Friday, September 21, 2012

Notes on "Pro-Life" Voting

As I implied in my last post, I'm really trying to not post much here anymore. At a certain point, blogging was taking up too much of my life and causing too much bad blood. Frankly, I haven't been participating too much in any online conversations lately, and am glad for it. I still like to read and keep up with the news of the Catholic and traditionalist worlds, but am less inclined to jump into the fray; you can't correct everyone and it gets tiring making the same points over and over again. At most, I've made some short comments merely referencing ideas I've already worked out in-full before. Besides, they're all here on the blog, searchable from Google, for people to find who want to do so.

Plus, I haven't had much "new" to say; my thoughts have pretty much all been fleshed out here before, and other thoughts I have been having (usually, now, of a socio-political and economic nature and how that structure relates to Faith and notions of the Good; religious hegemony versus pluralism, the relationship of the State to the individual and other non-power/money-based communities and institutions, etc) are not nearly fleshed out enough yet and might take months or years to think over and come to some basic synthesis on. 

Suffice it to say, I wouldn't defend the burning of heretics anymore. Or rather, I might say that, like slavery, it might not be possible to absolutely condemn in context. Even John Courtney Murray admitted that "the exercise of religion is to be free unless, in some case, it seriously disturbs the public peace, violates public morality, or results in infringement of the rights of others." So Catholics are free to debate whether heresy "seriously disturbed the public peace" in the Middle Ages, that's a prudential question (if holocaust denial can be illegal in Germany as a threat to the public peace and order, I find it hard to see how religious beliefs could be absolutely different in nature).

And I certainly would not agree with Murray that Vatican II represents a "development" (read: change) in doctrine that somehow came from outside the Church, from the Enlightenment or Revolutionary narrative, as if a "progressive" understanding of socio-political evolution in history is true; I still very much fear that dogmatizing democracy in a democratic age will be just as bad as dogmatizing feudalism in a feudal age. If the Church is to affirm religious liberty, it cannot be in the "Liberal" sense or carry with it all the baggage and ideological and anthropological assumptions of those values.

But context, nevertheless, might be the very problem: a system can be generally condemned even if we cannot say something is absolutely immoral or unethical for people living within that system (I think the same thing, perhaps, about those who participate in the usury of the modern debt-money system. Is every such act a personal sin? Not necessarily, but the system is bankrupt nonetheless.) And I am less and less inclined to advocate a Christendom; His Kingdom is not of This World. I now suspect feudalism was actually simply an extreme form of capitalism/communism (the same thing, I've concluded!) that, in its extremity, mimicked externally what a social credit society might look like in its piety and values, but that this was actually entirely a disguise, a mere tempting illusion.

But, anyway, since we do live in a democracy, and since this is an election year, I thought I'd share something I did write in response to a Republican-pushing friend of mine on Facebook regarding voting "pro-life" and how imperative it is, or not, on Catholics:

Not that we want to advocate some sort of political pure utilitarianism, necessarily. But, there is lots of information suggesting that when it comes to structural demographic changes to the abortion rate, it is not at all clear that criminalization policies actually lead to the greatest decrease.

Obviously, in an ideal world, criminalization could exist alongside a variety of tactics. But then, obviously, in an ideal world we wouldn't need criminalization at all! Combine that with the fact that the unborn are not the only lives we have to take into account, and it's far from clear that a pro-somewhat-unenforceable-criminalization ("pro-life") candidate is always the choice that will maximize lives saved vs. lives lost when it comes to the prudential judgment which is our vote.

Especially when that judgment also needs to take into account things like the likelihood that a given candidate (even if their official stance is good in this area) will actually affect policy in this area. If I vote for a Republican legislator who is nominally "pro-life" but who I judge has little chance of actually affecting policy in that regard in the current legislature, but think that his vote may very probably tilt the balance in favor of all sorts of other awful things (war, pollution, big business, anti-poor, etc etc)...his pro-life stance is little more than a meaningless token, and I've actually wound up supporting all those other awful things. 

When casting my vote, is it worth an 80% risk (should that candidate win) that all sorts of people will be denied medicaid (and, surely, some will therefore die) for a 5% chance that some sort of hard-to-enforce legal limitation will be placed on abortion (though, likely, it wouldn't even be in all States, nor would most States have an "absolute" ban)? To me, it's pretty hard to be absolute about such a judgment.

