Politically correct death and moral relativism

Like virtually every important issue that polarizes people, the conflict over abortion is at its core a moral one. Though some may see it as morally one-sided such that only those who oppose abortion care about its moral aspects, the reality is that both sides have positioned themselves as the true guardians of moral goodness. The conflict proceeds mostly from disagreement over the relevant facts evaluated within one’s moral framework, but there are also some who believe morality is relative whereby no condemnation of one’s position on abortion is valid.

I’m beginning a series of posts summarizing from start to finish the information found in Francis J. Beckwith’s book Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights.(1)  Beckwith’s first chapter is titled “The Possibility of Moral Reasoning,” which he begins by addressing moral relativism, “the belief that there are no mind-independent moral values that transcend culture or the individual.” This position is probably best exemplified in the one who says they’re personally opposed to abortion but that the woman should be able to decide for herself if it’s right for her.

We hear this all the time, but think about how relativistically wishy-washy at best and completely illogical at worst this view is. A “personal” opposition to abortion surely is based on more than just preference, as in, “I would personally love to have a bunch of kids so I would carry every pregnancy to term.” In all likelihood their objection to abortion is a moral one but they don’t think they can impose their morality on someone else.

But if they believe it’s wrong to take the life of a child in the womb but they can’t prohibit someone else from doing that, they’re saying one of two things: 1. It’s not objectively wrong for everyone, only for those who believe it is, or 2. It is objectively wrong for everyone but we can’t legislate morality, which is essentially a fallback to number 1. Neither of these positions is reasonable and here’s why.

  1. The choice to end the life of a human being is nothing like the choice of a career, or how to spend one’s leisure time, or whether to marry or remain single. We intuitively recognize that this is a moral decision with ramifications way beyond satisfying a personal preference. It’s not “wrong” in the sense of unsuitable or undesirable. It’s wrong in the sense of, this should not be done. And in that sense, if it shouldn’t be done by you, it shouldn’t be done by anyone.
  2. Those who claim we can’t legislate morality should then be in favor of abolishing all laws against theft, rape, and murder, not to mention those regulating gun ownership, threats to the environment, and the right of transgenders to use the bathroom of their choice. All of these are moral issues whose objective nature is implied by the fact that they are encoded into law because they apply to everyone.

The irrationality of a personal objection to abortion conjoined with a claim that everyone should decide for themselves is best demonstrated by substituting a similar moral issue. As Beckwith states, “After all, what would we think of the depth of the convictions of an individual who claimed that he was personally against the genocide of a particular race, but if others thought this race was not human they were certainly welcome to participate in the genocide if they so choose?” This kind of absurdity is necessarily where moral relativism leads. I personally think slavery is morally wrong but it’s your choice if you want to have a slave. I think rape is evil but who am I to judge another human being’s inclinations? Child abuse is wrong in my book, but the decision to mercilessly torture one’s child is one that should only be made by the child’s mother and father.

Moral relativism when taken to its logical extreme is seen for what it is – an irrational position. Yet its adherents have their arguments in favor of it and Beckwith goes on to address those as Chapter 1 of his book continues. I’ll share those with you in my next post.

1. Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993)