CULTURE AND CIVILISATION: by Mark DurieNews Weekly
On abortion, slavery and censorship
, December 11, 2010
Abortion is one of the most challenging and troubling moral issues of our times. We should not be surprised, as is the case for most great moral challenges, that there are deep and powerful psychological pressures which work against abortion being openly considered, discussed and named for what it is.
I am convinced that if most Australians reflected, on the basis of accurate factual information, on what late-term or even mid-term abortion consists of, as an actual medical procedure, from the perspective of the unborn child, they would be repulsed.
We do not desire to undergo this dark act of contemplation, so instead we avoid it at all costs. We also banish contemplation of what it does to medical staff who are required to perform "termination of pregnancy" procedures on a regular basis.
We have found many ways of censoring our thoughts on the subject of abortion.
One way is to accuse those who wish to raise the issue of being disgusting, dishonest, misrepresenters of the truth, fanatics, extremists, or some other cowardly label of abuse. The resistance against having the discussion is so great that it is more convenient to mount an attack against those who would bring the matter to our attention.
The main part of this is fear - fear that we will find ourselves to be barbaric.
Another way of silencing is to banish all concessions to the humanity of the unborn child from our thoughts. This is why Victoria's abortion laws (enacted two years ago) make no provision for pain relief for foetuses being aborted - despite evidence that they suffer pain - and we have no law which specifically protects the right to life of an aborted baby who has the misfortune to be born alive.
The USA has such a law, brought in as result of evidence that such children were just being left to die - or worse, being killed - in America's hospitals. The censoring of compassion is all about aborting our mental acts - banishing anything from our thoughts which might cause us to look upon the unborn child as a human person. As a result, a newborn kitten has more legal rights in Victoria than an unborn human child: more right to live, more right to protection from physical harm, and simply more right to being treated with dignity.
Another censorship technique is to use the same old linguistic tricks which always cover over the shedding of blood. We prefer not to refer to foetal deaths, let alone killing the unborn, but instead speak of a "common procedure", to "terminations of pregnancy", or even more clinically just to "TOPs". Thus we tame with our tongues what our minds refuse to contemplate.
I have found it deeply disturbing that when I rose to speak on this subject at two Melbourne Anglican Synods, I was prevented from speaking each time because members of the synod introduced procedural motions to stop the debate (reported in News Weekly
, November 13, 2010).
But I will not be silenced. I will not simply shut up and simply submit to the fact that that my own church has rendered itself officially voiceless on this subject. We Melbourne Anglicans, as a denomination, have blood on our hands - on my
hands, if I remain silent. This is why I am writing now. Out of a sense of communal guilt.
The reasons for having the discussion are compelling. We repress them at our moral peril.
In this connection, I have been pondering the legal debates over slavery in America in the 19th century. It is striking that the arguments for slavery
back then seem so eerily parallel to arguments for abortion
today. Augusto Zimmerman has written persuasively on the subject:
"In a famous case decided in 1857, the US Supreme Court declared that black people had no human rights and, therefore, were entirely subject to the rights of slave-owners. A century later, in 1973, this very court also decided that unborn children had no human rights and, therefore, were entirely subject to the rights of women. Similarities between both sentences are too obvious to be just ignored. One of the justices who gave his dissenting vote on the abortion case declared quite prophetically: 'From now on, women are free to abort for any reason and for no reason at all.'
"In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its famous Dred Scott case, defended slavery in these terms: 1) black slaves belong to their masters; 2) black slaves are not human persons before the law; 3) black slaves can only acquire human rights if they become free individuals; 4) those who think slavery is morally wrong do not need to have slaves, but shall not impose their 'personal' opinion upon others; 5) masters have the right to do whatever they want with their property, including black slaves; 6) slavery is better for the black people. Otherwise, they would have to face complex moral choices which their so-called 'inferior' condition would not allow them to resolve satisfactorily.
"In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe vs. Wade
, employed these arguments to decriminalise abortion: 1) unborn children belong to their mothers; 2) unborn children are not human persons before the law; 3) unborn children can only have human rights if they are born alive; 4) those who think abortion is morally wrong do not need to have an abortion, but shall not impose their 'personal' opinion upon others; 5) women have the right to do whatever they want with their property (bodies), which includes unborn children; 6) abortion is better for unwanted and/or disabled children. Otherwise, they would suffer on account of maternal rejection and/or mental and/or physical condition.