Frankly, I'm not even sure a Catholic politician has to support criminalization. Supporting a positive legal "right" can never be upheld, of course, nor positive funding; certainly Catholic politicians must consider the life of an unborn person absolutely equivalent to every other human life and of irreducible value, and when making their prudential judgments about policies they think will maximize lives saved, they must count unborn lives in that equation just as much as born lives. But decriminalization, or at least a lack of any after-the-fact punishments for anyone, is hard to absolutely condemn. 

The State has a duty to protect innocent life, of course, but also has limited resources, and squadrons of abortion-stopping officers may not be the best use of those resources when it comes to maximizing lives saved. Certainly, I think, that is a legitimate prudential judgment to make even for a politician who does account the unborn as full human persons. Reducing or stopping abortions and criminalizing abortion...are definitely two separate things, two separate questions, and the former may well be achieved (even achieved better) without the latter.

And seriously, how would that even work? How would they even find out an abortion was imminent (or had already taken place)? As specious as the "right to privacy" justification for publicly advertised abortion providers may be, there is something to be said for the fact that there is a right to doctor-patient confidentiality that would make it rather hard to tell when an ob/gyn was privately preforming abortions unless we start probing invasively into women's medical care. When a woman is restrained by police in the process of seeking an abortion, would she be strapped down for nine months in a facility and not released until she had safely given birth? 

And without a reasonable right to privacy, to protect the unborn would we start insisting all women of child-bearing age take a weekly pregnancy test to alert the State to the existence of any unborn persons as soon as possible, and then insist that a Federal Marshal be present at all gynecological exams of these pregnant women, and then investigate every "miscarriage" from these pregnancies to make sure that it wasn't really an abortion, or treat it as a Missing Person Case when one of those pregnancies that was registered with the government earlier doesn't later result in a registered birth at the expected time (unless the mother was issued a Certified True Miscarriage death-certificate)???

Of course, few people probably imagine a totalitarian regime surrounding pregnancy like that. And yet, that's what would be required to truly enforce an abortion "ban." Yet if the State is not required by the Church to use any specific active or offensive tactic (such as those listed above, or just after-the-fact imprisonment, etc)...I'm not sure how one can claim there is an absolute requirement to instate any such tactic at all. I mean, what (specifically and concretely) would conservative Catholics claim the agents of the State should be required to do, as a practical ethical minimum, as regards abortion? In a fallen world, what is the minimum duty of the State in terms of specific concrete offensive tactics aimed directly against abortion? Saying "Make it illegal!" is not at all specific or concrete...this issue of what criminalization would concretely look like is the underwear-entangling question that made Bishop Tobin look like such a political patsy in that Hardball interview back in 2009.

In the end, I suppose, it really comes down to whether you think it's more important for the State to pay lip-service to a theoretical principle, or whether you think the important thing is to concretely minimize the number of lives lost on a concrete level (even if that maximization of lives saved is actually achieved through indirect means, through structural improvements to the socio-economic issues which cause abortion, rather than imagining some sort of unfeasible active government offensive against abortion directly ala the interminable war on drugs...)


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this very thoughtful and reasonable essay on the pro's and contra's of anti-abortion legislation. My own view - which has developed over the years - is that, whilst upholding the principle of sanctity of all life, including that of the unborn, the State should not punish women who find themselves in the tragic situation of feeling obliged to have an abortion (up to a number of weeks), but should rather offer positive alternatives to abortion to whoever wishes to avail themselves of them, such as counselling, moral support, financial support before and after the birth of the baby, indeed, up till the child's majority. The Church should also be willing to join in this effort in deeds, not just in words. Otherwise, we have not right to speak of abortion at all. The other issues you mention also deserve our consideration, as Pro-Life should embrace all of life: including the recognition of the right of gay people to establish loving relationships; the adequate care of the ill, the handicapped and the aged as long as they are alive; support of abandoned mothers and children; the protection of our air, water, land plants and animals. And so forth. To vote for a political candidate based on his abortion stand alone seems to me a vote unwisely given, when it is the whole spectrum counts more. Criminilosation of unfortunate women is not the answer; providing real, tangible, long-term alternatives to abortion seems to be the right way forward. But do Church and State really care enough to ''show their good works'' instead of merely professing their right beliefs?

Jordan/sortacatholic said...

As I've said before here and elsewhere, I also support abortion decriminalization. Put simply: the Irish model. A just state must affirm the fundamental immorality of abortion. Yet, where there is justice mercy also abides.

