Perhaps I am just obsessive, but something happened in Rome a year or so ago that has been bothering me and won’t leave me alone. In June last year, when the Vatican was gearing up for a state visit from the new president of the US, the editor-in-chief of the Vatican’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, made the extraordinary statement that Barack Obama’s long, flawless pro-abortion voting record, policies and personal opinions do not make him “a pro-abortion president.” Not at all. “He was, rather” merely “pro-choice,” said editor Gian Maria Vian.
Earlier, Vian had praised President Obama for his speech at Notre Dame University (remember all that?) in which he said that the president “tried to engage the debate, stepping out from every ideological position and outside every confrontational mentality.”
“I’m not pro-abortion. I’m pro-choice!” How many times have pro-life advocates come across this indignant exclamation? Vian has here presented the quintessential “liberal Catholic” position (perhaps not unconnected to the secular humanist position), that the best, highest, most moral stance is that there must never, under any circumstances be “confrontation.” There is no greater evil than to take an “ideological position.” Peace in our time, and at any cost.
It sounds fine, to some, when we are talking about abortion, a subject upon which there is much moral disagreement. But try changing the discussion just a little. Imagine for a moment we are talking about moral evils upon which there is no dispute. Can there be a non-confrontational position on genocide? Imagine for a moment the editor of the Vatican’s newspaper praising Barack Obama for his non-confrontational stand on slavery. On rape. On wife battery.
When a person says, “I’m pro-choice,” he is trying to find a middle point between two things that are simply opposed, an obvious intellectual squirm.
But let us examine the “pro-choice” assertion. Say a person were to tell you that he is “pro-choice” on slavery. He would say, with a noble lift of the brow perhaps, “I don’t like slavery. I don’t feel it is right for me to own another human being. But I also don’t believe that it is my right to impose my personal beliefs on another. I believe in personal choice. It is between a man and his god whether he should own a slave”.
It is obvious, isn’t it? The thing chosen must be moral before the concept of being “pro-choice” can also be moral. For Vian to say that Barack Obama is merely “pro-choice,” and to imply that this is a position superior to the “ideological” pro-life stand, he is, first, kowtowing to the abortion industry who invented the slogan to soothe troubled consciences, and second, but most importantly, he is saying that abortion is a moral thing to choose.
In championing the pro-life position, we simply say that between life and death, there is no third thing. You are either alive or you are not. Abortion kills or it does not. It is morally permissible or it is not. There are simply some things that do not admit of a “neutral” third position. Between these two opposed possibilities, there can only be “confrontation,” distasteful as that may be to some sensibilities.
“Pro-choice” sounds good. It sounds like supporting freedom and rights and all those things that enlightened people should support. It derives from one of the greatest propaganda triumphs in recent human history: the slogan “a woman has a right to choose”.
“Choose” is what we grammar fiends call a “transitive verb”. You can’t just “choose,” in the same way as you can run or work or sleep. “Choosing” requires an object, a thing that is chosen. The slogan “A woman has a right to choose,” is a grammatically unfinished sentence. It is possibly a fault of the erosion of our education system that millions of people accept this slogan without asking “A right to choose what, exactly?”
The instinct to say that the term “pro-choice” is nonsensical indicates that the listener, at least subconsciously, still adheres to the laws of rational thought. He knows that there can be no “third way” between right and wrong, evil and good. Between life and death.
Vian is being more apt than he perhaps realises. Pro-life people are those who have chosen a side in the war that really, objectively and externally, exists. There is a war, as it says in the scriptures, between God and the fallen angels, between good and evil, and in that war, there can be no neutrality.
Pro-life people are those, simply, who have seen that abortion, the deliberate killing of innocent people, is evil and must be stopped. We know that there have been and still are other evils, things that can never be reconciled with the Good. Things like genocide, slavery, human trafficking. Man’s inhumanity to man. We know that these things must be confronted, even at great cost. And that the people who defend these things must be personally confronted as well.
We who hold this position are regularly accused of “extremism”. When we make comparisons to the other great evils of our age, to the slaughter of the Jews in WWII, to the killing of hundreds of thousands in Rwanda, to the African slave trade, we are denounced as fanatics. So be it. Even when the accusations come from inside the Vatican’s walls. So be it.