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Religion Or Reason?Religion Or Reason?

Religion Or Reason?

If opposition to abortion is rooted in natural law instead of religious belief, one should be able to show that such opposition existed in societies devoid of Christian influence. The evidence is overwhelming, writes Richard Bastien. 

Richard Bastien
4 minute read

People who identify as pro-choice argue that the pro-life position is based on religion rather than reason. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The pro-life position is based first and foremost on natural reason and logic. 

Many pro-lifers are people of faith. The arguments they invoke for opposing abortion, however, are essentially secular rather than religious. They understand fully that politics belongs to the realm of reason – a reason that is not only technical or calculating but also moral, since the ultimate purpose of politics, which is peace and justice, is itself essentially moral.   

What then is the secular rationale underlying the pro-life position? 

The short answer is that the pro-life stance is rooted in the concept of natural law that was first developed by Greek and Roman philosophers such as Aristotle and Cicero, long before the advent of Christianity. Natural law has been acknowledged as one of the basic principles underlying the English Magna Carta (1215), the Declaration of Independence (1776) of the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1953).

What this concept entails is that certain human acts are intrinsically good or bad and that every normal human person is endowed with a moral conscience enabling him or her to distinguish between right and wrong. This means it is unnecessary to call on religious belief to justify opposition to abortion. Pro-lifers seek to establish a more human State, not a Christian State. 

If opposition to abortion is rooted in natural law, one should be able to show that such opposition existed in societies devoid of Christian influence. The evidence is overwhelming.

The Sumerians condemned abortion some 4,000 years ago. Likewise did the Babylonians, whose code of law, known as the Code of Hammurabi, was developed more than 3,700 years ago. In the fifth century before the Christian era, the Greek physician Hippocrates encased the condemnation of abortion into the Hippocratic Oath which, until it was abandoned by most medical schools in the 1970s, compelled all doctors to take every means at their disposal to protect the life of the unborn child. Closer to us, the Declaration of Geneva, a modernized version of the Hippocratic Oath adopted by the World Medical Association in 1948, states specifically: “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception.” 

Also relevant is the United Nations’ 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child: “The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special protection and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” Countries with no Christian tradition endorsed the declaration. 

Many reject the concept of natural law on the grounds that different civilization and different ages have different moralities. But this is simply not true. As C.S. Lewis has demonstrated in The Abolition of Man, if one compares the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, the remarkable thing one finds is not their differences, but the extent of what they hold in common.

Moreover, those who reject the notion of natural law have no qualms about judging people and classifying them as “good” or “bad.” They ignore that, in doing so, they are implicitly appealing to an objective standard for what is good and bad.

This self-contradictory attitude is quite perceptible among pro-choicers. They argue that it is for each of us to determine whether abortion is right or wrong. Yet, if killing an unborn child is a matter of personal preference, why not killing or molesting a born one? It is utterly irrational to argue, on the one hand, that a newly born child (including a prematurely born baby) has an inviolable right to life and, on the other hand, that an unborn child has no such right. And it is equally irrational to call on medical doctors to kill an unborn child, the purpose of medicine being to preserve and protect human life, not to end it.   

Moreover, if a woman has the right to control her body, as is often claimed, why should we require the use of seatbelts in cars or prohibit the sale and consumption of hard drugs? 

Pro-choice views are inconsistent with the preservation of a free society. For freedom to remain alive, two ingredients are necessary. The first is the notion that we are all responsible for one another. From it we learn the importance of interdependence and the truth that the individual achieves his own fulfilment in service to others. 

The second ingredient is the notion that every human life has an inherent value. This idea constitutes the basis for individual rights. It comes from the moral law and lies at the very heart of our political traditions. It generally serves as a rationale for opposing capital punishment. 

The pro-choice stance is incompatible with both ideas. By asserting that abortion is a private matter, it denies any responsibility we have for each other. By defining life’s value only in relation to society or to those affected by a life, it denies life’s inherent value. It is impossible to support a pro-choice position without implicitly acknowledging that certain human lives should be sacrificed to the privacy or convenience of others. 

This is the utilitarian view of life, which holds that whatever solves a problem on the practical level is acceptable. No action is right or wrong as such. The morality of an act is to be determined only by the weighing of its pros and cons. In short, the end justifies the means. 

What makes the abortion issue so vital is that it contributes in a major way to shaping the society in which we live. Beyond the life of the unborn child lies a certain appreciation of human freedom. But of course it would still be a vital moral (if not political) issue even if it had no effect on shaping our society. It is an intrinsically evil act, regardless of any outcome.

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