Fair Questions: Should the Pope Alter His Position on Abortion?

Today one of my friends shared a link to the following blog entry posted at the New York Times website.

To briefly summarize, the author uses the arguments put forward by Don Marquis regarding morality as it relates to abortion (he opposes it in most cases), and suggests that Pope Francis (being the wonderfully different and completely expected grand reformer of the Catholic Church) should rethink his position on abortion in cases of rape.

Those are arguments which make a lot of sense as applied to the State within an American legal framework. They make somewhat less sense in a Catholic moral framework.

As a disclaimer, I don’t have a problem with his reasoning. In fact, I really like Marquis’ arguments on abortion which are being used here. The problem is with the context in which that reasoning is applied.

The argument makes sense in the context of a legal framework in which the purpose of law is to adjudicate disputes between parties and ensure that minimum ethical obligations are met. If the author is only arguing that Pope Francis ought to reconsider legalizing abortion in cases of rape, then fair enough. He has a good argument in that context. But the author seems to be arguing within both contexts, so let’s look at the other context.

The purpose of Catholic moral teaching is NOT merely some legalistic way to ensure that minimum ethical obligations are met. Catholic moral teaching calls us all above and beyond minimum ethical obligations to practice heroic virtue. As a Catholic moral teacher, Pope Francis has a responsibility to reiterate that call to heroic virtue. Within a Catholic moral framework, it would be counter to the very purpose of Catholic moral teaching to change the moral teaching on abortion (or premarital sex, which also asks us to go far above and beyond what state law would require) for the reasons given by the author.

Of course, the author seems to assume that the purpose of Catholic moral teaching is not so lofty as all that when he writes,

“It is hard to claim that a rape victim has a moral duty to bring to term a pregnancy forced on her by rape, even if we assume that there is a fully human person present from the moment of conception. We might admire someone who has the heroic generosity to do this, but talk of murder is out of place.”

He specifically excludes the possibility that we have a moral obligation to heroic virtue here. That’s simply not true in the context of Catholic moral teaching, particularly as it relates to sex and children.

So should Pope Francis rethink his position on whether or not abortion should be legal in cases of rape?  Maybe so, but that’s a question of his political views, a question which is properly framed in a different context than in his role as Bishop of Rome.

Should Pope Francis rethink his position on whether or not abortion is moral within the Catholic moral framework?  Maybe, but the argument provided by the author is thoroughly incoherent with Catholic moral teaching from the start, so it would need to be a rethinking based on something else entirely, because the objection in this context is essentially that, “I disagree with the purpose of your moral framework and think it should be the same purpose as in a legal framework.” That’s just a statement of fact rather than an effective argument.

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