the right to lose

By Diogenes (articles ) | Sep 08, 2006

South Dakota's abortion ban will be put to a referendum this November. In the September 11 issue of America, Rapid City Bishop Blase Cupich calls for "civility and depth" in the upcoming debates on the issue. "Let us recognize," he says, "that in public discourse moral passion must walk hand in hand with mutual respect."

Most pro-lifers will feel their stomachs tighten at this language. Because it's false? No, it's perfectly true, even platitudinous. Yet we only see this kind of episcopal finger-wagging when conservatives get within striking distance of the goal line. Other instances of "moral passion" go unrebuked. Perhaps Cardinal Mahony has warned the United Farm Workers to preserve civility and depth in their agitation, but if so I've missed it.

Cupich squarely positions himself as pro-life, but he frames the issue in precisely the wrong way, i.e., in terms of the "competing interests" one is taught to identify in those weekend conflict-resolution workshops for business execs. Here's the second of Cupich's three "conditions for discussion":

There should be agreement that any discussion of abortion and the law must recognize both the suffering of the unborn children in abortion and the suffering of pregnant women in dire circumstances

[Cupich's exposition:] Some pro-life advocates focus almost exclusively on the rights and suffering of the unborn baby, while some pro-choice advocates focus equally exclusively on the rights and suffering of pregnant women. This is a distortion of the moral choice that confronts us as a society. Abortion is a searing and divisive public policy issue precisely because two significant sets of rights are in conflict, and no matter which set of laws it enacts, society must choose between these rights.

Superficially judicious, this call for even-handedness concedes the only important point to the wrong team before the debate begins.

What "two significant sets of rights" are in conflict? The baby's, certainly, is the right that any innocent human being enjoys not to be murdered. But what right of the mother could be in conflict with this right of her baby? One can see that certain interests, desires and projects of the mother, even wholesome ones, could be put at risk by childbirth, and these interests, desires and projects might be sanctioned by loosely-attributed "rights" (the right to the pursuit of happiness, the right to decent health, the right to a career, etc.). But no one even pretends that these rights "conflict" with the lives of innocent human beings in such a way that homicide is a option that can be licitly contemplated. My right to marry may be frustrated by the highly inconvenient fact that the only person I want to wed is betrothed to someone else, but even those who fully acknowledged my suffering wouldn't see a conflict of rights at issue, certainly not one involving my rival's right to life.

He doesn't spell it out, of course, but the only "right" of the mother Cupich could oppose to the baby's right to life is the so-called "right to choose," more precisely, the "right to choose to abort." But the very question at issue is whether such a right obtains, or could ever obtain, and to suggest that it does is not even-handedness but a silent endorsement of the conclusion of the pro-abortionist camp. It means that the conflict -- in Cupich's words, the "searing and divisive public policy issue" -- is in fact a zero-sum game, no different in principle from the competing interests we find in a wage dispute between employer and employee. The problem is, while General Motors and the UAW can walk away from arbitration with satisfactory, though partial, self-interest intact, what partial rights does the aborted child enjoy?

"No matter which set of laws it enacts,"writes Cupich, "society must choose between these rights." I don't think he really believes this. At any rate, he insists that even the "terrible dilemmas that pregnant women often face ... do not justify the taking of innocent human life." Yet Cupich could hardly have chosen a worse way of stating the Catholic case, and his notion of rights-in-conflict invites us to sell the pass by negotiating (with civility and mutual respect) a reasonable and decorous defeat.

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  • Posted by: ladybird - Sep. 12, 2006 12:07 PM ET USA

    Sulpicious & SOS: I will pray for you & your bishops. That you will be fortified & persist in your righteous teaching. That they, & all our bishops, will be chastised & turned from their vain error; that, humbled, they will admit their pride &, repenting, surrender once more to the authority of God's Church and her holy teaching. Please pray for me & my bishop. I have his letter using the same words, "civility & mutual respect"; accusing me of lacking both before ending future communication.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 11, 2006 7:46 PM ET USA

    Petitions from Bp Cupich for the General Intercessions: "That God move the hearts of all citizens to support effective legislation which has a reasonable promise of permanence for protecting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. For the grace of charity in this election season, so that our debate and discussion of important issues facing society will be characterized by civility and depth." Seems Cupich doesn't believe this bill "has a reasonable promise of permanence."

  • Posted by: - Sep. 11, 2006 7:41 PM ET USA

    Writing from the vantage point of a simple country priest in the Diocese of Rapid City, I can report that a great many of us - clergy and lay folk alike - long for firm, clear, unequivocal leadership on this crucial (in every sense of the word) issue. And this is the sophistry we are given. It's positively heart-breaking! For your edification, here's two petitions we have been asked to include in the General Intercessions: (please see my next comment)

  • Posted by: Andy K - Sep. 10, 2006 9:48 PM ET USA

    Dear Diogenes, You have done a disservice by ignoring Bishop Cupich's point in the first part of the article. That point forces the government to decide when life is not worth living. The challenge then is to use logic to prove our point, to prove life is to be protected from womb to tomb. Personally, I believe the pro-life camp has all the tools it needs. Bishop Cupich is warning us not to use histrionics but logic. Let the pro-death group use histrionics; they're great at acting.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 10, 2006 1:52 AM ET USA [Bishop Cupich said that everyone "genuinely interested" in the cause of life "must look for new opportunities to speak to the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens about the dignity of human life in all of its stages, lest the laws we pass rest on a weak foundation."] So, unless you oppose the death penalty too, your stance on genocide is disingenuous? I don't buy it. BTW - I oppose the death penalty.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 09, 2006 5:24 AM ET USA

    The honorable bishop is unware that pro-lifers see no competition of interests in the abortion debate: ultimately NEITHER baby nor mother is served by abortion. Pro-lifers know the terrible harm -physical, emotional and SPIRITUAL- that abortion causes. Opposing abortion might blight a woman's immediate, worldly situation, but in the long run she will ALWAYS be better off NOT aborting -both in this life & the next. The guardian and protector of ETERNAL SOULS (ie, a bishop) should know that!

  • Posted by: - Sep. 08, 2006 3:49 PM ET USA

    Wonder what Solomon would have done if neither woman had been willing to give up her rights.....

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Sep. 08, 2006 2:51 PM ET USA

    Yeah, Diogenes, isnt' great when such "Successors to the Apostles" lead us into darkness, away from the Light of Truth. Seriously, how can any bishop think & teach this way? Did Bp. Cupich receive the fullness of the Spirit of governance at his ordination? I mean, if a lowly country priest such as myself can see the absurdity of the "rights-in-conflict" argument, why can't the bishop? Is he saying that the mom's "right to choose" supercedes/competes with the baby's right to live? Jesus help us

  • Posted by: - Sep. 08, 2006 1:56 PM ET USA

    It appears that Bishop Cupich has aknowledged the right of a pregnant woman to kill her baby!!

  • Posted by: - Sep. 08, 2006 1:23 PM ET USA

    Kansas, 1854: Some abolitionists focus almost exclusively on the rights and suffering of the slave, while some pro-slavery advocates focus equally exclusively on the rights and suffering of slave owners. This is a distortion of the moral choice that confronts us as a society. Slavery is a searing and divisive public policy issue precisely because two significant sets of rights are in conflict, and no matter which set of laws it enacts, society must choose between these rights.