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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?

  • Meena

     “Well yes I am but that’s a side-issue.”
    The outrageous slur again!
    And it is not a “side-issue”. To make such a statement about workers in a field that is the only reliable source of knowledge about the issue demonstrates a closed mind filled with ignorance and pre-conceived, worthless opinion.

  • paulpriest

     Problem is delineation is more difficult than you’d assume.

    Actually it’s not an argument from authority but a highly reasoned and centuries-wrought one of metaphysics and scientific research which was prescient and luckily rescued us from the awkwardnesses of intellectuals and a pontiff who meant well but didn’t think of the consequences [typical existentialists - they care so much about the doing they forget what's actually being done!]
    Check this out and see what I mean:

  • paulpriest


  • paulpriest

     Wow sorry – seriously – I honestly thought you’d realise I was taking it for granted that an absolutist strategy has nothing to do with the underlying ideology or credal system which might be as wavering,fluid and laden with evanescent zeitgeisty memes.

    Yes you’re right – but I was taking it for granted that the Pro-Abortion lobby would be seen as more akin to 1984′s Inner Party..
    One day we’re at war with Eurasia, the next we’ve always been their allies.
    That inner contradiction and contrariety and protean ethical schizophrenia is always there…
    But the boot stamping on the face remains the same – the party slogans remain – the material remains constant – it’s just the form that changes..

    it’s ironic because I had a similar argument with another Pro-Lifer but it was from the other perspective of right strategy, right dogmatic position – but bloody awful tactics!

  • paulpriest

     Now you’re browbeating and appealing to a Last Man Standing fallacy that mgiht is not merely right , the silenced are axiomatically wrong. You haven’t even redressed my point re the science – I’ve cited the evidence – four times now!

  • paulpriest

     So the Oxford review didn’t do what it has already stated it did?
    i.e. deliberately remove all the case studies which provided evidence there was a link?

    so I’ll ask you the question: more cells which can be potentially cancerous = greater risk of getting cancer

    yes or no?

  • paulpriest

     No it isn’t – it’s a simple scientific fact…

    The argument is risk = so why are you defending reports/statistics and case studies of cases rather than the oncological and epidemiological evidence.. can’t!

    please don’t try your little ideological tricks on us – we’ve been there and have studied enough real science and maths and know enough about human nature to know a liar when we see one – even when they have a few letters after their name

  • paulpriest

     outrageous yes
    true yes…
    deal with it

  • Conorcrrll

    Thats what they said about criminalising the slave trade

  • Acleron

    You have no science, your point doesn’t even come close to the methodology of science.

    You have an hypothesis that early abortion causes breast cancer. If the hypothesis is correct, a very easy prediction is that early abortions cause an increase in the incidence of breast cancer. The prediction proves false and so is the hypothesis.

  • theroadmaster

    You make some salient and well-observed points, PaulPriest, regarding the inefficacy of pursuing the “incremental” line.  A good analogy for that might be someone trying to chip away at a block of marble with a toothpick, rather than with a hammer and chisel.

  • Alexander VI

    Because 300+ MPs would never support the criminalisation of all abortions…..and there is no parallel with slavery which ocurred in a completely different social and legal context. 

  • Jonathan West

    You’re claiming lies by citing the statistics provided by those who wilfuly do not want a proven link

    Why do you think that? Is that what you would do if the roles were reversed?

  • Meena

    This is a statistical artefact. All cells in the body have the “potential” to become cancerous.
    One can therefore say that larger individuals have a greater statistical probability to contract a cancer because their bodies have more cells.
    This effect, however, is masked by so many other factors of genetic and environmental causation – rather than a purely statistical canard - that it is of no significance. 

  • scary goat

    There have been a lot of comments on this thread about supporting women in crisis pregnancies and allowing contraception to reduce unwanted pregnancies.  Sorry, but while I agree that we need to be looking at the “root” of the problem, I would look much further back for the root.  Contraception encourages irresponsible sex. (I am not talking about the hypothetical wife on chemo….that’s a more complex issue….although to be honest I doubt whether a woman on chemo would have sex very high on her list of things to do anyway and I would have thought her husband should be a bit patient with her condition.)  I am also not talking about women who would face a severe risk to their own life if they became pregnant.  These are more exceptional circumstances.  I am looking for the root in a society which does not have the same view as Catholics on the sanctity of life, sexual morality, etc. Look at the state of sex-education in our schools.  Look at the sexual content in our tv programmes.  I just searched google images for scan pictures.  Even going as low as 10 weeks, you can still see that it’s a baby, not a clump of cells.  Why do we have laws that allow abortion as late as 20-24 weeks? Shouldn’t these scan pictures be part of sex-education?  Surely our politicians have seen scan pictures?  We have a very fundamental problem in trying to fight abortion in that we are dealing with people who do not share our views. How can we bring a Catholic understanding of these issues to those people?  I’m inclined to agree with some of the other posters who suggest trying to win hearts and minds first, more so than trying to push for stricter laws.  Maybe where we should be applying pressure is trying to get the government to do something intelligent with our sex-education in schools. Maybe we need to be pushing for responsible attitudes to sex in our tv programmes.

    I don’t know….maybe this is not very helpful….I don’t know the answer.  The answer is the Catholic faith….but how do we relate to people who don’t share that faith?  And how do we prevent babies from being murdered in the mean time?  I do agree with the posters who are saying ALL those babies matter. Of course, as a moral principle they do.  But being realistic, I also agree with the posters who are saying that in our current culture we are delusional to think we can get all abortion banned. 

  • paulpriest

     No – it proved true in 29 case studies that the Oxford ‘review’ decided to remove from its conclusions as it was ideologically unsound and didn’t conform to their desired conclusion.A proven link, a formal link but ultimately a non-substantiated link because those in academic authority wilfully chose for there to be no link. A more apposite analogy would be Phillip Morris backed ‘scientific’ declaration of no substantiated link between cigarettes and lung cancer.

  • Lazarus

    1) On the idea of offering so much support that a woman would never want an abortion, I don’t know how you’d ever get to such a position. Offer so much support that no one will ever want to commit (adult) murder? Offer so much support that no one ever wants to take drugs? None of these sound remotely plausible as strategies and abortion is in the same class.

    The Catholic Church and other pro-lifers do already offer practical help to mothers with unplanned pregnancies. Could we do more? Probably -but we could probably do more to help the homeless, the addicted, the terminally ill…etc. Particularly given the nature of our welfare state, the main body for social support in the UK is the government and its agencies. And if you’re saying that we should be campaigning for the government to put fewer resources into the abortion mills and more into helping mothers keep their pregnancies, I could only agree. (Of course, one prime way in which the Church helped -through adoption agencies- was destroyed by the gay rights agenda. Another way -by supporting stable relationships between biological parents by marriage- is also about to be destroyed by the same juggernaut.)

    But really, this is all beside the point. You simply adopted a rhetorical strategy of claiming that all pro-lifers were interested in was compelling mothers. It just isn’t so. And I gave you the evidence to show that.

    2) On the cancer issue, I’m just going to come clean and say I have absolutely no idea what the science is on this. I’m absolutely sure that those pro-lifers who use it as an argument are not lying and that they are perfectly sincere in their views. (It’s a great pity that you have to constantly resort to attacking your opponents as not acting in good faith.) Similarly to climate change, we’re dealing with an issue that emerges from a background of difficult statistical evidence structured by research which is itself subject to immense ideological pressures into a semi-informed public arena where those ideological pressures are even more intense. Behind this, there are some deep paradigms working: (eg) on the pro life side, the idea that intervening to stop a natural process is liable to produce adverse physical and psychological consequences; on the pro-abortion side, the idea that pregnancy is itself a treatable disease.

    In sum, I don’t know about the specific issue of cancer. But I have drunk deeply enough of (eg) Kuhn and Feyerabend to be suspicious of claims of clear cut and unproblematic science in such a highly charged area and where the dominant mind set is one clearly determined to justify abortion at all costs.

  • Paul_Spilsbury

     We are all agreed that the aim is to stop all abortions, whatever the circumstances. Some think this cannot be achieved immediately, and in the meantime we might manage to stop some abortions. Others think this tactic may hinder the final aim, and it is better to put up with a greater number of abortions in the meantime in order to stop them altogether later on. This is a disagreement about tactics, and there is merit in both opinions, but I do not see how we can be sure which tactics will in fact work.

  • paulpriest

     Sorry but this is position is a bit of a whitewash on what’s actually happening:

    a] What abortions have been stopped by the reduction to 24 weeks from 28?
    b] What was the moral price and the cost in lives of ‘negotiation’ which left behind the disabled and those causing physical or psychological ‘damage’ to the mother?
    c] What is the effect of this strategy – NOT the tactics – it’s a strategy which automatically offers to negotiate; in other words it is fluid and pragmatic.

    History reveals to us that Power only negotiates with another Power. It does not negotiate with the weak – and an opening gambit of negotiation indicates weakness, folly and an abrogation of the power one possesses.

    Only by a wall of unreserved solidarity – no exceptions:no compromise – i.e. a position of power with a consolidated public will…

    [and I'll concede for that to occur we'll need the National Church to get its Pro-Life act together - the past few decades have been scandalous in its negligence and dereliction of responsibility - especially from Our Apostles & their quangocrat delgates]

    …can we even begin to hope that we can influence the opposing side into even considering negotiation.

    Now what’s even more ludicrous than this situation
    are the recent comments from online Incrementalists who are DENYING negotiation is part of the incrementalist/gradualist strategy?!!!

    Now one may argue the benefits/detriments of the Finnis position all one wishes – but for those who argue for Finnis while refusing to concede the strategy & tactics it axiomatically demands is indicative of either delusional sincerity or mendacious incompetence.

    I repeat this is NOT merely an argument over tactics

    [history has revealed that strategic absolutists or solidaritists can have utterly counterproductive belligerently antagonistic tactics and fail dismally in the process by alienating all sides [including their natural supporters]

    This is a deeper issue – one of moral solidarity – a house built on rock… and that involves a strategy evoked by a fundamental moral principle.

    Many incrementalists have adopted ‘effective’ tactics in affability, sincerity, appeals to metanoia and an overriding gentleness – but this is utterly futile when combined with a strategy of protean mutability subsumed in pragmatic relativism.

    A position of strength – which will gather hearts and minds
    is one of unswerving truth and unassuageable authenticity and sincerity – that is only to be found within the solidaritist position.

    …and from this position of true strength will come the gentleness of the firm resolve…

    …with the correct strategy we can adopt the correct tactics of moral conversion/coercion and educational metanoia – not treating the Pro-Choicer as the enemy – they are rather the patient and the victim – poisoned by the lies and chaos the enemy has wrought…

    [Oh good grief! He's not going to mention the Devil is he? Sorry guys - yes I am! A genocide murdering 1.73 Billion unborn in the past three generations - while millions upon millions are violently defensive of the right to engage in that slaughter and  accuse those who oppose it of a gross evil and malevolent misogynistic cruelty? The Father of Lies is assuredly behind all this!]

    Bonaventure you’re implying incrementalism is possibly a price worth paying if it#s effective in saving lives?

    That might be a cogent position if it were actually the case…but we have 45 years of failure and systematic loss of ground [and all the deaths that followed] to prove that it hasn’t!

    I seriously urge you to read the Hanink link and watch the Nellie Gray video…

  • paulpriest

     I trust I’d have the sincerity & integrity  to repudiate any claims to the contrary.

    But at present that hypothetical is an irrelevance – because there is a link – and one which doesn’t require statistics of cases – merely simple biological fact!

  • Jonathan West

    The situation with abortion is different from that of adult murder in that not everybody agrees with you that abortion is the morally same as adult murder. The majority position has been described very well by Bishop Richard Holloway in his book “Godless Morality”. In essence this is that  an embryo and later a foetus has moral value which is initially fairly small, but which increases during the term of the pregnancy. The welfare of the woman also has a moral value, and the two moral considerations need to be balanced. In effect, this means that the justification for a termination needs to be greater the longer the pregnancy proceeds.

    Your premises are quite different. Your view (if I understand it correctly) is that the moral value of a newly fertilised ovum is instantaly the same as that of a fully-grown human, and therefore termination at any point in the pregnancy is unacceptable under any circumstances at all, including rape, incest or a risk to the life of the mother. That is a morally coherent position, one of several possible morally coherent positions which can be taken on the subject. Yours is just not one which many people agree with.

    If you accept exceptions for rape, incest or a risk to the life of the mother, then in essence you have conceded the principle that the embryo has a lower moral value than a fully grown human, and we are left to haggling over the rate at which the moral value increases during the pregnancy. But if you accept these exceptions, let us not have any more inflammatory language about mass murder, because it isn’t.

    But if you don’t allow for those exceptions, then I see that you are in a difficult position. Your moral position is coherent but unpopular, and I don’t see it prevailing any time soon when put honestly in these terms. Moreover, I suspect that privately many anti-abortion campaigners would agree with that analysis. That is why they engage in scare stories concerning fictional links between abortion and cancer and between abortion and mental illness.

    It is also why the American politician Todd Akin tried to kid people that the exception for rape isn’t needed, by means of a wholly invented claim that women who suffer “legitimate rape” (whatever he might mean by such an odious phrase) because raped women supposedly shut down their reproductive system so as not to become pregnant from the rape.

    These sorts of tactics tend to be self-defeating – Todd Akin dropped 20 points in the polls overnight as a result of his hideous remarks.

    So, there is no prospect of your position on abortion getting enacted into law in the foreseeable future, not in Britain at any rate, because your case is unpersuasive to the majority when stated openly, and the scare tactics tend to backfire because they are recognised as being dishonest.

    Therefore, if you wish to reduce the number of abortions, you will need to do so by increasing the support provided to women so that they do not wish to terminate their pregnancies, and also improve sex education so that fewer unwanted pregnancies occur in the first place.

    And believe it or not, a programme that proposed effective measures to reduce the number of abortions by providing increased support to women and by reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies that occur in the first place  would garner a lot of support among pro-choice people.

  • paulpriest

    Lazarus there’s a real problem with your strategy in that it isn’t a strategy – it’s rather an antinomial like a square circle.

    One cannot claim to believe one thing and then justify an action which exemplifies the direct opposite.

    Your claim of  ‘making political concessions’ is quite misleading because it implies we have something – anything – with which we can authentically bargain or ‘trade off’…

    WE HAVEN’T!!

    So the claim that we have anything other than a collective moral will reinforced with public support which provokes concessions from the opposing side…

    …is automatically negated.

    I understand what you’re saying – and on paper it looks meaningful and common-sensical and the practical approach.
    But it implies we’re involved in something akin to trade-negotiations or arguing conditions for a peace treaty…

    We’re not!
    We’re abolitionists – and there’s little point lying about it.

    Which is why it’s ludicrous when we have Catholic politicians [or media commentators] claiming to be Pro-Life when they aren’t.

    e.g. they excuse abortion when the mother’s life is at risk [and lie about it - claiming it's acceptable under the conditions of double effect {the usual intellectual sleight involves extrapolating double-effect principles in ectopic pregnancy to the womb}] ; or they agree with the right to abort in cases of rape or incest; or they equivocate away eugenic abortions or the destruction of life in IVF…

    My message to them is
    “Stop lying: Stop claiming to be Pro-Life when you aren’t – and get out of our way”

    Now the usual response to this message is

    “How dare anyone accuse anyone else of not being Pro-Life ‘enough’ or accuse them of being Pro-Life-lite? – especially when they are a fellow Catholic or someone who has dedicated and sacrificed themselves for the Pro-Life cause!!”

    My response is that if you are willing to adopt the Caiaphas principle that some human lives are worth more than others  or can be sold to buy others, that some of our neighbours can be left behind if it benefits other neighbours…ie. anything which opposes the Solidaritist principle…

    Then I’m sorry – but you’re not Pro-Life – you’re actually Pro-Choice-in-denial.

  • paulpriest

    One contributor has argued that the Pro-Life cause is winning the battle over hearts and minds because scanning innovations like 4D imaging is repudiating the Pro-abortionist claims that a foetus below the abortion limit is little more than ’tissue’ of slightly more moral equivalence than to a kidney stone…

    In other words public opinion is gradually moving towards a reduction in the abortion limit based on seeing a mini-human smiling, sucking their thumb etc.

    In this scenario an incrementalist strategic position MAY have some validity…

    But unfortunately the poster’s understanding of contemporary Pro-Abortion strategy is both limited and anachronistic…

    Being fully aware of the risks of foetal images appealing to public heartstrings and challenging heretofore denial of the humanity of a foetus…

    ‘Pro-Choice’ lobbyists, activists, academics and polemicists are moving away from the foetal development arguments to justify their position.

    Rather they are resorting to ideological arguments primarily involving philosophical notions of ‘personhood’ & secondarily ‘human rights’.

    Now the first of these arguments is another issue for another time

    But when it comes to appeals to Human rights it branches off into two forms – the first of these being the traditional feminist Jarvis-Thompson ‘libertarian-autonomy-right to remove a parasite’ paradigm with which we are all familiar. A woman’s rights over her own body
    superseding and countermanding any other claim.

    There is a new secondary appeal to human rights [which is ironically older than the feminist one - except it previously had a less congenial name]

    “The Right to Foetal Dignity”

    Now this principle has been pervading the halls of ethical academe for
    over a generation but it’s slowly inveigling its way into the public
    forum – and is going to be a significant weapon used by the pro-abortion
    activists to argue for the elimination of those children who would be
    born deprived of these rights….

    …to be born free

    …to be born healthy

    …to be born into a safe and secure environment

    …to be born wanted

    …to be born with all the mental and physical capabilities to engage in
    personal development/flourishment comparative with one’s peers

    Do you see the irony? This so called agenda for rights of the unborn is actually a eugenicist’s manifesto!

    Pro-Choice activists are slowly realising that biological equivocation
    and mendacity regarding foetal devlopment is rapidly being disproven via
    4d imaging etc.

    That in this realm of ‘battle for rights’ the so-far predominant
    overriding rights of the woman to self-determination regarding her own
    body MIGHT lead to potential legal appeals to rights of post viability
    and ultimately post self-reflective sentience within the foetus
    countermanding a ‘woman’s rights’….

    So the next strategy will be the above ‘right to dignity for the unborn’.

    One already witnesses it more in the increasing removal of new-born
    children from drug addicted, homeless, mentally unstable or ‘unfit’

    One can see it that one of the first policies of the west when it comes
    to areas of armed conflict in the developing world is to immediately
    send in the mobile abortuaries… 

    The ‘moral arguments’ will move from aborting for our own benefit
    towards the mephistopheleanly mendacious aborting for their own
    benefit!! The prevailing mantra will become

    “Nobody would be want to be born unwanted by their parents, or into
    financial hardship, or the insecurity of war, ill-health or mental

     Move further along this slippery slope and an extension of this paradigm will rapidly become  a mandate for
    only certain individuals being deemed fit by the state to have
    children…with abortion becoming mandatory for those not fitting that
    criteria. [We have already witnessed enforced abortions occurring within
    the remit of the Mental Capacity Act [2005] ]

    Now how does the Incrementalist Pro-Life strategy which is grounded on a foetal development/ abortion limit reduction deal with this new principal strategy of the Pro-Abortion lobby?

    Answer: It Can’t!

    It’s neither grounded in nor designed to address the philosophical principles involved on this new battlefront.

    But Solidaritism IS!

    So not only was Incrementalism questionable in the previous situation where the fight was over time this new arena of human rights  an Incrementalist strategy is utterly untenable and an exercise in futility

    The Pro-Abortion lobby wishes to move the goalposts, change the arguments and appeal to human rights…
    Only Solidaritism can even begin to counter this…for incrementalism was designed around redressing a fight dealing with the abortion limit and arguments-of-circumstance justifying abortion.

    To even consider using an incrementalist strategy against appeals to human rights or appeals to personhood would be akin to attempting open-heart surgery with a spanner.

    Solidaritism is an all-purpose universal strategy.
    Perhaps because it involves no moral compromise?

  • Just_a_simpleton

    If it is merely a question of tactics, then it would be reasonable to accept that there is merit in both opinions, and people would be free to choose which seemed better to them.
    It is possible that some object to ‘incrementalism’ because they think an alternative tactic would be better.  However, the challenge of the Harteian approach is that there is a basic moral objection to incrementalism, because it involves supporting legislation that is unjust 

  • Just_a_simpleton

    I read this last night and didn’t understand it then, and thought it was because my brain was addled after a long shift. I’ve just read it again and still don’t understand it.  I find your posts on this topic very informative and just wondered if you could explain what you mean a little more simply if that’s possible.  Thank you!

  • Lazarus

    A lot of the above is beside the point: Catholic teaching is that life is established at fertilization -so no exemption for abortion for rape etc. 

