Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Waking Up: "Gentle Abortions"?

Stacy Trasancos at Accepting Abundance has an excellent post entitled, “We Need to Wake Up: ‘Gentle Abortions. No pain. No memory.’”

Stacy brings our attention to this ad (and others like it):

The gruesome stories coming out of the Gosnell abortion mill in Philadelphia are horrifying, disgusting, almost unbelievable. I weep, literally, at times, when I think about the reality of these atrocities. And Stacy rightly points out that it is unlikely that the Gosnell-type atrocities are simply an anomaly – see her reasoning and conclusions in her post.

But I am almost as horrified by other implications of the kind of advertising Stacy has reported.

“No pain. No memory.” No…conscience?

It is the lack of conscience that is allowing abortion (and other immoral acts and ways of thinking) to continue to exist in society. Stacy is right: we do need to wake up. In particular, we need to wake up the conscience in each of us; we need to make it fully aware, not just half-baked. We need to re-learn how to think critically. (No, my dear liberal thinkers, “critical thinking” does not equal “judging”. It means logical thinking that is not cluttered with emotional baggage and intellectual double-speak. It means recognizing – and announcing – that the emperor has no clothes.)

Before we take a look at the issue of conscience, let’s take a critical look at the claims made in the little ad posted above: “Gentle abortions. No pain. No memory.” Let’s take one claim at a time.

First: “gentle abortions.” Ahem. This is an oxymoron. The truth is that even if the abortion is committed while the mother is under general anesthesia, it is not “gentle” to anyone concerned. How can killing a child be “gentle”? We’ve all seen the pictures and read the descriptions: killing an unborn baby is dirty business; it is violent and disgusting. Period. Is it “gentle” for the mother? Well, I have had surgery under general anesthesia, and I would not consider it gentle. I think being “put under” takes a big toll on one’s body and mind. It’s not like taking a nap, for heaven’s sake.

Second: “no pain.” NO PAIN? Come on. The baby will experience pain! End of story. As for the mother, there may be no physical pain experienced while she is under general anesthesia, but you may rest assured that there will be psychological pain. After all, she’s choosing to deaden her mind and body so that she won’t be aware of what’s happening while it’s in progress. But she knows ahead of time what is going to happen, and she will know afterwards what she has allowed to happen. There will be psychological pain. There may be physical pain, too, depending on what actually goes on in the surgery that kills her baby. All those women who’ve experienced “botched abortions” can probably attest to that.

Third: “no memory”. Really? There are stories, of course, of people who have awareness during surgery even under general anesthesia. The number of confirmed, undisputed cases of this kind of awareness is extremely small. But the mind is pretty darn powerful, and, personally, I have no doubt that people do or can have some awareness during general anesthesia, and the incidence of it will be underreported in the literature because of the nebulousness of the experience. It’s a difficult phenomenon to study. But apart from the idea of “no memory” of the actual surgery, obviously there will still be the memory of what was done. The mother will remember that she has killed her baby.

Now let’s return to the issue of conscience. In my view, it all comes back to our conscience – or lack thereof. These days, society’s collective moral reasoning skills seem to have all but disappeared. Our “collective unconscious” seems to have no “collective conscience”.

The idea of conscience is, I think, vastly misunderstood by many. A general comment made by those who take issue with any particular Church teaching is: “I have a right to follow my own conscience.”  They use this paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to support this belief:

1782    Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.  “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience.  Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”

But there are many other paragraphs that define what a well-formed conscience is; paragraph 1782 merely defends a person’s right to be wrong. In other words, yes, “free will” allows you to follow your conscience; however, if your conscience is erroneously formed, you have simply exercised your right to make a mistake. Consider the very next paragraph in the Catechism:

1783    Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. (emphasis added)

We live in a world that saturates us with printed material, visual images, and sound bytes that necessarily have an impact on how we think. American society in particular has come to revere “personal rights” in the form of moral relativism (“It may be right for you, but it’s not right for me”). Well-meaning people may try to follow their consciences, but the fact is, even if we seek to form a good conscience, we can still err (duh…we’re human!):

1786    Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them. (emphasis added)

1790  A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.  If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed. (emphasis added)

Scripture itself warns us that it is not easy to form a good and pure conscience that is in accord with the will of God, and that it is easy to go astray.  For instance, 1Timothy advises us to “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”  And 1Timothy 1:19 tells us that “By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.”

I was surprised by the news that two women have pled guilty to third degree murder charges in the Gosnell case, and it made me wonder about what might be going on in their minds. Did they “wake up” and realize that what they had done was wrong?  More and more we are seeing abortion workers realizing the error of ways, and consequently leaving the abortion industry and in some cases sharing their testimony with the world. Their consciences were not dead after all!

Is the case with those women who have pled guilty to murder in the Gosnell case? Are they finally listening to a conscience that had been lulled to sleep in the abortion mill? I hope so. Because that give me hope – hope that the American public can actually recover from the moral laxity that pervades this nation. It gives me hope that our consciences can be renewed, and that we can overcome the moral relativism that is destroying the family in our society.

[A few of the above paragraphs are taken from my paper “Conscience and the Obedience of Faith”, in the February 2008 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review. You can read it here thanks to Catholic Culture.]

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