Imagine this scenario: two people are having a conversation. One says to the other: “I’m against racism personally, but I just think that it’s a serious moral question and people should be given the choice to discriminate on grounds of race if they wish. After all, we can trust people.”
Could anybody confronted by logic like this seriously believe that our speaker is not himself a racist or supportive of racial discrimination? Of course not. It is patently obvious and yet, just this sort of skewed logic is frequently employed by those who claim that they are at once pro-choice yet still pro-life.
Saying you are pro-choice is an attempt to sit on the fence about a very serious issue – I say an attempt, because in reality, as soon as you accept that some people may exercise the “choice” to end the lives of others, you are no longer on the fence, but rather firmly in the camp that allows abortion.
Being pro-life and pro-choice are two positions that are mutually incompatible. Why? The answer is, because choice does not exist in a vacuum. Rather the question must always be: the choice to do what?
In the law, in a free society, we are accorded very wide margins within which we are allowed to make all sorts of choices about how we live our lives, how we express our preferences, how we organise our affairs, choose our friends, raise our families. This is a good thing.
However, there are always limits. Typically, those limits are drawn at the point where a choice I might like to make injures somebody else. I am not free to choose to assault another person because that is a choice that directly injures somebody else. If choice were the ultimate objective or goal to be attained in society then perhaps I ought to be free to do that but no sensible person would ever accept that my right to choose outweighs another person’s right not to be assaulted. In any democracy, freedom of choice must be balanced with justice.
It is important to understand that choice is actually highly valued in the teaching of the Catholic Church. If we go back to the very beginning of Genesis, what we find is that our Creator gave us the capacity to choose, or what we call free will. This is a central tenet of Catholic teaching.
God could have created us as mere automatons with no capacity to do anything other than obey him, but in His goodness, God gave us the capacity to make real moral decisions: the freedom to choose to do right or to do wrong. This should not be understood as excluding consequences, because there are always consequences to our choices for good or ill. So also it is with the civil law.
The law against violent assaults and murders does not make human beings incapable of committing violent assaults and murders; what it does say is that if and when such a choice is made, there are consequences. When we choose to exercise our freedom in a way that infringes on the freedom of somebody else, we can expect that the law of the land will forbid it under pain of punishment.
The central point about abortion is that it involves an assault on another person: if there is no other person involved, if the child is just a clump of cells or tissue and not a human being, then the law truly has no place in forbidding it because that would be an infringement of the individual’s right to make a choice that doesn’t affect any other person.
However, abortion is an assault on another person, specifically the child in the womb. A choice exercised in favour of abortion is therefore one that is completely inconsistent with the freedom that another human being should enjoy not to be subjected to a violent and unprovoked assault.
If we go back to our example, our speaker who says that he wants people to be allowed to make choices in line with their racist views, can only mean that there is nothing wrong with racism, that it doesn’t injure anybody else.
It would be just as absurd to say “I’m opposed to killing but I think we should trust each other to make the decision whether or not we kill other people.”
Anyone who says this is really saying there is nothing wrong with indiscriminate killing and the law should not attempt to prevent it. In the same way, anyone who says they are pro-choice about abortion is really saying there is nothing wrong with killing babies before they are born.