"As can be seen, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a similar reasoning in order to decide on both cases of slavery and abortion, with judges denying the moral status of black people and unborn children. If we compare the arguments used by the court to justify slavery and abortion, it becomes clear that unborn children were regarded as the same beings of an inferior order as black people from a century earlier."
The comparison was put movingly by former African-American U.S. presidential candidate Alan Keyes, in a speech given in San Francisco on March 4, 2000:
"See, people wonder why it is, Alan, everywhere he goes, he always brings up this issue of abortion. And I never go anywhere without mentioning it. Why? Because abortion is to our time what slavery was to the 19th century.
"If anyone of conscience went anywhere in the 19th century and did not confront the American people with the evil of slavery, then they were not doing what statesmanship required. Slavery was what discarded and rejected and denied the fundamental principle of right and justice in America. And what was done in the name of slavery then is done for the sake of abortion now. The paradigm of it is quite clear.
"What is it that is the argument made in favour of abortion? You can see it in Roe vs. Wade
and everything else. It's a privacy argument. And privacy based on what? 'Well, this is the woman's body and she has the right to decide what goes on with it.' You start from that.
"And this child, this babe, this foetus in the womb, what is it? 'Well, it's a part of her body, utterly dependent on her body, not viable apart from her body. She has, therefore, absolute power over this being, and given that absolute power, she has the absolute right to dispose of it according to her will.'
"We don't recognise what that's saying. What that's saying is that power makes for right. Might makes for right. If I have you in my power, I may dispose of you and your life according to my will.
"And if that argument is now accepted and we have embraced it as a fundamental principle of law, then we have rejected the right principle.
"For, if our most basic and conditional right, the right to life itself, comes to us not from God but from our mother's choice, then there is no human right that transcends in its claim human choice and human power. Abortion is the paradigm - the ultimate paradigm - of despotism, tyranny, oppression, slavery, holocaust.
"And I see this all the time. I was down in South Carolina not long ago, and a young lady comes up to me, after I had given a talk just like this, and she says, 'I was listening to your speech, and I want to know how come you can prefer the rights of potential persons to those of actual persons.'
"I'll never forget that moment, because she was the very paradigm. If you want to think of some little slip-of-a-thing that projected the very wonderful wholesome air of American womanhood - and she was speaking to me in, what? In the chilling language of holocaust and atrocity. And she didn't even know what she was doing.
"I looked at her and I said, 'You know, I have a 17-year-old son. How old are you?' And she said, '19.' And I said, 'You know you make a very rash assumption in what you ask me there,' and she looked at me quizzically. And I said, 'Because, given my experience with my 17-year-old son, I have to tell you, there are many days on which I'm not entirely sure that people of your age are actual persons at all.'
"And then to drive the point home even further, I looked at her and I said, 'And I hope you don't think that I will hear those words and forget that 120, 130-odd years ago, Frederick Douglass had to go in front of audiences with a speech entitled, "That the Negro is a man", to prove that he and others like me were 'actual persons'.
"See, why do people forget this? They speak this cold-blooded language to people like myself, as if we're too stupid to remember that the day before yesterday we were not considered 'actual persons', and that if today we deny the principle on which we stood in order to demand respect for our humanity, if we deny it to those human beings in the womb, it will be denied once again to us and to others. Because then it just becomes a matter of who you can get on your side to draw the line between humanity and non-humanity, personhood and non-personhood. And then the majority can oppress, and the powerful can abuse, and those who end up on the wrong side have nothing."
Of this I am convinced, that future generations will look back in horror upon us, and wonder at our callous cruelty. This is how I regard the state of Victoria today, at the present time. On this issue, our moral state is comparable to that of slave-owning societies in North America before the civil war. No, it is worse. Their moral crimes resulting in the imprisonment of human beings. Ours result in deaths.
Not for the sake of politeness; nor for the sake of being well thought of by my peers; nor for the sake of avoiding offending the sensibilities of others; nor for the sake of wishing to appear "moderate" - not for any of these reasons will I remain silent about abortion in this state.The Revd Mark Durie, PhD, is vicar of St Mary's Anglican Church, Caulfield, Victoria. He is author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom (Melbourne: Deror Books, 2010), available from News Weekly books for $24.95. He has two blogs: