Morally pro-life, ethically pro-choice and living between the two

Is it possible to be morally pro-life and yet remain ethically pro-choice? Although I personally consider this to be a rhetorical question I choose to address it here after finding myself caught up in Wintery Knight’s intellectual discussion on the morality of abortion. I actively encourage you to read Wintery’s blog if you are interested in reading well written arguments supporting the Christian pro-life perspective on abortion.

Some of you may find my support of the pro-choice movement to be incompatible with my reputation as a man of God.  I see no conflict with this however, and as an independent voter who fully stands behind the President in the upcoming election, I would nonetheless like to take this opportunity to point out what is, in my opinion, one of the Republican candidate’s most equitable qualities.

Mr. Romney has taken quite a bit of heat over the last six months for his change of stance on the abortion debate over the years. He initially ran on a pro-choice platform for the position of Governor of Massachusetts. After succeeding in his campaign and over the course of his term in office, Mr. Romney’s stance on abortion evolved to the point where he no longer felt comfortable advocating anything less than full support for the pro-life position.

I do not believe Mr. Romney intentionally deceived the public during his initial gubernatorial campaign as some have suggested. He has cited personal introspection as being the impetus for his change of opinion after being exposed to the realities of abortive practices during his administration and I for one am inclined to believe him. Although I do not support him for the office of President, it is clear that Mr. Romney is a caring, family orientated gentleman who possesses deeply held religious beliefs and I fully respect his right to change his mind on such a contentious subject.

I also find it commendable that Mr. Romney chose to act in favor of the pro-choice movement, as demanded by his constituents, despite the change in his personal position on the issue. I believe this can be readily explained in a constructive manner by drawing a clear distinction between the application of morality and the enforcement of specific ethical ideals as determined by predominant societal preference.

Many people approach the individual definitions of morality and ethical behavior as being fundamentally equal. Such people choose to label any difference between the two as a simple function of semantics but I assure you this is not the case although admittedly the difference is subtle and easily overlooked. Essentially, one’s sense of morality defines one’s personal character whereas ethics, by definition, outline the expectations of a society or group in which such morals are intended to be applied.

Given this differentiation I think it becomes increasingly clear that in the case of Mr. Romney, as discussed above, his personal sense of moral correctness may have changed on the issue but ethically he was obligated to meet the expectations of the citizenry of Massachusetts. I believe Mr. Romney to be a man of character and I commend him for his decisions vis-à-vis the above example.

As mentioned previously, I read Wintery’s blog regularly.  Recently, Knight addressed the pro-life work of Scott Klusendorf and supported his arguments against relativism in the abortion debate. I would like to take a moment to impart my own opinion on his position as I do not agree with Wintery’s positive assessment of his debate performance. Please don’t assume I am being intentionally and hatefully critical of the original poster however as I have the utmost respect for  both Wintery’s opinion and writing style.

Morally, I agree with Mr. Klusendorf on the practice of abortion for medical reasons and in cases of brutality such as rape. I believe most rational people tend to think as we do and oppose the use of abortion as a method of birth control. Although we agree on principal we differ in rationale and I believe he treads a dangerous road by attempting to justify his own position by aggressively attacking the frequent use of moral relativism by the pro-choice movement in their opposing argument. Mr. Klusendorf’s utter contempt for relativism is so clearly apparent that his writing seems to imply that moral relativists make up the majority of individuals who subscribe to the pro-choice position, which I think is inaccurate.

A moral relativist could also easily support the pro-life position and decide that any woman choosing to engage in voluntary unprotected sex is subsequently choosing to risk pregnancy and therefore has already made the decision to carry the resulting hypothetical child to term should such an event occur. While I find such a stance to be, for lack of a better phrase, overly vicious in its practicality, it does adequately illustrate that relativism is not the reason for our disagreement on the appropriateness of the legality of abortion in America. I instead offer the increasingly secular nature of western society as the impetus for the ethical changes we have experienced as a country over the last century.

In this regard, I agree completely with Bhikkhu Bodhi’s position. If you are not familiar with his work, the Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi is an American Theravada Buddhist monk whose philosophical writing I greatly admire. In his “A Buddhist’s Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence”, which can be read in full at, Bodhi said that “By assigning value and spiritual ideals to private subjectivity, the materialistic world view… threatens to undermine any secure objective foundation for morality. The result is the widespread moral degeneration that we witness today. To counter this tendency, mere moral exhortation is insufficient. If morality is to function as an efficient guide to conduct, it cannot be propounded as a self-justifying scheme but must be embedded in a more comprehensive spiritual system which grounds morality in a transpersonal order. Religion must affirm, in the clearest terms, that morality and ethical values are not mere decorative frills of personal opinion, not subjective superstructure, but intrinsic laws of the cosmos built into the heart of reality.”

