Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Personhood doesn't matter

I am reading Abandoned by Monica Migliorino Miller. She is a pro-life activist who has been working in the pro-life movement since Roe versus Wade was made law in the US. Dinesh D'Souza says this is "the beat book ever written on abortion."

I can't say the same since I haven't finished reading it, but I am struck by some paragraphs that are echoing in my brain, long after having read them. Miller used to do sidewalk counselling outside an abortion clinic in Chicago with another woman and one Saturday, they were approached by a woman who came out of the clinic. She was working there, welcoming clients who were coming in for abortions or for birth control, etc. She told Miller and her friend that she was a nun and that she did this work because she felt it was important to support women in their choices. It didn't matter which choice they made, it was more important to be there to support them. She was not moved by Miller's statements that the women were choosing to kill their children or by her the question "doesn't that matter to you?", since she had claimed that life was to be held sacred. No, it didn't matter. Here is her reasoning, scary as it is:

When Sister Mary declared,"We have to preserve the freedom to choose," this was not solely political or even feminist jargon. Sister Mary did not mean simply the freedom of a woman to choose abortion. She was referring to freedom in a much broader sense - the freedom to choose what to do for oneself, unconstrained by others or society at large. According to this ethic, the greatest human good is freedom of choice, and the greatest evil is the force that keeps someone from acting upon his or her choice. Thus, when choices are restricted, freedom is compromised. All that matters is the exercise of sheer human will. Human dignity and autonomy cannot be had without it. It seemed the sister was better acquainted with Jean Paul Sartre than St. Francis of Assisi.

This nun, this ex-nun, this run-a-way from the novitiate - whatever she was - had taught me a bitter lesson about abortion. She opened up a philosophy of choice and an argument for abortion that I had not imagined. I had come to believe that the controversy about abortion hinged on whether or not the unborn child was a person. Even the Roe v Wade decision itself had acknowledged that if it could be shown that the fetus was a person according to the meaning of the 14th Amendment then "the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment." Perhaps for many, maybe even the majority of those involved in the abortion war, this continues to be the central issue. But I suddenly felt overwhelmed. Abortion was, after all, about something even bigger than "simply" the right to life. Sr. Mary had revealed to me a whole new dimension to the abortion debate, born perhaps from a Nietzschian world - a world with no God of any kind and no moral standard. The prime value was human liberty and its exercise without restraint, and so, for Sister Mary abortion was a sacrament - Albany her shrine. (Albany was the abortion clinic where 'Sister Mary' worked)

- Abandoned, The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars, by Monica Migliorino Miller

This means that the abortion debate really centers on the division between those who believe and those who don't. Religious faith is what gives most people their moral code; without it, moral relativism decides what is right and wrong. Although there are some atheists and agnostics who act in moral ways, most people who abandon religious faith give in to the belief that anything is alright as long as it doesn't hurt someone else. And, in a world without belief, the "someone else" in the womb simply doesn't matter, even if they are proven to be members of the human race.

I have often thought that what is really needed in our society is religious revival. Those who defend abortion are essentially defending their right to behave in any way they wish. And in order to indulge one's sexual desires, it is necessary to dispense with the Judaeo-Christian moral code, because then one is free from any constraints.

This was certainly evident on Sunday when 8 pro-choice protesters came to our prayer vigil for 40 Days. Queers for choice, LGBT supporters, young adults with shaved heads, multiple body piercings, threatening to engage in sex just to offend us - this is what it has come down to. Christian teaching holds that people abandon God in one of three ways: the world, the flesh, or the devil. And it seems that the flesh is the way to which most people succumb.

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