    Given that, I guess you’d accept that Catholic teaching is coherent but unlikely to convince many people. What follows from that?

    Well, let’s start from the easy bit. If you genuinely agree that abortion is an evil to be avoided, let’s indeed try and encourage mothers to keep their babies rather than aborting them. (Such a position would be a genuine advance on most of the existing pro-abortion campaigning which centres simply on advocating the woman’s right to choose and denying the badness of abortion.) 

    Also, I’d lean (contra Francis’s article) to taking whatever tightening of the law we can get: so I accept pretty much that we have little chance of a complete ban on abortion just now but I suspect there is some room for further legal restriction.

    Apart from that, whatever tinkering with sex education and contraception you propose, you still (as what I take to be the perfect example of the Netherlands) envisage living with mass abortion. So the  bargain you seem to be offering the Church is: abandon your teachings on contraception, sex education and abortion and you might reduce abortion rates from the current levels of mass abortion to slightly lower rates of mass abortion, whatever other costs in terms of blighted lives might result.

    Not much of a bargain really… I’d rather take my chances with campaigning for a coherent approach to human sexuality and hope that truth and rationality will win out in the longer term. Indeed, the growing number of doctors refusing to carry out the procedure is a sign of hope

  • Acleron

    You are accusing scientists of fraud. I hope you can back that up with evidence.

  • Jonathan West

    Well, at least you have an honest understanding of what you’re up against. I wholly support your right to campaign for what you think is needed, even though I disagree with you. There is a distinction to be made between losing the argument and losing the right to argue.

    But I and many others will be looking out for the sorts of scare tactics I’ve mentioned, so that people aren’t taken in by them. Remember that a just cause should not need falsehoods to be persistently told on its behalf.

  • paulpriest

    Sorry I wrote that in a supermarket queue and it seemed coherent while I was discussing it with my children in our coded ethical shorthand.

    The absolutism of the Pro-Abortionists is within the aim towards an end which results in indiscriminate, arbitrary unrestricted abortion and early infanticide.

    The strategy is anything which leads toward, advocates, promotes that end – goes!

    Therefore underlying principles and tactics can be utterly discretionary, fluid, hypocritical, counter-intuitive, pragmatic and relativist – the only dogma is that there is no stick which cannot be used to beat a dog…any scientific untruth or quasi factoid, any fallacious appeal – anything which conforms to that agenda which protects and strengthens or counters/eradicates any risk to women’s ‘reproductive rights’ [was there ever such a mendacious mephistophelean misnomer?] is permitted, tolerated or promoted accordingly.

    The principles don’t matter – they can be re-written in any way to counter any potential threat. [basic sophistry]

    The tactics remain the same
    [indictments against the opposition of violating women's rights, of institutionalised misogyny etc
     - appeals to the martyr fallacy as victims of oppression
    - appeals to their authority in the 'last man standing' fallacy as the 'moral' majority

    [the arguments wrapped up in these tactics can be so fluid as to be vaporous - unclutchable - unaddressable as they're merely intrinsically irrational rhetorical tricks which say one thing but mean something completely different]

    But the absolutist aim towards that resolute end remains unassuaged.

    ..and it worked!

    Unfortunately we have scruples – and one can’t win against the unscrupulous on their ground.

    Incrementalists are trying to beat the system – but solidaritism isn’t so naiive – when one is dealing with the utterly fluid pragmatic and unscrupulous you cannot beat the system – for a start they’re the trained experts who helped create the system in their own image and likeness…

    [think of the law regarding a pregnant 15 year old - she is legally entitled to demand an abortion without her parents' consent - but if she doesn't want an abortion her legal guardian [even a social worker or court appointed ad litum or a hospital ethcs committee etc ] can force her to have an abortion…]

    So if you can’t beat the system…

    …there’s only one option left…

    ..YOU BREAK IT!!

    With the power of collective moral and public will…which is why a solidaritist mandate is imperative…

  • Caroline Farrow

    Paul, could you actually name any such commentators? I know of no-one who justifies abortion in the cases of rape or incest, or equivocates away the rights of unborn in terms of eugenics or IVF.

    Name-calling, imputing motives and imperiously ordering people out of your way does nothing to advance reasonable debate.

    The point that is being missed is that it is folly for MPs and politicians to refuse to vote for any lowering of limits whilst they cling on to an absolutist approach that may not be achievable for some time.

  • scary goat

     Sorry, maybe I am a bit out of my depth here, but this is all sounding a bit like a conspiracy theory. Who exactly benefits from this, if that is the case?

    I can see why a lot of people like abortion, but I would have thought it’s more of a muddle of various motives. Abortion providers presumably benefit financially, eugenicists like getting rid of anyone who isn’t perfect, (God help us all if only “the perfect” are allowed), and the general public act from motives of selfishness (again, not talking about extreme cases) and ignorance. Hard-line feminists like the right to choose over my own body. What is in it for the politicians? Who is behind it all?  We had scans even around 30 years ago when I had my first child.  Medical staff who perform abortions must always have seen what they aborted. Where do people get the idea that it’s just a clump of cells, no harm done? Who has pushed this idea  onto the public, and why?  Who ultimately benefits from abortion? Why  aren’t these things taught in school, what is the agenda for pushing sex onto our youngsters?

    I really don’t understand.  The more I look around me, the more I feel that the Catholic faith is the ONLY way to live. How can we relate to people who don’t share our faith?

    You mention above breaking the system with collective public moral will, but where is it? We are around 10% in this country. We need massive public relations on-going…..and how many people will listen? And how long will it take? 

    : – (

  • paulpriest

     a] Re Advancing Reasonable debate: Please – if you don’t understand the issues involved in the Harte vs Finnis arguments – I feel compelled to ask you to refrain from commenting until you at least make some attempt to do so; before accusing those advocating a Harte solidaritist position of promoting a strategy of ‘folly’; complicit in potentially ‘squandering lives’ . Hyperbolic speculative smearing helps no-one; especially in circumstances where, if you were more informed; you might actually agree with it?

    b] The fact that you are ignorant of self-professed ‘pro-Life’ MPs, advocates and commentators who equivocate, mitigate, excuse and justify the collaboration with the culture of death via abortion ‘exemptions’ is not my fault – I refuse to name names here and engage in detraction but their comments are readily available in the public forum and their moral ambivalence has been denounced on many pro-Life forums – should you deign to peruse them. Suggesting I am in any way engaging in some sort of mendacity or deceit and such individuals do not exist is…well? Unbecoming. Especially given your previous denunciation of counter-productive ‘insult slinging’.

    c] Nice try – but it is far from name-calling to refer to those engaging in the Caiaphas corollary and hypocritically designating themselves as Pro-Life when they excuse/permit/tolerate/conspire with the death of certain categories of unborn as ‘Pro-Choice-in-denial” – it may be crude – but it’s apposite.

    Motive imputation?
    Citation please or retract…

    Now as you have repeatedly asked me to never engage with you in a public forum and as I have so far [until addressed] maintained my side of the request I suggest you reciprocate. I am certain that with all your new responsibilities you can’t afford to waste time arguing with me.

  • Caroline Farrow

    Oh dear. I should not have been foolish enough to engage, you may be correct.  
    I suggest this article I came across today might be useful reading: am also reminded of Elizabeth Scalia’s words of a few days ago. There are Catholics in this world who live their lives like Roman Candles always in search of a light, so they may spray little sparks of spite and malice all over the place, and they are never happier than when they can mix it up in comboxes and tell their co-religionists why they’re going to hell. Bless you Paul. 

  • Caroline Farrow

    Apologies, the link didn’t work.

    Here it is again, Catholic Bloggers – are we the first Corinthians of the Internet.

    God Bless. 

  • Caroline Farrow

    Argh typing on phone. Here’s the link. Really worth a read.

  • paulpriest

    How remiss of me to forget that no matter how crucial the issues involved – especially when it comes to a continually self-professed concern as Pro-Life issues…

    That sadly it has to resort to being ‘Farrow-saical’…and is instead turned into accusations of my ‘spite and malice’.
    Surely this issue is too important to resort to such tactics?

    Ever heard of the ‘genetic fallacy’?

    It does not matter one jot if I am the most despicable, vile creature on the planet..that factor neither diminishes nor refutes the validity of the arguments [which belong to others] which I am merely adopting, cherishing for their worth, and repeating.

    All I’m arguing is that the ‘Harte-less’ should be ‘de-Finnis-strated’; providing some justifiable reasons – none moreso than the direct command of His Holiness Blessed John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae 73.2 that we are expressly forbidden to conspire and collaborate with intrinsically unjust legislation,

    I truly wish you’d listen to Nellie Gray…if you choose not to do so it is very much your loss.

  • Kevin

    This is an excellent article. God bless you for getting it into a widely read newspaper.

    Without wishing to be disrespectful, leading proponents of incrementalism need to be sent to the back of the class. Their position with regard to this urgent issue presents a psychological stumbling block for many people of good will who could be more effective in the cause.

    It is a matter of simple logic that any concession to murder constitutes a denial of the sanctity of life. Solomon judged in favour of the woman who cared so much for her child that she was prepared to lose it – not the one who was prepared to compromise.

    I suspect some incrementalists may believe that, since legal abortion came about as a result of gradual change such as secularisation and the permissive society, that this process can be put into reverse. It cannot. Evil people can act good to suit their purposes. The opposite is not possible.

    One last comment: we must be explicitly Catholic. God’s existence is truth (matter did not self-create). Christ’s life is a matter of historical record as much as the lives of Britain’s secular monarchs. The Catholic Church is the Church of Christ, though some senior officeholders may blush at the thought.

    Christ promised that if we stand up for Him before men, He will stand up for us before His Father in Heaven. If anyone doubts that we can persuade a sexually egocentric society to give up legal abortion, just imagine having the backing of Almighty God. How do you think abortion was criminalised in the first place?

  • Jonathan West

    One thing this discussion has made abundantly clear. Pro-choice people now realise that there is no compromise with the Catholic position.

    Because you believe that total abolition is not just your own view but is God’s will, there is no reasoning with you, there is no negotiating, because any concessions offered or taken will not mean that a mutually acceptable position has been reached, they will just be regarded by you as a step on the road to abolition.

    So, if you cannot be reasoned or negotiated with, you can only be opposed and marginalised. And that will be the lesson drawn by any pro-choice person who reads this article and the subsequent comments, no matter how strict they believe should be the controls on abortion.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    This is (inadvertently) the best argument against incrementalism that has yet been presented – because it reveals the incremental position as one that is about “compromise” and “negotiating” and “concessions” and the finding of “a mutually acceptable position.”

