Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
A Jonal 'extra': Legislating morality
Jonal entry 1075 | October 31 2008
An acquaintance today resorted to that old canard, "you can't legislate morality," to justify voting for proabortion candidates and their platforms. I remember that misrepresentation of legislation and of morality as being popular during the civil rights movement of the Johnson and Nixon years, often invoked to oppose legal attempts to guarantee civil rights. Ironically, in those days it was a shibboleth of certain "conservative" opinion leaders, where now it is more likely to be uttered by liberals. But though it may have a ring of wisdom and truth, it wasn't true then and it isn't true now. Not only can morality, in the sense of principles of ethical behavior, be written into laws, every law and the entire concept of a society based on law exists to undergird and enforce morality. Moreover, enacting just laws has a reforming effect on societies, just as the passage of federal civil rights laws led, rather quickly, all things considered, to a completely new way of interacting between the races in states where civil rights previously were not recognized.
And if "you can't legislate morality" were true, it would be proof that the Judeo-Christian God is bogus, because He has been legislating morality since Genesis 2. But even though no intelligent citizen of a democratic republic like ours would argue that "biblical morality," or even "Judeo-Christian morality" ought to be legislated, every intelligent moral person will readily see that some morality must be legislated and, to whatever extent it can, should be enforced. And since all systems of morality, whether humanistic, "natural law," or what C.S. Lewis calls "the Tao," substantially overlap each other, any other system will work just as well as the biblcal or Judeo-Christian one. It's a universal "law," in the sense of a norm or principle of morality, that the murdering of innocent human life is immoral, and that is all one needs in order to see that abortion is wrong and should be restricted by laws.
Like every other moral principle, legislation against abortion cannot be enforced perfectly. Like every other law, it will be broken by some members of the society it's supposed to help, but as in every other law, as well, it will be effective in curbing some violations. And in this case that means it will stop some abortions and thus save some innocent human lives. And as prolifers always say, "one life saved is worth the effort" of conducting prolife campaigns. It's obvious to anyone who has looked at the data that "legalizing" abortion on demand as Roe v. Wade did in 1973 has led to millions of additional abortions. It's obvious that although there were many illegal abortions before the law was changed, there have been millions more of them since the change, and millions of lives could have been saved if abortion had been kept illegal.
Every law gets broken by some, but it's also true that every law is obeyed by some who respect law in general or fear the consequences of overstepping the bounds. One purpose of laws is to encourage good and pro-social behavior. Studies of women who have had abortions have found that a large portion of them were undertaken under pressure...the pregnant woman leaned toward having her baby, but pressure by a boyfriend or a mother (more often than not, the latter, in fact) persuaded her to make an end of her unfortunate predicament. Laws against abortion, even those partial measures like requiring parental notification in the case of minors and waiting a certain time before having the fatal procedure, help pregnant women resist such pressures and enable them to point out that the law is on their side, the side of life, as it should be.
The Roe v. Wade decision held, and the feminist movement has continued to hold ever since, that the pregnant woman's body is her own and that she cannot be forced by law to allow it to be used by "an invading presence," even her own unwanted baby. The opposite argument is that, just as in divorce cases the interest of the more vulnerable child than the more resourceful (one could even say, "more cunning") mother, the child's best interests should trump those of the parent. And in divorce proceedings, even the man involved is required to pay his share in pain and suffering to assure that the child, not he, be given first consideration. Every divorce hurts a child (even those which, in some ways, are in the child's best interest, which I readily admit is sometimes the case), but every abortion hurts a child infinitely more.
Why the double standard?