The path to abortion justice doesn't course through GOP policy. There's absolutely no way I can vote for Mitt Romney. Besides his slimy Nixonesque persona, comments like "the 47%" strike me as extremely callous and completely unbecoming of a wannabe POTUS. It's sad and pathetic to watch the pundits over at twist themselves into rhetorical pretzels to defend an odious candidate like Romney. They'll do anything for their man simply because he says sweet nothings about pro-life and "traditional marriage". It's okay to be a tool once in a while. It's ultra lame when a passel of pundits behave like the friggin' Home Depot chain.

As a social democrat, I wonder if I can be Catholic (or at least an American Catholic) anymore. American Catholicism has taken a sharp right turn after Roe not just out of opposition to abortion legalization but also out of a desire to become the pre-eminent power in American Christianity. What price freedom, prelates? Commonweal, imperium, or a veneer of compassion to coat upward mobility?

Soft-socialists/welfare-statists like myself must realize that a welfare state ultimately distills to bean-counting. Sure as heck cheaper to abort than raise a child to majority. Certainly any state agency has already priced in the cost advantages of abortion. Maybe the Catholic prelates must get cozy with the GOP and its Objectivist group psychosis simply because a deregulated, non-welfare state ensures that less persons will be compelled by a dole check or socialized medicine to kill their child. And yet, deluded souls like me still believe that a social democratic contract can be just. Who's crazy now?

Bridget said...

Seriously? Implement a law that would stone the mother to death along with any supporters of the abortion, such as her husband or partner, and those who conducted the procedure. That would dramatically reduce the number of abortions and "maximize" life. It would also show that the state is serious about meeting its obligations to protect human life. We need to start thinking outside the box here. 

Bridget said...

" including the recognition of the right of gay people to establish loving relationships"

I agree that nobody has the right to deny "gay" people the right to establish loving relationships, just as long as we strive to fulfill our obligation to ensure that they don't have sex with each other.

A Sinner said...

I can't tell if you're being facetious.

I am not at all convinced that "deterrence" like this WOULD work, exactly because abortion can be "invisible." As I said in my post, it's not like anyone else even necessarily knows that the woman is pregnant or that a person has disappeared. If it happened privately between a woman and her doctor, who would ever know?

As for the gay question, again I can't tell if you're being facetious. Again, I'd think the question of privacy would stop us from probing one way or the other regarding what immorality house-mates may or may not be engaging in privately. We're not required to actively try to stop all evil.

Bridget said...

Well, I wasn't being facetious exactly, but trying to think clearly and honestly. Certainly, as a deterrence, stoning would work. Abortion could be kept quiet between a doctor and a pregnant woman, but practically, it would be a difficult, risky thing to do. Think of how it might work. The woman has limited time in which to act. She has to approach a doctor with a suggestion that could result in a messy death for both of them. How could the woman trust the doctor not to inform on her? How could the doctor be sure the woman was not an agent of a state that took its obligations seriously enough to weed out unsound practitioners of medicine? The doctor would only have to get it wrong once.
If it turned out that infants possessed some glandular substance that could be administered to women to make them look more youthful and better looking, and as a result infants were being snatched and murdered to procure this glandular substance to supply a black market demand, would we, as a society, stop short of murdering those who killed infants if that's what it took to stop them murdering infants? And if we think that murdering the unborn is as wrong as murdering infants, does it make sense that we should stop short of murdering abortionists if that's what it took? So no, I don't altogether think I'm being facetious in recommending stoning to be a desirable way to handle the problem of abortion. I think those who would disagree are obliged to be non-facetious in their response.

As to homosexuality, here's my beef. I resent that society would oblige me to raise children to accept that homosexual relationships, that obviously include sexual relations, are to be treated as  morally acceptable, and that the children I raise are to behave with homosexuals as if their relationships, which obviously include sexual relations, are indeed acceptable and are to be accorded with respect because so acceptable. 
I'm not being as clear as I perhaps could be, but you do get the point I'm trying to make, do you?

Nes said...

Bridget freaks me out.

James Kabala said...

"to protect the unborn would we start insisting all women of child-bearing age take a weekly pregnancy test"

Outlawing abortion is a separate issue from repealing the Fourth Amendment, which this would surely require. Somehow abortion was illegal before 1973 without any of these over-the-top laws being in place.

A Sinner said...

Yes, and as I said, theoretically that's great. I fully endorse what Jordan said about the situation in Ireland as being model.

However, my point was just...abortion is a unique situation. Because no one is going to know a person is missing if the mother and doctor don't tell anyone, so it's hard to enforce if it's done hush-hush. And that, furthermore, this fact makes it seem to me like getting the token criminalization is less important than actually reducing abortions in practice.