    If God is pro-life, and loves each unborn child equally, and commands us to be faithful to what is right and good and true, then any compromise or negotiation or concession is unacceptable.  There is no “mutually acceptable position” when some favour the killing of some unborn children. 

    If the price of being faithful to God means that we are marginalised, so be it. 

    We need not apologise for being pro-life.  We certainly don’t present ourselves as pro-life when we give way to compromises – bargaining away the lives of some of the unborn in order to save others.

    You don’t bargain with human life.  Human life is to be loved, nourished, honoured, valued, protected – it is not a bargaining chip.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to explain. I think I understand what you mean.  It’s taken me long enough to see the problem with incrementalism and I haven’t thought things through as far as you have.  Thank you for these and your other posts which have had some excellent points.

  • paulpriest

    Finally you realise we’re abolitionists…
    There’s no such thing as a ‘strict control of abortion’  – for a human being is being denied their life.

    Dostoyevsk’y Grand Inquisitor contains an argument:

    Imagine that
    you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy
    in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and
    inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature … and to found that
    edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those

    William James  in The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life

    [If] the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which [proposed] utopias
    should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple
    condition that a certain lost soul on the far‑off edge of things should lead a
    life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion
    can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose
    within us to clutch at the happiness
    so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately
    accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?

    Ursula Le Guin [who herself had aborted her child] wrote an allegorical short story “The Ones who walk away from Omelas”

    In the story, Omelas is a dystopian city of happiness and delight, whose inhabitants are smart and cultured. Everything about Omelas is pleasing, except for the city’s one atrocity: the good fortune of Omelas requires that a single unfortunate child be kept in perpetual filth, darkness and misery, and that all her citizens should be told of this upon coming of age.After being exposed to the truth, most of the people of Omelas are initially shocked and disgusted, but are ultimately able to come to terms with the fact and resolve to live their lives in such a manner as to make the suffering of the unfortunate child worth it. However, a few of the citizens, young and old, silently walk away from the city, and no one knows where they go. The story ends with “The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”We – as Solidaritists – say ‘NO!!!”No scapegoats or evils performed for alleged ‘greater good’s no compromises, no exceptions, no exemptions…Not one human being left behind…The price is too high to do otherwise….

  • Lazarus

    This is just posturing, Jonathan. Negotiation in a democracy is not just about finally resolving something, but also about partial commonalities of interest.

    For example, earlier, you mentioned that many on the ‘pro-choice’ side would like to see more alternatives provided to mothers with unplanned pregnancies. If this is true, then let’s see them reach out in ways that Catholics can support rather than going on about ways we can’t -ie contraception. Frankly, I don’t expect this to happen as most pro-choice people are actually just pro-abortion, and certainly anti-Catholic. But if it did, it would be a negotiation and a compromise that could be done with complete integrity on both sides.

    So, are you up for it? Say, a government campaign to encourage women to keep unplanned pregnancies and to support them in that decision? (Or even what about a campaign to support the traditional understanding of marriage as the best way to rear children?!)

    As for the rest, we believe that it’s wrong to kill human beings. Not a particularly odd or unreasonable view and one that keeps moral philosophers busy on both sides of the debate. Your opposition to it however appears to be based entirely on your having bought into a ready made anti-theistic package: if we’re in favour of it, you’ll be against it -and you’ll dream up some reason or other for your prejudice eventually.

  • Jonathan West

    On present showing, even if I were willing in principle to engage with you in a  campaign such as you describe, I cannot trust you (collectively) not to smuggle untrue propaganda into the campaign while my back is turned. With invented stories such as those concerning links between abortion and cancer or between abortion and mental illness coming from your side, you are showing that you are not acting in good faith.

    Moreoever, an effective campaign to address unplanned and unwanted pregnancies would undoubtedly have as a major element better sex education and freely available contraception so that unplanned pregnancies don’t occur in the first place. Fewer unplanned pregnancies means fewer abortions.

    But you have as much trouble with that idea as you have with abortion. By catholic teaching, sex with contraception  is as much of a mortal sin as murder. So again, you couldn’t be trusted to actually participate in a joint campaign on the subject because you would oppose a key element of the plan that would actually reduce abortions. It is almost as if you want more unplanned pregnancies even though you know that under the law as it stands this will result in more abortions.

    And as for “we believe that it’s wrong to kill human beings”, the point is that a newly fertilised ovum is a singe cell. It will not become a human being until about another 10 billion cells have been added to it. So while “we believe that it’s wrong to kill human beings” is not going to cause much disagreement between moral philosophers, the issue of when a foetus is sufficiently close to becoming human to activate this moral principle is very much a matter for debate.

    Furthermore, the ovum and the sperm are both alive immediately prior to fertilisation, and the combined construct is alive after fertilisation, so for catholic teaching to say that “life begins at fertilisation” is factually incorrect, and is not even the appropriate question to ask. The key question to ask is “at what point does life begin to matter morally?”

    You have an answer to that. Others disagree with the answer. There is no point in rehearsing the reasons behind the different answers, we both know that we would only be repeating positions established already.

    So, if you want some kind of joint participation, the first question you need to answer is “why should I trust you?”

  • Lazarus

    Well, as I said, I’m not at all sure here -so you may be right!

