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 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/response.html, 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.