Abortion and the Slippery Slope

 There are some people—and I am one of them—who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them. —G.K. Chesterton, in Heretics

Unrepented unethical positions have extensive, almost logically connected, consequences. I emphasize “unrepented” unethical positions, since anyone can lapse into evil actions and soon repent. But, for example, a student who cheats habitually and unrepentedly on tests may require some intense honesty training in later life when it comes to business dealings, filing income tax returns, etc. And it is difficult to imagine an inveterate bully in school magically becoming an unassuming, fair, cooperative boss or community leader later on.

Similarly, among our acquaintances we meet persons who are for unrestricted access to abortion; and we may think, well, we may be able to get together with them on other values that we share. But the possibilities of sharing may be severely limited.

What would be the probable ethical implications of someone favoring elective abortion? I specify “elective” abortion, because the three exceptions (rape, incest, and threat to the mother’s life, usually identified as “therapeutic” abortion) complicate the issue, since they bring in considerations of conflicts of rights (see my earlier article on that aspect); and because if we focus only on strictly elective abortions, we are considering an area about which over 70% of Americans are in agreement. In these three sad cases, women who would never consider abortion might be motivated to abort.

Support of abortion is multi-faceted, involving a spectrum of motivations, however.

If the purpose of a supporter is to recognize the right of women “over their own bodies” (as if their offspring were just part of their body), they are implicitly granting to pregnant women a “license to kill” (like agent 007 James Bond). Assuming the right over life and death, they are assuming the prerogatives of the Creator, thus in effect trumping His rights. Can religion or even belief in God coexist with this assumption?

If, on the other hand, one is  “personally opposed,” but has no objections to others aborting, the implication must be that they actually don’t have any moral qualms about killing offspring.  They are not interested themselves in having abortions, maybe because they want to have heirs, or they just enjoy kids, or they have a narcissistic yen to see concrete extensions of themselves.  But if they had any moral objections, they should be willing to apply the principle in general. If it’s wrong for them, it’s wrong for others, too. Otherwise, they would be favoring a relativistic morality, in which it is impossible to say what is right or wrong.  They could not even claim to be “personally against” because relativists are not consistently against any immoral practice. To paraphrase Kierkegaard: if it is sad to see persons hobbling around because of physical handicaps, it is even sadder to view people walking about without a conscience.

There may be a few who would be willing to actually destroy the baby themselves, possibly dumping it into a toilet or a trash container. But presumably, most humans would never be willing to do the action by themselves; rather, they will leave it up to “professionals”—after the manner of bosses who hire “hit men” to do their dirty work. This implies that the same person, following the same line of thought, would not have any qualms about doing damage to someone they don’t like, or would like to get rid of—as long as they could get someone else to carry out the messy work for them.

Since abortion essentially has to do with eliminating small humans who are weak, susceptible to certain diseases, or unproductive, this attitude will necessarily carry over to those elderly who are similarly weak, handicapped, etc.  A person committed to such elimination would consistently be willing to eliminate elderly persons considered useless. An elderly person may not want to entrust “power of attorney” to certain pro-choicers.

If one chooses to abort only females, or only certain minorities, or only babies with possible physical or mental deficiencies, we would be naive to believe this prejudice would not enter into their social and political calculations in everyday life. If you are female or a member of one of the most aborted minorities, or with physical or mental handicaps, you may not be able to expect fair treatment from certain pro-choicers.

If the abortion supporter is an idealist who just wants to avoid overpopulation by poor people, and assure a better living for the survivors, we will not be surprised if he or she shows a certain amount of disregard for the overcrowding poor, and tolerance of decrepit conditions, as well as habitual action to bolster his or her own enhanced quality of life.

If they are voters and want to promote “social justice” by always voting for the Democratic Party (for which “social justice” requires furtherance of abortion throughout the world) they are denying, in their unthinking and robotic party fidelity, the most basic principle of social justice, the right to life. “Other issues” like immigration, minority rights, and building homes for the underprivileged cannot trump millions of murders. Even the Democrats for Life in America (DFLA) refused to endorse Barack Obama in 2012 because of his clear pro-abortion stance. Adherence to a political party can never override basic moral obligations of a voter in a democracy.

If they are Catholic politicians, following the lead of dissenting Catholic theologians and priests, they are abdicating Catholic beliefs as representatives of Catholicism—which is a strange and contradictory place to be in.

What if we, in decisions about who we are to entrust our children for child care, or for elementary or high school education, or even college education, were to take someone’s position on abortion to be a telling factor? Or even if we were just choosing a fellow volunteer to work with indigents or on areas of women’s rights? Or even if we were just thinking of getting married, and took into account our prospective spouse’s position on abortion.  Would this be considered a hate crime? In Canada now, there is that danger.  Perhaps also here?

On the other hand, as emphasis on abortion grows and is even mandated by the powers that be, and the moral atmosphere becomes murkier and murkier, many “unrepentants” may begin to feel remorse for the first time, like Lady Macbeth, and cry, “Out, damn spot!”

Howard Kainz


Howard Kainz is professor emeritus at Marquette University. He is the author of several books, including Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).

  • Pingback: Abortion and the Slippery Slope | Catholic Canada()

  • publiusnj

    Although blunt, this article is exactly correct. Mothers “aborting” their children are exercising a “right to kill” purportedly guaranteed by the US Constitution and the abortionists they hire are their contract killers. When I hear leftists speak of Abortion and Gay Marriage as the culmination of the American “Long March” struggle for Liberty and Civil Rights, I can’t help but think about the “boys” on the Beach at Normandy at 6 AM on June 6, 1944. Did they put themselves “in harm’s way” in hopes that some day they would be able to “marry” (or at least make love to) the boy in the next foxhole (or more likely behind the next German beach obstruction)? Or so that their future wives or girlfriends (if they were less conventional) could kill off the fruit of their loins? Is that what American Liberty is all about? Really?

    • PiusFan

      I’m afraid, publiusnj, you do not follow the complex of theological and moral considerations here to their proper conclusion by assigning inordinate importance to political matters American.

      This is the inevitable fruit of our frittering away of the Social Reign and Kingship of Christ. One would hope that it would give pause to the ‘conservative’ Catholics who, while they remain implacably pro-life, have trimmed and compromised on Church-State relations, a diluting that has contributed to the current situation we face, especially in the countries that had traditional Catholic socieities in Europe.

      The Biden/Pelosi Catholic says ‘I am personally opposed to abortion, but I cannot in good conscience support enactment of laws that take away this legal right from others who disagree with me.’

      The ‘conservative’ Catholic of today says ‘I am personally opposed to abortion, and am willing to fight the legalizers within our current political system in order to enact legal restrictions against abortion. But I cannot in good conscience support a form of government that would guarantee that such horrors are never even considered for possible legal enactment. If I cannot defeat the legalizers within the secularized separation-of-church-and-state environment that I now have an a priori commitment to, then I must accept any legal defeat I am handed as the price to pay as part of preserving the separation of church and state.’

      • publiusnj

        I would like to understand your critique of my position but didn’t found it in what you wrote.

        • PiusFan

          My regrets for any lack of clarity on my party. My critique is two-fold: first, any claim that legalized abortion is somehow critically at odds with the founding nature and ethos of the American system. second, insofar as this is not accepted by ‘conservative’ Catholics who are also die-hard devotees of all things Second Vatican, such Catholics hold a position that carries with it implicit accommodation of legalized abortion, one that is only modestly better than that held by the ‘liberals’.

          • Howard Kainz

            Your clarification falls short: Abortion is not at odds with the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? Vatican II contains an “implicit accommodation of legalized abortion? It’s hard to see where you’re coming from.

            • PiusFan

              Mr. Kainz, any Americanist, even a relatively rigorously constitutional one, can say that standard American tenets can allow for legalized abortion. The Constitution and its attendant postulates in the Declaration can be clearly claimed to apply only to those who have been born, not the unborn. Personhood in the Constitution does not appear to extend to the unborn. When the Articles prescribe a counting of persons for the Census, nobody has every counted or sought to count the unborn, to take one example used by the late Robert Bork.

