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Tuesday, April 11, 2006
  Disingenuous Anti-Abortion Positions
How do Catholics (and other relevant Christian types) square their view that abortion is a kind of mass murder with their rigid ‘abstinence only’ sex education policy?

When there is genocide or a case of mass murder before you, if you want to behave ethically you do anything you can to stop it. If you can save lives by selling your watch or by sacrificing little luxuries, you do this. Intense evil seems to call for a radical restructuring of priorities, where stopping evil trumps all other kinds of mundane concerns. I call this ethical principle the Schindler’s List Principle. Here is a passage from the movie capturing the force of the principle:


Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more.
Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Oskar Schindler: If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just...
Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
Oskar Schindler: I didn't do enough!
Itzhak Stern: You did so much.
[Schindler looks at his car]
Oskar Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.
[removing Nazi pin from lapel]
Oskar Schindler: This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this.
[sobbing]
Oskar Schindler: I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! And I... I didn't!


If there is even a slight chance that alternative sex education programs and condom promotion can reduce the magnitude of a “mass murder,” why aren’t Catholics more open to these options? Why not give a little ground on the sex education position for the sake of possibly saving more ‘lives?’ Why not take a queue from Schindler?

Dogmatism over sex education, when alternative forms of education might reduce the number of abortions, makes Catholics (if you take them at their word) look like Schindler contemporaries who want to address the horrors of a genocide, but who also want to keep their nice pins, watches, and cars—and so they do. So, they don’t look very Schindlerian at all.

They either look like (i) idiots, who fail to prioritize the obligation to save lives over the obligation to provide ideal sex education, or (ii) like selfish jerks who want their abstinence cake ‘and to eat too’ so much that they are willing to permit more murder (than in the case where they don’t get their way on abstinence), or (iii) they look like people who are disingenuous about their view that legalized abortion is mass murder.

I think that option (iii) is the most charitable reading of the Catholic position given this problem. That Catholics equate the termination of a fetus with the murder of a person only disingenuously is supported by a recently popularized thought experiment that asks us to consider the choice between saving a Petri dish and a small child in a house fire. Who would save the dish? Who believes that the tissue in the dish is just a valuable as a child? The Catholic position requires some bullet biting here that many would find unacceptable.

Even if they don’t admit the disingenuousness of the abortion-as-murder position, it would be nice if Catholics would leave the sex education question open. Such a move would at least take pressure off the temptation outsiders have to read Catholics’ violation of the Schindler principle as a case of selfishness or stupidity.

UPDATE:
Here is some evidence that just came out in support of the hypothesis that decreasing condom use increases abortion rates. Thanks to T. Re for the link.
 
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