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Pro-lifers cannot win the debate by bargaining over the lives of the unborn

Gaining some lives at the cost of others is to surrender the principle that every life is of equal value

By on Monday, 3 September 2012

Nellie Gray, founder of the March for Life. Her motto was 'no exceptions, no compromises' (Photo: CNS)

Nellie Gray, founder of the March for Life. Her motto was 'no exceptions, no compromises' (Photo: CNS)

Nellie Gray, founder of the largest pro-life event in the US, the annual Washington March for Life, died on August 14, aged 88. Although I knew about the March for Life I confess that I had never heard of her. A friend kindly sent me the link for an interview Nellie gave to Mother Angelica of EWTN in 1994 and so I have now learnt something of this indomitable woman, described after her death as a “Joan of Arc” figure in the pro-life movement. Fr Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life, credits his own priestly and pro-life vocation to joining the March for Life as a teenager. He relates that “she was a tireless warrior for the unborn and her motto was no exceptions, no compromises”.

Nellie Gray’s motto made me sit up and pay attention. What she meant was that she would have absolutely no truck with “strategies” to save the lives of some preborn babies – but at the expense of other babies’ lives. To do a “trade off” that would grant exceptions, such as women whose babies were handicapped or who were pregnant as the result of rape or incest, was, in her view, to surrender the principle that every preborn baby had a right to life and to collude with wrong-doing. In her interview with Mother Angelica she emphasised that “you cannot do evil that good may come”.

In that interview Nellie said she had been present as a young serving officer at the Nuremburg trials. As she said, “crimes against humanity” had been committed and the US served judgment on the Germans. What appalled her was that this same America was now committing a wholesale crime against the humanity of the unborn. She pointed out that the incremental approach, where some abortions were conceded by pro-life strategists in the hope that this figure would gradually be reduced, had been proved a failed policy; once you accept that “it’s all right to kill some babies” you have lost your case, in law and in morality.

The interview between Nellie Gray and Mother Angelica confirmed my own standpoint on abortion law reform: that to bargain for some lives at the cost of others – and the latter are always the most vulnerable babies – is to surrender the principle that every life is of equal value; and judging from the history of the pro-life movement it doesn’t work. I was converted to this standpoint by reviewing Colin Harte’s book, Changing Unjust Laws Justly. Colin, who had supported David Alton’s proposed upper limit Bill of 1988, had himself been converted after meeting Alison Davis, who was then running the disabled branch of SPUC. Alison, who has spina bifida, is a fiercely eloquent reproach to those who would concede a disability exception clause in the drafting of pro-life bills.

Another convert to the recognition that “gestational laws”, as they are sometimes referred to, do not work in principle or in practice is John Smeaton, director of the SPUC. In an interview with Angela O’Brien on LifeSite News in July this year, he courageously admitted that he had been wrong in the past to support an upper limit bill. “After the upper limit of 24 weeks was instated [in 1990], the number of late abortions actually increased because the majority of politicians had voted to introduce new and broad exceptions to the abortion law,” he said. He has changed his mind in the face of strong opposition from other pro-lifer groups, and echoes Nellie Gray’s own words: “You cannot vote for intrinsically unjust legislation and you cannot campaign for it.”

I recently blogged about the late Dr Jerome Lejeune, the world-famous geneticist who discovered the extra chromosome that causes Down’s syndrome. He was devastated when he realised that his discovery was being used, not to find a cure for the syndrome, but to abort these babies. “If I do not protect them I am nothing,” he told his family. What would his response have been to the strategic approach that allows for upper limits and exception clauses?

My own position has recently been described on Twitter as “stupid”, “naive”, “misguided” and “untenable” by those who stubbornly cling to the mistaken belief that they will win this debate by bargaining over human lives. Nellie Gray was adamant that such a policy could not work; so is John Smeaton. More and more people are coming to accept this position; as James Hanink wrote in his essay Abortion, Prudence and Solidarity: “If a ‘reform’ proposal excludes some human beings from protection, it is intrinsically unjust and attacks the law’s very foundation. A law that excludes the disabled from protection is such a law.”

Some readers of my blog will know I have a daughter who has Down’s syndrome: is it stupid, naive, misguided and untenable for me to want justice for her: the right to life in law?

  • paulpriest

    Thank you!!!

    Incrementalism vs Solidaritism is the major bone of contention among Pro-Lifers at present.

    The argument was exemplified by the Anscombe Centre’s debate between John Finnis & Colin Harte [published in the ABC book: "Co-operation, Complicity & Conscience"]

    Unfortunately it’s not online but I have been promised notes made during the debate by a Bioethicist which I can soon make readily available on request]

    The arguments are discussed by James Hanink in his Essay “Abortion, Prudence & Solidarity”

    According to some present at the debate, Finnis ‘unequivocally trounced’ Harte;
    but I’m inclined to believe rhetorical skills and wishful thinking might contribute more to that paradigm than the veracity and moral strength of the arguments.

    I firmly believe Colin Harte’s position to be the correct one – it’s the only viable, authentically fundamentally moral position to take; lest we enter the realms of preference utilitarianism and the Caiaphas corrolary [while fallaciously/self-deludely appealing to a teleology of virtue ethics]

    It’s a tough quandary:
    Do we save every life we possibly can at any price?
    If the price is the life of another of our neighbours?
    That price is always too high!

    …and Nellie Gray is right – once we make any indication we are open to compromise?
    We lose!

    Once we attempt to move from one pro-choice group to another brokering deals for the best ‘bargain’
    The past 45years of the most deplorable, tragic, genocidal faiure has proved that any deal is not worth the paper upon which it is written ; the verbal agreements are always reneged upon when the ‘deals’ reach the floor of Parliament.

    The result is we have virtual abortion on demand – a mother need only claim and be diagnosed with ‘adequate’ mental distress and an abortion may proceed up to birth.

    [and lets not forget those with Downs syndrome who suffer from a cardiac condition or duodenal atresia - easily treatable ailments - may be left to die without this treatment - their nutrition and fluids removed until they suffer an excruciating death]

    Our Pro-Life activists and lobbyists need to follow the suit of SPUC, concede their present strategy is an abject proven failure and realise a volte-face on incrementalism to solidaritism is now imperative….

    This is a war – and we’re not merely losing each battle – we’ve lost ground at every attempt we’ve made.

    We need to ask ourselves why?

    Colin Harte, Nellie Gray, James Hanink, Mrs Phillips and finally SPUC are giving us an answer and a prospective strategy to move forward and start saving the lives that are there to be saved…

    I beg..implore…plead…with those Pro-Lifers who are defiantly Incrementalist to reconsider their position and to now, at this eleventh hour – turn to solidarity with all the unborn and fight for each and every one…not one to be left compromises…

    Don’t let reticence to admit past mistakes get in the way of doing the right thing now…


  • Caroline Farrow

    Francis, whilst I whole-heartedly endorse this principle and agree that no unborn lives should be used as a bargaining told, what is a pro-life MP to do when faced with a bill, such as the one repeatedly mooted by Nadine Dorries MP, which aims to cut the limit to 20 weeks. Does one reject the opportunity to salvage some lives because it may be seen by some, as a dilution of an ideological principle? Surely it is possible and morally permissible  to continue to change not only the legislation surrounding abortion, but also, just as importantly hearts and minds and policies surrounding childcare and the disabled on this issue, so that no woman feels that abortion is her only or the most acceptable option?

    The existence of any limit, means that some women will always abort right up until the moment until the option of abortion is no longer available. Those who are supporters of the Good Counsel Network will testify that recently we were praying for a woman who was under enormous pressure to abort, whose boyfriend was making appointment after appointment for her, right up until 24 weeks. As soon as the 24 week limit had passed, she experienced a surge of relief. For many women, the indecision is a decision in itself, but the existence of a limit enables those who would wish to pressure and coerce her into aborting her baby. 

    I know of a nineteen year old girl who discovered that she was pregnant with twins, after she had split up from her boyfriend. She deliberately withheld this information from her parents until after she had the 20 week scan, disclosing her pregnancy at 21 weeks, a point at which she felt it would be too late, and knowing she would be under huge pressure. Her parents managed to procure a legal abortion for her at 23+6 having spent a few weeks applying the thumbscrews. With a 20 week limit in force, those are two lives that would otherwise have been saved. I can recount other similarly harrowing tales. 

    Supporting a reduction in the abortion limit does not necessarily implicitly condone or encourage early stage abortions, but it chips away at the mentality that the unborn child is nothing more than a ball of cells. If we reject anything but ideological purity on this issue, how many lives will be squandered in the meantime?

    Madeleine Teahan’s outstanding piece about the Paralympics should give us all pause for thought. It is nothing short of obscene that babies with disabilities are able to be killed right up until the moment of their birth. It makes a total mockery of any claims of disabled equality. This is not something that should be ignored and it would be good to see pro-life campaigns in the UK highlighting this and using the success of the Paralympics to push for change. 

    As for the name-calling, I admit it’s more than depressing to see pro-lifers engage in this. Ad homs are the last resort of those who have run out of argument. Pro-ifers have the upper hand not only in terms of the logic and science of their arguments, but also when it comes to the morality. Let’s not resort to the tactics of the pro-abort/pro-choice debate, who seem to have no more coherent arguments than to sling insults. 

  • Caroline Farrow

    I forgot to mention (apologies typing one handed with toddlers and baby velcro-ed on) that in the UK last year, a fairly non controversial bill that sought to remove the monopoly on the counselling provision from the abortion providers, was in the end shelved, for a variety of reasons. This bill did nothing to chip away at limits, make abortion less accessible, make counselling mandatory or impinge upon “rights” and yet it was vociferously opposed. 

    Given the huge amount of opposition to a bill that actually aimed to give vulnerable women more protection (no matter how misguided it was in terms of wording and provisions), how likely is a total rejection of abortion in the UK, likely to be in the near future?

