Friday, April 20, 2007

Light at the End of a Very Long Tunnel

Commentary on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, which returned to the state legislatures the responsibility for controlling the appalling practice of partial-birth abortion goes by rights to those who have worked so diligently to curtail this barbarous practice.

We would be remiss, however, if we left what we hope will be a momentous turning point in the moral life of our society pass entirely without comment. Aside from breathing a sigh of relief at the prospect that we may be at the beginning of the end of a dark chapter in our national history, I would call attention, as have many others of course, to the vitriol and religious bigotry that the decision has occasioned. Joseph Bottum at First Things spotted this:

A headline on a weblog by someone who goes by the name Ed Waldo reads:

"Catholics – 5; The Rest of Us – Nothing"

To which the blogger added this:

Well, as I warned in these pages a year and more ago, the five conservative Catholics who make up the new majority of the United States Supreme Court struck today, in a ruling that follows straight Catholic dogma, in upholding a largely symbolic nationwide enforcement of the so-called "Partial Birth Abortion" ban.

All the Supreme Court did in Gonzales v. Carhart was to allow state legislatures to pass legislation regarding the barbarous act of infanticide, yet this blogger and a great many other people act as though what is barbarous is this minimal restoration of moral seriousness and constitutional propriety. To say that the moral concern that brought about this change "follows straight Catholic dogma" is to intentionally obscure this undeniable fact: Until a very few years ago, Western civilization – and the Jewish and Christian moral sensibility that brought it into existence and was the engine of its moral and political advances – stood four-square against the idea of abortion. It followed straight from moral commonsense.

The fact that all five members of the Court majority are Roman Catholics is predictably an occasion for indulging in "the last acceptable prejudice," but it is to the credit of the Catholic Church that it has not, as so many others have, capitulated to the moral revolutionaries who are now struggling to find yet another euphemism with which to hide from themselves and from those whose political support they need the reality of partial-birth abortion and, indeed, of abortion in all its forms.

The reaction, of course, has been predictable. Rick Garnett, associate law professor at Notre Dame, reproduced on the Mirror of Justice weblog the Tony Auth cartoon that appeared in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

Abortion has long been the procedure that dares not speak its name, but this is most especially the case when it comes to partial-birth abortion. The accompanying Philadelphia Inquirer editorial complained that the Court had resorted to verboten terminology, like "partial-birth abortion," rather than the Orwellian double-speak used by the pro-abortion movement: "intact dilation and extraction," or even better – because even more coded and sanitized – "intact D&X." Language is everything; if it can be corrupted, the game is in the hands of those whose euphemisms become the political and moral lingua franca. "Intact dilation and extraction," exactly how descriptive is that stainless steal phrase?

As for the larger implications of the Catholics Justices voting to return the matter to the states, Rick Garnett adds:

It is, increasingly, thought to be enough to discredit an argument or position – any argument or position – merely to note that the person who makes it is a religious believer, and to write off any moral argument with which one disagrees as "religious." (This practice, of course, does not run both ways: arguments against torture, the death penalty, race discrimination, and income inequality are "secular"; arguments against partial-birth abortion or the creation of embryos for research are "religious.") It appears, increasingly, that arguments whose trajectory is not in line with the standard liberal / autonomy / choice line are not only rejected, but declared not to be permissible arguments.

Again, Joseph Bottum at First Things has taken a quick glance at the predictable:

The five Catholic justices on the Supreme Court formed – for the first time since Alito joined the Court – the complete majority on a decision. I think that we're probably going to have to wait for the new fund-raising letters from NARAL and Planned Parenthood before we see the highest pitch of anti-Catholic rhetoric coming out of the Carhart decision.

Statistically, in our society, the months from conception to birth are the most dangerous months of a person's life; the time when a person is most likely – by a very large statistical factor – to die violently. Catholics and many others who have struggled to bring us back to our senses on this issue can expect more heat than light from their opponents, but if even a portion of the countless tiny, innocent, defenseless children can be saved, the minor social opprobrium we may experience will be well worth it.

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