Catholic World News

Opinion Roundup

February 21, 2011

As elections approach in Ireland, Labor Party leader Eamon Gilmore has been fending off questions about his religious beliefs, saying that “religion is a private matter.” Analyst David Quinn rejects the idea that religious beliefs are irrelevant to public policy:

But if religious values are to be excluded from the legislative chamber, and secular values only are to be allowed in, that would amount to exactly the sort of aggressive secularism the Pope and other religious leaders have warned against.

This debate in Irish political circles echoes the arguments that were raised by the famous (or notorious) “Houston speech” of John F. Kennedy in 1960—arguments that remain current in the US today.

Frances Kissling, the doyenne of abortion advocacy, has recently become critical of the arguments employed by her former colleagues. (Kissling, having secured a post in academe, is no longer dependent on the profits from abortion clinics and donations from the Playboy Foundation.) In a revealing Washington Post column, she concedes:

We can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible…
The fetus is more visible than ever before, and the abortion-rights movement needs to accept its existence and its value…
Abortion is not merely a medical matter, and there is an unintended coarseness to claiming that it is…
We need to firmly and clearly reject post-viability abortions except in extreme cases….

Kissling suggests that advocates for legal abortion should follow her reasoning and offer reasonable concessions to protect the “fetus” and the mother. But if they do, they will find themselves in a disorderly retreat, because anyone who accepts any regulations to protect mothers and their children will find it impossible to justify the current policies of abortion-on-demand.

Adding his voice to the debate on the tactics employed by Live Action to expose the policies of Planned Parenthood, legal theorist Hadley Arkes points out that if one believes that deception is never morally defensible, one cannot justify espionage, police “sting” operations, or the actions of Dutch citizens who hid Jews from the Nazis. Arkes argues that “anyone holding to that doctrine would forfeit any moral claim to stand in a position of authority in which he bears responsibility to protect the lives of the American people.?”

Peter Kreeft goes a step further, explaining why the absolutist position—the argument that deception is invariably wrong—is defective. That argument, he says, is based purely on abstract reasoning, and does not take into account the common intuitive judgment, based on experience, that most reasonable Christians would make, and philosophers such as Aristotle and Aquinas—who valued common experience and intuition—would respect. Kreeft notes that the exclusive reliance on abstract reasoning, to the exclusion of intuition and common experience, has had a destructive impact on philosophical discourse.


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