Fides et Ratio

Saint John Paul the Great’s Fides at Ratio turns 20 this year. It’s described by Wikipedia in this way: It “posits that faith and reason are not only compatible, but essential together. Faith without reason, [John Paul II] argues, leads to superstition. Reason without faith, he argues, leads to nihilism and relativism.” Chaput explains the way Fides et Ratio calls everyone to keep an open mind to the metaphysical aspects of life:

Fides et Ratio is a hymn to the transcendent aspirations of human reason. The aim of any true philosophy, it notes, should be to find the unity of truth in all things, an understanding of the whole. This demands an engagement with the classical discipline we call “metaphysics,” which men still study in preparing for the priesthood.

Metaphysics is an exotic word for a very basic subject: the study of the deep truths and harmonies built into the world. Why, for example, does the world exist? Is matter—material reality—all that there is? Or is there something more? Is there a common human nature? What should we make of the many distinct kinds of things that exist in the world, the sheer givenness of their existence, and their goodness and beauty? How should we understand the human person as a distinct sort of reality? After all, a human person has unique abilities. Man is the creature who can know not only physical things, but even himself and others. Man can perceive the truth, goodness, and beauty in things. He’s a creature animated by questions of ultimate meaning, including whether God exists.

Fides et Ratio argues that any culture that ignores man’s ultimate metaphysical questions locks itself in a false and empty immanence. It can no longer approach the question of God. And by this very fact, it will scar the inner life of the human person. As John Paul notes, “Christian Revelation is the true lodestar of men and women as they strive to make their way amid the pressures of an immanentist habit of mind and the constrictions of a technocratic logic.” This message is strikingly contemporary. Our modern universities typically avoid God as a serious subject of inquiry. Without God, or at least some sense of a higher order or meaning to nature, the dignity of the human person is little more than folklore, the residue of pre-Darwinian beliefs. God and the soul are in exile. And that’s because classical philosophy is in exile, to the detriment of genuine learning.

Fides et Ratio also confronts the crisis of truth within the Catholic Church herself. Catholic theology studies the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ. This truth is made known to us by the Holy Spirit. It’s not one we come to know by our own natural powers. But good theology depends upon vigorous philosophy, at least in this sense: We can’t think correctly about God’s revelation unless we cultivate a reasonable philosophical attitude toward God, the world, and other human persons.

The benefits of a vigorous cultivation of both philosophy and theology flow both ways. The rigor of philosophical reason, as Benedict XVI said, purifies religion. It prevents religious faith from lapsing into superstition. Theology, in turn, helps philosophers to cultivate an attitude of openness and accountability to all of reality. Far from being anti-intellectual, Catholic theology raises the expectations for human reason. Everything we can come to know is part of the created order and therefore “friendly” to the authentic revelation of God.

Philosophy in the Catholic tradition pays special attention to the ways we speak about God “analogically” from comparison with creatures. The created world around us exists and is good. So, too, God exists and is good—but in an infinitely higher and incomprehensible way. So when God reveals himself to us as the Holy Trinity, he is simultaneously the God of revelation and the God of natural reason, the God of the Bible and the God of the philosophers.

This way of thinking about the harmony of faith and reason is central to the Catholic tradition, from Church Fathers such as Justin and Augustine to medievals such as Bonaventure and Aquinas down to modern Catholic councils, both at Vatican I and Vatican II. This harmony is expressed in the opening lines of Fides et Ratio: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

In 2015, we inscribed the phrase Fides et Ratio onto the gravestone of John and Marion Shakely, my grandparents. We did this for two reasons. First, to allude to the marriage of my grandfather’s familial Protestantism and my grandmother’s familial Catholicism and in so doing to recognize the healing of Christian divisions. And second, specifically to recognize John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio encyclical, for speaking clearly to a world too ready to think that the particular and complex problems of any particular historical moment are somehow without precedent, and that an authentic, robust faith and reason together can be those “wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth” beyond the particulars of any specific and finite generation.


Inspiriting Mount Nittany

I spoke to the University Park Undergraduate Association, the student government at Penn State, on Wednesday, February 14 (Ash Wednesday) on Mount Nittany’s significance and historical conservation efforts:

As part of the talk, I presented the students with a Square Inch Life Estate Deed to Mount Nittany. Life Estate Deeds are available through the Mount Nittany Conservancy, and are a true, legal square inch deed recorded in the Centre County Office of the Recorder of Deeds.

