Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Monday, August 23, 2004

Abortion and Bad Capitalism 

I've always found this odd. The far-left has generally shunned the assumptions of free market capitalism, and routinely mocks the language of 'supply' and 'demand,' when utilized in an mechanistic and overly-simplistic way which is seemingly blind to the vagaries of the real-life economic market. But there is one platform when the left can be trusted, without fail, to unreflectively and dogmatically propose this exact language, in its most naive form: the abortion question.

Thus the logic flows:
No one really 'likes' abortion, it is said. It's all a rather messy business which is best avoided altogether. But the real question, you see, is how to best 'reduce the number' of abortions. An outright ban, if enacted, would aim to reduce the supply of abortions, but would have no effect whatsoever upon demand; and an unmitigated demand, of course, would lead to drastic problems: unsafe 'back-alley' abortions, a vast abortion black-market, a massive bloc of now-criminalized citizens entering the penal system, etc. However, if we look at the reasons why women have abortions - i.e., the demand side of the equation - we see such factors as poverty, violence to women, paternal neglect, failed contraception, etc. By reducing these factors we reduce or eliminate the demand for abortions, which, in the end, is a much safer and less coercive strategy than the former.

This picture, of course, represents naive, outmoded, 'invisible hand' capitalism at its worst, a grotesque distortion which Adam Smith would have scoffed at, and which is rightly called into question in modern economics. Yet it is propounded, day in and day out, by countless 'pro-choice' lobbyists. Here in its starkest sense on the website of 'Catholics for a Free Choice' [sic]; a similar (if slightly more intelligible) version popped up yesterday on CKW, which got me thinking.

Such logic falls short on several accounts. First, it defies all the evidence we have on hand. Fact is, an the 'outright ban' approach was the norm before 1973. Debates rage on about the actual number of abortion which occurred during this period, with NARAL and others vastly inflating the numbers, but one would be hard-pressed to prove that the numbers during that period were anywhere close to where they are now. Hard statistics (here and here) on abortions only began in 1973. From this time, once abortion was legalized, one sees immediate jumps, and then a steady and rapid ascent, with the stats now holding steady at near 200% what they were in '73. Attempting to demonstrate that a return to the pre-1973 legal status would have no effect on minimizing abortions is a difficult case to make.

Secondly, it ignores the pedagogical effect of the law. In discussions of the morality of abortion, while pro-choicers will often grant the general moral undesirability of the action, they will often fall back on the stock phrase 'Well, it's a constitutional right.' In other words, we have no right to question it. Of course, this hasn't stopped us, in the past, from calling into question all sorts of laws (such as the Jim Crow laws) which were found to be immoral. But my point is that there is often an unstated assumption, which would never hold water if rendered explicit, but which undergirds much of the resistance to change the laws: 'If it's legal, it must be okay.' This is true especially for children and youth, who have no experience of life before the law, and for whom the current state of the law is simply the norm. The function of the law is not only to reward good and to punish evil, but to teach what is good and evil, by proposing and outlining which actions are deserving of merit and blame. When you punish a child, e.g., the purpose of the act is not strictly penal, but pedagogical: you draw a connection in his mind between a given behavior and an undesirable response. By legalizing abortion we teach people that it's morally acceptable. It doesn't follow that every morally unacceptable action should be criminalized (although certainly some should), but it does reveal the difficulty one will have in discouraging an action which is constitutionally protected.

Thirdly, it ignores the reality of sin. This is a specifically religious argument, but it is one that needs to be addressed. Mark Shea might dub this the 'sin makes you stupid' argument. Sin is inherently irrational. One does not generally commit a sin after a careful premeditation of the presumed merits or demerits of that activity, along with a cautious evaluation of the possible consequences. Most lies, threats, murders, thefts, and assaults arise from of an unreflective paroxysm of the passions, a subsersive and impulsive sublimation of the will to the rational faculty (rather than an ordered integration). Sin results, above all, from what St. Augustine called cupiditas, an obsessive and irrational love of self, divorced from any concern for others or the common good. Men in the happest imagineable marriages still end up in the arms of prostitutes, and the most moneyed and opulent youth still shoplift from department stores. Sin arises from 'the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.' In other words, you can eliminate and minimize every factor which might lead a man to sin, but if his heart is still hard and if his lust is unchecked, he will sin anyway, if only to spite you. And this is one of the purposes of law, viz. to place a check on the unbridled lusts and ambition of men, as a means of preserving peace and order and of preserving the common good.

Fourthly, when we're speaking of the legal status of a moral (or immoral) activity, an account needs to be made of the persons involved in this activity. A discussion of the legality of masturbation, e.g., would probably involve less moral gravity than a discussion of the legality of rape - not necessarily because rape is morally worse than masturbation (Aquinas, probably wrongly, argued that masturbation was worse), but because rape involves a most horrific, cruel and invasive violation of another person, whereas masturbation, by definition, involves only one person in the crime. Abortion is not a victimless crime, and hence, the discussion of its legality cannot be carried out without regard for its victims.

Thus, while the 'supply and demand' scenario could perhaps provide a workable framework for a discussion of the legality of masturbation, it proves more difficult for that of rape.

Take, e.g., the comment I linked to above, with 'abortion' replaced by 'rape.' As a mental exercise, imagine this argument being put forth in defense of an existing constitutional law protecting the right to rape:
Nobody in their right mind is "Pro-Rape" or "For" Rape per se. Nobody in their right mind is seeking recreational rape. Nobody in their right mind is advocating rapes for anybody. Everybody in their right mind knows that rape . . . reflects deeper social and spiritual problems. The issue that is being drowned-out by political rhetoric . . . is the governmental issue of establishing and maintaining workable Public Policy and Law regarding the legal availability of rape as a medical procedure. The Rape procedure is legal and regulated in the United States.
The decision to obtain a legal rape is within Public Policy and Law, placed at the level of the individual and her medical counsel, acknowledging the traditional values of individual freedom and liberty in this Nation. A Public Policy and Law regarding Rape that bans all rape outright on the bases of negative, moral absolute derived as derived from moral Philosophy and Theology was, is and will remain unworkable until the advocates of this approach can show how this Policy and Law will eliminate the re-emergence of a rape black market, prevent the wealthy from traveling abroad to obtain rapes, prevent the prisons from receiving some high number of youthful, perhaps minority, poor rapists to serve long (perhaps life) sentences and perhaps execution for murder, prevent family members and friends from being prosecuted for conspiricy to commit rape and other rape complicities, etc. The total-legal-ban-in-support-of-abstract-moral-truth would be bad Public Policy and Law. It would soon become apparent that their case is flawed, and that the current platform for dealing with Rape
[i.e., protecting rape as a constitutional right] has far more potential to prevent even one rape than does a Policy of "total ban".

# posted by Jamie : 10:38 AM


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