Abortion is more important than torture

February 20, 2010 § 14 Comments

Given the foregoing series of posts, one might get the impression that I think torture, and specifically waterboarding, is a more grave issue than abortion.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For the person actually doing it, and for any persons formally cooperating with it, appeals to the greater gravity of abortion carry no water. Tu quoque or “less evil than the competing brand” isn’t recognized as sound moral reasoning in any serious ethical theory of which I am aware, let alone in Catholic moral theology. When an act is evil we ought not do it, and we ought not formally cooperate with it, by the nature of what is meant by “evil”; no matter how venially evil it happens to be, and no matter what consequences follow from not doing it. That is what “evil” means.

Nevertheless different evil acts, though evil as pertains to category, do differ in their moral gravity. We should never perform an evil act; but some evil acts are worse than others.

Still we are comparing apples to oranges, because the pro-choice position is that abortion should be legal, not that it is not immoral. Lets stipulate.

The problem though for Catholics who approach it that way is a little document called Evangelium Vitae. Evangelium Vitae makes it astonishingly clear that it is also gravely wrong to support the legality of abortion; and furthermore, that there is a grave positive duty to oppose its legality as enshrined in a legal pseudo-right.

Failing to oppose the legality of abortion, in the will and intentions if not always in particular acts, is also gravely wrong. Our day to day behavior will inevitably reflect whether our will and intentions are where they should be on the matter.

As stated above, there is a difference between whether an act is wrong and how gravely wrong it is. Furthermore, the abortion holocaust and the torture regime are not individual acts, but whole ensembles of vast numbers of acts and social implications: what Pope John Paul II referred to as “structures of sin”. As I mentioned recently in a previous post, and in many places in times past, the gravity of the abortion holocaust as a structure of sin is immediate and vastly larger than the gravity of the torture regime. As tacticians or strategists looking from the outside in, opposed to both, it is clear which is the higher priority.

Suppose there are two switches on the wall, on opposite sides of the room. One switch will permanently end the “right to abortion”. The other will permanently end state-sanctioned waterboarding of prisoners. The switches are only active for the next fifteen seconds, you are standing in the middle of the room, and you’ve gotta start moving right now.

The priority is manifest.

We do have to be a little careful with the word “priority”. Each of us as individuals has a vocation or vocations, and just because opposing the “right” to abortion is a vastly higher priority in general than torture, because of our circumstances, that doesn’t imply that every individual must make abortion his highest priority. Not at all. It is really a false choice. And it also would be easy to underestimate the gravity of the torture regime because, unlike the abortion regime, it is in its infancy.

But when Horatio stands on the bridge of legal abortion, it is one thing to oppose the torture regime because it is evil in itself and because of the harm it is doing to him; it is another to use it to knife him in the back.

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