Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Demand and Without Apology

A few years ago, when John Roberts was being considered for his present post on the Supreme Court, I attended a rally organized by a friend of mine. The purpose of this rally was to demonstrate opposition to Mr. Bush's nomination of Roberts. (Since I live in Illinois, there was little question that the senators would vote against Mr. Roberts, but the point of the rally was to register popular disapproval of the policy considerations inherent in Mr. Bush's nomination....I do not, here and now, argue about the rightness of infusing policy considerations into the selection of Supreme Court nominations, although any qualms I may have obviously did not prevent me from attending the rally.)

At the rally, a man walked around and carried a big sign that said "Abortion on Demand and without Apology," apparently in reference to the threat that Mr. Roberts posed for abortion rights. That sign bothered me and the attitude it expressed bothers me still.

As a matter of policy, I support "abortion on demand." My view--for a variety of reasons I won't go into right now--is that abortion should be the prerogative of the woman who is pregnant and that the state should respect that prerogative.

But "without apology"? I'm certainly not going to insist that a woman apologize to anyone for choosing an abortion, least of all apologize to me. But the assumption behind the words "without apology" appears to me as follows: there is no moral consideration at all in the determination to abort a pregnancy.

I really don't know. I don't know when "life" begins and I don't know exactly when a living thing (for the unborn zygote/embryo/fetus is "living," at least in the sense that it is composed of live cells) becomes an object of moral concern so that one need consider its interests before acting on it. There are many things I simply do not know and I find it hard to believe that anyone could be certain about such matters.

The view implicit in the "without apology" slogan is the same view that paints pro-life people of good will as "misogynists" whose only reasons for questioning the right to abortion are "hatred" and "hypocrisy." The "without apology" view is also the cousin of the extreme pro-life view that paints any supporter of abortion rights as a heartless apologist for "murder."

Abortion is a tricky issue and we can do without professions of certainty.

No comments: