Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Is Tina Beattie an Apologist for Abortion?

The other day,  in response to someone who accused her of 'advocacy for abortionTina Beattie tweeted: Is this advocacy? You decide. http://www.

Ever one to rise to a challenge, I thought I would take a look.

The article in question is one of four in answer to the question 'A good question: Is abortion unchristian?' This appears in Reform, a magazine of the URC.

Professor Beattie is of course a professional theologian, whereas I am just an amateur blogger, so maybe it is presumptuous of me to comment, and possibly I misunderstand the subtlety of her position, but nothing daunted, here I go. (And kindly keep to yourself any jokes about a professional doing for money what an amateur does for love...)

She starts with this assertion:
'I don’t think any single act can be judged as Christian or unchristian – we have to understand the context and intentions. '

That strikes me as very odd. In Catholic theology, we can contrast the objective nature of an act, which may or may not be sinful, with the subjective aspects (eg intentions) which may make the individual more or less guilty of sin.  So strange is her contention, in fact, that I was already thinking 'I bet she doesn't think that about rape, for example' when I read on, and found she seems to contradict it later in this very piece. For she goes on to write: ' I do believe Christianity is incompatible with any intentional act of violence, be it war, execution or abortion.'

Which leaves me puzzling: Is it possible for an act of violence to be incompatible with Christianity (as she asserts) and yet incapable of being judged as unchristian (as she assets)? And if not, what on earth does she mean?

She then goes on to criticise the ethos summarised by 'a woman's right to choose' rightly pointing out that it suggests that 'an unborn child is a commodity to be disposed of in any way its “owner” decides.'

She goes on to point out the link between freedom and responsibility, and concludes, again correctly, that 'Abortion should never be seen as an alternative to contraception.'

However her argument to reach that correct conclusion is not free from problems (and nor, consequently, is the conclusion, as I will explain). For she writes:
With freedom comes responsibility, and a responsible adult woman who is voluntarily sexually active and does not want a child has a responsibility to avoid pregnancy. 
One of the problems with that is that implies that a woman whose responsibility is impaired, or who is young, or who is raped, is an exception - it at least leaves open the door to saying abortion is permissible in such cases, which is clearly not the Catholic position.

We then get the inadmissible act of violence argument, to which I referred earlier, and we seem to be on the right track, with the conclusion that 'Christianity is incompatible... with abortion.'

And then she veers off again, wanting us to reclaim 'the traditional theological distinction between early and late abortion.' That is both a red herring and a Trojan Horse, it seems to me. It is a red herring as no such distinction has been part of Catholic Theology. There was speculation about the time of ensoulment at some time, but throughout that debate, abortion was always recognised as a heinous sin.

And it is a Trojan Horse because of where it allows her to take her argument:
Early abortion should in my view be legal, because the law should not be used to enforce morality, but to protect the common good, and illegal abortion does not save babies, it kills women.
That is a very problematic sentence, not only from a Catholic point of view, but also from a logical one.  Let us take it apart.

First problem: Early abortion should in my view be legal, because the law should not be used to enforce morality; this phrasing prejudices the argument in a particular direction, as can be clearly shown by contrasting it with the following: Early abortion should in my view be legal, because the law should not be used to safeguard human life. You see what I mean...

Second problem: and illegal abortion does not save babies, it kills women. This hides a flow of logic that is very vulnerable: ie the idea that if early abortion were made illegal, there would be no reduction in the number of abortions, but rather, all the women who currently seek legal early abortions would have illegal ones. That is a massive assumption that is almost certainly false.

Professor Beattie concludes her argument:
To say that women should have access to safe, legal abortion in early pregnancy is not to say that abortion is therefore a moral good, any more than to say that people should not be stoned for committing adultery is to say that adultery is morally good…
Again, this is rather a strange conflation of ideas: she is not comparing like with like.  Again, I will offer another putative ending to one of her sentences to show what I believe it may be hiding: To say that women should have access to safe, legal abortion in early pregnancy is not to say that abortion is therefore not killing an unborn child... You see what I mean...

So is this piece an apology for abortion? On the one hand, Professor Beattie says that abortion is (along with any act of violence) incompatible with Christianity. On the other hand, she asserts that no action can be judged unchristian, particularly without taking into account 'context and intentions;' she further introduces a spurious argument about early and late abortions, and she concludes that 'safe legal abortion' should be allowed, never mentioning at this stage that no abortion is safe for its victim: the victim of a violence that she earlier stated was incompatible with Christianity.

I leave it to you to decide...


Pétrus said...

I read the piece and I must say I was left very clearly with the view that she is an apologist for abortion.

I found her arguments to be grounded first of all in feminism. I struggle to view how any of this could ever be imagined to be compatible with what the Church teaches.

Dr. Beattie on the other hand has never been bothered about whether her personal views are in keeping with the Catholic faith. What makes her so dangerous is the air of respectability given to her by certain prelates.

Ben Trovato said...


Have you read her apologia, here: ?

Pétrus said...

Ben, I was the person who challenged her on Twitter. I've read her apologia and to be perfectly honest it doesn't wash with me.

She uses a figure of 70,000 women who die from illegal abortions each year as some sort of justification for abortion in those cases. She also infers that those who claim to be pro-life do not care about these woman. I found that to be scurrilous.

Certainly every pro-life activity I have ever been involved in has focused on the need to protect both mother AND child.

Ben Trovato said...


I am not disagreeing with you, you do realise that, I hope...

Pétrus said...

Oh I know that. :)

This is just something I feel passionately about.