    In the meantime, the advances made in ultrasound technology are doing much to change the mindset of the public; recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority in favour of a reduction in the abortion limit. Most people accept the humanity of an unborn baby in the second trimester and are uncomfortable with the idea of aborting a fully formed human, this is something we need to consolidate, enshrine in law and build upon.

    As I said above, how many lives could be needlessly squandered by a rejection of a lower limit in the name of ideological purity? Also how many countries have managed to successfully introduce a total ban, coming from a position similar to the UK? We have much to do to change entrenched opinions, any change, no matter how small, is fought for tooth and nail, because the abortion industry knows there is much at stake and they have much to lose. 

  • theroadmaster

    One can see the well-meaning and principled arguments that motivate pro-life activists who favor the incremental approach on one hand and the complete rejection of any compromise with abortion on the other.  We should not rush to judgement on those who advocate rolling back the appalling influence of the widespread pro-abortion mindset, by supporting legislation which restricts the room for maneuver of those who want it’s(abortion) application in practically all situations.   This sounds credible in theory but in practice it has little effect on the abortion on demand that we have in the UK, US and across the western world.  I think that the “tyranny of relativism” as Pope Benedict XV1 calls the oppressive subjective modern liberalism of western societies has numbed a lot of consciences in relation to the realities of Good and evil and has inverted objective truth itself.  People need to get acquainted again with the moral order which is intrinsic to all of our natures, through an organized program of education with solid philosophical and religious content.   One cannot really compromise with an appalling evil like abortion without giving away vital ground to it’s advocates, and this has been the unfortunate reality too many times for those who have taken this route, in order to achieve what they regarded as a greater good.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Excellent article.

  • Alexander VI

    The idea that pro-lifers can win any debate calling for the criminalisation of all abortions is delusional. Victory in such a debate is as about as likely as Pope Benedict converting to Islam. The only way forward is by some degree of incremental change.

  • Lazarus

    My hunch -and it’s only a hunch because it’s clear that no one can be absolutely certain what strategy will in fact work in the long run- is that we need to separate the two strands of the pro life case more carefully than we currently do. There is the moral case which simply must be about every life being worthwhile and should be directed at getting individuals to change their minds about abortion and unborn babies regardless of the legal framework within which they live. And there is the case for legislative change which -realistically at least in the foreseeable term- must be about reducing the number of abortions.

    If we can win hearts and minds with the moral case, the political situation will eventually change -as I think it has to some degree in America. But in the meantime, it’s about rescuing as many children as possible.

    I realize the danger with this is that you muddy the moral case by making political concessions so I say all this without much confidence that I’m right. My overwhelming feeling is nausea that we live in a society that doesn’t seem to notice the moral horror that’s going on every day.

  • Caroline Farrow

    I think your strategy is exactly right Lazarus, couldn’t agree more.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    I don’t see how you can say you “whole-heartedly endorse this principle and agree that no unborn lives should be used as a bargaining told [i.e.tool]” and then say that legislators can bargain for a lower abortion time limit.  This doesn’t make sense.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    You say you “whole-heartedly endorse this principle and agree that no unborn lives should be used as a bargaining told [i.e. tool]” and then you go on to support the idea that MPs can go against that principle and bargain which lives should be protected by law and which shouldn’t. That doesn’t make sense.

  • Jonathan West

    As I understand it, you view a newly-fertilised ovum as being alive and therefore having the same moral worth as a fully grown human, and therefore you are looking for no abortions under any circumstance whatsoever, even in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of health of the mother.

    There are two moral aspects here, one is the life of the ovum and later the foetus, the other is the welfare of the woman. Merely to call for legislation outlawing all abortion is to ignore the the latter consideration. 

    There are those who recognise this, and address it by trying to put about false stories that abortion is itself harmful to the heath of the mother. Francis Phillips herself has helped to spread such false stories, most recently in her article Fight breast cancer – by speaking out against abortion.

    I suspect that Francis did not realise at the time that she was spreading a falsehood, but those who invented the original story – and be assured the story is wholly invented – but those who did the original invention can reasonably be classified as “Liars for Jesus”.

    It  is a sorry state the Catholic Church is in if it decides that abortion justifies bearing false witness and therefore breaking one of the ten commandments. It is also a sign that you realise that you have lost the argument. it is a self-defeating tactic and should be abandoned.

    Therefore I suggest a different approach. Rather than ignore half of the moral equation by merely calling for legislation that outlaws abortion, embrace the whole of the moral issue and consider what it is that makes women seek abortions, and look to bring about social conditions where a pregnant woman – married, unmarried, in whatever social condition – is provided with so much support that she does not feel the need to seek an abortion.

    In other words, win the argument by persuading the women who currently seek abortion, not by attempting to coerce them by legislation. But don’t persuade by lies.

