A friend wrote to me this morning asking for my opinion about the new law in Ireland allowing abortion. This is a difficult one to approach, being a priest in a conservative Church. Objectively, abortion involves the destruction of human life, in the same way as euthanasia or executing a condemned criminal, or yet “ethnically cleansing” a part of the world by genocide. Man is rarely as hypocritical as when considering death.
Over the past forty or so years, there have been cases of right-wing conservative people, motivated by some aspiration to theocracy, who will demonstrate outside abortion clinics and occasionally cause destruction. We have come a long way since a woman was guillotined in France in the 1940’s for aborting foetuses of women in the tragic situations that drove them to such desperate measures. It has become a political issue like many others, and involves fanatical and single-issue thinking.
I once saw the film The Cardinal, in which the young Fr Fermoyle is brought to make a decision for his young sister who had to face an abortion or die in childbirth. The weight of this decision brought the young priest to take a rest from his vocation to work out his guilt for causing his sister’s death (because he refused to allow the abortion). We are often told by anti-abortionists that women choose abortion lightly and from their looseness of morals. Does any woman go through something like this for mere convenience or expedience? There are many situations in moral theology where hard choices have to be made by analysis of the finis operis of the act. Sometimes, no amount of reasoning will relieve human tragedy.
I have read a little about the Loi Veil of 17th January 1975 in France removing the illegality from abortion and creating the possibility for it to be done according to hygienic surgical procedures. I do believe that Simone Veil (1927 – 2017) had a very fine moral assessment of the issue. Making something legal doesn’t necessarily mean that it ceases to be wrong morally. Sometimes, something that is morally wrong can be justified in extreme circumstances.
“Abortion is a drama and will always remain a drama”. The law of 1975 removed the hardship and risks from illegal abortion, and the expense of having it done in England. According to Mme Veil, I quote:
I say it with all my conviction: abortion must remain the exception, the ultimate recourse for situations without a way-out. But how to tolerate it without it losing this character of exceptionalism, without society appearing to encourage it? I would like first of all to make you share a conviction of a woman – I’m sorry to do it in front of this Assembly that is almost exclusively made up of men: no woman resorts to abortion light-heartedly. You only have to listen to the women. It is always a drama and will always remain a drama. This is why, if the project which is presented to you takes into account the existing de facto situation, if it admits the possibility of a termination of pregnancy, it is to control it and, as much as possible, to dissuade the woman from it.
Abortion needs to be seen not as a political issues involving fanatical reactions, but a calm reflection on humanity and moral conscience. It involves an unborn baby and a women in a tragic situation in her life. The woman may seem to be claiming a right to freedom from the pregnancy that has been imposed on her (sex outside marriage, rape, etc.), but is confronted with the reality of having her child killed. Where do the woman’s rights end and where do the child’s rights begin?
In a civil society where theocracy does not prevail, laws cannot always follow moral principles of right and wrong. They sometimes have to be adjusted for pragmatic considerations. The abortionist woman in France who was guillotined was another life that was snuffed out – but I am not writing about capital punishment (which I oppose).
The right answer is not always a simple matter. Anyone who has been involved in the care of women in this kind of situation will be aware of the tragedies suffered by the women themselves and their families. Many women who have abortions bitterly regret their decisions. Mme Veil did not see abortion as a right to be used lightly or callously, but something that should be very exceptional. In most cases, there are certainly ways of helping the mothers concerned by an “unwanted” pregnancy. There is the accouchement sous X (anonymous birth), allowing a woman to abandon a newly born baby legally to the services of the State, which will then offer the baby for adoption. There may be other ways to help the single mother keep the baby through social security benefits.
If it does not prohibit any more, it does not create any rights to abortion – Mme Veil
Many conservatives saw the Veil law as the thin end of the wedge, leading to abortion on demand and a banalisation of evil, which has certainly happened in many cases. For Mme Veil, the notion of “distress” was a prerequisite for abortion – and now, some women get aborted because having a baby isn’t a part of her lifestyle!
Where is the line drawn. We find the same dilemma with euthanasia, seeing a depressed woman being given a glass containing a liquid by a doctor, and lying down and dying. We are always revolted by death, our own like that of other people. Should life be cheap, so that something like Nazism becomes acceptable? Should we return to guillotining the old lady with a coat hanger in Paris who was caught? Somehow, the hypocrisy has to be taken out of the equation.
