LOPEZ: “Behind every criticism of the Church, however apparently hostile or prejudiced, is an ethical value,” you write. “The critic,” you continue, “is consciously or unconsciously appealing to that value. Issues become neuralgic, in fact, precisely because of the feeling that those core values are threatened.” Later you contend that people may be motivated by “compassion” when they argue in favor of legal abortion. But sometimes they are just being selfish, aren’t they? Pitting the stronger’s rights over the weaker’s for the sake of convenience?
IVEREIGH: It’s interesting you raise abortion as an example of where people are looking to justify selfishness. I suppose you could say the entire ethic of autonomy is an attempt to rationalize self-indulgence. But equally, you could charge the ethic of community with being an attempt to rationalize hierarchy because hierarchy benefits you. Look, anyone’s morality can be dismissed as mere scaffolding of the will, but I don’t think that’s how it works. I think people’s deep-seated convictions are reached over time, in the little choices they make — “this, good; that, bad” — and what they end up with, sometimes, is a lopsided, or narrow, matrix, especially if they’ve reached that without the benefit of a faith or a strong community.
But the moral conviction on which that narrow matrix is built is sincere. A few days ago in London, I heard Linda Couri, who was a leading light in Planned Parenthood in Chicago until she experienced a profound conversion to Catholicism and the pro-life cause. She wanted us to know that, even when she was very wrong, her intentions were good, and her dedication to Planned Parenthood was noble: She genuinely believed she was helping others, and so, too, were the other women who worked there; they weren’t “killing babies” but “serving humanity.” The life of the unborn child was considered a necessary, reasonable sacrifice — the collateral damage of safeguarding a woman’s autonomy. She certainly wouldn’t have seen herself as selfish; she took a pay cut to work for Planned Parenthood, in the way that people do when they go to work for charities.
In this case, the value of the life of the unborn had been played down, in order to maintain another value — that of autonomy. A human life was sacrificed — is being sacrificed, on a massive scale, every day — in order to uphold a “good.” The point is, if we do not recognize that “good” — the positive intention, or Haidt’s elephant — then we will simply be talking past people. Linda Couri’s story — and it’s a really compelling account — is of moving to this broader vision, one that allowed her to admit realities (yes, these are human lives I am helping to kill) in a forgiving community.
She stresses how important it is to be in relationship with those with whom we disagree, and offer them hospitality — a space in which to grow into a greater view. I think that’s our task as Catholic Voices on the abortion question: to name the realities that the pro-choice lobby skirts over, to witness to the humanity of the unborn and to point to a broader matrix, but never to demonize or denigrate those who don’t share that awareness. Never judge the intentions of others — only their conclusions and their actions.
LOPEZ: You appear cautiously optimistic — four decades into legal abortion in the U.S. — about the prospects of a societal awakening on abortion and its brutality. Is that more than pure faith? Is it based, perhaps, also on the existence of improved ultrasound technology?
IVEREIGH: Western society is indelibly marked by the Gospel’s concern for the victim. That means that we are always being awakened to a greater awareness of the fragility and beauty of life. You’ve seen this dynamic in the great social-emancipation movements, in the growth of ecology, in the worldwide movement against capital punishment. We’ve seen it in greater concern for animal welfare. What happens in each of these cases is that, as the value of a life begins to rise in our consciousness, we start to see that the cost we had previously accepted as reasonable is in fact intolerable; and people say, “Dammit, I don’t know how we’re going to work this out, but we know we have to end this or that practice — it’s just not right.” To get to that point, as we did with slavery, racial segregation, and eugenics, may take time, but eventually it comes; it’s part of the dynamic of the Gospel working itself out in our culture.
With abortion, we’re still at the stage where the interests of a major industry — think here of the plantation owners and their vast output of sugar and cotton — are stronger than the moral repudiation. Just as slavery was the necessary sacrifice that had to be paid for an efficient and productive sugar industry, so abortion is still considered the necessary sacrifice for female autonomy. But just as the slave-owners couldn’t hide the brutal realities of conditions on the plantations at a time of rising awareness of the humanity of the slave, so the abortion industry is having to go to ever more elaborate lengths to conceal and justify abortion, while at the same time technology is revealing the beauty and fragility of what is being destroyed.
I talk in the book about the 4D ultrasonic “walking in the womb” pictures that turned at least one abortionist against the trade, and has served to awaken a generation of people to what is really going on. As with any obnoxious industry, you have massive, unexpressed grief and guilt built up over time; the pro-choice movement is fueled, says Linda Couri, by women who have aborted and are in denial. So it’s not easy to change — especially given the ideological investment in abortion as the flagship of female autonomy. But a tipping point will eventually be reached, and when it does, it will all collapse very fast — like the Berlin Wall in 1989. A generation of women — and it will have to be women — will say: Nunca más. The abortion industry will be exposed and discredited. And subsequent generations will shake their heads and ask — as we ask of Germans of a certain generation: How on earth could you people have lived with that under your noses and done nothing?