              Also, to expound upon the line of thinking he elaborated upon some years ago, even if constitutional personhood somehow, some way, did cover the unborn, all that would mean is that the federal government could not perform abortions. Abortion by private parties would be governed by whatever laws, regs, and restrictions the various state governments freely chose to impose or not impose.

              As for Second Vatican, Mr. Kainz, when we distance ourselves from the perennial authoritative teachings regarding the Social Reign of Christ and adopt an implicit posture that pays excessive homage to modern liberal democracy and American trappings that we have been warned against in a litany of admonitions stretching from Pope Pius VIII through Pope Pius XII, we start to hamstring our ability to oppose legalized abortion, and we start, in effect, to set up sinful church-state separaton as a totem commanding our assent of faith, and all the deleterious ramifications that will entail.

              • smokes

                From 1776 through 1973, no mainstream American leader endorsed abortion. Roe was simply a judicial coup d’ etat, that’s cost America (and Western Europe with Eire recently joining in) its moral heritage.

                • PiusFan

                  However true that may be, it is also irrelevant to the lack of binding, normative natural law bedrock that our form of government has always had, from the beginning.

                  Even our ‘conservative’ Catholic jurist A. Scalia has said that he has no problem, strictly speaking from the American political framework apart from his religious convictions, with legalized abortion or same-sex unions in the United States, he simply doesn’t believe the federal courts have the rightful authority to impose in these matters.

                  “Just as the pro-choice people say the Constitution prohibits the banning of abortion, so also the pro-life people say…that the Constitution requires the banning of abortion, because you’re depriving someone of life without due process of law. I reject that argument just as I reject the other one. It is left to democratic choice.” – Scalia

                  This is what now passes for ‘conservative’. And my guess is, at least some folks privately held similar beliefs well before 1973.

                  • Howard Kainz

                    Scalia is right. The Constitution says nothing about abortion. This is simply a fact. This doesn’t make Scalia a liberal or in favor of Roe v. Wade. He added that the “due process” basis in Roe v. Wade was “simply a lie.”

                    • PiusFan

                      I am not saying he’s in favor of Roe V. Wade. I’m citing this to highlight that the U.S. has no fundamental framework based on natural law and therefore lends itself to legalized abortion.

                      One can be considered a form of a liberal when one has established a core allegiance to a polity that is positivist, not grounded in natural law, and doesn’t formally recognize the rightful prerogatives of Christ and the Catholic Church as the one true faith.

                      I’d be interested in a detailed response to the last posting I directed to you.

                    • Howard Kainz

                      With regard to your last posting: Even science tells us that the unborn baby is a human being, but as you indicate, legal personhood is another matter. Hopefully present movements to grant legal personhood will be successful. Vatican II, which took place prior to Roe v. Wade contains nothing supportive of abortion. Just because a lot of moral changes took place after Vatican II, doesn’t mean that Vatican II was the cause.

                    • PiusFan

                      Again, I’d like to press home my two key points that have underlined my comments here: The US is not built with any solidity on a political structure that upholds the natural law. Anything can be added, changed, or removed from the constitution. Such a system will invariably be, in varying ways and degrees, at the mercy of the visceral sentiments of the masses.

                      Let us remember that one of most relatively conservative Catholic jurists on the Supreme Court has no political qualms from his political frame of reference with any and all states enacting legal abortion and same-sex marriage. Catholics are not Catholicizing America; America is Americanizing Catholics.

                      Moreover, it is undeniable that Second Vatican, at a minimum, extensively soft-peddled the Social Reign of Christ traditional teachings, if not holllowed them out completely. And that is certainly what we’ve seen since 1965 in practice, led first and foremost by our most recent popes.

                      I must confess that the lack of keen awareness and critical engagement on these issues in ‘conservative’ Catholic precincts simply never ceases to astonish me. Instead, I regularly see presented a worldview that treats the last ecumenical council as the unofficial founding of Church teaching in certain areas.

                      We will not improve the situation in Western culture and the United States until we improve the situation of the Church. And, not to put too fine a point on it [to borrow a phrase from a late, renowned ‘conservative’] that will happen when Michael Novak, George Weigel, Robert George, and Richard John Neuhaus are not presented as the face of Catholic truth within the American context, and figures like Brian McCall, Michael Matt, John Vennari, Chris Ferrara, and John Rao are.

                    • Howard Kainz

                      Too many arbitrary generalities here. You apparently did not read my response regarding Justice Scalia. As regards constitutions and natural law: Natural law offers certain general precepts, and cannot function as a constitution. The important thing is that the Constitution includes nothing contrary to the natural law. If there is, point it out. The Declaration of Independence explicitly cites the natural law as its justification for the founding of a new order. And if there is something in Vatican II documents that encourages abortion, specify what that is.

                    • AugustineThomas

                      Exactly why I made the point that the United States has ultimately been a force of good for Catholicism.
                      Though I’m interested to hear your thoughts, Prof. Kainz, on our moral standing now that we’re into the tens of millions of murdered babies?

                    • PiusFan

                      Let’s give this another go, since we seem to be having some communication problems.

                      Yes, I did read your respond regarding Justice Scalia. I noted both before and after your Scalia comment that Scalia opposes Roe V. Wade, so we have no disagreement there.

                      I have also been noting that he has no politically based objection to states legalizing all sorts of violations of the natural law. So he works for and is in favor of a political system that has given carte blanche to the states to enact any number of horrors that contravene the natural law. I don’t believe I’ve heard you here specifically and directly address this and why this is not something to be appalled by. I sure am.

                      As for the constitution and natural law, I’m flabbergasted, if I am reading your comments correctly.

                      You seem to be saying that there is nothing particularly wrong with our constitution not incorporating natural law in its contents. Not true. Our constitution,any constitution, could easily have cited the fundamentals of the natural law in its content, among its other precepts, and have solemnly, legally, declared that no federal or state statutory law could ever be passed in contradiction to the natural law precepts, and no federal court or state court could ever hand down any kind of ruling that would run contrary to the natural law.

                      It most certainly is not sufficient, as you seem to say, that there is [allegedly] nothing in the constitution that is contrary to natural law. The past 50 years alone should be proof positive of this. How a constitution – leave alone the for the moment the numerous efforts to recognize Jesus Christ in its content have been defeated – can remain silent and indifferent on even the most fundamental elements of the natural law and that this meets with no serious concern from you is disappointing.

                      As for the constitution/declaration and natural law being in tandem, I think there are a host of problems here, though some of this may, strictly speaking, not involve natural law.

                      For starters, what I cited above. Any governmental constitution has an obligation to champion natural law in its fullness, not sit back in idle silence and leave it to the statutory process and whatever the mob may happen to want or not want on any given day. Yes, I would say that is part and parcel of natural law itself.

                      Another problem is that our constitution shows no concern for the development of the virtue of the citizenry. Any order that is concerned solely with protection of life, property, and contracts, and gives no meaningful heed to the education and morality of its citizenry is at loggerheads with natural law on that point. The greats of classical Greek, Roman, and Christian thought would have all taken strong issue with this materialist-inspired shunning of virtue.

                      Yet another issue is the adamant refusal to give proper recognition and due to Jesus Christ, Who has full authority on heaven and earth, including all governments and governmental rulers, AND can rightfully claim official public recognition from them in their roles as governmental leaders. While this, arguably, may be divine as opposed to natural law, there can be no real doubt about this as a serious lapse. Even any number of thoughtful American Protestant ministers throughout the 1800s, such as those affiliated with the National Reform Association, assailed this omission as a critical, inexcusable lapse, and considered it as the rotted root that led to slavery and the Civil War. One meeting of theirs declared:

                      “We regard the neglect of God and His law, by omitting all acknowledgment of them in our Constitution, as the crowning, original sin of the nation, and slavery as one of its natural outgrowths. Therefore, the most important step remains to yet to be taken—to amend the Constitution so as to acknowledge God and the authority of His law.”

                      Lastly, on Second Vatican, I have not said the Second Vatican anywhere directly calls for easing oppostion to abortion. What I have said is that the general weakening of the faith that Second Vatican has instilled, and specifically, its effective crippling of the Social Reign of Christ doctrinal teaching of the Church, has paved the way, indirectly, for aiding the legalization of abortion in places in Europe. We no longer have vigorous Catholic states today as we used to. And, yes, we should have them today, without excuse, in nations with solid Catholic majorities. Such states would not even dream of discussing the possibility of legalized abortion.

                    • Howard Kainz

                      You may be right, but you still haven’t offered one example from the Constitution that is against the natural law, or one example from the documents of Vatican II that is conducive to abortion. So I will use the time-honored scholastic dictum: “What you gratuitously affirm, I can gratuitously deny.”

                    • PiusFan

                      ‘You may be right’ at least is a start. I have offered a bounty of numerous problems, flaws,and shortcomings with the positions you have staked out and their innate implications. You seem intent on not addressing and attempting to refute most of what I’ve said. Doesn’t exactly make for a meaningful exchange.

                      So let’s at least get this matter of the constitution and natural law squared away. I am referring to the compatibility of the constitution and natural law which is an important topic and should be for you as well. Compatibility means what is lacking that should be there as well as what is present that shouldn’t be there. I have offered a number of elements lacking that are important for any constitution that is supposed to be modeled after the natural law. Omissions, by themselves, establish serious incompatibility with the natural law. This is not gratuity. This is the truth.

                      As a largely political procedural document, the constitution isn’t exactly brimming with included elements of incompatibility. But we do have a few.

                      As originally promulgated, the constitution assigned 3/5 personhood to enslaved Africans as well as of course giving de facto approval to an inhuman slave trade and practice. I realize this has since been nullified.

                      In terms of current matters, the First Amendment has a number of problems with regard to divine and natural law. Barring the national federal government from giving official recognition to the one true faith and its officials from offering public recognition to religious truth is a violation. Treating all religions as indistinguishable equals on a permanent basis and barring the national federal government from being able to enact restrictions against false religions and public worship, which false religions have no rightful claim to, is a violation. Granting freedom of expression so that any body can publicly proclaim and propagate most anything that violates religious and moral truth is a violation. Civil authority has every right to impose restrictions against those who would publicly propagate falsehood regarding religious and moral truth.

              • AugustineThomas

                No one sought to count the unborn because they didn’t know science and were fools in many ways just like modern leftists, they thought some magical moment occurred when the baby came out of the mother’s vagina.

                Now we know the babies are alive and well long before they come out of the womb.

                America was a good nation that, despite its horrible shortcomings, made the world a better, not a worse place, for orthodox Christians especially. The country nursed minor heresies but protected the Church and enriched American Catholics who helped the Church more than anyone recently.
                It’s only several decades ago that the heresy metastasized and the majority of Americans went morally insane–thanks in large part to being morally equivalent to Nazis denying the Holocaust.

                • PiusFan

                  So you’re saying the US was a good nation that made the world a better place, not a worse place, for orthodox Christians, after having proclaimed that the US was founded and led for years by fools who didn’t know science, or even enough to know that a pregnant woman had a deveoping person inside her; they simply thought there was some magical moment. Wow.

                  Perhaps you should read up on the anti-Catholicism of the early American republic,how it animated our unprincipled founders, the riots against Catholicism, and the war waged against the Church by the US government in Mexico and whatever other precincts of Latin America that suited its interests.

                  Are you going to also claim that Locke, whose philosophy was a pillar of the American founding, was also not a rabid anti-Catholic?

                  • AugustineThomas

                    I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at.
                    Is it impossible that one is “a fool in some ways”, yet also, through the grace of Christ our Lord, making good of evil, also capable of doing much good in the world?
                    As far as I know, the Pilgrims were first here–long before the heretic Deists ever made it (Deism would be impossible without the One True Church by the way).
                    So yes, my thesis is that men can be foolish about certain points of science while ultimately still working toward a better society.
                    Catholics were persecuted sporadically–and you should see what Muslims do to us!
                    Similarly, I think it’s possible that the US declared war on Catholic countries and conquered some of their territory while still making the world safer for Catholicism–also this neglects the fact that Catholics have had an increasingly powerful role in determining America’s future since the early days you mention.
                    Unfortunately now we’re all baby murderers and its anyone’s guess how long this country even survives now that so many of us are heretics and apostates.

                    • PiusFan

                      As overrated as the founding fathers were, I suspect they had a fairly good understanding, even then, of pregnancy, and that there was a developing baby involved.

