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OPINION

Choice and Morality

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Abortion activists and supporters -- which is to say, most of the Democratic Party and the entirety of the liberal intelligentsia -- like to frame abortion as a liberty issue. You know -- choice, as with music and toothpaste.

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The Planned Parenthood imbroglio of recent weeks helps dispel that notion. It reminds many (not all, alas) of the grisly, garish consequences to which choice can lead when exercised in a moral vacuum: no lights on, no road signs posted, caution and hesitation sternly shushed up.

I haven't heard any Planned Parenthood representative address the matter of those internationally known undercover videos by saying something like, "Well, you know, body parts and fetal tissue come with every abortion so get over it." In responding to her medical director's role in the video -- talking blithely about going "above and below the thorax" so as to procure high-quality body parts -- Cecile Richards, head of the Planned Parenthood body shop, regrets her employee's compassionless "tone."

That's how it goes, no doubt, when liberty is the value at the top of the flagpole -- the one the federal courts still salute in abortion cases, the ground and foundation of every point Planned Parenthood makes when defending abortion. You pays your money, and you takes your choices. Just good all-Americanism -- unhitched to any larger concept of duty, responsibility or human dignity. It's all about good old personal choice: one thing over another thing, suit yourself, no strings attached.

And no backward looks. Backward looks arise from moral reflection. That's what we don't want in this process. Moral reflection inhibits choice, tells you some choices are good, some not so good; some (this seems the right context to say so) are dismal and awful, productive of suffering that isn't supposed to occur in a morality-free enterprise like abortion. But does.

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After all, what do we see here? A pasture where aborted fetuses and mothers gambol gaily (probably not in company with each other) and all human needs -- the god of Choice having been invoked -- find satisfaction? We see nothing of the sort. We see death and disfigurement of human form and human nature.

Systems of morality -- which differ from finger-pointing moralism -- permit and encourage choice. Choice, however, that is guided by an understanding of the stakes. Actions have consequences. Do you want to wait and find out which choices have consequences that appear to square with human happiness and which choices drag down human nature to unimagined depths? Better first, perhaps, to hear with some respect the conclusions of those who over long centuries have applied themselves to the understanding of human ends and means. They may or may not be religious teachers; they may be nothing more than, well, parents and grandparents. Whatever thoughts they may have bestowed on those ends and means I have mentioned are likely worth sharing.

The Planned Parenthood horror and embarrassment has about it a wildness with which we may become more familiar as the ideal of choice pushes basic morality to the margins of society. A doctor, in the video, explains over wine and salad how the abortionists at her service manipulate unborn life (life! life!) so as to extract from it the "best" portions for laboratory experiments.

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How are we supposed to feel while watching her in the video? We are supposed to throw hats in the air? "Choice! Choice! More! More!" Is that it?

That would seem to be our license, under Roe v. Wade, as well as the general cultural expectation of the Planned Parenthood era. The outcome of choice is more choice. The outcome of moral action, where recognized as a human duty, is supposed to be virtue and the rewards of virtue, virtuously chosen.

You do pay your money; you do take your choices -- in all of life. The challenge (to which the nationwide indignation over Planned Parenthood's lack of "tone" and "compassion" is a welcome response) is to recover a once-familiar cultural identifier -- namely, that "I'm" not in charge; that "my" choices require moral framework; that "I" just plain need help. And, sorry, Ms. Richards. You're not it.

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