There is so much bad faith and general dishonesty in public discourse over contentious issues, and particularly when people argue about abortion, that it is refreshing when someone tells the unvarnished truth about what they believe. This happened in the white-hot abortion debate in Argentina, which ended last night as the nation’s senate approved a bill legalizing abortion for any reason up to fourteen weeks, and after that for children conceived by rape or to protect the mother’s health.
Pope Francis, no shrinking violet in this debate, had weighed-in with very strong support for both mother and her prenatal child. Encouraging the pro-life movement of his native country, the Holy Father insisted that they have the scientifically correct position. Their opponents deny the science of not only the baby’s human reality, but the astonishingly beautiful biological reality of both of them in relationship to each other.
Opponents of the pro-life movement in Argentina — including President Alberto Fernandez — do not deny the biological reality of the baby as much as ignore it. When asked whether the pope would be angry with him for moving to legalize abortion, for instance, Fernandez bypassed the issue by saying he was trying to address “a public health problem.”
As the Holy Father asked in a public letter supporting pro-life women in Argentina: “Is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem? Is it fair to hire a hitman to solve a problem?”
Pope Francis sees the biological and moral reality. His polar opposite is Argentina’s health minister, Gines Gonzales Garcia, one of the country’s strongest supporters of legalized abortion.
“Here there are not two lives as some say,” said Argentina’s health minister. “There’s clearly a single person and the other [thing] is a phenomenon. If it were not like that, we would be facing the greatest universal genocide, [because] more than half the civilized world allows it.”
He said out loud the quiet part of what many pro-choice people believe. And it is indeed refreshing compared to what we often get from typical abortion rights activists.
Sometimes we hear anti-science positions so wacky that one wonders how anyone could believe them. They describe the prenatal human being as a clump of cells, mere tissue, or the “products of conception.” Anyone who has taken a high school biology class knows that such talk in nonsense.
Sometimes we hear outlandish moral positions. “A human doesn’t have rights unless it is an independent being, not reliant on someone else,” some supporters of abortion rights say. That is a truly horrific moral principle to live by, one that marginalizes those who are the most vulnerable, rather than lifting them up as in need of protection.
Dr. Garcia gives us a fascinating and rare glimpse into one of the reasons why some pro-choicers speak like that. Simply put, the alternative is simply too horrible to imagine.
Indeed, his statement reveals one of the most important structural problems of the abortion debate. Those who engage the issue honestly enough to see the implications of the pro-life position quickly see that it is orders of magnitude easier on one’s mental health to take a pro-choice position, when compared to facing the reality that the “greatest universal genocide” is indeed permitted (and in some cases even embraced as a positive good) by most of the developed world.
“Here there are not two lives as some say,” said Argentina’s health minister. “There’s clearly a single person and the other [thing] is a phenomenon.” He said out loud the quiet part of what many pro-choice people believe.
But the scientific facts the Holy Father points out are not going away simply because we don’t want to face our own massively violent behavior and horrific affront to prenatal justice. A seven-week-old’s four-chambered heart will not stop beating because of our discomfort. Nor will an eighteen-week old’s ears stop hearing her mother’s voice. And a twenty-seven-week old’s nervous system will not stop her from feeling pain.
Like the Holy Father, we must stand firm in our pro-science, pro-life position — even if it indicts the surrounding culture of unspeakably terrible crimes on a nearly unthinkable scale. Indeed, we should speak out precisely because of these deeply uncomfortable realities. Prenatal children are being discarded by a throwaway culture that picks on the voiceless who cannot speak up for themselves. We must be their voices.
And we must do so in a way that balances two very important goods. We must be as wise as serpents and as peaceful as doves, reaching out in strategic ways so that others can actually hear what we have to say. But we must also speak to the realities of the massive evil we are confronting — otherwise those we are trying to reach will understandably wonder why we are getting all worked up.
Like the Holy Father, we must stand firm in our pro-science, pro-life position — even if it indicts the surrounding culture of unspeakably terrible crimes on a nearly unthinkable scale.
In balancing these two goods, the approach of the American bishops continues to be a wonderful pro-life model. No one, especially if you pay attention to their Twitter feed, could accuse them of being “single issue.” During the presidential campaign, the “issues of the day”the Bishops highlighted on social media were dominated by immigration and the death penalty. They did not neglect abortion, but they spoke about other issues as well. This is fairly typical.
Despite taking some static for doing so, the bishops rightly insist that abortion remain their “preeminent priority.” How could what Dr. Garcia rightly (though unwittingly) described as “the greatest universal genocide” be anything other than priority number one?
No one supports a holistic, womb-to-tomb, consistent life ethic life more strongly than I do. In advocating the consistent vision of St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae, however, it does not follow I think that we must give all issues equal weight. Far from it. Certain issues, depending in part on the era, the political moment, and reality to be addressed, must get priority.
Let us work and pray for a time when abortion can become something other than our preeminent priority. Unfortunately, in the face of a massive prenatal genocide — which will only grow worse with the Argentine vote — there can be no more important issue.
Charlie Camosy is professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University and the author of Resisting Throwaway Culture. His previous article was During the Pandemic, the Elderly are Dying — Slowly and Needlessly and in Pain.
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