral conduct is unmistakable and indefensible — read Humanae Vitae.
'With respect to women who procure abortions, I think some deserve jail time. In order to prosecute these women, we need the objectivity of the law. We need to draw clear legal lines. The key is to drive home, in the public arena, the point that science states human life begins at the moment of conception. If we can get the personhood of a child in the womb established, the rest will follow. I recently engaged a woman who was defending abortion. I asked her if she believed in science and she said absolutely. I pointed out to her that since science has declared that human life begins at conception, doesn't it follow that any woman who procures an abortion is guilty of ending a human life. The conversation moved on to late term abortion, etc., but it was clear that her arguments in front of science were pretty empty.
'With respect to the purist view of abortion verses a gradualist approach, I am a 'purist-gradualist.' Gradualists fall into two camps: those who seize any opportunity to reduce the number of abortions while diligently working to end all abortions (I fall into this camp) verses those who promote gradualist measures but subscribe to the 'seamless garment' philosophy. The latter see abortion as just one of a number of social issues of equal weight; and they rationalize voting for pro-abortion politicians. Gradualists must make clear that while they support any measure that will reduce the number of abortions, the end goal is to stop all abortion. If this isn't made clear, it misleads many into believing that Catholics can accept some level of abortion.'
'Currently in Massachusetts there is an opportunity to reduce Harry Reid's 60-Democratic votes to 59 in January 2010 with the special election of the people's seat, otherwise known as the 'Democratic Ted Kennedy' seat.
'There's been a lively discussion among Christians here in Massachusetts, where I contend we are forced to take what we can in our efforts to return America to its biblical moral virtue from the current state of progressive political correctness. Others will not vote for anyone who is not 100 percent pro-life, as if this in the one and only issue to be considered in 2010. This is not 1776, when America was permeated with biblical moral virtue; it is 2010, where America is permeated with secular progressive political correctness, which means using unrighteous deception and requires a lack of biblical moral virtue.
'What would you advise a pro-life Christian conservative to do January 19? Vote for Scott Brown; vote for Martha Coakley; abstain and let Coakley win because neither are 100 percent pro-life. Abortion rights: Brown says he favors abortion rights but not in late-term cases or when public funding is involved. Coakley favors abortion rights without restriction in late-term cases.'
'Thanks for the article. I have been teaching for almost 30 years and I can't tell you how screwed up the family is now. Nothing surprises me anymore. For parent-teacher conferences, I've had two mommies come in, mother and boyfriend, mother and boyfriend and husband, grandma only, aunt only, father only...it's to the point sometimes where you can't even keep track. We have a woman who has given birth to seven children who have passed through our school, and each child has a different last name because they were fathered by one of her many boyfriends or husbands (now divorced).
'I will tell you that my first experiences of the effects of divorce occurred when I first began teaching on Chicago's east side. The high school I was at had a mixture of about 40 percent Caucasian, 40 percent Hispanic, 10 percent African American, and a 10 percent everything else. Hardest hit in divorce and family breakup at that time (1975) were both the Hispanic and black communities. Just getting out of college, and coming from a solid family background, this was really a shocker for me. Even some of the students who remained in contact with me, and who had divorce in their homes, continue to be effected by it; some were even married several times before throwing in the towel. But they sincerely tried to settle down and have a family. Things just weren't working out.
'As the years went on, things just continued to fall apart for the majority of families I was teaching. It's a sad commentary on our society, believe me. I now teach in an elementary public school, so we get a little of everything.'
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