  • Tim T-Robertson

    With regard to being born with a disability, don’t the Paralympics demonstrate the marvellous ability of the disabled sufferer  to triumph over their affliction with the cooperation of a whole community of skilled professionals. These extraordinary athletes, whom the culture of death lobby would like to write off in the womb, are now being written up and justly celebrated as a world stars who are an example to all of us, that adversity presents a challenge which can be faced and overcome

  • Bonaventure

     Surely you are not saying that a pro-life MP should vote against a measure to prohibit some abortions, simply because it does not prohibit all abortions? That, in effect, would be to support the status quo.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    I’d rather make a mistake or even tell a lie than be a mass murderer. 


  • Just_a_simpleton

    My point was to show the inconsistency in what the previous writer had said.

    However, to answer your point:  From the way the discussion has been framed in recent years, the important question concerns what exactly MPs are voting for.  It is not a question merely of “a measure to prohibit some abortions” but a question of judging whether that measure is just or unjust.  If the measure is unjust (which I understand is Colin Harte’s main concern when he has discussed this matter) then surely this presents a problem for an MP who might be thinking of voting for it.  Doesn’t it?  Or doesn’t it matter whether it is just or unjust?

  • Jonathan West

     I suggest you find ways of avoiding doing either.

    If you lie in the cause of preventing abortion, then your lies will eventually be found out and you will lose the argument. No good cause is served by persistent lies on its behalf, so if you feel that you have to lie, then I can only conclude that yours is not a good cause.

    Your call.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    I agree with you that the right path is to avoid both mass murder and lying.

    It is not, however, clear what you say previously when you make an appeal to “embrace the whole of the moral issue.”  Is this not done both by a concern for the wellbeing of the mother in a difficult situation AND for the unborn child. Not to support the mother in a difficult or desperate situation is, indeed, a failing.  But is it not also a failing not to give to the unborn child the legal protection that is rightfully his or hers?

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Can’t disagree with that.

  • Jonathan West

    Your problem is that not everybody disagrees with you that this legal protection is and ought to be a right. You have to work in the world as you find it.

    You have a much better chance of persuading people of the justice of your cause if you provide support to women so that you do not give the impression that you wish to punish women who have become pregnant with an unwanted child. That impression exists, whether or not you regard it as a true reflection of the catholic position, and it turns people away who might otherwise offer you some support.

    Also, it has to be said that one of the best ways of reducing the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unplanned conceptions. That means better access to effective contraception, unless you are going to argue that sex is inherently a bad thing except when it is intended for the purpose of making babies. If you’re going to argue that, then you’re back in the territory of punishing women for having sex for pleasure, and that’s going to be a hard sell.

    So, you’re going to have to choose your priorities. Is sex for pleasure such a bad thing? If it isn’t, then is contraception such a bad thing, so bad that it is worth putting more women in the position that they they have unplanned and unwanted pregnancies?

    Which is more important, reducing the number of abortions, or reducing the number of people who use contraception? With human psychology as it is, you’re going to have a hard time trying to reduce both at the same time, so you need to choose your priorities.

    Again, your call.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    What do you mean, my call? You claimed there was a need to “embrace the whole of the moral issue.”  I did.  You haven’t. 

  • paulpriest

     To accuse someone of bearing false witness requires substantive evidence that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer.

    That proposition is absurd. A halted pregnancy produces more underdeveloped cells which have a potential for becoming cancerous. The greater the amount of cells – the higher the risk.

    That the Oxford study chose to eliminate from its conclusions all the case studies which provided evidence that there was a link in actual cases [equivocating away with the ridiculous argument that fewer women with breast cancer are likely to admit to having an abortion] this does not remove the plain and simple scientific fact which cannot be ideologically erased from the equation or misrepresented via statistics-juggling

    More potentially cancerous cells: More risk of developing cancer.

    I suggest you research the issue before throwing wild accusations around.

  • paulpriest

     Victory is not what’s at issue here.

    A proven failure of strategy is; together with its intrinsic immorality in using certain categories of the unborn as utilitarian bargaining chips to buy the lives of others.

    Gradualists claim that absolutism is naiive and unworkable.
    When asked to explain why they make two claims
    a] it’s obviously the case
    b] all our political & pro-life experts say it’s the only workable strategy

    Whereas the facts prove differently – while the incrementalist strategy of the Pro-Lifers over the past 45yrs has failed dismally to the point of their losing ground at each step…

    The absolutism of the Pro-Choicers who will brook no compromise and work towards the extremist ideal [where a woman can arbitrarily abort or commit early infanticide at her own whim & discretion with no intervention from any individual or regulatory body] have a proven record of success in that strategy – to the extent of the present position of virtual abortion on demand and eugenic infanticide.

    Absolutism works – the opposing side has proven it to our everlasting shame and regret.

  • Jonathan West

    I’m just explaining what (in my view) will need to be done if you are to persuade others that you are embracing the whole of the moral issue.

    For the purpose of this discussion, I’m not putting my own position, I’m explaining as best I can what needs to be done in order to get your position better presented and accepted. Because without that, you are going to lose the argument.

    Your choice.

  • paulpriest

    Thank you – but there’s also a few further issues to contest in the claims of the gradualists/incrementalists arguments:

    One is “Does a reduction in the abortion limit actually produce fewer abortions?”

    It might seem obvious that it does – but is it?

    Is there not more chance of early term abortion being so socio-culturally sanitising  and anaesthetising [i.e less gruesome and barbaric] that it makes it more ‘clinical’ and publicly acceptable and ironically contributes to abortion’s furtherance?

    Is there not more chance of a mother rushing into a hasty decision to abort at an earlier limit when a discretionary period of time [plus the child making its presence felt] might make the mother hesitate?

    …and as incrementalism concedes a willingness to negotiate exemptions over certain ‘types of unborn’ in order save a greater amount of other ‘types’…

    ..who is to say that if – hypothetically speaking – abortion was only made available in the case of rape – does anyone not believe that we should experience an exponential rise in the amount of claims of rape perpetrated by persons unknown?

    In countries where abortion is only permissible if continuing with pregnancy risks the life of the mother there are a few tricks a mother may use to feign illness to hoodwink a clinician [the anecdotally famous one being the handful of amphetamine slimming pills and inhaling amyl nitrate to produce artificial lethal-symptoms of hypertension]

    Is an incrementalist strategy – even if it were somewhat successful – effective in reducing the total amount of abortions? Or is it simply limiting the amount of choices in widely varied readily available options to gain an abortion – thus having virtually no productive effect whatsoever?

    These may be debatable issues – but they are certainly not as cut-and-dried as the incrementalists would have us believe….

    Paying an immoral price for a ‘greater good’ might be grounds for mitigation – but to do a deal with the devil and then discover it had no benefits at all and abortions continued unabated – or the deal even aggravated the situation? It would be farcical and devastatingly tragic.

  • Jonathan West

    I have done. For instance, here is the current view of the National Cancer Institute.

    “In February 2003, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) convened a workshop of over 100 of the world’s leading experts who study pregnancy and breast cancer risk. Workshop participants reviewed existing population-based, clinical, and animal studies on the relationship between pregnancy and breast cancer risk, including studies of induced and spontaneous abortions. They concluded that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.

    NCI regularly reviews and analyzes the scientific literature on many topics, including various risk factors for breast cancer. Considering the body of literature that has been published since 2003, when NCI held this extensive workshop on early reproductive events and cancer, the evidence overall still does not support early termination of pregnancy as a cause of breast cancer.”

    The link i provided goes on to privide further information and other references. You are welcome to explore it as much as you like.

    Angela Lanfranchi’s paper quoted by Francis Phillips in the article I mentioned is a polemic masquarading as a piece of science. Or do you think that Lanfranchi is alone in being right, and the settled consensus of the scientific establishment is wrong? Or do you believe that the scientific establishment is lying about the risk factors? Why would they want to do that?

    So, yes, I say there is false witness going on here, and it must stop. You will not serve your cause by lying, or even by unknowingly propagating lies, no matter how much you want to believe that the lies are true.

  • paulpriest

     You’re claiming lies by citing the statistics provided by those who wilfuly do not want a proven link – while refusing to address the actual science.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    “Victory is not what’s at issue here”…but “Absolutism works.”   Hmmmm…

    I agree that strategies of gradually ‘chipping away’ (or rather, trying to chip away…what has actually  been chipped away?) have been monumentally unsuccessful and even counter-productive  (and it is right and necessary to acknowledge this), but does this mean that ‘absolutism’ works?  It doesn’t necessarily follow that absolutism will ‘work’ any better than ‘gradualism’.  I think the main question is, whether there is a fundamental problem with gradualism.  I think there is for the sorts of reasons given by Francis Phillips in her splendid article.  In my view, pro-lifers need to work out the questions of ethics and principle – and only when these questions have been resolved will it be possible to discuss strategies. 

  • Lazarus

    1) On the suggestion that the prolife side should provide help for women with unplanned pregnancies, this is already done (for example, by the organization LIFE). That this work is ignored by the pro-abortion side is hardly surprising.

    2) On the question of a tension between opposition to contraception and abortion, two responses:

    a) There’s a general ethical issue about using bad means for a good end. Even if it were true that increased contraception reduced abortions, the wrongness of contraception in itself would have to be addressed: you couldn’t just endorse it because it was convenient. (Any more than you could endorse involuntary euthanasia because it would reduce waiting lists in the NHS.)

    b) Encouraging promiscuous sex with contraception doesn’t seem to work very well as a long term strategy for avoiding mass abortion. (For example, the Netherlands (often cited as an ‘ideal’ to be copied) abortion figures don’t seem to reflect any abandonment of abortion due to improved contraception: The alternative, Catholic strategy of emphasizing the need for sexual continence and the restriction of sex to marriage seems much more plausible as a long term strategy (as well of course as having obvious benefits in terms of encouraging individuals’ focus on higher goods rather than the pursuit of fleeting bodily pleasures).

  • Jonathan West

     1) LIFE gets well into the buisiness of lying about abortion effects. it has to stop.

