On abortion, again

APOLOGIABy Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, October 16, 2008)

On abortion, again

When I began writing Apologia this summer, I wasn’t planning to spend a lot of time on the abortion issue. However, the more I thought about how poor the arguments for abortion generally are, the more I became convinced that awarding abortionist Dr. Henry Morgentaler with the Order of Canada is a terrible mistake.

Consider this. Twenty years ago Dr. Morgentaler visited the University of Calgary (one of my alma maters) to defend his abortion practice. He set out the following slogan as his argument: “Every child a wanted child, every mother a willing mother.” At present, on the website for Toronto’s Morgentaler Clinic, beside a photo of Morgentaler, a caption reads: “Every Mother a willing Mother, Every Child a wanted Child.”

Morgentaler’s argument is as unsound today as it was 20 years ago, for at least four reasons.

First, “Every child a wanted child” trades unfairly on the ambiguity that the number of unwanted children can be reduced either by caring for them in a loving home or by killing them via abortion. Yes, every child should be a wanted child, but instead of actually helping the unwanted children themselves, which is what the words “every child a wanted child” usually conjure up, Morgentaler would have us kill them.

Second, in the child-adult relation “wantedness” is the responsibility of the parties who are able to do the wanting—namely, the adults—and therefore adults have the responsibility to care for children rather than kill them for their—the adults’—irresponsibility. (Happily, there are many adults willing to adopt “unwanted” children.)

Third, rape rarely results in pregnancy and therefore “every mother a willing mother” means, in light of the first two points, that women should will to become mothers, or will not to become mothers, before they become mothers (i.e. before they get pregnant).

Fourth, because only a tiny percentage of abortions are required medically to remedy threats to a mother’s life or physical health, it’s reasonable to think that the vast majority of abortions are due to problems of a social not medical nature—but this should mean that these social problems require some sort of social solution (e.g., economic plus psychological/spiritual help for the troubled mothers and fathers and their children).

Every child a wanted child, every mother a willing mother? Yes, definitely. But we also should keep in mind the following moral principle: Social problems require social solutions, not the killing of innocent human beings.

The Order of Canada ought to be awarded only to citizens who respect this principle.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, located in Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada.)

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