Not so long ago abortion came up at a party, and I mentioned that I’m opposed to it.
That offhand remark caused not so much indignation as consternation.
“I’ve never met anyone who feels this way,” gasped an impressionable girl attending one of our better universities.
“Why on earth would you oppose it?” asked her much older boyfriend (aka lucky bastard), who isn’t much given to moral reflection. “And don’t give me that bullshit about the sanctity of human life.”
The way he put it suggested he was familiar with that argument, but dismissed it as being utterly ridiculous. That says something about him, but much more about the state of our civilisation.
For if the very idea of human life being inviolable is ridiculous, then our – by which I mean Western – civilisation is no more. What passes for Western civilisation now is an awful impostor, a murderer who has moved into his victim’s house and claimed it for his own.
That initial exchange showed that my interlocutor and I didn’t just have different views on this matter. We inhabited different civilisations, different moral, spiritual and intellectual universes.
Hence any further discussion was pointless, but it continued anyway. My opponent, passionately supported by his barely post-pubescent girlfriend, recited the usual litany based on the old device of reductio ad absurdum.
What if a girl gets pregnant after being gang-raped by vicious degenerates? Seduced/raped by her father/uncle/brother or all of them together? Would I still object to abortion then? Now that you mention it, yes, I replied.
But please don’t make it sound as if the best part of the 200,000 annual abortions in Britain result from rape, incestuous or otherwise. Most of them are caused by the mother (or also father, if known) not wishing to cramp her ‘lifestyle’.
So what, objected my opponent. It’s the mother’s body, and she can do whatever she pleases with it.
This is another illustration to the statement I made earlier. For opposition to abortion, or to any gratuitous taking of human life, is but one aspect of the civilisation first murdered and then looted posthumously.
Another aspect is intellectual. People used to know what constituted a valid argument and what didn’t. Sequential logic was its legitimate tool. An example wasn’t. And polemic was a game that had certain rules, to be followed by both parties.
That doesn’t mean that, at a time when the sanctity of human life wasn’t yet seen as ridiculous, everyone made nothing but sound arguments. Like any game, a polemic could be played well or badly; it could be won or lost. However, both winner and loser played by the same rules.
Any violation of such rules constituted a rhetorical fallacy, akin to one contestant in a fencing competition tossing his rapier aside and grabbing an axe instead.
My brave opponent didn’t even realise he was committing a gross rhetorical fallacy. The Romans called it petitio principii, we call it begging the question (which expression, incidentally, is routinely misused by modern barbarians to mean ‘raising the question’).
Petitio principii is using the desired outcome of an argument as its premise. In this case, the whole argument boils down to deciding whether a foetus is indeed part of the mother’s body, like her appendix, or a sovereign human being, like her child.
If it’s the former, then yes, she can abort it: not many people raise moral objections to appendectomy. If it’s the latter, then she’s committing infanticide, and many people still illogically object to that.
Yet my interlocutor, along with the civilisation he inhabits, is ignorant of such basics. He didn’t realise that what he was saying amounted to the statement even he would recognise as false: because a foetus is only a part of a woman’s body, it is only a part of a woman’s body.
But a foetus is wholly dependent on his mother, is another ‘argument’.
Quite. And a baby three months old isn’t? He’ll survive famously even if left to his own devices? No? Then what’s the moral (or come to that logical) difference between killing a child three months before delivery (the legal cut-off point for abortion in England) and three months after? None is immediately obvious. So this argument doesn’t work, does it?
And why have a legal cut-off point at all? Does a foetus become a sovereign human being at six months plus one day, while remaining an equivalent of the appendix at a mere six months? Having a legal limit is tantamount to a tacit acknowledgement that even before delivery a foetus is a human being endowed with the right to life.
He’s obviously not yet a person in the full sense of the word. But, at the risk of taking modern barbarians further out of their depths, one might invoke Aristotle’s (and then Aquinas’s) teaching on the subject of potentiality and actuality.
A foetus isn’t a person actually, but he is potentially. In this he differs from any animal, vegetable or mineral – or for that matter from the appendix. An appendix may become inflamed and life-threatening, but it’ll always remain an appendix. A foetus, on the other hand, may become Aristotle or Aquinas and will definitely become a person.
Conception thus doesn’t produce a person, but it does produce a human life that will eventually become a person. And human life must be assumed to start at conception because no other point can be determined with reliable accuracy. Hence abortion at any point of gestation is tantamount to the gratuitous taking of human life.
In the old civilisation now dead, abortion wasn’t subject to such discussions. It was axiomatic that human life was sacred and that was all there was to it. Why waste intellectual energy on trying to prove a self-evident point?
No reason at all. However, all the axiomatic presuppositions of Western civilisation died along with it. Yet that’s not all that died. Also biting the dust was the ability to think rigorously.
That ability was an offshoot of the same civilisation that produced the notion of sacred human life. The West has no alternative to the culture produced by that civilisation, nor to the religion and morality on which it was based. Neither do we have an alternative to its thought. Our choice is between its thought and none.
None is modernity’s evident choice. That’s why it’s pointless arguing the issue of abortion with modern barbarians. They’ll dismiss the Christian argument contemptuously, and they’ll be unable to follow the purely secular argument of the kind I proposed above.
The only thing that surprises me is that the Irish held out for so long. They were clinging to the coattails of the corpse being lowered into its grave – and now they’ve let go.
Two thirds of their population voted for abortion on demand. Had the Irish waited another few years, the vote would have been closer to 100 per cent. As it would be in England.