    2a) If that is the case, I suspect that quite simply you are stuffed in terms of winning the argument amongst the general population, and even amongst many lay catholics. But that is your choice.

    2b) Who said anything abot encouraging promiscuous sex? Even married couples can find themsleves in a position where for instance the wife is suffering cancer and dare not conceive during chemotherapy.

  • paulpriest

     I’m sorry but you’re failing to see the point of this argument.

    It wasn’t merely the ‘culture of death’ which perpetrated this eugenic genocide of the disabled.

    Conspiring in this by omission, silence and some twisted ideological appeal to a ‘double effect’ [which was no such thing]

    ..were pro-Lifers desperate to reduce the abortion limit.

    They adopted a form of utilitarian calculus – the benefit was a reduction of four weeks – the price?  voting for that bill which included abortion to birth for the disabled or those who were ‘psychologically damaging’ to the mother…

    Now Finnis contends that when part of that life-saving loaf is offered you MUST grab it and save any life you can…
    You are neither responsible or culpable for those who will be aborted up to that new lower time limit, nor are you responsible for the grave evils perpetrated against those exempt from the brokered deal – that blame lies solely in those of ill will who created that policy…
    Instead you are to be commended for saving the lives of those non-disabled who would have been aborted between 24 & 28 weeks.

    Now in this historical case even most incrementalists will now concede it was a price too high…

    ..but nevertheless the same ‘negotiate/compromise/deal-broker’ mindframe exists where any chance to grasp that piece of the loaf MUST be seized…

    …and this is where Colin Harte, Nellie Gray, Francis Phillips, SPUC and all solidaritists [including myself]…

    …argue NO!
    Not only is it a repeatedly proven failed strategy – it’s moreso a gravely immoral one.
    There are prices we cannot – MUST NOT – pay…

    …and this isn’t an appeal to, as someone contemptuously dismissed it ; an ‘ideological purity’…

    [ye gods! stating that no unborn child should be left behind or be considered less worthy than another is derided as if we were arguing over angels on pinheads rather than life or death?!]

    …nor is it [as someone fallaciously opined] ‘squandering lives in the process’

    One might contentiously retort ‘how many lives have been squandered by a repeatedly doomed and failing incrementalist strategy and a contumacious recalcitrance in considering any other strategy?’

    And I’m sorry but it is cognitively dissonant to claim that negotiation & compromise regarding the fate of unborn lives are not part of incrementalism.

    They are!
    Rather than chipping away at the culture of death there is a chipping away at one’s conscience with toxic preference utilitarianism, pragmatism, situationism and relativism.

    When one begins to ask ‘what price a human life?’ one should instead be asking ‘what price my soul?’

    Last night somewhere else online the Colin Harte/Nellie Gray Solidaritist position was condemned outright as ‘unconscionable’  by an, I suppose, leading [non-SPUC] Pro-Life activist and Catholic media spokesperson…

    If those at the front line in the ‘fight’ against the culture of death can be so incredulously, defiantly, belligerently wrong?

    We’re sunk!

    Until grassroots Catholicism starts listening to voices Like Colin’s, Nellie’s & Francis’s and tells those allegedly speaking for them…


  • Lazarus

    1) Your point was that Catholics should be supporting pregnant women as well as campaigning against abortion. Whatever else you may say about LIFE, I take it that you have now conceded they already are.

    2) a) All ethical arguments can be judged by their logical validity and the truth of their premises on the one hand; and by their rhetorical success on the other. Even if it were true that we were ‘stuffed’ in the latter sense, we have the high ground in the former. (As it happens, I’m a great believer in the power of truth and rationality to achieve success eventually. And the simple truth that around 200,000 children are being killed in the UK each year is a powerful one.)

    You mention ‘choice’ in this context. Do you think you choose ‘truth’? (Perhaps you do.)

    b) So the 200,000 abortions in the UK are the result of wives undergoing chemotherapy…? Really??

    Your original point was that contraception did away with abortion and therefore we should support contraception. Chemotherapy etc is a red herring in this context: even if there were an ethical case to be made for contraception in such circumstances, this would leave the issue of mass contraception/mass abortion untouched. And here the conclusion is absolutely clear: mass contraception does not abolish mass abortion.

  • Jonathan West

    Do you believe that the scientists who contributed to the NCI consensus viewpoint are lying? If so, what evidence do you have for that?

  • Jonathan West

    1) Lying is not support.

    2) If you want to reduce the number of abortions, then you are going to have to address the root cause of why they are wanted. This is not a problem you can just legislate away, not least because as a practical matter you’re not going to get support for that position.

    And you’re not going to understand why those women want abortions by projecting on to them what you think they ought to be thinking. You need to go and do some hoinest reseach and find out what they really are thinking, and what would change their minds. And you need to accept the whole of that evidence without merely cherrypicking the bits that conform to your preconceptions.

    On this task, the catholic church has not yet even got decently started.

  • paulpriest

     Have you read the Hanink link?

    My main point was that absolutism does work – against incrementalism!

    In a war of attrition chalky incrementalism did nothing against the cold iron of absolutism…

    But how will the absolutist pro-Choicers fare against the indomitable resolute diamond of Solidaritism?

    When we face up to the principles and ethics we soon come to realise that Soldaritism is the only authentically moral position…

    How we engage in tactics based on that position & strategy is of course open to all manner of speculations..but Christ charged us to be as cunning as serpents.

    Solidaritism is also the strongest position – because it is the most gentle.
    It says of all the unborn..
    “It’s a child” against all opposition and denial and equivocation…

    again and again and again…

    “It’s a child”

    Until the opposition breaks down and concedes it….

  • Lazarus

    1) Irrelevant to the point at issue -which was that Catholics should help women with unplanned pregnancies. They already do.

    2) Again, irrelevant to the point in hand (which was that Catholics should stop opposing contraception as this is inconsistent with an opposition to abortion). The easy availability of contraception does not stop even the utopian Netherlands from killing around 30,000 children every year. 

  • paulpriest

     Well yes I am but that’s a side-issue.

    If talking about the science of having more potentially carcinogenic cells increasing the risk of getting cancer

  • Mark Banks

    A fascinating debate so far. A few points not yet mentioned:

    1) I think a good exercise in this discussion might be to consider Pope Benedict’s comments in 2010 on the use of condoms, where he said “Condoms may be the ‘first step’ in the moralisation of sexuality”. We all know the furore those comments caused, and we know the Pope would never campaign for people to use condoms, however the point is that there is a big difference between pro-actively campaigning for a specific change, and giving qualified approval or limited help to a cause. Thus far in this debate, that distinction seems to have been overlooked.

    2) Anyone who has read Abby Johnson’s book will know that late-term abortions are, financially speaking, extremely important to the abortion industry; they are far more important than a simple ‘pro-rata’ extraction of the % of total abortions that they perform. Abolishing late-term abortions would be a huge blow to the abortion industry.

    3) Paul Priest says “Is there not more chance of early term
    abortion being so socio-culturally sanitising 
    and anaesthetising [i.e less gruesome and barbaric] that it makes it
    more ‘clinical’ and publicly acceptable and ironically contributes to
    abortion’s furtherance?”… However I think, paradoxically, this might be a good thing in the short-term – it would mean that as pro-lifers we would have to raise our game and communicate the sanctity of life, even in its earliest stages, in more eloquent and loving ways. In many respects, I think that a lot of imagery that is used in the pro-life movement clouds the issue. Ultimately, whatever the time limit, we have the truth on our side, and we shouldn’t fear a reduction in the limit on the grounds that it somehow might ‘strengthen’ the pro-aborts’ arguments… how can you strengthen a house built on sand?

    4) Finally, taken to its logical conclusion, would the absolutist argument not mean that we should abolish all pro-life campaigning at the national level, and instead only campaign at the EU or even global level? After all, why legislate to save an English baby when it might still be legal to abort a French baby? Or why legislate to save a Scottish baby when it might still be legal to abort a German baby?

    I’m open to discussion on all of the points above.

  • Jonathan West

    What is your evidence for your assertion that they are lying?

  • AugustineThomas

    Thanks! I needed to hear that.

    So many “conservatives” sound like leftists when you talk with them about abortion that it’s good to hear a sane opinion on the issue every once in a while!

    Funny how it seemed impossible to replace slavery and segregation with something equally or more evil but we’ve sure done a smashing job at it! 

  • paulpriest

     quid pro quo?

  • Jonathan West

    If you think that lying to people is supportive, then there is not much further we can take this conversation

  • Just_a_simpleton

    Thank you for pointing out the link to the James Hanink essay, which I had overlooked.

    I’m generally in agreement with you .  At least I agree with you in opposing ‘gradualism/incrementalism.  I have a problem with your description of the “pro-choicers” as being “absolutists.”  Yes, some are – in the sense that they approve all abortions for any or no reason.  But most are not. And even those who regard ‘choice’ as an absolute are not ‘political absolutists’, in that they will go for what they can get.

    It seems to me that you are regarding the ‘pro-choicers’ as ‘absolutists’ whose approach we should similarly adopt.  On the contrary, I think the pro-life movement is at fault for adopting the opposition’s non-absolutist, pragmatic, unprincipled approach. 

    I’m struck by what you say about “solidaritism” (is that a word?) as being gentle and therefore the strongest position.  I think you’re right about that. Paradoxically, it is the principled positions, which some caricature as being ‘hard line,’ which are the most loving positions, and which can be best expressed calmly and without the sort of rancour that has typified so much of the public argument (for incremental change) which has resulted in such a distorted public perception of what the pro-life movement stands for. 

    While I don’t think the ‘absolutist’ position should be promoted as a strategy that is more likely to succeed, I think the pro-life movement will find that it has a power to change hearts and minds when it presents the truth simply and honestly, without compromise. 

