Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Enormity of the Pro-Life Challenge

It may be that I am a bit out of the loop these days, but it seems to me that the pro-life movement in this country has not really developed a coherent strategy, designed to win people over to a pro-life understanding.

And that is an enormous challenge. 

In one sense, history has moved in a pro-life direction. The science of embryology, the growing understanding of neuro-psychology, and the technology such as ultrasound all support the pro-life cause. 

Whereas in 1967 it was easy to believe the 'blob of tissue' argument, that is no longer intellectually possible.

But in another way, I would argue, history has moved against us. For we now find ourselves in a position in which a large proportion of the population has a psychological interest in believing abortion to be morally acceptable.

The reason is simple. Over the last 47 or so years, large numbers of women have had abortions; large numbers of husbands, lovers, mothers, friends have been close to them; and large numbers of medical and ancillary staff have performed, assisted or otherwise been involved in them.  Few, if any, of these people are likely to have a self-image that they are evil. Therefore, when confronted with the idea that abortion is evil, they may suffer from cognitive dissonance: they need to reconcile that notion with their self-understanding that they are not evil.

As I have had occasion to mention before, one of the many things I lament in the change from the Traditional to the New Rite of Mass is the loss of the wonderful prayer from Psalm 140 (said at the incensing of the altar): Pone, Dómine, custódiam ori meo, et óstium circumstántiæ lábiis meis: ut non declínet cor meum in verba malítiæ, ad excusándas excusatiónes in peccátis. (Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round about my lips.  Incline not my heart to evil words; to make excuses in sins.)

So one way, and I think the most frequent way, that we may try to resolve the type of cognitive dissonance I am concerned with, is to convince ourselves that our bad actions were not so bad, after all ('to make excuses in sins'). The unspoken, and scarcely adverted to, inner dialogue goes something like this. 'I am not an evil person. I had (performed, collaborated with, etc) an abortion. Therefore abortion cannot be such an evil thing.'

And of course, our media, entertainment industry, political establishment, medical establishment, schools and universities all confirm that judgement. I wrote some years ago about my nephew's tragic case, and I think it may well be very typical. They (he and his girlfriend) really believed - they needed to believe, and were taught to believe - that they were doing the responsible thing. They still feel the need to believe that. So we need to think carefully about the implications of that for our long-term pro-life strategy.

There is also another, almost opposite, psychological state that we may encounter. That is, the person who had an abortion, but does realise that it was evil. With time, she may forget the duress she was under, the lack of freedom she experienced, when pushed to abort her child. So the guilt may be disproportionate; not to the objective evil, which is grave indeed, but to the subjective guilt. If, for example, she was young, vulnerable and confused, and parents, teachers and boyfriend all told her that the only choice was to have an abortion, her personal culpability may be very limited.  But we need to think about her, too, as I am sure there are many in such a position.

It may be that people are discussing such things, that a strategy exists or is being developed, to address these issues: if so, I would love to know about it.

But if I am right, and that conversation is not being had, I think it is time to get on with it.

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