Magazine article The Human Life Review

Why Abortion Isn't Important

Magazine article The Human Life Review

Why Abortion Isn't Important

Article excerpt

Abortion is not important. I never thought I could write such a sentence. In fact, I never thought I could think it. But I do. That's not all. I also think that euthanasia is not important. Nor cloning. Nor contraception. Nor IVF, embryo experimentation, genetic engineering, nor any other issue at the core of pro-- life activity and policy. In fact, pro-life activity and policy themselves are not important. However, before you write a letter of outrage to the editor, or tear up your subscription, allow me to explain.

To clarify what I mean by these issues' not being important, let me point out that I am not saying for a minute that pro-lifers should stop being pro-- lifers, that we should spend our afternoons tending our rose bushes rather than campaigning, protesting, writing, or whatever it is that we do best in defending the pro-life cause. Like most pro-lifers, I am opposed to every single one of the things listed above. Every one of them is a moral crime, an attack on the sanctity of human life, and every one of them should be opposed in heart and mind and action by all people of good will. And yet-they are not important.

As a professional philosopher, I am trained to look at the big picture. True, most of my fellow philosophers, at least in the Anglophone academies, have pretty much given up on big pictures. We philosophers hardly ever talk about big pictures at our end-of-term garden parties, or in the common room between lectures. We don't knock on each other's doors and say, "Hey, Fred, what do you think of the state of Western civilization?" It's just not done. What is done is to knock on a colleague's door and say, "Hey, Fred, what do you think about Quine's denial of the analytic/synthetic distinction? Don't you think recent theories of meaning have cast doubt on his critique?"

Don't get me wrong. Quine's denial of the analytic/synthetic distinction is important and well worth debating. Plenty of good papers have been published on it. My list of things to research in philosophy would be a lot shorter if I didn't have subtle or not-so-subtle technical distinctions to analyse. It was good enough for Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas (let alone all the other great figures in the history of my subject)-so it's good enough for me. Yet through it all, through the endless training in technicalities, and even despite the best efforts of many of those who taught me to philosophise, I have, one way or another, been trained to look at the big picture.

Which is why I have come more and more to see that pro-life issues, including the ones on which I have published at length and will continue to publish, form a smaller component of the overall stance that should be taken against society than many pro-lifers would think. Social activism, like everything else in the marketplace of goods and ideas, inevitably involves a division of labour. Animal rights campaigners (for all the bad mixed in with their good intentions) campaign for animals and very little else; animals are their world, the abolition of the battery cage their raison d'etre. Campaigners against paedophilia have the welfare of children as their sole social concern, and see social policy through the prism of their anxiety that children be protected at all costs. Anti-globalists interpret every facet of economic policy in terms of its promotion or reduction of the depredations of transnational big business.

Pro-lifers are no exception. Of course I exaggerate, but the basic point is correct, that when a person embarks on the defence of a cause (and why they pick one cause rather than another depends on all sorts of reasons both personal and political), they tend to focus exclusively on that cause and to see all other social issues primarily in terms of how those issues reflect upon it. The division of labour is a good and necessary thing, both in economics and in social activism. I am certainly not advocating the disappearance of single-issue campaigning, or of multi-issue campaigning (like pro-life activism) that revolves around one large chunk of social policy. …

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