Unbelievable? debates abortion

manicstreetpreacher encourages you to listen to a mature debate on an emotional topic.

The 23 January 2010 edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? featured a debate between pro-choice humanist Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris and pro-life Christian Sarah Macken of the Alive + Kicking group.  It was from a few years ago at a time when the show took live phone calls from listeners.

It is an extremely level-headed discussion of a very thorny issue and I cannot recommend it enough.  I am pro-choice and therefore I would hand the debate to Evan Harris, who is a prominent voice of the National Secular Society, but only because I agree with his position.   Sarah Macken articulated her position extremely well and said plenty to get me thinking.

Abortion is a difficult issue and I struggle with it greatly.  Evan Harris did very well to convey the moral minefield of the topic and is a superb spokesman for humanists and secularists everywhere.  Abortion is hardly a wonderful thing that we need to be encouraging more of, but it is alas the least worst option.   Rather like democracy as a form of government, as Winston Churchill once said.

At some level, I believe in the concept of the “unborn child” and that every gestating foetus should be given a chance in life.  But I also believe in a woman’s right to choose, simply because the alternative is worse.  Women are still going to want to abort unwanted pregnancies.  If it is illegal, it will be driven underground and become the happy hunting ground of backstreet abortionists who will botch the process, perhaps without aborting the foetus successfully and causing lasting harm to both mother and child. The original Michael Caine version of Alfie presents a powerful portrayal of this.

I am equally certain that Paul Hill, a Christian minister who murdered an abortion clinic doctor in the USA, was far more evil than the doctor he killed could ever reasonably be considered.  Hill’s victim terminated foetuses at the request of their mothers.  Foetuses that could not feel pain like we can, who had no memories, no emotions, no wife, no children, no friends, no relatives to mourn them.  I admit that it is an awful choice to make, but I do so without hesitation.

However, if there is a God, he is the greatest abortionist.  Many pregnant women suffer from miscarriages.  Sometimes it is a very apparent, obvious and painful process, both physically and mentally; very often though the woman doesn’t even realise that they were pregnant in the first place.  That believers consider God alone has the right to dictate who lives and who dies is what Nietzsche described as “slave morality”: you give praise and thanks constantly to your master, no matter how meagre the scraps he allows to fall from his table and call it benevolence.  I for one am relieved that there is very little evidence to believe it.  The world would be a much worse place if it were true.

Moral issues are complex and need to be assessed on their likely or actual consequences rather than being predetermined according to an absolute standard.  This doesn’t mean that morals are relative according to cultural and historical context.  I believe we can distil objective moral standards as our knowledge and experience of our thoughts and actions increases.

Perhaps it would be wonderful if there were a list of rules set in stone somewhere in the metaphysical universe, but I simply don’t see any evidence for it.  We just have to feel our around, sometimes getting it right, sometimes making mistakes, always striving for a state of moral perfection regardless of whether that will ever be achieved in reality.

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2 Responses to “Unbelievable? debates abortion”

  1. Paul Baird Says:

    Women are still going to want to abort unwanted pregnancies. If it is illegal, it will be driven underground and become the happy hunting ground of backstreet abortionists who will botch the process, perhaps without aborting the foetus successfully and causing lasting harm to both mother and child.

    Using the term happy hunting ground was bit unfortunate.

    Nonetheless, it’s worth enquiring about what would really happen in the event that terminations became extremely difficult. To infer, as some pro-life campaigners seem to do, that all terminations would stop or least be drastically reduced, is naive.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Thank you for your comment, Paul. In hindsight, perhaps “happy hunting ground” was a bad pun, but it was unintentional.

      Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation cites some alarming statistics and case examples from Latin America and indeed the USA of what happens when women are denied or severely restricted access to abortion. Banning it completely will not prevent the practice, but will increase the risk of physical and emotional suffering to women.

      An ounce of prevention is better than a ton of cure. The solution is to increase availability of contraception together with education as to its proper use. Abstinence and being faithful are important as well (the former is a very good way of not getting pregnant or an STD!), but the religious play down the important of correct condom use because it offends their petty superstitions.

      Such views have no more evidence to support them than the ancient Aztec’s belief that child sacrifice was necessary to ensure the rising of the sun every day.


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