In conclusion I would like to thank Wintery Knight for addressing the issue from a secular perspective while temporarily setting faith aside for the sake of rational discussion, which can be a tremendously difficult task to undertake. Far too often when discussing abortion people assume that all pro-life supporters are people obsessed with religion and that every pro-choice supporter is a ‘godless heathen’ when the reality is quite different. Perhaps if we remove religion from the political discussion altogether we will finally be able to arrive at an equitable consensus and lay this argument to rest once and for all.


About William Knox

Rev. William Knox is the founder and current Chancellor of the Contemporary Pagan Alliance. Ordained in 1995 as an interfaith minister, he serves as senior priest at the Sanctuary of Light in Ravenswood,WV. and is an invested brother in the Shanddite Order of Pagan Secular Monks.
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8 Responses to Morally pro-life, ethically pro-choice and living between the two

  1. whittygirl says:

    This article does such a great job of explaining exactly how I feel on the matter. It’s such a black and white issue for most people that it makes me feel crazy for understanding and even relating to both sides of the argument. Thank you.

    • William says:

      You are quite welcome. Despite the vehement public debate vis-à-vis abortion, I suspect that most Americans would agree with you on the issue. Unfortunately, given the uncooperative state of our political system at present, I do not foresee much progress being made in the near future. The sad reality is that as long as we, through our very complacency, continue to condone non-productive political maneuvering simply to preserve an outdated apocalyptic world view, on a societal level we will continue to experience difficulty in this area.

      I find that while I respect the Republican Party as a whole, certain elements of its membership frustrate me to no end. I refer of course to the so called ‘tea party’ republicans who, to my mind, clearly advocate the legislation of Christian morality as a means of forcing every American to comply with their sense of correctness, a form of political evangelism, so to speak. Our country was founded on the principal of democratic freedom – we are not nor will we ever be a theocracy, despite the fundamentalist’s numerous attempts over the last century to essentially achieve religious supremacy by proposing we completely merge our political system with the concept of biblical morality.

      While I agree that the establishment of religious polity for legislative purposes can be effective, as predominantly Islamic nations can attest, it is also clear that such leadership principals do not promote civil harmony for the only means by which balance can be maintained under such a system is through the threat of retribution toward the ‘nonbeliever’ if they fail to comply. Branding someone apostate simply because they do not agree with you politically is not only ridiculous, in my opinion, it is also severely dangerous. Politics and religion should never be mixed in a free system of governance. This is why our country was also founded on the proposition that the complete separation between church and state is necessary, both to ensure equitable justice and to provide for continued national unity.

      We as a people must end our fixation with death and violence, choosing instead to promote civil cooperation among equals with the intent to promote and maintain peace. It is incumbent upon us as concerned citizens to enact the change we desire, as a majority, for we apparently cannot rely on politicians to act in our best interests. To borrow a sentiment from the film ‘The American President’, politicians seem to be too busy keeping their jobs to worry about actually doing their jobs and I for one am tired of watching our country founder, blinded by biblical myopia, when we are capable of so very much more.

  2. whittygirl says:

    Very well said. I have had a hard time relating to either side lately. I used to see myself as a hardcore Republican, but my faith in our country’s politicians is at an all time low. I agree with you completely that politics and religion should stay as far away from one another as possible. I’ve taken a different approach and my strongest views now are only fixated on the fiscal part of politics. You can’t tell a person how to live, who to worship, and who to love, and I have no desire to consider myself a member of a party who tries to do so. The only problem now is that fiscally speaking, there isn’t a candidate who I trust can turn this country around. So, I have to ask…which candidate do you back? I am/was a strong Ron Paul supporter. I’ve been called crazy for saying that, on numerous occasions. It’s been hard questioning everything I’ve ever believed in and supported, but on the plus side, it’s opened my eyes and made me more self aware and understanding of others opinions and life choices.

  3. whittygirl says:

    Nevermind, I just read your article again and realized that you stated that you are not for Romney taking office. I suppose that answers my question, unless by some slim chance you are a Gary Johnson supporter. 🙂

  4. “Far too often when discussing abortion people assume that all pro-life supporters are people obsessed with religion and that every pro-choice supporter is a ‘godless heathen’ when the reality is quite different. Perhaps if we remove religion from the political discussion altogether we will finally be able to arrive at an equitable consensus and lay this argument to rest once and for all.”
    I agree with your conclusion. While my Christian upbringing prevents me from taking the life of an unborn child, I am a pro-choice supporter because I do not believe I have the right to impose my beliefs and pass judgments on others.

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