    But I’d agree that in some ways my strategy isn’t really a strategy: it’s more of an opportunistic rescue. Let’s assume I’m a Catholic MP. I want a complete ban on abortion and I’m clear about that stance in public. I know, however, that by working with others in Parliament who -whilst not exactly pro-life- are in favour of reducing the time limit for abortions, I can rescue a certain number of children each year.

    My suggestion would be that I should accept the reduction in the time limit, whilst campaigning both for further restrictions and making clear that I am absolutely opposed to all abortions. I’d view this just as an opportunistic rescue: rather like grabbing a couple of Jewish children off a train to an extermination camp.

    Now I accept that this has to be balanced against (eg) giving a misleading impression of the pro-life case and -I suspect this is the main problem- the unwillingness of politicians to be quite so clear about their complete opposition to any abortion to place their apparent acceptance of abortions in the correct context of a rescue rather than approval. All that has to be considered. But in principle, I can’t see anything morally wrong in such an approach, whatever prudential considerations may sway the final decision one way or the other.

  • paulpriest

     Sorry Jonathan but you really are talking rubbish!

    A sperm and an ovum are individual cells – they are NOT a living human being nor are they in any way deemed to be alive in comparison with any other cell as they only contain half the chromosomes
    I’ve already countered your claims regarding the beginning of life with a link to my blogpost which you obviously haven’t read.

    Regarding the Breast Cancer issue – you maintain it is NOT proven – we say there is an axiomatic link in that after abortion/miscarriage there is a higher ratio of undeveloped type 2 breast lobules which are prone to cancer.

    Not only this: The National Cancer Institute statistics which proved there was a correlative link between breast cancer & abortion were all dismissed as ‘response bias’ – to the extent the 2004 Oxford study [which is now seen as Pro-Choicers as 'The end of the matter" ] ‘ideologically’ eliminated 29 case studies because they did not provide the answers they wanted. The study’s leader Valerie Beral admitted such to the Washington Post – that she had engaged in a fallacy of exclusion. There was plenty evidence to suggest a causal link – all of this was dismissed as ‘statistical anomalies’ via report bias.
    Case after case proved a link, other cases showed the link couldn’t be proven but NONE said it was definitely not the case as you claim and the reports which repeat the claim that Pro-Life activists are lying – are liars thhemselves because they know the evidence is indomitable.

    Could you provide any statistical evidence which proves that the use of contraception actually reduces unplanned pregnancies and abortions?
    Rather it promotes indiscriminate sexual activity around the time of ovulation [when the woman's sex drive is at her highest - evolution will out you know?] and we end up with 200,000 mechanical abortions in this country [let alone the amount of chemical ones {a statistic cannot be provided as it's actually illegal to know - international pharmaceutical trade regulations]]
    Contraception and abortion are inextricably linked – [as ironically are maternal mortality rates]

    If medical practitioners, socio-strategists and politicians wished to reduce teen pregnancies they should be advising abstinence at the time of ovulation – even with contraception! But that’s too ideologically unsound!!! But it would work!

    If you want an answer to your final question:

    Answer: You can’t – we’re abolitionists – we are driven towards an end to all abortions and an end to the destruction of all fertilised embryos.

    Which is why this will be a battle of political wills and public support – it’s why it’s our job to inform, educate and morally inculcate our position into the populace – eradicating the previous 45 years of pro-abortion propaganda with all its fallacies, dodgy science and moral relativism.

  • Lazarus

    On the question of the killing of the human being, you’re right that there’s little point in rehearsing the arguments here. But I take it that you’ve now withdrawn your claim that there is in principle no point in arguing about the matter (at greater length and with suitable philosophical rigour). Catholics do indeed try to follow God’s will, but that will is not arbitrary and thus is subject to the same rational probing of any philosophical position in this area. It cannot be stated enough times that Catholic moral theology is not based on Divine Command theory and fideism: it is based on reason and the natural law.

    Why should you trust us? Trust us to do what we both agree is right? You seem to view all morality as a game of politics: how we, one group, can do over another group, you. 

    Trust doesn’t come into this issue. We are in favour of giving women a way out of abortion and encouraging them to take that way. You -ex hypothesi- agree. So let’s get on with it. 

  • Jonathan West

    Lazarus, paulpriest has just provided you with an example of why I cannot trust you.

  • paulpriest

     Do you want us to lie to you and say we can come to some sort of arrangement regarding who’s allowed to live and who dies?

    One thing though: What makes you think a solidaritist would appeal to anything like abortion/breast cancer/depression links?

    They wouldn’t – these factors are an irrelevance – if the reverse was the case and abortion reduced breast cancer or gave you a year-long endorphin/dopamine buzz it would all be meaningless given the fundamental morality of it all.

    Abortion is a grave moral evil: End of Story – and we will use every moral means at our disposal to work towards its termination.

  • Kevin

    Pro-choice people do not seem to understand that we view debating with them the way we would view debating with a mugger in the street. To the latter we would not say, “Beat that old lady if you have to, but leave the woman with the pram”. If, having been told that it is always wrong, the mugger persists in his goal, it is because he is stronger and has wickedly chosen to use his superior strength for an evil purpose.

    One other thing: the day you give birth from your testicles will be the day we can talk about the life of gametes.

  • Just_a_simpleton

    Does it matter if the ‘rescue’ is made by voting for a law that is unjust?