    Naturally, some pro-life politicos who are so intent on ‘doing something’ (anything – no matter how fuitile and even counterproductive it is) and who are unable to reflect on the experience of the past 45 years, will regard such a view  as “stupid”, “naive”, “misguided” and “untenable” (as Francis Phillips was described).   Given the absysmal failure of the pro-life movement over the past 45 years I think it is long past time for the name calling to cease and for a little humility and reflection on this momentously important question.

  • Lazarus


    Picking this up from below:

    ‘If you think that lying to people is supportive, then there is not much further we can take this conversation’

    Sorry, Jonathan. You’re still trying to change the subject. You complained that pro-lifers didn’t help women with unplanned pregnancies. I gave the example of LIFE who, for example, do the following:

    ‘If you are pregnant or have young children and are facing homelessness we can help.  Perhaps your pregnancy was unexpected and you find yourself unsupported and alone.We provide a full support service to pregnant women in over 30 UK locations and support over 400 young people every year in our housing service.   LIFE houses aim to be ‘a home-from-home’, and you will be fully supported throughout your stay and for as long as is needed afterwards, to help you move on to independent living with your child.’

    Or there’s the Sisters of the Gospel of Life in Glasgow:

    ‘On 9 March 1997, the late Cardinal Thomas  Joseph Winning launched a major practical initiative to help women facing a crisis pregnancy. We recently celebrated our tenth birthday, and in those ten years we have assisted countless women and their families, practically, financially, emotionally and spiritually.’

    Just admit that you were -well, let’s avoid the ‘l’ word and just say ‘mistaken’.

  • Jonathan West

    Hi Mark

    The argument for banning all abortion irrespective of time or reason rests on the assertion that a newly fertilised ovum has moral worth equivalent to that of a fully grown human.

    I suggest that is not a self-evident assertion, and therefore if you are going to win an argument based on it, it is going to be necessary to do more than assert it as if it were self-evident. It is going to be necessary to muster some supprting evidence.

    It is may be enough for Catholics to accept this position based on a statement that this is God’s will as understoof by the magisterium of the church, but for the vast majority of people who are not Catholics, such a position sounds like the logical fallacy of the Argument from Authority.

    So, if you are going to persuade those who don’t accept those premises, you need to find other justifications for your position.

  • Jonathan West

    I’ve provided evidence of the scientific consensus, and (by offering links) details of how that consensus was arrived at and the evidence on which it is based.

    Those who claim a link between breast cancer and abortion are making that claim without evidence, moreover, they know it. Therefore, they are lying. I’ve provided you with evidence of that.

    So, what is your evidence?

  • Jonathan West

    I’m not suggesting that that there is no Catholic help available to women with unwanted pregnancies. In fact, I think there should be much more of it. If you really want to prevent as many abortions as possible you should be aiming to offer such a level of support that no woman would ever want to terminate even an unplanned pregnancy. If you had that, then you wouldn’t need legal sanctions.

    But I do wonder how much support the present levels of help are when it seems that in practice it is mixed in with lies about the effects of abortion. John Smeaton for instance has recently been assiduously spreading unscientific propaganda concerning a link between abortion and mental illness.

    As I said, the anti-abortion cause is not well-served by lies about the effects of abortion. If you feel that you have to resort to lies, then people will conclude two things:

    First, they will think that your arguments aren’t all that good if you need to resort to falsehoods to promote them.

    Second, they will conclude that you cannot be reasoned with because you are fundamentalists who are serving what you regard as a cause that his higher than the mere truth. If you cannot be reasoned with, then there is no purpose in trying to engage with you.

    So, if you want to be taken seriously by the world out there, the first thing that must happen is that the lies must stop. All Catholics who support the anti-abortion cause have a responsibility not to tell lies about abortion, not to propagate those lies, and not to encourage people who lie in the cause.

    Once that is done, you have a basis on which you can talk to the world.

  • Alexander VI

    You can throw as many tantrums as you like. But the criminalisation of all abortions in the UK will NEVER happen.

  • Meena

    “More potentially cancerous cells: More risk of developing cancer.”
    This is a non-sequitur and a false claim.

  • paulpriest

    1] Please refer to my comments on

    2] Bit more complex and intriguing…ludicrously claiming to be not-for-profit PP having more money than it can spend – almost as if it’s waiting for a change in legislation re political funding – plus it wilfully engages in anti-profit pro-ideological exercises.

    3] The temporal fallacy? What’s the ontological difference between aborting 2 hours after fertilization or 2hrs before Birth? Wilful intervention preventing a telos. Too many buying in to limit-reduction for its own sake rather than the identical consequences of both scenarios.

    But there’s something more important about the incrementalist strategy and its priorities – but more later…

    4] Combinatorics – solidaritism does not imply a solely microcosmic perspective – differing countries and differing fights all bear the same imprint [like a roll of patterned wllpaper] but will also be like facets of that diamond…

    thanks for reminding me about 3]

  • Meena

    This is an outrageous statement. Workers in this field wish only to find the facts.

    The facts, at this point, look clear and unambiguous: there is no positive link between cancer, of any type, and abortion.