Double Effect

Ora pro nobis!
I'm not much of a theologian, but the phrase 'double-effect' is being thrown around in the debate on abortion limits from both camps.

We all see that a reduction in the number of abortions is eminently desirable.

However, we are arguing a point of principle in the public square. What is our guiding principle? That all abortion is wrong and intrinsically evil.

Supporting a reduction in the limit of abortion to 12 or 20 weeks is problematic because surely a person voting for that is implicitly supporting the abortion of an unborn child up to that limit.

This is not merely a vote for restricting abortion - a good outcome. It is also a vote positively for abortion between 0 and 12 weeks.

The outcome is that if we support the reduction idea then we lose our argument because we have forsaken our guiding principle, saving some but, in voting, abandoning others.

Further, for the pro-life movement to sanction this would be to give credence to some government idea that life starts at 12 weeks or 20 weeks. It doesn't. Life starts at conception.

Of course the pro-abortion lobby are wounded by these suggestions from government ministers. Perhaps they are losing the argument in the public square. Now, then, surely is the time to ram the point home - life begins at conception. Abortion is the destruction of human life. To support a limit of however many weeks is not so much to compromise with evil, but to compromise your entire argument and publicly reject that basis of your guiding principle.

It strikes me that the abortion lobby is on the backfoot. Now is not the time to do deals with politicians who, we guess, do not understand the argument of the pro-life lobby, nor what abortion is, otherwise they would not suggest a restriction.

Aside from the fact that a Catholic politician would be voting for abortion up to a particular limit, we should also remember that there is much at stake in this battle. Human embryos are used, abused and discarded in IVF. Human embryos are used, abused and discarded in human embryology. A great deal of money, power and financial interest is at stake for those research companies and organisation involved in fertility and in 'medical research' in ensuring that their crimes against human life in its embryonic stage will not be stopped.

Abortion is the most visible aspect of the culture of death but think of how much evil has been allowed to engulf the World simply by the dehumanisation of the human embryo.

We are not just arguing for the end of abortion. We are also arguing for the end of the destruction and wilful commodification of human life at embryo stage being used for scientific, medical and fertility treatment. We are praying for an end to this too.

If the inalienable rights of the human embryo to life were upheld in the United Kingdom, all of these barbaric practises would fall. We are in a fight against evil, not just 'some evil'. Let us also not forget that I am led to think that the disabled will still be aborted up to birth in this legislation and that they, too, would be left out of the reprieve?

We cannot co-operate in selective breeding and birth rights. That is eugenics.

If we could, we would have saved all the Jews in the Holocaust. We couldn't. Christians and others were able to save some from slaughter. The idea, however, that should it have come to a vote that people would have proposed the rescuing of some Jews only of a certain kind of Jewishness because some people in the government recognised the humanity of some Jews of a particular strand of Judaism would be morally abominable. That would be to give tacit agreement to eugenics - that some life is more valid than others.

Were the limit to be reduced, could we actually cheer? Hardly, not while the bloodshed continues for those the government would have chosen to deny had humanity, but which we know are human. A martyr will die for a single principle. Unborn martyrs die for the lack of principles of those born.

At the same time, we would have to be quite unfeeling not to consider those who could be saved from the abortionist's hands. That's why this proposal is so divisive and pernicious - because those who refused to engage in the debate or to agree to a reduction, agree to the continuation of abortions of a wider sector of the human family in the womb. The problem, of course, is that politicians are setting the terms and conditions.

Your views, please. I'd be interested in a commenter could post up what the CDF has said on these matters.


pelerin said…
I have been following this debate with interest on various blogs. Initially I thought that any reduction in time limit must be a step in the right direction and should be encouraged ie towards the total banning of abortion.

However I now see with your analogy of the Jews during the Holocaust how wrong I was. Thanks Laurence for showing us such a clear reasoning.

