A Moral Argument for Abortion
19 May 2011
In the game-changing 1973 Roe v. Wade case, abortion was framed as an issue of women's rights. The women's movement was in full swing, and it was easy to see why women would believe they should have the right to abort an unwanted fetus. But the "rights" frame proved to be an easy target for those who say the termination of a developing human being must be supported by a persuasive moral argument. They have won: a majority of Americans now believe abortion is wrong, perhaps because they think that even a poor moral argument about the termination of a developing human life is better than none at all.
Now, as that majority are working to give their moral views the framework of law, there may (or not) be time for those who want "reproductive choice" and access to safe abortions to reframe and expand their position into a moral argument.
What's most frustrating is that there is a moral framework for abortion that doesn't get the exposure it should because the issue is still framed simply as "a woman's right to choose."
In religion, this moral argument was given its most powerful and adaptable form 120 years ago, in one of the most persuasive essays in the history of Christianity. The Rerum Novarum ("Of New Things"), was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, and updated by the Catholic Church in 1931, 1961, and 1991. Anyone interested in reading one of the most brilliant Christian moral arguments in the past 20 centuries should check it out. ( http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13rerum.htm ).
It's a "quantity of life" versus "quality of life" issue. Mere quantity of life may be sufficient (as far as we can tell) for simpler life forms like bacteria, mosquitoes, and cockroaches. But even by the time we get to rats, too many can destroy much chance for rats to live out their full potential. To many of us, it seems that's just the nature of rats: to be dirty, disease-ridden and vicious. But within decent conditions, that is not the nature of rats at all. They are very popular pets, whose owners describe them as clean, playful, even loving.
With humans, more babies than their environment can support and cherish degrades the quality of life to the point we see in our metastasizing ghettos and for-profit prisons, and in those desperate dwellings where a single mother tries to care for her children, against odds that consign both parents and children to lives that are nasty, brutish and short.