NOTE TO SELF, BASED ON QUAKER TESTIMONIES OF INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY, PEACE, EQUALITY, AND COMMUNITY:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.
2. Do what you say, say what you think, think what is true.
3. Subtract superfluities from your life, speech, desires and thoughts.
4. Don't initiate aggression against the persons or property of others, nor support people who do, including the people who "constitute" the government.
5. Respect life and natural law.
6. All people are endowed by their Creator with equal and inalienable rights to the earth and to the fruits of their own labor, and a "Citizen's Dividend" funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources would be the fairest way to protect these rights.

For supporting materials, see the Archive and the Recommended Reading and Videos section at the bottom of this page.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Illinois Yearly Meeting's statement on abortion

Mirror of Justice, "a blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory," has several posts today on the immorality vs. the illegality of abortion. This discussion was in turn prompted by an earlier post, where contributor Eduardo Penalver stated the issue thusly: "[T]he Church normally distinguishes between a practice's morality and its legality, as it does in the case of, say, the just wage. But in the case of abortion, it has by and large skipped over that distinction, asserting that there is no room for prudential disagreement, not only as to abortion's morality, but also as to its legality."

I've stated previously
my dissent from the 1992 Minute concerning abortion of Illinois Yearly Meeting, of which my own monthly meeting is a member. (I've only been an attender at Quaker meeting for a few years, and only became aware of this Minute a couple months ago.) What exactly do I find objectionable about this Minute, in light of my basic agreement with the implications of Penalver's observation and the libertarian view on abortion expressed here?

The pertinent language in the Minute is as follows: "Neither abortion nor pregnancy should be compulsory nor illegal. A pregnant woman forced by legal or economic means to act against her own leadings is an abused woman. We hold that it is morally wrong for the federal or state governments to take upon themselves the power of compelling women to complete or terminate pregnancy, whether such coercion be done by legal or economic means."

Part of my objection has to do with the confusion and ambiguity caused by the use of the word "economic" in the phrase "legal or economic means." To the extent that it contemplates the situation of a pregnant woman who feels compelled by lack of financial resources to have an abortion, I agree that such a situation implies injustice (the injustice of our economic system, primarily, which denies to the poor what rightfully belongs to them) or at least a lack of charity in the wider society. But IYM's ambiguous statement just as clearly suggests that governments have used or may use economic means to "compel" women to complete pregnancy. What economic means could IYM be referring to here? The meaning that immediately occurred to me, an interpretation that will also naturally occur to other readers of this statement in the absence of any obvious alternatives, is that IYM is talking about the issue of government funding of abortions, and implying that not providing such funding for poor women who want abortions somehow coerces them into carry their pregnancy to term. That is, according to this interpretation, it is "morally wrong" for the government to not force its putative subjects to pay doctors to perform on other putative subjects a medical procedure that very many of the would-be payors consider immoral. I hope this interpretation of IYM's intent is incorrect, but the ambiguity of the language makes it impossible to know. Certainly IYM's statement comes across as a "pro-choice" document, and the issue of federal funding for abortions has historically been an important one for the pro-choice movement, so this interpretation is reasonable. What else could this allusion to economically -coercing-women-to-complete-their-pregnancies be referring to?
Informed consent requirements? I'm not aware of any proposals ever having been made to fine women for having abortions. If nothing else, the statement would benefit by plainer speech.

My most fundamental objection to the statement, however, is that while it goes so far as to say that it is "morally wrong" for the government to prevent a woman from having an abortion (without any qualifications, e.g., for late-term abortions) , it scrupulously avoids saying anything about the morality of violently preventing an unborn child from being born, a child who, except in cases of rape, was the natural fruit of consensual sex and has the status of an "invited guest." It doesn't say anything about the morality of engaging in sex in situations where an unplanned pregnancy is likely to end in abortion.

There are
real prudential reasons for not outlawing most abortions. These reasons do not make abortion moral, and it's an abuse of language to speak of it as a "right."

Far be it from me to judge anyone. I've acted immorally and taken the easy way out on too many occasions to presume or be tempted to do that. But if we have Light enough to declare coercive laws or proposed laws to be "morally wrong," we have Light enough to make moral judgments about other coercive human acts, including abortion. It's particularly important that we do so when our pronouncements about the morality of laws or proposed laws strongly imply a view about the morality of those human acts that would be subject to the law.