The problem with law is that it is equal for all, but we are not all equal or in the same situations of life. Perhaps, abortion and euthanasia should remain illegal, but judges and juries should be given more powers and help in discerning things from a moral and human point of view.
Human life is sacred, but I don’t have all the answers. Death, especially our own, is not the end of all – if we are believers or simply recognise that life and consciousness precede matter. We can discuss these issues, but I hope from a point of view of moral humanism and a real aspiration for the good and the beautiful.
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Addendum: I found this article by Peter Hitchens: Its Hour Come Round At Last? Reflections on the Abortion Referendum in Ireland.
His thought and mine largely concur. Abortion is objectively wrong, because it is the wilful killing of a human being. The problem is that the “discussion” is not about the foundation (human life, morality) but about words being hurled around with anger. Like all the other “hot button” issues, like homosexuality and gender dysphoria, abortion and shrill feminism become fashionable, aspects of groupthink. Nietzsche would certainly have had something to say. I see the parallels with Robespierre and the Terror of 1793, a new form of Jacobinism, something murderous and very ugly. The reaction of the Romantic is the same, leave the noise and violence behind and seek transcendent truth and beauty from the point of view of the individual person and consciousness.
What this is all about is not really women going to see a specialised surgeon to have her pregnancy ended, but about the hot-button words being hurled against each other. 1966 in England was like France in 1975, the easing of the law for a few desperate girls who got raped or deceived by a man who wanted sex but no responsibility. Now, it is about abortion on demand for flippant pretexts like “lifestyle”. “Pro-choice is a “sacrament” of the cultural revolution ideology, the new Robespierre. It creates a feeling of solidarity. “Pro-life” is the same thing from the conservative religious camp a way to make the faith relevant in this world of noise and slogans.
The reflection on utopianism is interesting, and I am not entirely with Hitchens. I think people can aspire to live an alternative life and still bring up children and honour life. We can’t generalise too much. He seems to draw something of a dualistic choice between moral dissolution in “hippie” camps and suburban commuter life that depends on authority and obedience.
We need to get to the content of things, and not merely slogans and words. I do think that if we are going to promote life, we need to support a notion of meaning of life, of spiritual consciousness, of a departure from materialism. You can’t ask people to obey a God they don’t believe in. There needs to be a whole foundation before people can be asked to form their lives around the family and children.
The way to easy and convenient consumer abortion is a major evil of our time, and a symptom of the dissolution of the spiritual world view.
I’m interested in what kind of ideal society requires the easy disposal of unborn babies, regards making that action easier as a subject for public rejoicing, and loves it so much that it seeks to spread the idea to its neighbours.
In the first part of this article, I showed my disappointment in the “pro-life” movement and how it is associated with theocratic conservative politics. The abortion party is just the opposite, and just as blinded by its own ideologies and groupthink.
My own marriage is childless, but not for lack of good will or the desire to accept new life into the life of the marriage. Doubtless, had we had children, we would have had to live in a more “suitable” house, have the job needed for a much higher income and fit into a world in which I feel totally alien. In the early years, my wife became pregnant, but it ended with a miscarriage – a “natural abortion”. The foetus was probably deformed to such an extent that it could not survive the womb, let alone birth and life. It died and was expelled by the miscarriage. It was bitter to see the hope of a son or daughter go this way. On another side, it spared me a great deal of suburban and urban conformity in a world where I am a stranger. This bitter-sweet event formed a whole new way of thinking about everything. It was even an element of my self-knowledge and awareness of my own wounds and differences. To this day, our lost foetus has a name engraved on a pendant worn on a necklace. I have no descendance and my only heirs will be those who benefit from whatever I can create and the few possessions I have.
How someone can set out and induce what happened to us accidentally is beyond belief. A person who deliberately deprives herself of the gift of life and descendance is incomprehensible outside the extreme cases mentioned elsewhere in this posting. There are these tragic cases of the past, evoked by Mme Veil, meriting merciful treatment by the law, but this is something totally different.
All the distinctions made, this is a serious and grave moment in European history, and perhaps another reason why Islam and its iconoclasm are the future that will seal our tomb as a civilisation.
The next country will be Poland. Poland already has an openly homosexual and atheist mayor, a candidate for the 2020 presidential election. I’ve no doubt that with his textbook left-wing agenda, abortion will be on the cards for the Poles in just two years. Maybe sooner.
Perhaps my judgement is affected by this subject as a political agenda that goes with trans-sexualism and same-sex marriage. Everything becomes fashionable like tattoos, piercing and hard rock “music”. I look at everything from a philosophical and moral point of view, and I eschew conflict and polemics. It is better to avoid these conflicts that become a new form of Jacobism, people behaving like machines, and deal with people with various issues in their lives on an individual basis (as I do as a priest).
I think you might be pleasantly surprised at how romantic and philosophical a lot of heavy metal music can be.
Maybe, and I have seen parallels between hippies and postmoderns and Romantics like Keats, Byron and Shelley. Perhaps I am too Germanophile to see everything through such a high volume of violent sounds and rhythms. Maybe for others, but not me.
I see these things as an apocalyptic agenda. I don’t mean by that that ordinary, pro-choice people are necessarily “evil.” People make informed choices and have their own opinions, even if these opinions are suggested to them by others in a kind of tribal groupthink. What worries me, though, is the kind of sophistry with which these opinions are explained. People can then develop horrific beliefs based on the most reasonable arguments, and just not realise that their views are abominable. “It isn’t really human, it’s a blob of jelly;” or “It looks human, but it’s only a Jew,” &c, &c.
Ancillary to my work in the pharmaceutical industry was a conversation on this topic with an internal medicine specialist who had taken his medical degree in the UK, prior to the legalisation of abortion.
He was a member of his local Anglican Church of Canada parish. We were discussing the differences between the Anglican Church of Canada liberal attitude to such social justice concerns to those of the Anglican Catholic Church.
He was very clear as to his position, as a young physician, in favour of legislation to legalise abortion. At that time, it was because as a resident physician as he was completing his training, he had, on several occasions, to deal with the sequelae of the backstreet abortionist work which had gone terribly wrong, often leading to a young woman’s death from massive hemorrhage or septicemia.
In effect, this doctor was morally against the concept of abortion, but, at the very same time, he was also morally against the criminal acts perpetrated by these backstreet practitioners, whilst understanding the social alienation suffered by the young woman who ‘made a mistake’.
One difficulty with this debate has been the inability of the two opinions to be reconciled in any way: there is simply no place for compromise: as we have seen in this decision in Ireland, the old law which has become discredited by this referendum had attempted such a compromise, but it had proved inadequate to both sides of the argument.
We are seeing the end of humanism, even Christian humanism, and a world of angry slogans and hot-button words, the end of history, the end of thought, the end of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. If love, poetry and dialogue have no place in such a world, I can only yearn for death and release!
Attempts at reforming laws in a more liberal direction have failed, so repression and authority are the only way. I did make the point that abortion and euthanasia could remain illegal with judges and juries being allowed more latitude in judging – but that too will be abused. It is the limit of law and authority. We will never have a more human and life-loving world, but only increasing repression and “hyper-Augustinianism”.
The pendulum will swing again, and we can only consider the dystopian novels and films that scare the wits out of us like the Handmaid’s Tale.
Archbishop Haverland posted this article by Rod Dreher on Facebook, on the same topic: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/a-hard-future-for-traditional-christianity/
There have been similar comments in New Directions, of the future persecution which those who hold ‘orthodox’ Christian beliefs might expect, given the ‘liberal’ trend we see in civil governance.
The article is interesting. We can’t respond to the future tyranny with hatred and noise. A part of the Benedict Option is accepting the fact that the Church is not a theocracy with a repressive “secular arm”. Those who choose to demonstrate and raise their voices have consequences to accept. Some things are not worth dying for…
I’ve never read Rod Dreher myself. Perhaps I’m cynical about a man ready to cash in on the retreat of the Church from public life…
His Benedict Option was recently given to me, and it’s waiting to be read. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am always open to new ideas, but I do see Dreher as being very American. How would you see (which) Church engaged in public life?
I get the sense that Dreher would be happy with a repressive theocracy if it were achievable. His retreat comes from the recognition that it is no longer achievable. There is a lot of confusion here between a loss of hegemony/ influence and active persecution by secularism. Of course the latter does exist but Christianity’s declining relevance owes mainly to its gross accommodation to bourgeois life (faithless lover) and the prevailing materialism.
Which is why many of us left the ‘established churches’ to join the ‘continuing Anglican’ churches.
