Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Morgentaler a mass murderer ? Mama mia !

      Listening to Michael Coren expound on the evils of abortion somehow I am always reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s quip that Catholicism is the superior Christian denomination because it admits all forms of faith, even the respectable one.  I find myself in agreement with many views of Michael Coren who is thoughtful and provocative and many times right on the money. When he is not, he is still generally well-informed and even on subjects where he clearly shows strains of obsessive thought, he is generally guarded and accessible to dissenting opinion.  Alas, not so on the subject of abortion. Hell hath no fury like Michael on the subject of the murdered unborn. 
 
      On last week’s Rumble, Michael noted the passing of Henry Morgentaler, the pre-eminent abortion advocate in Canada, with the openining line : A monster died this week !  What ?

     One, of course, can have an opinion of Dr.Morgentaler’s chosen mission in life, and disagree profoundly with it.  But whatever the good doctor has done or failed to do, he cannot – intelligently – be accused of killing thousands and hundreds of thousands, directly or indirectly. One can only fall for this kind of rhetoric only if one is completely taken leave of his senses, that is if he or she has any to take leave from to begin with (in Michael’s case, it is granted he does).  If one allows himself to throw any kind of parallel between aborting fetuses and the Holocaust, one is being, or acting,  retarded. It really does take a truckload of ill will or staggering incomprehension to fail to see the ridiculousness of comparing an abortion clinic to an Auschwitz crematorium. 
       In order to have an intelligent conversation with Michael Coren on abortion , he would have to concede a number of important points.  Morgentaler was, first and above all, a competent gynecologist. Whatever else one may say about him he wasn’t some crazy hack on the wrong side of tracks in a Philadelphia shanty-town running a butcher shop. I have never found anything on Morgentaler that would put in question his commitment and ability to providing medically sound and safe termination of pregnancy.  It is a well known fact about him that he disapproved of late-term abortions, and quipped himself that he was not aborting babies but fetuses.  In case anyone does not understand the hyperbole in the saying:  a fetus becomes a baby when it is viable, i.e. can survive outside of the womb. This would be the third trimester.  But, anything beyond twelve weeks is generally considered late-pregnancy and most responsible gynecologists would refuse to perform an abortion past that marker except for serious medical issues of the mother or the fetus.
      Second, whatever judgmental posture one likes to strike regarding women who get themselves pregnant without wanting to, there they are. And whatever one may want to say on the virtues of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, it will never be a popular choice with most women.  It has always been so and always will be.  There are powerful psychological and sociological reasons for this.  A pregnancy is either wanted or unwanted. There are rarely situations where the expectant mother is indifferent to her motherhood-to-be.  Ergo, there will always be demand for abortions – whether the church and self-appointed moralists approve or not.  Nowhere is the futility of ‘pro-life’ legislative mania better demonstrated than in Morgentaler’s native Poland, post-communism.  The country has estimated 200,000 illegal abortions performed annually. 
      So, the practical choice in the issue is whether the state will protect women’s health and lives or turn away from them by giving them options they will not take. What irks me most about the ‘pro-life’ posturing is its nasty, coercive nature. It is not a plea for life, a voice to give life a chance, to consider the option of letting nature take its course.  Rather, its advocates  intimidate through barbarous accusations of murder, and display dumb fascination with surgical gore (of late abortions, which as I have said are by and large practiced only in cases of medical emergencies). The persuasion methods rely on hatred and visceral disgust, not thoughtful and balanced view of the complex medical and moral issues associated with human reproduction. 
       In this respect, Michael Coren would do well to read a bit of his Church history. He will find that the Aristotelian view of ensoulment held well into the age of Enlightment. The original Decretist canon law (12th century) stated he is not a murderer who brings about abortion before the soul is in the body.[ Thomas Aquinas considered abortion a grave sin against nature but stipulated: this sin, although grave and to be reckoned among misdeeds and against nature...is something less than homicide... nor is such to be judged irregular (ie. subject to excommunication) unless one procures the abortion of an already formed fetus.[  Now of course the ‘modern church’ holds an action against human fetus at any moment after conception as a cause for immediate excommunication from the body of Christ.  Again, surprising as it may seem to Michael Coren, the current Canon Law (1398) would have first gained firm legal standing with a papal encyclical of Pius IX. In 1869 (Apostolicae Sedis moderationi) which had done away with the distinction of aborting quickened (ensouled) fetus  from one not yet in the protected stage.  Despite the assurances of the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) that Catholic teachings admit no doubt on the subject, it was not until its own time that the doctrine of  individual life on conception  gained foothold. It is something of a sad irony that this doctrinal switch had taken place against the background of advancement in antiseptic surgery allowing relative safety of medical abortions, which distinguished them from back-alley butchery, which it seems have always been an option for women, everywhere. 
      Some people believe naively that this new Catholic teaching is in tune with the development of science. Well, it is not.  The question when an individual human life begins will not be resolved with a microscope.  That the moment of conception is an important biological fact is not denied but the ancients and intelligent moderns had always intuitive grasp of a process of formation of individual life in the uterus from potentiality to actuality.  Regardless of their cosmological certainties. This grasp makes it possible to weigh choices – and words – carefully.  And it is this grasp and the goodwill inherent in it that makes one’s faith the precious kind, which one day soon perhaps will be re-admitted in the superior Christian denomination.
(Incidentally, this would not be the first time the sane voices in the Church were right on some issue for the venerable body only to lapse into nonsense at a later date. The eminent Church theorist Thomas Aquinas quoted above for his enlightened view on intrauterine life, appears to have also believed , as many did in his day and age, that sexual intercourse between women and the devil was a real deal.   However, the Canon Episcopi, three centuries earlier, and  considered authoritative well after Thomas, declared confidently that the belief in the reality of witchcraft was a sign of apostasy:  Whosoever therefore believes that anything can be made, or that any creature can be changed to better or worse, or be transformed into another species or similitude, except by creator himself who made everything and through who all things were made, is beyond doubt an infidel.  In Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, Jeffrey Burton Russell, Cornell U., 1972 p.77)