Yes, I think I must come to this subject. It is a touchy one but I think we must be ready to discuss our views
We are very aware today, because of current incidents, of our former attitudes towards slavery and the slave trade. It seems incredible that our ancestors, who, presumably, were fundamentally no more or less moral than we are, should have supported this trade over many decades. And, across the Atlantic, the financial benefits of slavery led towards the development of the US as a successful, indeed rich, economy. Even the Church, certainly at local levels, was far from eager to condemn the industry.
What commonly accepted principle today may lead our descendants to ask how our society could have been so evil?
It’s quite simple: there is a huge number of human beings who may be killed at the say so. I am, of course, talking about abortion. Even as I write, regulations are still developing to make this process wider and more easily chosen. Over 200,000 human beings were killed in England and Wales over the last ten years.
Of course, the proponents of this massacre put forward their reasons. Fundamental to these is the argument that the mother has a moral right to decide what happens with her body. If she chooses to eviscerate her baby she may do so. Of course, some would distinguish between a conception chosen, or allowed by the mother, and a conception caused, say, by rape.
Another approach is to argue that the entity in the womb cannot be regarded as a full human being, and thus has no rights.
I look at this second point in this way. The ‘entity’ comes into being when the sperm and the egg join in the female body. The hormone mixture from the parents is unique, except in the case of identical twins. The entity then develops and continues to develop until death. I, at the age of 85, am still the outcome of this parental mixture. And, when I see my great grandchildren, I immediately note their descent from their appearance – even in photos taken in the womb. Of course, there will be stages of development: foetal, babyhood, childhood, teenage etcetera. Why should we claim that human beings at the foetal stage may be destroyed at will?
The argument that the mother has rights over her own body is simply confused. The foetus of course has a similar right to its own body. It is not part of the mother. One could imagine a circumstance where the presence of the foetus is mortally damaging the mother and would thus lead to the death of both. Since both would die, would that excuse the removal of the foetus? I leave that open.
We have recently discussed the issue of our readiness to judge other groups of people — whether this is social class, nationality, colour, religion and so on. We wonder how it was that the Nazis persuaded their population that Jews should be expelled or destroyed. Similarly, it would appear that our society has decided that the human being who happens to be in the womb is expendable. And they call it virtue.