In America at least, most “conservative” or “traditionalist” churches have entrenched themselves in some other variant of bourgeois ideology. It seems the people who rail the most about the liberal corruption of Christianity are themselves wedded to some other version of liberalism. As Berdyaev said, “When a time revolts against eternity, the only thing to set against it is genuine eternity itself, and not some other time which has already roused, and not without reason, a violent reaction against itself.”
It has to an extent happened in England in the traditionalist and conservative circles. In France, the conservative / liberal dialectic is most polarised. As I said to my wife a couple of days ago, if I were not a priest – a layman – I don’t think any church in France would attract me other than abbeys like Fontgombault. A thought came into my mind, which I must develop. The World of Ideas (the real England – which is my country of origin) can only be perceived by individual persons. Collective humanity only perceives the “reality” of this world which is materialistic and inhuman. I was thinking of Plato, and this thought sprouted from it. Whenever I think of England, it isn’t the country, but a part of heaven, that secret garden in which I live in my mind. The Kingdom of God begins within each one of us, which alone can bring a little community into communion. The political theocracy is collective and only sees this world, the “world” eschewed by St John and Christ and so many others. Now you see why I talk so much about the Romantic world view, which did wonders at the turn of the 19th century and can do now.
There is a church in my hometown that gives care packages to women who keep their babies, and thus become single mothers. Theirs is a good example. I respect Mr. Dreher and support the BenOp, but does anybody else have a hard time reading his blog anymore? It got too toxic for me, and I used to check daily. And if he’s right, we need policy solutions. Now. Instead, people rant about problems they won’t live to see: Their children and I could suffer the nightmare they put in our heads, with no advice for the future. “The Blue Flower,” as it has been described here, sounds like it could articulate solutions. How is progress, Father Chadwick? How does one subscribe?
My article for The Blue Flower has been held up by some quite heavy-duty translating orders, and I am preparing for a week’s sailing in Brittany culminating with a gathering sailing up the Aulne to Châteaulin. There’s a lot of Breton folk music and a lot of us wearing the traditional striped marinière (what the stereotype Frenchman wears with his beret and baguette). I will also wear my tricorne as I exclaim “Shiver mi timbers, mi hearties!“.
I aim to finish my article in the next week or so. I have one article from a brother priest and I am waiting for something from my philosopher medical doctor friend in England. I hope to base publication on the two solstices each year.
It will be available in pdf format for download free of charge on a web server, before I get some ideas together of the interest in it and possibilities for printing and charging just enough to break even with expenses.
Peter Hitchens (thank you for the link, which includes his own link!) writes, “I just think it’s a pity, but not a surprise, there are not more of them [“left-wing opponents of abortion”].” In various ways I think it is a surprise that there are not more atheist, socialist, assorted ‘liberal’ and ‘left-wing’ opponents of procuring miscarriages (which, as you well observe, is what is at issue – Dutch uses the Latin ‘abortus provocatus’). For, e.g., an old ex-Catholic, in many ways virulently anti-Catholic atheist biologist friend was thoroughly in agreement with Peter Hitchens that “The RC Church is right about the beginning of life.” If a human individual/individual human/human person has any – what? ”dignity’, ‘value’, ‘rights’ (etc.) how are age/developmental stage/location of any ‘weight’ against some being treated equally? Similarly, in my rather socialistic days I could never see other than that ‘socialism begins with conception’, because ‘society’ does.
And, alas, an experience suggesting “the ‘pro-life’ movement […] is associated with theocratic conservative politics” is a sadly limited one. When I was active in British pro-life groups (two student and one ‘town’) in the 1980s-90s, one of the national leaders was an old anti-Vietnam war activist, who was expecting we’d have to come up for AIDS sufferers in our defence of ‘lives’, another was very interesting about the Methodist roots of Christian socialism in the UK, and among our nationally-promoted guest speakers was a unmarried black feminist atheist socialist who deliberately refused a medical abortion to care for the disabled child she was carrying, and thought there was a lot of racist ‘social eugenic’ abortion being promoted to poor minority women, rather than any sort of (government-funded) help that would give them a real choice.
In order to know what I was recommending, I went through the counsellor-training programme (though only women were allowed to counsel), which was designed to create a space in which women could really choose and be sure they were choosing, with no encouragement to make one choice rather than another (unlike the promoters of profitable abortion), where they were welcomed to come back, if they wanted someone to talk to, after having chosen abortion. In a separate programme, we also provided housing, clothing, food, etc., for (very young) women who chose to have there babies and had nowhere to go, were ‘tossed out’ for daring to make such a decision, etc.
