Abortion and the Blinders of Compassion

The recent passage of a law in New York and a similar bill’s failure to pass in Virginia serve to spotlight the moral morass we are in today.  Several years ago, Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon called out the source of this dilemma in an article called “Rousseau and the Revolt Against Reason”: 

“Morality, in Rousseau’s view, was rooted neither in reason nor in revelation, but in the natural feeling of compassion.  Indeed, he is in an important sense the father of the politics of compassion. As we now know, however, compassion is a shaky foundation on which to build a just society.  Compassion, unlike charity, is not a virtue acquired by self-discipline and habitual practice.  It is only a feeling, and a fleeting one at that. It yields not only to self-preservation, but to self-interest.”

The pro-choice movement has always spotlighted compassion for the woman who finds herself with an undesired pregnancy (which outweighs concern for the unborn), and it is the fallback value used to trump any proposals to limit abortions.  Of course, a similar argument against abortion on the basis of compassion for the unborn has been also used.  Indeed, both sides have been accused of uncaring disregard for either the unborn or the woman, and passions have been inflamed all around.  This itself shows how weak an argument from compassion is in making moral judgements.

Nevertheless, the recent bills considered have shown just how extreme and narrow the blinders have become on those of the pro-choice side.  It is clear that there must be a deeper basis for moral judgement (and law) than mere compassion.  The dominant secular view is to focus on quality of life, and this has often been cited to justify one’s compassion.  However, “quality of life” has no objective meaning, and is therefore useless as a standard for moral judgement.  Historic, credal Christians believe in sanctity of life – life is God’s gift, and, as we are created in his image, our lives derive their value and purpose from him.  Indeed, we discover the value of compassion insofar as we learn to love as he loves.  The blinders of compassion and “quality of life” have distracted many from a morality rooted in actual values.  It would be irresponsible for us to let this go unchallenged. Let us pray and live out the deeper morality of the sanctity of life, witnessing and challenging others to look more widely at life. Speaking God’s truth in love and sharing God’s love in truth have been the lives of saints in all times and places. So may it be in ours.

The Rev. Canon Lawrence Bausch
President, FIFNA 

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