                      It is clear in a number of ways that constitutional personhood was never extended to the unborn. The Pilgrims were not our founders, but a group of men enamoured with Lockean and Masonic ideas.

                      “Now we’re all baby murders” does punctuate our current situation. So when you talk about Catholics having increasing power, that has translated into Catholics being Americanized, not Americans be Catholicized.

                    • AugustineThomas

                      You’ve bought whole heartedly into this leftist myth. The Deists you speak of were a tiny minority and less devout than the huge majority because that’s always the case with politicians–see Nancy Pelosi and JFK.

                      Christians founded and built this nation.

                      The good always coexists with evil. Hundreds of millions have been murdered, billions have been preached the Word of God.
                      I don’t understand evil either and wish it never came into being.

    • smokes

      Good point. I couldn’t send any of my children to our military to support what America’s become. We pass out birth control in Afghanistan and aim to protest in Russia over LGBT “rights” during the Olympics? Meanwhile, we support the Brotherhood murdering Copts and al qaeda murdering Syrian Christians? Conscientious objection is the first moral response, followed by street demonstrations.

  • Dick Prudlo

    Another thoughtful and insightful article whose meaning speaks yards to the “social justice” crowd.

  • roxwyfe

    This article is very interesting. It has long been known that children who are cruel to animals when they are young tend to be more violent as adults. Most of the more celebrated serial killers in recent times all have this behavior in their past. So if something like this “blossoms” when they become adults, why not an attitude of abortion coloring other beliefs. If someone thinks life is so cheap that an unborn, helpless child is fodder for murder, then it would tend to follow that they hold other lives cheaply as well.

    • AugustineThomas

      Tolkien knew more, creating Gollum, than all the men who loved to talk about how much smarter they were than him..

  • slainte

    The “abortive mindset” or more broadly the “contraceptive mindset” may be the very trial(s) a person is meant to overcome in this world, which makes it so important for those with equally difficult, but different earthly trials, not to stigmatize or condemn such a person, electing instead to live by example a better way…Christ’s way.
    To his great credit, the author of this piece recognizes at the outset that an abortive mindset can be repented of; a position of hope for us all.

    • smokes

      55,000,000 and counting is a wee bit too egregious to lead by example.

      Sometimes a blood murderer is just that. ireland just joined the ranks of these rank guttersnipes.

  • James1225

    But if they had any moral objections, they should be willing to apply the principle in general. If it’s wrong for them, it’s wrong for others, too. Otherwise, they would be favoring a relativistic morality, in which it is impossible to say what is right or wrong.

    If it is wrong for me, it is because I have decided that it is. If it isn’t for you, you have decided differently than I. Who am I to say that my decision is right and yours is wrong?

    • Howard Kainz

      So you might decide that murder is wrong for you, but it may be right for someone else? A rational being should be able to make a judgment that certain things are morally wrong in general.

      • James1225

        A rational being should be able to make a judgment that certain things are morally wrong in general.

        There are perfectly rational people who disagree that abortion is morally wrong. There are perfectly rational people who believe it is. Added to that, there are totally irrational people on both sides as well. The rational people on both sides are using logic and reason properly but are going on different assumptions some of which are peculiar to their religious beliefs. I don’t like abortion, but I can’t say that it is morally wrong.

        • Howard Kainz

          You are not answering my question about murder.

          • James1225

            By definition, to murder is to illegally take a life. If you have taken a life but it was legal to do so, it is not murder. If your morality is defined by your Catholic faith, you might consider taking a morning after pill to be murder and immoral. But, it doesn’t it doesn’t meet the definition of murder if it is not illegal and it is only immoral by your own concept of morality.

            Murder is illegal and many people consider it to be immoral, including I. I’m sure there are people who take justice into their own hands and murder people think that they are doing a morally right thing.

  • Mary Trani

    We have to begin conversations with secularists by redefining our anthropology as Christian/Catholic and not what the culture has dished up. Theirs begins with the notion that life came about ” spontaneously” then “evolved.” From this comes the culture that we “create” our own identity, can pursue an amoral life, and die knowing there is nothing else. Well, if they can come up with a model where I don’t have to suffer the conse