THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part X

As a practical matter, and leaving out ethical considerations, if abortion were to be outlawed tomorrow, it is highly likely that the law would be flouted to an even greater extent than the Fugitive Slave Act or Prohibition. Going contrary to what many people, rightly or wrongly, have become convinced is a right is a recipe for social disaster on a massive scale. This is why Aquinas counsels that obedience even to the worst of laws is required, if breaking the law or refusing to obey it would cause the situation to get worse, cause massive social upheaval, or even the destruction of the social order itself.

In De Regimine Principum, the "Angelic Doctor" (as Aquinas is sometimes called), relates the story of the tyrant Dionysus of Syracuse who, at a time when he seemed to be reviled and hated by everyone, was surprised to come across an old woman praying fervently to the gods for his safety and long life. Naturally enough, Dionysus asked why, when everyone else was hoping for his early demise, she was doing exactly the opposite. The old woman explained that when she was a young girl, a terrible tyrant oppressed the land, and everyone prayed for deliverance. The tyrant died, and was replaced with a worse one, and so on, until now, near the end of her life, Dionysus, the worst of the lot, seized power. That being her experience, she now prayed that he would last long in power, for she couldn't take anyone worse.

In moral philosophy (ethics), the only time we are permitted to disobey even a bad law is when the law requires us, individually and personally, to act contrary to our consciences. Coerced obedience in that case would constitute an offense against our human dignity. This is the same human dignity that the State, as guardian of the common good, is required to safeguard by preserving and protecting the institutional environment within which we as moral creatures acquire and develop virtue and so become more fully human.

Pro-Choice advocates, whether or not they realize this principle on a conscious level, have been quick to exploit it to the disadvantage of the Pro-Life movement. Pro-Choice advocates are in the forefront of those who demand obedience to the law . . . as long as it is a law with which they agree. Logically, of course, consistent with their line of reasoning that Roe v. Wade established abortion on demand as the law of the land, simply passing a law to the contrary would end the matter. If they acted in a manner consistent with their expressed principle that the State in the person of the United States Supreme Court creates the law and thereby determines what is right and wrong, Pro-Choice advocates would defend the outlawing of abortion with the same vigor, even fanaticism with which they have defended the presumed right to abortion, similarly (presumably) established by law.

Simply passing a law, as we have seen, however, does nothing if people are not prepared to accept or obey the law. In the event a law prohibiting abortion on demand were to be passed, many people would act contrary to their stated principles, and disobey it, despite their previous insistence that the law as established by the State is absolute and sacred. To believe otherwise is to be living in a fantasy world.

There is, however, a very effective tactic that has yet to be tried, one that is based not on passing a new law, but on demanding full and impartial enforcement of what Pro-Choice advocates insist is the current law of the land. In one sense, of course, this could be viewed as a very clever turning of the tables on the Pro-Choice position. Ultimately, however, it is not some kind of legal chicanery, but a simple demand for justice — and on the terms set and the ground defined by the Pro-Choice movement. That is what we will cover in the next posting in this series.