The freedom to choose life
A woman who is legally free to procure an abortion is not more free, but less; her circumstance are instantly tried, sentenced, and executed by the court of public opinion, almost from the moment of conception. The inertia compelling her to end the life of her child is nearly irresistible.
This morning our nation’s highest court entered into opening oral arguments for what will likely prove to be a watershed moment in American history: will the United States double down on the state-sanctioned death of our youngest and most innocent citizens, or will the spurious logic of Roe at last be exposed and rebuffed as bad law?
I listened to about the first 20 minutes of opening exchanges and, able to stomach no more, I switched off the livestream and commended the proceedings to prayer and fasting. But later on in the morning, as I stood in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher (where I do my best thinking, truly) I had a funny little exchange with myself. It went like this:
Toddler brain: Ugh, there’s still a lot to unload on the bottom. I’m just going to close it and do it later, I don’t feel like finishing.
Adult brain: You *can* close the dishwasher and wander off to do something else, and you can decide if you really want to do that… But you *should* finish it now. You’ll wish you had, if you don’t.
As I begrudgingly unlatched the dishwasher to finish the job I’d started, my mind wandered to the JPII quote about true freedom being tied not to what we’d like to do, but in having the freedom to do what we ought to do.
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.St. John Paul II
On a very rudimentary level, I’d demonstrated that capacity for freedom to myself, in turning away from my baser desire to flop on the couch and leave the job half finished, and instead embracing the greater good for myself, for my family, and ultimately for the continued discipline of my own will.
It seems of little consequence, a dishwasher. And in reality, is is.
It’s a tiny blip on the radar of a lifetime of choices and acts. But it is, at the same time, a profound and dignifying rebuke of the fallenness of my human nature each time I choose the good; my capacity to turn away from my impulses, instincts, and personal preferences is freedom. I am free to act not only as I’d like, as I feel, as I desire…but as I should.
Now, obviously, emptying the dishwasher – or not – is not itself a profound moral choice. But what is profound is the capacity for human freedom inherent in every decision, in every act.
I get to decide, moment by moment, how I’m going to behave, to respond, to act, and to react.
And the more often I choose rightly, the more free I am to act rightly in the future.
That’s because every act of good that I choose further strengthens the will to do some future good.
Virtue is an uphill slog, to be sure, but the necessary muscles of discipline and habit can be strengthened or weakened moment by day by day, decision by decision.
What has any of this got to do with law? Hang on a minute, I’ll get there.
In a very real sense, what makes a law good, or not, is whether or not a law makes it more or less difficult to choose what is good.
We call laws which prohibit murder, theft, rape, and child abuse good. They are good because, rooted in the natural law, they affirm what the human heart instinctively knows to be true. And, acting as guardrails on a society, they compel and even incentivize us to choose what is right.
It is not burdensome to be legally incentivized not to rob my neighbor’s house. The law does not deprive me of some imagined “right to steal” under extraordinary circumstances. Ultimately, I am not made less free by the specter of prison time hanging over my head should I transgress the law, but more free.
In a society such as ours, where abortion has become the norm, we have tragically and misguidedly incentivized sin and suffering, and we have done so through bad laws.
A pregnant woman in crisis, already at a terrible disadvantage, faces the uphill battle against the seemingly irresistible inertia of abortion. From the bedroom to the courtroom she is pushed and prodded along to an all too often inevitable destination which ends in bloodshed and, frankly, in profit.
It is the easiest thing in the world to tell a pregnant woman in crisis to end her pregnancy. To kill her baby.
Absolved of the more difficult and daunting tasks of accompaniment, material assistance, and sacrificial love, the people in her life who should be most willing to come to her aid – parents, lovers, siblings, friends – are instead all too willing to take the easy way out, at least for themselves, and tell her exactly where she can go with her burden of inconvenience and stress.
Proponents of so called abortion rights decry any “infringement” on said rights as primitive devolution into barbarism and chaos.
But what could be more primitive than to enshrine, in law, the right to kill a person who inconveniences you?
What could be more barbaric than to incentivize – for that is just what legally enshrined abortion does – a mother to kill her own child?
What could possibly ferment more social chaos than for us to fracture, to splinter into 62 million pieces, the social contract which binds us to one another, valuing human life above all else?
No, abortion does not make us more free. Having enshrined in law the right to destroy an innocent human life has not made America greater or more good. And to remedy a past error, particularly one so grievous, would be furthering rather than erasing human progress.
When you’ve made a wrong turn, better to turn back sooner rather than later.
Better to admit you’ve erred, correct course when possible, and to warn future drivers of the wrong turn, lest they too venture off a cliff.
In the coming weeks, or for however long our schizophrenic media chooses to excrete hysterical, feverish outrage – er, I mean news coverage, of the proceedings, the question of whether we’ve chosen rightly, and freely, on the topic of abortion, will remain at the forefront of our national conversation. As it ought.
May we find the courage and the moral decency to answer it honestly.