Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 14. 1967.
Abortion editorial attacked
Abortion editorial attacked
Sirs,—An editor of your paper, one Curry, editorialised in your last issue upon the subject of abortion, His main concern appeared to be the emancipation of the foetus— "At the nub of the issue is our assessment of the rights of the unborn . . . Our culture has always found it a duty to protect the sick, the weak, and the defenceless. None is more defenceless than the foetus."
I need hardly point out to the keen able young minds of your readers the fallacy involved in the proposition that "we protect some of the defenceless, the foetus is defenceless therefore we must protect it." Besides which. even had we protected a defenceless foetus in the past this is no argument that we should continue to do so in the future.
From a stand on tradition Mr. Curry moves to a moralistic position, where he is concerned about the "little regard for human life" apparently displayed by abortion, and constricting, and better suited can "justify the denial of life to another human being." If "denial" means "denial" then every time I sleep alone I am being immoral, and I become a good lad only when I attempt to increase the population.
If, on the other hand, "denial" means "removal" then might I ask Mr. Curry on what criterion does he decide that the foetus has "human life?" Has it a consciousness of "I"? Is it a rational being? One could of course avow that it has a soul, but this merely defines the argument out of existence without answering any questions—an activity which academe should leave to religion.
Mr. Curry is further concerned with the effects of abortion on the "social fibre!" The social fibre, sir, is one of the strongest materials known to man, and in spite of warnings dire and frequent over the past million years or so is still unrent. The fabric which it weaves may of course change, to become more subtle, more elegant, lighter and less constricting, and better suited to its purpose, as a sheepskin loincloth evolves to terylene trousers.
And yet even were the social fibre a gossamer thread, easily snapped, Mr. Curry fails to show how it would be broken. Apparently if we had 20,000 legal abortions instead of 20,000 illegal ones, disastrous effects would ensue. What are these effects?
Mr. Curry suggests that abortion would be seen as merely another means of birth control, implying, presumably, that people will choose this as a preferable alternative to contraception. Neither Mr. Curry nor myself know whether people would indeed do this, yet most surely are aware that abortion, apart from the legality aspect, is not a particularly desirable operation for a woman, if reasonable alternatives are both available and known about.
It is true of course that an illegal abortion has a useful punitive effect which would be lost if it was legalised. I trust that Mr. Curry does not have this in mind, yet this argument is even these days a common one against disseminating information about contraception—"if they indulge in sex they will have illegitimate babies and serve them right."
I can see no other effects than this which legalised Abortion As Opposed To Literal Abortion would have on the national psyche. I think Mr. Curry is implicitly considering the effects of legal abortion as opposed to none at all, which is not the issue.
However, Mr. Curry does, it is true, consider a more relevant criterion than the rather nebulous "rights of the unborn" and the somewhat speculative "effects on the social fibre." He dwells for some three-quarters of an inch upon the "serious psychological implications of the birth?"
But surely these implications are not as delightfully clearcut as Mr. Curry's analysis attempts to show? "A shame in betraying the woman's dominant human duty pervades a lifetime." A fine ringing phrase, sir. but were I a woman I would feel a little slighted to be told that my predominant duty was to act as a sort of queen bee, popping out kiddies at regular intervals to consume all that surplus butter, and wool, and what-have-you.
True, if the total births are not sufficient to counteract I the total deaths in the population our numbers will, over a period of time, decline, but I think Mr. Curry takes a cloudy view of human nature if he considers that in the absence of sanctions to the contrary a significant number of married couples would prefer not to have children.
Furthermore, the "shame" he talks of is but a part of the picture, and not a necessary part. The "shame" of having an abortion comes less from the act per se, but rather from the attitude of those such as Mr. Curry who declare it to be something shameful. Had Mr. Curry been instilled in youth with the belief that editing student newspapers is shameful, he may well have felt shame at editing Salient. But this would be no justification for others to attempt to stop him doing so.
As I said, "shame" is only part of the psychological implications of abortion. I have no doubt that in many cases there would be other feelings, especially if the child was wanted but could not be properly provided for. Mr. Curry, however, fails to consider the possibility that if the child is born, particularly out of wedlock, the implications for the mother may be considerable and unfortunate, not to mention the implications for the child. The mother may prefer to have the baby, of course, and many do. But this is no reason for decreeing that all must.
This leads me to the first of two general points which arise from the question. Our Christian tradition has given us the belief that any action is Wrong until it can be shown that it is Eight, a belief analogous to the inhuman one from the same source which declares that a newborn infant is sinful until excused. Even an unborn one. in fact. Perhaps this is just our usual conservatism, some of which is necessary in any society; however it makes more sense to me to judge an issue from the point of view of those who feel its effects than on the basis of immutable Laws, the chief problem of which is that each individual has his own set, Immutable, Eternal, and Universal in each case.
My second general point is to wonder why it is that there seems to be in the land a concern over denial of life to what is marginally a human being for (usual) humanitarian reasons; yet an acceptance of killing adults for political reasons. I agree with Lecky who states ("History of European Morals") that "The death of an adult man who is struck down in the midst of his enterprise and his hopes, who is united by ties of love or friendship to multitudes around him, and whose departure causes a perturbation and a pang to the society In which he has moved, excites feelings very different from any produced by the painless extinction of a newborn infant, which, having scarcely touched the earth, has known none of its cares and very little of its love." Although I would replace "new-born" with "unborn").
And yet there are those (I do not imply that Mr. Curry is included amongst them) who at the same time regard the scraping away of a foetus as morally abhorrent, yet the dropping of burning petrol and phosphorous on communities of people as justifiable. Perhaps we are developing a society in which individuals have Immutable Laws, created ad hoc and to suit as each situation arises.