ON THE PERSISTENCE OF NATURAL LAW
The Prolife Movement: Dead or Alive?

May 1993By James G. Hanink

James G. Hanink is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Associate Editor of the NOR, and the father of five children, all adopted.

Jeremy Bentham, apoplectic over what he took to be the philosophic conceits of the French Revolution, offered this verdict: "Natur­al rights is simple nonsense…rhetorical non­sense -- nonsense upon stilts." Appeals to such rhetoric he hotly dismissed as "terrorist language." His distaste for a metaphysically richer doctrine of Natural Law, within which natural rights might find a congenial home, would be equally strong. The utilitarianism that Bentham -- and John Stuart Mill -- did so much to advance continues to be thorough­ly at home in the American psyche -- howev­er much it contradicts our own (sometimes indiscriminate) "rights talk."

For many of us a coherent and accessible doctrine of Natural Law is more rumor than reality -- an exotic and even sinister rumor at that. There was a flurry of discussion about Na­tural Law during the tumultuous Clarence Thomas hearings. For a day or two, we were treated to the spectacle of philosophical "color commentators" on the evening news explain­ing Natural Law in 75 words or less. But Thomas himself downplayed the concept, and the public came away with the impression that "Natural Law" was a weird creature that had escaped from a think tank but was returned safely under lock and key. More comic still has been the emergence of a meditation-based Natural Law Party (doubtless there's been a copyright violation somewhere, and a lawyer is tracking it down). In any case, we need to know much more about Natural Law.

The abortion wars seem to be winding down, do they not? After Casey this past summer, Robert Dworkin told us that "the center" had held: The Constitution had been saved, the zealots kept at bay. As Dworkin recognizes, court decisions characteristically in­volve value judgments. Perhaps the key value judgment behind both Roe and Casey was noted some 10 years ago by the utilitarian Peter Singer. He said that the sanctity of human life ethic, which he rejected as per­verse, "is now starting to be eroded by the acceptance of abortion, which is the killing of a being that is indisputably a member of the human species…," and he welcomed this shift in opinion. It is now trumpeted that America accepts legal abortion and the abortion debate is over.

Yet we should beware of hasty conclu­sions. Natural Law theory is resilient -- and patient. It is unlikely that certain people will be shouted down, will ever slough off their conviction that unborn babies are human beings deserving legal protection. The obitu­aries for the prolife movement we've been reading are premature.


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Space does not permit a discussion of the "hard cases" in the abortion debate, but they make up only a tiny fraction of the roughly 1.5 million legal abortions done each year in the U.S. It is the overwhelming majority of abor­tions that the law must honestly reconsider immediately.



While much of this article has great value, that paragraph is detestable in the extreme.

If 'X'is a person, there is nothing more that need be said. Murdering a child conceived through rape or incest, or disabled, is not one tiny iota different from murdering a child for any other reason.

There is no need for any extra space, or any extra debate. By implying that there is such a need, one commits an unjustice.

Every wedge of Satan is serviceable, especially within those who are the 'good guys.' I'm sorry, but it is the "pro-life" people who most of all need to open themselves to scrutiny, and honestly face and cast out every little hypocrisy and stupidity like this one.

Posted by: guerrero paciente
August 01, 2009 11:27 PM EDT
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