Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Abortion and reducing time limits: helpful links
A quick post as much to give myself a convenient place for links to chase these issues up as anything else...
Anyone following some of the main Catholic blogs recently will have seen a debate around the reduction of time limits for abortion. As it is clear orthodox Catholic teaching that human life starts at conception and the direct, intended killing of such a life is always wrong, the debate has not centred on whether a reduction in some sense would 'solve' the problem of abortion, but rather, given this clear prohibition on abortion, whether Catholics in good conscience can support a reduction in time limits which would leave abortion otherwise legal.
In essence, the problem is one of, on the one hand, a possible reduction in lives lost, versus, on the other, possible co-operation with the morally wrong act of abortion.
Apart from the underlying theological and philosophical issues here, much of the discussion has centred on the authoritative teaching, Evangelium Vitae (EV) particularly the interpretation of section 73, paras 2 and 3:
In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.
Now my reading of this is that the general prohibition in para 2, is then nuanced by para 3: Catholic legislators can vote for more restrictive legislation on the grounds that this does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.
Paul Priest (in a discussion on Catholic and Loving it) has drawn my attention to a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 'Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons' (here) which contains the gloss on EV 73 in section 10:
If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality”, on condition that his “absolute personal opposition” to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.(18) This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.
My reading of this is that it simply confirms the general teaching of EV 73 but applied in the specific context of same sex marriage (ie it isn't intended to clarify, but merely repeat the general principles). That said, I read it as making the same point that I have already noted: a vote for 'a more restrictive law' (EV) must be understood, ceteris paribus, as an attempt to repeal that original law rather than voting for whatever abortions remain after the new restriction ('it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment' (CDF)).
So that's my understanding so far. And that understanding, that voting for a reduction in the age limits for abortion is ceteris paribus licit, is the understanding held by (eg) John Finnis. Online materials which support a similar line are:
Luke Gormally: (see section 5) 'Personal and social responsibility in the context of the defence of human life:
the question of cooperation in evil' (here)
Angel Rodríguez Luño Evangelium Vitae 73: the Catholic lawmaker and the problem of a seriously unjust law.(Here)
Against that interpretation is the line that EV 73 3 has to be understood more restrictively. It does not support a fresh law with reduced limits (but still some abortion) because that is forbidden by the clear prohibition of section 73 2: it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it". The permissions of 73. 3 are restricted to simple repeal (either of the whole law or particular clauses) or for separate measures which might restrict the harms without endorsing abortion. Arguments along this line can be found at:
Paul Priest's blogpost: 'Abortion limits a truly moral response' (here).
James Hanink 'Abortion, Prudence, and Solidarity' (here (PDF))
Michael Baker 'Mnsgr Luno's view of EV 73' (blogpost here).
Clearly, there are other, more scholarly works available off line: the above is simply an attempt to provide some serious reading which is available online. Secondly, I've tried to focus on just one issue: the interpretation of the Magisterial teaching contained in EV 73. There are other theological and philosophical issues at stake, and it may well be that if (as I believe) a vote for reducing time limits in abortion law would in principle be licit, there may other considerations that make it either in fact illicit or imprudent.
Anyway, hope I've set out the issues on both sides reasonably fairly. Please feel free to provide further links in any comments. I'm probably going to duck out of any discussion for a while a) because other duties call and b) I've got as far with the above as I think I can and I need to read and think about the issues while engaging with other literature (eg Colin Harte's book Changing Unjust Laws Justly).
(And that was supposed to be a quick post...Eeek!)