Incidentally I have to admit to my shame that some years back I actually believed that while I as a Catholic held that abortion was wrong whatever the reason, we should not stop those who did not share our Faith from having an abortion. I see how wrong I was now but at the time I really thought that we could not impose our beliefs on others in such a situation. Mea maxima culpa.
Lynda said…
Abortion - the intentional killing of a human being prior to birth - is always and everywhere a very serious evil act. Of course, to support or enable the legalisation of such intrinsic evil is also evil. However, if the killing of babies up to 24 weeks is already legal and there is only one option other than the status quo on the table - to reduce the time in which a baby may be killed - then it is moral to support the one other option. It is not a matter of double effect; it is a matter of the lesser of two evils which is different. One is not voting for legalising the killing up to, say, 12 weeks (there is no option to make it illegal) but rather changing the law from saying one may kill a child up to 24 weeks to saying one may do so only to 12 weeks. One is voting for, supporting an amendment to the current law which reduces the time period in which the killing of an innocent child may be killed. The change/amendment is a good one as it gives less time and opportunity for a baby to be killed. Any law to restrict the current scheme for abortion is good. One is not supporting the legalisation of the killing of babies up to 12 weeks by voting for such an amendment, as is already legal and would remain so after the vote, whether the amendment was rejected or accepted. However, if the amendment were accepted, there would be a much shorter period in which a baby could be legally killed. Unfortunately, sometimes in practice, the choice is only between two evils and one should choose the lesser. In practice, it would mean that if a baby survived to 12 weeks, he or she couldn't be legally killed, whereas now they could be killed during the next 12 weeks. As for the validity of any law permitting the killing of an innocent against the Natural Law - well it is clearly invalid and one awaits a judgment of the Supreme Court that will recognise the invalidity of the law allowing abortion, ab initio.
Richard Collins said…
The prospect of totally ignoring attempts to reduce down from 24 to 12 weeks is, of course, technically sound.
But, when a general election comes around we all vote for parties that subscribe to abortion.
If we were to follow through on the first principle we should all have to abstain from voting.
I believe that by debating a reduction we are bringing the debate to the fore and bringing us one step further towards a total ban.
blondpidge said…
I think you are right in that it is a shame we are allowing politicians to dictate the terms.

Equally, I would be wary of a reduction from 24-12 weeks as this could make the goal - total abolition, impossible and enshrine early abortion as an acceptable action.

The whole debate is incredibly tricky, although morally, I believe both positions are justified.

Of course, legislation has to be a final prong in any strategy, more important has to be conversion of hearts and minds and the creation of a more life-embracing society. To bring in a ban, in the present climate, would be the action of a totalitarian state, no matter how justified we might think.

This is the problem with the legalisation of abortion. The genie has been out of the bottle for 40 years now and it's very hard to go back without some incrementalism along the way. Which is why, as you know, I believe that a small reduction in the limit, provided it was properly defended, could be a positive and life-saving measure. Could the opportunity be taken to do something about the discrimination against disabled babies?

The thing is, once there has been one major legislative change, it will then take years for another. But all or nothing is equally risky.
blondpidge said…
Laurence, further to my previous post, it seems that Evangelium Vitae (section 73) seems to solve the conundrum.
The Bones said…
I'm not sure the banning of the destruction of its own citizens is an act of a totalitarian state.
blondpidge said…
Maybe that was a bit OTT but it would certainly be out of kilter with public opinion.

Did you look up Evangelium Vitae?

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects
Physiocrat said…
Lesser of two evils. Life is full of these difficult choices.
Humphrey said…
It's the old idealist/realist conundrum. I don't think it is realistic to expect abortion to be abolished in one fell swoop.

If you look at many of the social changes that those we disagree with have managed to secure, you will see that they have secured them through a strategy of gradualism.

They did it by steps. Once they have managed to secure (A), they give it some time and allow society to get used to it, then they take the next step and ask for further change (B).

Asking for (B) to start with would be unrealistic because it would be too much of a shock for society.

I realize that I've explained that badly, but I hope you get the gist of what I'm trying tot say.
Cathy said…
The quotation from Evangelium Vitae, section 73, is misleading as it is a partial quotation which misses out the important pointi that comes IMMEDIATELY before it - that it is NEVER licit to campaign or vote for an intrinsically unjust law.

The text says: "In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it'."

The first question to ask is: Is the law to set 12 or 20 weeks as the upper limit for abortion intrinsically unjust? Of course it is! End of discussion.
Lynda said…
If such an amendment came before Parliament and one voted against it, one would be voting for maintaining abortion to 24 weeks when there is an opportunity to restrict the scope of abortion. In those circumstances one would be morally culpable in choosing the greater evil of the status quo over the lesser evil of the proposed change. Ditto for one who abstained in such circumstances. There is a positive duty to minimise evil to the extent possible. As I said earlier, this is not support for killing of innocents up to 12 weeks but support for restricting such evil to 12 weeks from the prevailing 24 weeks. A moral act cannot be assessed without all the facts.
PJ said…
Brilliant. i recommend you read Colin Hartre "Changing Unjust Laws Justly"
Cathy said…
I'm sorry Lynda but what you have said is obviously incorrect.

For example: you have a Tory MP who believes the income tax rate should be no higher than 10%. If the current rate is 20% (which the Tory had opposed when it was originally voted for) and a Labour MP proposes a 30% rate, then the Tory who votes against the 30% rate isn't expressing support for the current 20% rate. It is just a vote rejecting 30%.