I greatly appreciate such reflections and a historical and sociological context of the problem. Obviously, under an atheistic and materialistic ideology, human life has no meaning or value. We are just “biological machines” (as Stephen Hawking claimed) and it is the duty of the strong to cull the weak and the “Untermensch”. I admire the efforts being made for helping vulnerable women who decide to accept being single mothers – which give credibility to the pro-life movement and opposition to abortion.
I also appreciate your point that “pro-life” is not only a right-wing issue, but is often the aspiration of the minority person to survive with her child in a utilitarian and collectivist world that would snuff out “inferior” life. Thank you for this profound insight.
It’s difficult for me to say how I would envision the Church engaged in public life since I am myself so far removed from life. There is a passage in Tolkien which reads: “‘I’m sorry,’ said Frodo; ‘but I can’t help you, I’m afraid. I think this food would do you good, if you would try it. But perhaps you can’t even try, not yet anyway.”‘ The relationship of Gollum to Lembas is precisely that of most people to the Church; the Gospel just cannot be received by them. Not that I believe that the Church is an esoteric cult, open only to the elect. It’s just that the Church, having retreated from public life in the past hundred years, is no longer a reality for most people. I’ve heard of children on the continent who aren’t even aware of what a church is! A young girl I work with once asked me if all the members of my church were black, because in her mind Christianity is an African religion. This is where we are, and I fear that with persecution it has gone further, and many see the Church as one of many social evils
I suppose this is why I enjoy television programmes like River Cottage, and those historic documentaries by Ruth Goodman. There is something about an agrarian community, back to basics, good food, clean air, hard work, living simply that I find so attractive. I hate almost everything about the world, as it is. I’m sick of fake news, of public immodesty, of most television. I’m sick of celebrities, of seeing black, brown and yellow faces everywhere (and I am not racist), of hearing a multitude of languages spoken on buses and street corners. I’m sick of our bellicose political class, and enforced diversity. I just want to shut it out completely. If I could join or establish a modern day Little Gidding, i would!
In answer to Ryan’s comment about Rod Dreher, I used to be the most appallingly homicidal Papist. I would have set up an Inquisition over night and burnt anyone who disagreed with me! Now I would say that personal beliefs aren’t really that important at all, and that repressing or killing anyone in the name of dogma is morally unjustifiable. I don’t desire theocratic government; I think it’s unnatural and it failed miserably in Ireland. I like to imagine my own Little Gidding as having a common integrity that rises from the community itself, based on a shared love of God’s commandments, rather than a binding, burdensome yoke imposed from above.
I speak from experience about something we can do. Find some way we can work without having to commute to someone else’s business: do something like my technical translating – which needs no more than a computer and internet connection with some special software. We can also make things in a workshop and sell them, make a living as a successful novelist, lot of possibilities to keep some money coming in. With that source of income, you buy a house in the countryside. Some people live in “tiny homes”, caravans and even boats. You might want to be mobile, or fixed in a little cottage on a coast of the Highlands like Ring of Bright Water. Above all, don’t expect anyone to “follow” you or agree with your choice of life.
Also, my wife and I decided to get rid of the TV. We have our computers and internet for news, documentaries, films and other media. Like that, we can filter out the “herd” mentality so decried by Nietzsche.
I’m glad you have mellowed with age and experience of life. If you go for a similar life style as my own (house in a village with some interaction with the world), you need to think about relationships and what your deal is with other people. Remember that if you don’t care about them, they won’t care about you. There has to be give and take, and above all clear communication. Who would want to live in a community with you? Who would you like to have in chapel each day and facing you at meals and doing the chores? Same thing in marriage as in community life. What is your take on individualism / personalism vs. collectivism. Should the person exist for the State, or do you believe in liberty old American style? Not just your own but the freedom of all.
These are big existential questions and it might take decades to sort yourself out.
Your comments.seem to me to be well-grounded in life and in the Gospel.
Tangentially, but perhaps relevantly, someone just introduced me to this:
In how far something like this would be possible today, I don’t know – in the past I’ve encountered one thing and another about houses made available in the United States for a dollar, on condition one undertook to refurbish them to a certain standard within a certain time… is something like that found elsewhere in the world?