Abortion and Moral Relativism

I was reading an article on abortion on another website recently. One commentator said about the issue, “At the end of the day, the question of abortion is a subjective question, given that there is no such thing as objective morality.” While it was nice of her to be so candid about where she is coming from, her remark of course is dangerous in the extreme.

Just consider what she is really saying here: morality is subjective – pure and simple. There are no independent, objective standards of morality. There are no universal rights and wrongs that apply to all people in all places at all times.

Instead, according to this commentator, morality is merely a matter of personal opinion, or subjective taste. Some people like thin and crispy pizza crusts, some like thick and chewy. It is just a matter of personal preference. There is no right or wrong opinion about the kinds of pizza one enjoys, and there is no right and wrong when it comes to killing unborn children.

Of course under such an extreme version of moral relativism – where all morality is a matter of subjective tastes – then of course all tastes are of equal value. No one taste can be better than another, because taste has to do with subjective personal preferences and that is all.

So if it the preference of one person to help an old woman walk across a busy street, while it is the preference of another person to push that woman in front of an oncoming truck, that is just the way it is. We cannot say one person was right and another person was wrong. If all morality is subjective, then personal taste rules the day, and there is no independent umpire to say that one preference is better than another.

Such sloppy thinking is not confined to sophomoric bloggers however. Unfortunately politicians running for office often display the same mushy moralising. Remember former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and his famous line, “I personally am against abortion, but I think it should be up to a woman to decide,” or words to that effect?

Recently former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said something quite similar. (What is it about New York politicians? Is it something in the water?) While running for the Republican nomination for President, he has said a number of times that he personally thinks abortion is bad. He has even said he hates it and that it is “morally wrong”. But even though he personally opposes abortion, he does not think it should be legally restricted, and he supports a woman’s “right to choose”.

At least one other commentator besides me finds such reasoning to be awfully silly. Ken Connor, writing in townhall.com (May 20, 2007), takes Giuliani to task for such a morally stunted position. He puts it this way:

“The question that arises is, what makes abortion hateful in Mayor Giuliani’s mind? Why is it morally wrong? If it is simply a medical procedure in which a ‘mass’ is removed from a woman’s womb, what’s so bad about that? Giuliani is certainly suggesting, by saying he ‘hates’ this procedure, that he thinks abortion is more than a typical medical procedure. The fact that he says he is personally against it and feels that it is morally wrong suggests that he knows that abortion ends a human life. Why else would he be against it? But, if Giuliani truly believes that innocent life is destroyed by abortion, then it is odd that he feels there is nothing the government should do about it, or that he would call such killing a ‘woman’s right.’ A right to kill innocent life? Isn’t protecting innocent life a primary responsibility of the government?”

To help understand what is going on here, consider another controversial moral situation: “These are difficult questions, questions Giuliani has rarely been forced to confront. At the recent GOP debate in South Carolina, however, Fox News reporter Wendell Goler tried. He asked the mayor: ‘You have said that you personally hate abortion but support a woman’s right to choose. Governor Huckabee say’s that’s like saying, “I hate slavery, but people can go ahead and practice it.” Tell me why he’s wrong’.”

In response to this question, all Giuliani could come up with was this: “Well, there is no circumstances under which I could possibly imagine anyone choosing slavery or supporting slavery. There are people, millions and millions of Americans, who are as of good conscience as we are, who make a different choice about abortion.” Rudy, puh-leeese. Spare me such foolishness.

Says Connor: “The problem with Giuliani’s answer is obvious. There was once a time in America where millions of people found the choice of slavery not only imaginable, but entirely acceptable. There was also a time in America when few people would have openly said that it is a woman’s right to kill her unborn child. In recent years, however, positions have reversed. Everyone now agrees that slavery is morally abhorrent, but there is plenty of disagreement over abortion. Clearly we should not judge what is right and wrong by shifting public opinion.”

He continues, “Giuliani missed Huckabee’s point. If slavery is morally wrong, then it is always wrong no matter what public opinion polls say. Moral principle demands that we oppose slavery. Likewise, if abortion is wrong, moral principle requires that we oppose it. As Abraham Lincoln said, people do not ‘have a right to do wrong.’ Gov. Huckabee was right; it makes little sense to say you hate slavery but then leave it up to personal opinion.”

Connor concludes, “If Giuliani did believe that slavery should be left up to personal opinion and that the government had no right poking its nose in this area, would this moral lapse be significant enough to call into question his whole candidacy? And if he does believe that thousands of human lives are being systematically destroyed by the abortion industry, but yet is unwilling to stop it, can that sort of moral equivocation be overlooked?”

If moral relativism is true, what one feels about abortion is merely a matter of personal taste, like the kind of pizza one prefers. And slavery will also be just a matter of personal taste. Nice theory, but the reality is far different. Try telling millions of unborn children, or millions of black people, that morality is subjective and there are no moral absolutes.


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