A Victorian bill to decriminalise abortion was recently passed in the Lower House. It must now go to the Upper House for further debate and voting. Along the way a lot of ink has been spilt as to the pros and cons of the legislation. Much of it reflects mushy morality and reckless reasoning.
Consider a piece which appeared in the Melbourne Age recently by Leslie Cannold. She writes regularly for the Age, and is President of Reproductive Choice Australia. Her most recent pro-abortion piece was another mix of convoluted logic and uneasy ethics. The gist of her piece was to argue for a woman’s right to choose abortion, while arguing against the right of politicians to have a conscience vote on the matter.
In truth, it really was quite a bizarre piece. It was so filled with inconsistencies, double-standards and flaws in logic, that one is surprised that the Age would actually pay her to write such nonsense. And she passes herself off as an ethicist as well! But consider her ethics.
Her last paragraph was a real doozey; “With all rights come obligations, and the freedom to follow one’s conscience is no exception. As members of our community, politicians and health-care workers are as entitled as the rest of us to live their lives according to their values. But because they are professionals, these rights come with significant responsibilities, responsibilities that come down to a requirement that those who act from conscience live by the golden rule: do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Here she invokes the golden rule as she urges us all to be pro-death, when it comes to unborn children. Just how exactly is she extending the golden rule to them? She presumably wants all of us to respect her right to life. But she refuses to extend that right to the unborn. So much for following the golden rule, Ms Cannold.
But perhaps the greatest moral somersault and logical leap of faith came in her opening statement: “Denying another’s freedom while exercising one’s own is hypocritical. Is it ever right to use one’s freedom to deny the exact same freedom to others? What if those others are people you are sworn to serve and protect?”
After reading such comments, it becomes clear that ardent believers in abortion won’t allow logic or morality to stand in the way of their ideology. What in fact does every passionate supporter of abortion – including Ms Cannold – actually do? They use their freedom of life to deny others (the unborn) the exact same right: the freedom to live. She has a right to live, which no one should take away from her. But unborn babies can have their lives snuffed out by the likes of Ms Cannold at any time. Such obvious inconsistencies and double standards apparently elude the pro-abortion crowd.
Michael Cook has a good take on all this silliness in a recent article of his own on the topic. This is his assessment of Ms Cannold’s strange understanding of conscience: “As I read on, I suddenly grasped why Ms Cannold was having conniptions. It is because she has redefined freedom of conscience to make it mean something different from what it has meant for 2,500 years. ‘The right to act according to the dictates of our conscience is founded in the value of autonomy,’ she says. ‘Autonomy means self-rule. An autonomous person is one who is free to direct her life according to her own values.’ In short, Ms Cannold is a relativist. The content of the values she describes is utterly personal, making it impossible to test them in a rational debate. Hence, her kind of conscience makes arbitrary, even capricious, choices. It is just a whim, like choosing between Colgate and Ipana, or painting your bathroom Autumn Peach or Twilight Rose, or ordering mango or chocolate chip ice cream.”
He continues, “The traditional view of conscience is quite different. Only a malfunctioning conscience is capricious. A well-oiled conscience makes its choices based on reason and evidence, not on whimsy. Doctors who object to abortion, for instance, regard it as obeying the principle of ‘first do no harm’, especially to the sick and vulnerable. They defend their view with abundant medical, sociological and psychological evidence. They are not imposing their values; they are choosing a rationally-justifiable good. Even the Greeks, long before Christianity, saw conscience as rational act. In the classic argument for obedience to a higher law, Antigone, in Sophocles’ play of the same name, defies the king’s commands when she says: ‘I did not think your edicts strong enough / To overrule the unwritten unalterable laws’. She dies rather than disobey her conscience. I can’t imagine Cannold and the Victorian MPs who voted for this bill dying for their conscience. It makes no sense to be martyred for choosing your favourite ice cream.”
“So, in Cannold’s scheme of things, if values are relative and conscience is irrational, then there is no point in debating about the truth. What matters is seizing the levers of power to impose your own values as fast as possible; in other words, to establish a dictatorship of relativism, which is exactly what pro-choice activists are hoping to do in Victoria. I suspect that this brutal battering of freedom of conscience is part and parcel of the pro-choice ideology. Abortion is hard to justify with facts. It clearly is the taking of an innocent human life. To deny that, your will has to hogtie your capacity for reasoning things out.”
Michael Cook also discusses just why this bill is so bad. Indeed, it helps clarify a headline in today’s Age: “Archbishop in abortion law threat”. The article refers to remarks made by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart that Catholic hospitals might close their maternity and emergency departments if the proposed abortion bill becomes law. This is because of how the freedom of doctors to act according to conscience will be seriously threatened by this bill.
Says Cook, “One of the most objectionable features of this legislation is that it effectively removes doctors’ right to conscientious objection. It requires doctors-who-won’t to refer women to doctors-who-will. Furthermore, ‘in an emergency where the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman’, the doctor must perform it. Some people may regard referring to another doctor as a trivial matter. After all, they say, you won’t be directly involved. But what would happen if a 14-year-old girl requested to be circumcised? Unlikely, perhaps, but possible in certain cultural settings. Would MPs force a conscientious objector to refer the girl to a colleague down the corridor who specialises in genital mutilation? I think not. I suspect that they would regard mandatory referral as an abhorrent violation of a doctor’s conscience.”
He continues, “Of course, the legalisation of abortion is the core of the bill. That is awful enough. But denying freedom of conscience in so transcendental a matter as taking a human life has its own importance. And those who crafted the bill were ruthless in ensuring that there would be no escape. Objecting doctors will have to conform or face the consequences. Surely conscientious objection is a basic human right? For most things, in Victoria, it is. But not for abortion.”
Cook concludes, “No wonder abortion was removed from freedom of expression in the Charter of Rights – because it is rationally indefensible. Its only shield against inquiry and criticism is power. So, that’s the secret of why Victorian MPs don’t give a toss about their constituents’ freedom of conscience. If you accept abortion, you probably don’t believe in truth. And, if you don’t believe in truth, you won’t think conscientious objection is worth the hassle.”
Cook is quite right. The facts on abortion are so clear, and the case against it so strong, that the pro-death crowd has to resort to twisted thinking, convoluted reasoning, and dodgy morality to try to make its case. But baby killing is still baby killing, no matter how it is dressed up or re-packaged.