ARE THE EVILS OF ABORTION, CLONING AND EXPERIMENTING ON HUMAN EMBRIOS ONLY RELIGIOUS BELIEFS?
ARE THE EVILS OF ABORTION, CLONING AND EXPERIMENTING ON HUMAN EMBRYOS ONLY RELIGIOUS BELIEFS?
Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, speaking in Washington at a Forum on Politics and Faith in America, made an extended application of his argument given at Notre Dame back in 1984. Then he defended the right of Catholic politicians to vote in favor of pro-abortion legislation. Now he claims that citizens, motivated by their religious beliefs, can consider that abortion, cloning, and embryo destructive research are wrong and they have religious freedom to take this position. By the same standard, thinks Cuomo, people whose religious beliefs allow them to abort unborn human babies, clone and do embryo destructive research also have a claim upon religious freedom to support them in their choice. Thus the pro-life politician cannot attack a pro-abortion politician who advocates abortion, because the right to religious freedom protects both the one and the other. Cuomo’s conclusion: If you deny the pro-abortionist’s right to pursue his agenda, then you also must deny the pro-lifer’s right to pursue his.
How convenient a solution for Cuomo, the “great compromiser”! Since the life issues are simply matters of religious belief, a citizen can take any position he or she wants to with impunity, since civil law cannot support, or be influenced by, religious beliefs. The legislatures and the courts must back off from dealing with these issues.
Of course, the reality is that the Supreme Court directly involved itself with making abortion legal at any stage of the pregnancy. It overturned the laws which most states had constructed precisely to defend the right to life of the unborn babies residing in their states. Roe V. Wade removed the protection of the law from the most innocent and most highly vulnerable member of our community. The Supreme Court depersonalized the unborn baby, and made its continued survival, its right to life, depend upon the whims and convenience of his or her mother.
Cuomo’s position loses its plausibility when we hold it up to the light of reality. The reality of an unborn baby is not a matter of religious belief. The unborn baby is a new member of our race, whose physical development is completely self-directed, and whose natural birth after nine months of gestation, if left unmolested, is guaranteed. This is an observable reality upon which all unbiased people can agree. The need for health care of children, good nutrition, corrections for impaired hearing and seeing are not matters of religious belief. They are simple natural realities which everyone can recognize. Young persons have human dignity, and human rights, which flow out of their dignity. Corresponding to these rights, society has duties to address them. This is a matter of simple justice, not religious belief.
Religious beliefs (sometimes called dogmas) generally refer to God and what He has done for us. Think of the twelve articles of the Nicene Creed. Since God remains hidden from our view, so as not to impede our freedom, we need divine revelation to know religious truths. When we appeal to religious truths, we simply confirm what we can already know by the use of good reason. Good reason can arrive at a true anthropology, that God designed us as bodied persons, endowed with a God-given dignity with all the human rights that flow from that dignity. Human reason can construct valid moral principles that guide our choices and direct our acts, that are coherent with our dignity as human persons. Anyone open to the use of good reason can arrive at these moral principles.
The flaws in Cuomo’s thinking are easily seen when we apply his smokescreen to other moral issues like slavery, racial discrimination, genocide, infanticide and the exploitation of human labor. The injustice, and moral evil, of all these grievous offences against human dignity are not merely the results of religious beliefs. We need not appeal to divine revelation to understand what makes these choices abominable and highly destructive of human relations. We can figure these matters out on our own. Just observe what these practices do to their victims and to their perpetrators! Chattel slavery always was wrong, and always will be, for the same reasons. The same applies to genocide, racial discrimination, infanticide and the exploitation of human labor.
Cuomo wants to create a smokescreen which promotes a specious cover for “politically correct” Catholic politicians and those who advocate legalized abortion. He wants a pro-abortion vote to appear to be a decent thing to do. He wants citizens, who have moral insights derived from their knowledge of the Creator of the human race, to stay out of the public square, where the important decisions are being formulated. This, in effect, would cancel their citizenship. He wants a climate of pluralism to prevail, where nothing directly contrary to human dignity and human rights can be ascertained and repudiated. He wants the status quo to continue, whereby only those who appeal to our baser instincts can continue to manipulate the democratic system so as to serve their special interests. Bad arguments, like smokescreens, should be identified, seen through and rejected.
For a more extensive analysis of Cuomo’s argument by Robert George, see Voices, Vol. XXII: No 2, pp. 15-19.
Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB