The Writing on the Wall? More on the Victorian Abortion Debate
Matthias reminded me of these words from the prophet Daniel in a combox comment below. I will admit that once, when I was particularly upset by a particular decision of a particular authority, I was tempted simply to copy these words onto a blank sheet of paper and send it as an anonymous letter - and to leave it to him to figure out what on earth it meant. I enjoyed the thought of his final discovery of the meaning after going to all the trouble of finding a Hebrew scholar to tell him what the words were.
In any case, the writing could indeed be on the wall for this government if it continues to ignore what even today's editorial in The Age acknowledges to be "the deep divisions in the community" over the issue of abortion.
The Age has made no secret of its support for legalised abortion, but even its editors realise that this bill will either be defeated in the Upper House or rejected in a legal challenge after it is passed due to the "coercion of conscience" clauses:
It is not necessary to coerce conscience in this way in order to decriminalise abortion. Indeed, such coercion may make the goal harder to achieve, because of the deep divisions in the community over abortion. Some argue that to remove the clause from the bill would deny the right of patients to full information, but information about pregnancy termination services is already widely available, and its availability will not diminish when abortion is decriminalised. What would diminish, though, is the respect in which the rights of conscience have hitherto been held — a respect that is an integral part of a flourishing liberal democracy.It does surprise me, however, that this editorial can speak about "achieving the goal" of legalised abortion while at the same time recognising "the deep divisions in the community". Make no mistake about it, folks, democracy (meaning outright and simple majority) is being used to push through the views of one group of people one side of this "deep division" at the expense of another group of people on the other side. There is no consensus in our community on this issue.
Interestingly, however, the editorial REJECTS Mr Hull's attempt to "explain away" the concerns of Archbishop Hart about the "conscience" issue:
According to Mr Hulls, this section "doesn't mean you refer (the patient) to someone who will perform an abortion. You refer (her) to someone who doesn't have the ethical dilemma that doctor has." ...The Attorney-General apparently maintains that the bill will not effectively change the legal obligations of doctors. A plain reading of the bill, however, does not support that interpretation. On the contrary, the concerns raised by the archbishop, the CEOs of Victoria's 15 Catholic hospitals and the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Douglas Travis, appear to be well founded.
In an Op-Ed piece on the same page ("Playing Politics with Lives"), Anne O'Rourke of Liberty Victoria adopts the "Nancy Pelosi" approach to Catholic Doctrine:
The view that a foetus is a human being from conception is very new in Catholic history. It was not until the late 1800s that the Catholic Church adopted the belief that the embryo acquires a soul at conception. There was no previous general consensus on abortion. Many of the church fathers, such as St Augustine and St Jerome, believed that the soul could not enter the body of an unformed foetus, so abortion was not considered wrong until "ensoulment" occurred. Catholic lay opinion or "individual Catholic conscience" also differs markedly from the relatively recent position of the church hierarchy.We need not comment further on that.
What we will comment on though, is an expression used in one of today's Letters to the Editor, by one Gavin R. Putland of Dandenong. Gavin is writing in opposition to the Bill, but this is how he explains the Church's moral objection to abortion:
The decriminalisation of abortion, while disturbing to many people for many reasons, is at least consistent with secularity. But Victoria's latest abortion bill would go beyond that; it would compel Catholic doctors - and any other doctors who accept the personhood of the foetus as an article of faith [my emphasis]- to act against their consciences.This seems to be exactly the point that Perry et aliter have been arguing in recent comments: that the issue is not the humanity of the foetus, but the "personhood", and that the moral objection is to the killing of a "person" not a human being.
Now this is a very pernicious turn of the cards, if I may say so. As countless US Bishops pointed out to Senator Biden, the fact that the foetus is an individual human being from the time of conception is NOT "an article of faith", but a scientific fact. But of course, if we change the issue to whether that "clump of cells" (with their own individual human gene code) is a "person" or not, then we come down to something which is not even "an article of faith", but a mere "article of opinion", based not upon reason or objective reality but mere preference for how one personally desires to define "personhood".
For the record, the Church does not have a dogmatic "article of faith" about "personhood" (except in relation to the persons of the Holy Trinity, of course). As far as I know, the Church does not even have an "opinion" on the matter. What it recognises (and this on the basis of the best science available to us today) is that from conception the foetus is A HUMAN BEING. This is not something for your conscience to choose. It is a fact.
Now the Church has always held (in fact, universal human society has always held) that it is wrong to kill another HUMAN BEING. What we are seeing today is a uniquely post-modern take on the fifth commandment, reinterpreting it to say "Thou shalt not kill a person", where every individual gets to determine for him or herself what a "person" is. Once we accept this line of reasoning, we are not far away from defining other extra-utero human beings as non-persons and removing their legal right to life as well.
[In fact, imagine the difficulty that would arise if technology were to advance to the stage that we could grow a baby from a test tube without ever implanting it in a mother's womb. Horrible thought, but it would raise the question of when this child was "born" and became a "person".]
P.S. Yesterday's Poll in The Age eventually turned out like this:
Should Catholic hospitals be forced to comply with the new abortion laws?
Yes - 45% No - 55% Total Votes: 2466
I would say that was a fairly clear indication of division in the community, wouldn't you?