Abortion: Conscience, Crisis & the Church

Article excerpt

While being held in remand in Glenwood Springs, Colo., awaiting trial for rape and murder, serial killer Ted Bundy inquired about which states were most likely to execute for such crimes. Shortly thereafter, Bundy escaped and went to Florida, where he undertook another killing spree; it was there that he was again caught and finally executed.

Many commentators speculated about possible underlying motives. Perhaps Bundy sought a heightened sense of thrill in committing his crimes where the stakes were higher. But more interestingly, perhaps Bundy knowingly or otherwise wished to be stopped; perhaps he also wished to pay for his crimes.

Criminal-investigation dramas and true-crime shows remain a staple of TV. A recurrent premise in many of these shows, and a theory widely embraced by criminologists, holds that at some level criminals want to get caught and want to pay for their crimes. They often subconsciously leave clues that will lead to their apprehension. Perhaps they are seeking to resolve the cognitive dissonance of leading deeply conflicted lives. On one hand, the most mundane aspects of their lives, from the breath they draw and the food they eat to stopping at a red and going at a green, are ordered to the good. On the other hand, they secretly, furtively, choose to do great evil, and over time this becomes less of a choice, more of a compulsion: a second nature, but a second nature very much at war with their true nature. This cognitive dissonance begs for a resolution they themselves cannot achieve, and so they leave clues, fail to cover their tracks, do something to somehow bring it all to a close.

I like this theory; it rings true. And yet there is little evidence of this cognitive dissonance which begs for resolution in the millions of mothers and fathers who have aborted their babies or in the culture at large which obethently pays for abortion. I'm sure that post-abortion syndrome is real, but studies show that only 10 to 20 percent of women suffer severe longterm psychological effects. Given fhe gravity and scale of abortion, one would expect that it would be of an order and a magnitude that would overwhelm. It is not. Millions of mothers and fathers have aborted their children and then continued on with their lives.

Is the guilt-seeking-resolution theory ultimately untrue? Is it too eagerly embraced by ethicists who appeal to natural-law theory and psychologists who idolize the notion of the psyche seeking integration? Or is conscience as much the product of nurture as nature, a cultivated awareness that augments the innate sense of right and wrong? Is a well-developed conscience necessarily informed by a morally enlightened culture? If the culture is not morally enlightened, will most individual consciences also be dark and underdeveloped?

This seems to have been the case throughout America's period of slavery. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington notwithstanding, there are comparatively few accounts of slave owners existentially riven by their participation in the constant and visible evil of persons reduced to property. While it's true that Washington and Jefferson were both in their ways singularly great Americans, the founding generation as a whole were also great. At the time of the founding and throughout the fragile first 100 years, Americans were arguably the best, the most literate, and the most principled people in the world - and yet many of them owned slaves, and thus had to live with, amid, and through the most glaring moral blindness.

And then it changed. Not all of a sudden, of course, but it changed. A hundred and fifty years later, no one is morally indifferent to, let alone in favor of, slavery. That 600,000 were killed in the Civil War many believe to have been the necessary price for the overcoming of slavery.

In his "House Divided" speech of June 1858, Abraham Lincoln set forth the framework for overcoming slavery:

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it ___ We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. …