Similarly, pro-life MPs voting against a reduction to 12 weeks are not supporting the current law of 24 weeks. However, I think the best thing for them to do would be not to vote against 24 weeks but to abstain, explaining publicly that they can support neither 24 weeks nor 12 weeks because both limits are unjust, and that they are unwilling to support either a "greater evil" or a "lesser evil" because they accept the fundamental principle of morality which is to do good (when it can be done) and to ALWAYS AVOID EVIL (which can always be done).

As Pope John Paul II said: "It is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from NOT DOING certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than do evil." (Veritatis Splendor, sec. 52).

This point (like the one I made previously) is made in Colin Harte's book. I agree with PJ's recommendation to read it.
Outrageous Polyptych said…
... Because the campaign for a total ban has been so successful to date, hasn't it?

This isn't a joke. This isn't a fun little hobby for Saturday afternoons. This is serious, and it's about babies' lives. Get real and WAKE UP.

A reduction will REDUCE the number of child murders. That will be more than the pro-life campaign has managed in FORTY YEARS.

Current support for a total ban is virtually negligible. There is no way in hell it will happen in Britain or America in the current culture.

Perhaps you high-and-mighty Elect ought to get off your clouds in heaven and actually DO SOMETHING TO HELP rather than sniping at those trying to get ANY improvement to the present dire situation through.

"This will block the way for more sweeping reform" is the refuge of a disingenuous and defeated cause, and it is ALWAYS a lie.
Physiocrat said…
"This will block the way for more sweeping reform" is not what the pro abortionists argue. They say it is part of a campaign to tighten the screws increasingly, little by little.

And there will always be hard cases where an exception may be the least bad course of action. The classic one is the mother of a young family whose life would be threatened if she proceeded with the pregnancy.
Cathy said…
Outrageous Polytypch,

I don't know what planet you've been living on, but there has never been a campaign for a total ban on abortion!

Like most people, for years I accepted the wisdom of SPUC and LIFE and Right to Life and David Alton and Ann Widdecombe and all the leading pro-lifers supporting campaigns to lower the abortion limit. It is only in the past few years that this received wisdom has been questioned. As far as I know no pro-life politician or pro-life group is campaigning for a total ban, though I have read that John Smeaton of SPUC thinks mistakes were made in the past and does not support current moves to lower the upper limit.

For 45 years the pro-life movement has been "serious" in trying to gradually change the abortion law. This is the policy you support and it has clearly not been successful.

I think you should stop throwing your toys out of your pram and recognise that some of us have been working hard for many years to protect unborn children, both politically (in the way you suggest is right) and also by providing practical alternatives to abortion. It is a sign of maturity to recognise that past actions that were done in good faith were not ethical or helpful to the pro-life cause. Ranting against pro-lifers, who are as committed as you claim to be to protecting unborn childrren (though your ignorance suggests you have not been active in the pro-life movement for any length of time) is neither justified nor helpful.
Lynda said…
It is very clear, a matter of reason and logic, upon which morality rests, as upheld by the Church. Anyone who could but refuses to assist in passing a law which radically cuts the age-group of babies that can be "legally" killed when its failure means the status quo is maintained, is morally culpable for that refusal/failure. It is immoral to say that because one can't save all the children, one will save none. On the issue of a pregnant woman having some life-threatening illness - that has no relevance to abortion (the intentional killing of a baby in utero). When a pregnant woman's life is in danger, she is treated in hospital. In some few situations, her child may die and it may not be possible to save him though everything is, of course, done to save both lives. The recent Dublin Declaration which came out of an International Conference on Maternal Healthcare reaffirmed that abortion is never medically necessary. Ireland has had the lowest maternal death rate for some thirty years (WHO) and abortion (the intentional killing of an unborn child) has not been legalised, and is not practised, it also being gross professional misconduct for a physician. To connect abortion with medical treatment is an old ploy that, unfortunately, still fools some, though hopefully fewer as more people are better informed.
Lazarus said…
@ Cathy

The interpretation of EV 73 para 3 is disputed between John Finnis and Colin Harte. Harte takes your line; Finnis argues that EV 73 3 allows voting for a reduced limit on the ground that this constitutes a limitation of an existing law rather than endorsement of an unjust law.

I've set out the issues more fully on my last blogpost, but, in any case, it can't be argued that Harte's interpretation is obviously correct: at the least, there is a lack of clarity here.

I'd urge everyone who's interested to read the relevant essays in 'Co-operation, Complicity and Conscience' it includes several papers by Finnis and Harte commenting on each other's arguments. (I think Finnis gets the better of the argument for what it's worth.)
Physiocrat said…
Paddy Power is giving 50-1 on Blue Vinnie.

Paddy Power

Nothing about his shoes though.