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.

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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  • Posted by: impossible - Nov. 03, 2010 10:52 AM ET USA

    To restore morality and culture, it’s essential that all Bishops/Priests regularly teach/preach sermons and "fit their homilies" about the grievous sins of abortion, artificial contraception, in-vitro-fertilization (masturbation), embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia and homosexual actions. Teaching the truth, even if it "hurts," is the Bishop's primary duty - and the duty of priests. It might change the “Catholic vote” into a Catholic vote by 2012 in all states, especially the “Red” ones.

  • Posted by: usalis549414 - Nov. 01, 2010 5:02 PM ET USA

    Gee, if having four children instead of five makes you healthier, and three children instead of four makes you even more healthier, and so on, then for the good health of the entire human race, we should contracept and abort all children, and in no time at all we'll be the healthiest extinct species on the planet!