To learn more of the Mountain’s history and significance, be sure to read Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism or listen to the audiobook version for free.

It was a fun talk, even though it was incredibly difficult to pack much of the substance and depth of either the folkloric or practical conservation efforts of Mount Nittany into what was roughly a 12 minute presentation. There was so much that I didn’t have time to address, particularly the relationship between Mount Nittany and Hort Woods, and some of the more interesting aspects of the “Magic of Mount Nittany” fundraising campaign of the 1980s and the narrative of the Princess Nittany legends themselves. But that’s what the book is for.

Since I served in UPUA, it has developed for the better. I’d guess there were at least 70 people in attendance. (We were sometimes lucky to meet quorum requirements to even conduct meetings in the first year.) I stayed for the entire meeting, and heard about their campus and community initiatives which each seemed to be positive and important for building a better Penn State.


Complete neighborhoods

Andrew Price writes on “complete neighborhoods,” where peoples’ needs are close at hand:

I’m interested in creating livable, walkable, human-scale cities, and one of the most important elements to creating a livable city is the development pattern of your local neighborhood. We talk about car dependency being bad and limiting our freedom, but what does ‘transportation freedom’ look like? Waiting for a bus every time you leave home? Not so much. I believe that the most free mode of transportation is one that doesn’t require any vehicle to get around — thus, our largest gains with building livable, human-scale cities come from building foot-oriented neighborhoods. …

The best way to easily and affordable get people around is to reduce the distance they have to travel. If you move things close enough and make it comfortable to get around, people will walk.

Cities are divided into neighborhoods, and if you’ve ever spent time living in a walkable city without a car, you know that your quality of life is largely dependent on the amenities within your neighborhood — the walkshed of your home.

A good neighborhood will have enough variety of restaurants to keep you satisfied, along with schools, parks, grocery stores, walk-in clinics, entertainment, etc. If you were fortunate enough to work from or close to home, it’s the sort of neighborhood you could go months without leaving and not feel like you’re missing out on anything.

What I’m describing here is what I like to call a Complete Neighborhood. A Complete Neighborhood is one where, outside of commuting to work or having a “night out,” you can get everything you need within walking distance.

Pick a random neighborhood in Manhattan and it’ll likely be a Complete Neighborhood. (I know New York is an atypical American experience, but it’s the closest I can get to making this point without talking about foreign cities.) The further out into the outer boroughs and suburbs you go (unfortunately, you don’t have to go far) the less “complete” the neighborhood becomes, regardless of how long it takes to get into Manhattan via transit. …

Separating uses to a scale that requires a vehicle — whether it is a car, a bicycle, or transit — to get around for basic necessities is an artificial problem created by modern planning. Until we change our development pattern to build Complete Neighborhoods, any transportation infrastructure (whether widening roads to accommodate more cars or tunneling a subway line) is just wasteful spending.

Once we build foot-oriented neighborhoods, transit and cycling become productive investments.

Just as conservation requires context, it makes sense to me that a good life involves a “complete neighborhood” in this way.


‘As a citizen first’

Bill Murray appeared on CNBC recently:

“People are going to war about so much. …

“My friend who’s a great comedy writer, Jim Downey, he’s accused of being a right-wing comedy writer, if there is such a thing,” Murray said. “He says, ‘No, I just think the way the Democrats handle things is poor, where they try to pick out little pieces of a population, oh well we represent the Hispanics, we represent the LGBT or something.” …

“And they’re not speaking to everyone at once. And it’s almost demeaning to say, ‘I’m choosing you because you’re a splinter group or you’re a certain minority group.’ …

“There’s almost a resentment that somehow you’re separated, again, by a politician — ‘You’re my people. I’m in control of you, I represent you,’ instead of thinking that each citizen has a right to be respected as a citizen first, under the laws of the country. …

The 67-year-old, who seemed to suggest that such times of political unrest often laid the “compost and fertilizer” to nurture more stable times of unity ahead, added that the current divided atmosphere made comedy of a political nature very difficult.

“How can Kristen Wiig make everyone laugh?” he asked. “She’s not thinking about being political, she’s thinking about what resonates and what is common to all of us. I think that’s harder and harder to do because people are trying to win their point of view as opposed to saying, ‘What if I had spoke to everyone?'”

Bill Murray gets at the heart of the tension between political factions in our country right now. We all seem to want an America where “each citizen has a right to be respected as a citizen first, under the laws of the country”, but we seem to be doing a terrible job of communicating with our neighbors and compromising on anything that would move us toward that in a meaningful way.


Ash Wednesday

“Have mercy on me, O God!” In the category of the transcendent:

This piece is Psalm 51, but first set to music by Allegri around 1630. It is one of the finest and most popular examples of renaissance polyphony. It is often heard in Churches of the apostolic Christian tradition on Ash Wednesday, immediately following Shrove (or pancake) Tuesday, marking Christ’s return to Jerusalem. Beautifully performed here by The Sixteen, listen out for the simplicity, humility and reverence.


Scenes from a Sunday walk

A few photos from a rainy Sunday afternoon walk through Old City, Philadelphia that finished at City Hall courtyard:


Latvian and Nazi abortion policies

A follow on to yesterday’s look at Germain Grisez’s historical portrait of Soviet abortion policy in his 1970 book “Abortion: The Myths, The Realities, and the Arguments“. This shorter excerpt focuses on Latvian abortion policy inspired by the Soviets, but which introduced a new and non-therapeutic, non-medical basis for abortion based on characteristics and class status.

The Nazis later built upon the “characteristics and class” approach to abortion policy as a means to realize their vision of a “purified master race.” A Nazi innovation in this regard was likely the first-ever justification for abortion based on the “viability of the fetus”:

Between 1920 and 1936 the Soviet experiment was followed with interest by observers in other countries. The legalization of abortion in many places became a political issue; radical legislators now saw this measure as an integral part of socialization. In some places new laws were passed, but non of them were as radical as the Soviet decree of 1920. All embodied a compromise: abortion became legal in certain kinds of cases and in accord with other definite requirements.

Latvia, then an independent republic bordering on the U.S.S.R., apparently was the First Nation to pass such a compromise abortion law. The act, passed December 30, 1932, provided that any attempt to procure abortion against the pregnant woman’s wish remained illegal. But a physician inducing abortion to prevent loss of light or serious damage to health of the prospective mother was not regarded as criminal. These two provisions incorporated the principle of the woman’s wish—in a negative way, by requiring her consent—and the principle of therapeutic abortion, which in almost every country was accepted in practice.

But then the law went on to provide that abortion would not be illegal if:

  1. It were performed during the first three months of pregnancy;
  2. With the woman’s consent;
  3. By a physician;
  4. To prevent one of the following: (a) The birth of a child having a physician or mental defect (the “eugenic” indication); (b) The birth of a child conceived in virtue of certain proscribed acts—seduction, rape, incest, and criminal assault (the “humanitarian” indication); (c) The birth of a child that would cause privation to the pregnant woman or her family (the “social” indication).

In these provisions the Latvian law accepted the principle of abortion as a method of birth prevention where there were serious indications of a “eugenic,” “humanitarian,” or “social” kind.

We shall see much discussion of these indications in subsequent debates. The essential point is to notice that they represent a principle distinct from therapeutic abortion. In therapeutic abortion the objective is not to prevent the birth of the child, although in fact the child is aborted for the mother’s benefit. In the compromise legislation of which we see a model in the Latvian act of 1932, the purpose of the indicated and permitted non-therapeutic abortion precisely is to prevent the birth of children falling into certain classes. Insofar as abortion is admitted as a method of birth prevention the principle of the Soviet law is accepted. However, insofar as specific indications are required, a new principle, derived neither from the traditional view nor from Soviet theory, is operative.

Information about the success of the Latvian compromise is not easily had. The original law was amended by an act of March 22, 1935, which eliminated the “social” indication and tightened up conditions under which most physicians could induce abortion. Under the 1935 amendment only gynecologists and physicians especially appointed by the state were allowed to perform the operation outside a hospital or clinic.

One of the bitterest battles concerning abortion law relaxation was fought in Germany between 1920-1933. Proponents of a relaxed law did not succeed in winning official acceptance for their position until the Nazis came to power. Then the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases in Posterity, 1933, was passed (amended 1935).

Under this law, a pregnant woman selected for sterilization might also be aborted provided she consented, if there were no medical contraindications and if the fetus were not already viable.

Also under this law, a physician might induce abortion (as well as sterilize a woman) to avert serious danger to a woman’s life or health. In this case also the woman’s consent was required. Except in emergency cases, each operation had to be reviewed in advance by a court of referees, which consisted of medical practitioners. The abortionist and the review court of referees were supposed to be independent of one another both in judgment and in action. All induced and spontaneous abortions were to be reported to the Medical Officer of Health.

At first glance it might seem that the Nazi legalization of abortion was minimal. To begin with, the law required the woman’s consent—abortion was voluntary, not imposed. However, William Russell, a member of the American diplomatic corps in Berlin prior to World War II, wrote:

“The Nazis laid great stress on the fact that everything the nation did at their command was ‘voluntary.’ Even the compulsory two-year period of service in the army is ‘voluntary.’ Every boy is required by law to serve, so the Nazis call it volunteering. I have no doubt but that even those unfortunates who were slaughtered in the 1934 purge died ‘voluntarily.'”

The essence of the Nazi law was not, then, that it required the woman’s consent. One distinctive feature of this law was the fact that it used the viability of the fetus as a significant dividing line. So far as I know, this was the first law to use this criterion, and thus many current proponents of abortion law relaxation follow in the Nazis’ footsteps at least to this extent.

The Nazi law fit into the National Socialist outlook just as the Soviet law fit into the Communist outlook. The Soviets liberated women from traditional morality in order to use her in the work of the triumphant social-economic revolution. But the Nazis aimed at quality—the reign of the supermen—the purified master race. Thus their program depended upon getting rid of weak and inferior specimens, while keeping the stronger and purer ones. Of course, the Soviet decree of 1936 adopted a position on abortion not far different from that which the Nazis had put into effect in 1933.

So far as we know, however, the Soviet program never led to the consequences that developed in Germany. There the program of selective sterilization and abortion was developed by the medical men themselves into a large-scale program of “euthanasia”—that is, murder of mental patients and others, even German soldiers mutilated in the war. The euthanasia program blazed the trail for the even more extensive mass murders of Jews, gypsies, and other so-called “contaminants of Aryan purity.”

Thousands of German, non-Jewish children were disposed of in the euthanasia program, many for a social reason rather than because of any inherent defect. This murderous project was not initiated by Nazi officials but by the medical profession itself; in fact, no law ever gave it formal sanction. Killings were done under the supervision and by the direct acts of psychiatrists and pediatricians. Euthanasia murders were passed upon by independent medical consulting boards, similar to those required in the 1933 act to approve abortion. The murders of the children were accomplished mainly by starvation or by overdoses of drugs. But this project did not end until allied troops overran the institutions concerned, and as time passed the infants became older and the indications slimmer—for example, “badly modeled ears,” bed wetters, and children “difficult to educate.”

Certainly one cannot say that the Nazi sterilization and abortion law would have led to these consequences if the Nazi regime had not been what it was as a whole. On the other hand, one cannot dismiss the whole affair as mere Nazi insanity. The vast majority of participants in the affair were no less sane and no less upright than the members of any modern nation’s medical profession.

The roots of the euthanasia program actually antedate the rise of Hitler. In 1920, a physician and a lawyer—Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding, both prominent men in their fields—published a very influential little book: The Release of the Destruction of Life Without Value. The principle of their position was that some human beings are worthless and must be killed for the sake of quality of life.

Thus leading members of the medical profession were quite prepared by 1933 to put into effect the Nazi program of selective sterilization and abortion, and this same medical profession itself organized and pushed ahead the euthanasia program of the late 1930s which merged into the genocide program of 1941-1945. Some physicians did refuse to cooperate in the “euthanasia” murders and they were not punished for their refusal.

What is the human person? Where does our unalienable dignity find its source? Are powerful actors or states able to legitimately alter the basic human right to life? Do we have rights that go deeper than the ever-changing ability of a nation’s law and culture sensibilities suggest?

Is it helpful to imagine all of creation—this world and the wider universe—as essentially a technical-style machine, if the result of that thinking leads to imagining human persons are disposable in the same way that the components of a machine matter less than its overall functioning?

It seems to me that if we are simply concerned with achieving the “greatest good” without examining either what constitutes “the good” or the extent of the costs of achieving that good on every human person, then we are vulnerable to waking up having found that we’ve constructed the latest version of a terribly oppressive society.


Soviet abortion policies

An incredible historical portrait of the Soviet Union’s shifting approaches to abortion comes from Germain Grisez’s 1970 “Abortion: The Myths, The Realities, and the Arguments“. In light of Grisez’s death earlier this month, I’m excerpting a significant portion in the hope that this might increase awareness of his wider body of work among future readers.

In its essence, what was the Soviet approach to abortion? A serious of shifting arguments about human rights, but lacking any cognizance of the most foundational human right to life, that variously loosened, tightened, and somewhat loosened abortion policy based not on any philosophical or other insight into human rights or nature, but almost entirely on the ever-evolving needs of the Soviet state itself:

Abortion Law in the U.S.S.R.

“No book on abortion written today can be complete without special consideration of the movement in Soviet Russia to legalize abortion. The true significance of this unique experiment must be left for future generations to decide. Certainly the present opinion of the majority in other countries is that this movement is in many ways detrimental to the human race. In all fairness, however, a brief review of the measures originally adopted and their modification in subsequent years should be given, with an analysis of the results thus far obtained. In any problem into which social doctrines and religious and anti-religious bias enter so largely, it will be difficult to separate truth from exaggeration.”

Thus Dr. Frederick Taussig opened his chapter on legalized abortion in the Soviet Union in his 1936 treatise on abortion. Writing under sponsorship of the National Committee on Maternal Health, which represented the more venturesome wing of the American birth control movement, Taussig was fascinated by the Soviet Union’s “unique experiment.” Guarding against the influence of “religious and anti-religious bias,” Taussig had gone to Russia in 1930 “to see things at first hand.” Now Taussig was making sure that the benefit of Russia’s example would not be lost to his readers.

Prior to the Communist revolution, abortion was legally forbidden, with no explicit exception even for therapeutic abortion. In the first years after 1917, social turmoil was general. Probably abortion became more widespread in this period. On November 18, 1920 a decree was issued by the Commissariats of Health and Justice legalizing abortion.

The decree begins with a prologue that makes the following points:

—Abortion has been increasing for ten years in Western Europe as well as in the Soviet Union. (The Commissars did not want to put their own people in an unfavorable light, and were seeking support in the argument: “Everyone has the problem.”)

—Legislation punishes the woman and the physician, but this is ineffective, for it drives abortion into the basement and puts women at the mercy of greedy and unskilled abortionists. (This is the public health argument for abortion, with an appeal to sympathy for the woman’s plight.)

—Nearly 50 percent of aborted women suffer infection, and about 4 percent die. (These figures obviously could not be proved.)

—By propaganda and welfare measures the government fights this evil. “But, since the moral survivals of the past and the difficult economic conditions of the present still compel many women to resort to this operation,” the government decided to legalize it. (The “moral survivals” must refer to the reluctance of some women to bear illegitimate children. “”Difficult economic conditions” is a very brief way of expressing an official, restrictive population policy. The government could not provide the required welfare programs. Industrialization was more urgent, and a limited increase of population would assist economic transformation.)

The degree itself was simple. Abortions were permitted without charge in Soviet hospitals. Only physicians might induce abortion. Others, and physicians inducing abortion in private practice, were subject to trial by a People’s Court.

To understand fully the sense of this decree concerning abortion, it is important to know that the Soviet revolution also “emancipated women.” Sex differences were so far as possible disregarded for social and economic purposes. The rule was equal pay for equal work, and women worked in occupations such as mining and seafaring hitherto reserved to men.

Women also received equal education and equality of status in marriage itself. Divorce and marriage were made into easy formalities, and either partner had equal rights to determine place of residence and to hold and dispose of property. Sexual inhibitions were eliminated and sex lost much of its romance. One observer noted: “Chastity is admirable, but a girl who ‘slips,’ and still more a boy, is regarded as merely foolish.”

Abortion legalization thus filled three functions. First, as a public health measure, it aimed at eliminating illegal abortion. Second, as a matter of economic policy, it was aimed at population control. Third, as a legal matter, removal of criminal penalties contributed to the “emancipation” of women.

The legalization of abortion naturally led to a very rapid increase in the numbers of such operations in hospitals. In 1922 in Moscow there were 35,520 births and 7,769 abortions; by 1929 there were about eleven times as many abortions, 82,017, while births increased only to 51,059. Thus there were far more abortions than births, though the number of births actually increased.

The rapid increase in abortions caused problems with hospital administration. Some effects to curb abortion administratively were made as early as 1924; later, charged were levied on those who could afford to pay. Special units—abortoria—were set up to perform the operations on a mass production basis; Taussig reported fifty-seven abortions performed by four abortionists in two and one-half hours. Government sources claimed that the experiment was very successful, that the death-rate was very near to zero and the morbidity-rate quite low. In Moscow in 1925 it was claimed there were no fatalities in 11,000 abortions; only about 4 percent of over 50,000 cases showed bad effects. Twelve years after legalization the government statistician claimed that the lives of 300,000 women had been saved by legalizing abortion.

One of the authors of the legalization decree, Commissar of Health N.A. Semanshenko, argued in a 1934 book that the Soviet way was far preferable to the German. In Germany postpartum deaths were far higher and, he claimed, the rate of abortions was twice as high. Thus the Soviet way meant fewer abortions and these done upstairs, not in the “basement” of illegality. The abortions he said were mainly done because of housing shortage, poverty, illness, and large families.

The Soviet statistician Genss pointed out to Dr. Taussig that the birth-rate had been maintained, and argued from this that the rapid increase in hospital abortion only indicated that hitherto criminal operations were now entering hospitals. As Taussig observes, Genns’ own figures do not bear out the claim that the birth-rate had been maintained, although it had not fallen sharply and the population continued to grow during the first decade of legalized abortion.

Taussig, who was not unsympathetic to the Soviet experiment, observed: “In fact, the bulk of the evidence points to an actual as well as an apparent increase in the abortion rate, for in the past five years, during which the number of secret abortions has apparently been stationary, the total number has shown a steady increase.”

Though illegal abortions were fewer under legalization than before, Taussig also noted: “Even so, the evidence from various sources  leads to the conclusion that there are still a considerable number of abortions being done outside the law. It would seem that the very legalization of abortion has led some women to regard more lightly the moral and religious scruples that in the past had restrained them from undertaking such measures.”

Beginning in the late twenties, Stalin’s austerity program dislocated many segments of the population and made living conditions in general harder. One authority has speculated that in the early thirties the abortion-rate must have shot up even beyond that of the twenties, to the point where the population curve became alarming.

Some restrictive efforts were made. In 1927 one Soviet authority called attention to the spread of abortion among the country people and to the danger of depopulation on the farms. He wanted the government to stimulate motherhood. Efforts were made to discourage women from having their first pregnancy aborted. Physicians and social workers tried to dissuade women who could afford a baby from having it aborted. Almost none of the women being aborted was allowed any anesthesia. On the walls of abortoria signs were put up with slogans such as “Let this abortion be the last one.” And specimens of early embryos were displayed in glass jars so that women obtaining abortions would see how quickly development progresses in the early months of pregnancy.

Already in 1927 a meeting of Ukrainian gynecologists reflected hostility toward abortion among the medical profession; one observer regarded this meeting a a demonstration against legal abortion. In the early 1930s Russian medical sources began to report a multitude of serious side-effects—for example, sterility, loss of sexual desire, “pelvic disturbances,” ectopic pregnancies, and “hormone imbalance.”

In 1936 a draft decree was formulated forbidding abortion and “combating light-hearted attitudes toward the family and family obligations.” In an extraordinary procedure, this decree was submitted to the people for discussion before it was officially promulgated; some changes were made on the basis of the discussion and the decree appeared June 27, 1936, as a “Decision of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. and of the Council of People’s Commissars of the U.S.S.R.” over the signatures of Kalinin, Molotov, and Unschlicht.

The decree began with a prologue which neatly balanced references to Soviet women’s “emancipation” with references to her “great and responsible duty of giving birth to and bringing up citizens.” A significant paragraphs stated: “Back in 1913, Lenin wrote that class-conscious workers are ‘unquestionable enemies of Neo-Malthusianism, this tendency for the philistine couple, pigeon-brained and selfish, who murmur fearfully: ‘May God help us to keep our own bodies and souls together; as for children, it is best to be without them.'””

Yet pragmatically abortion had to be legalized to avoid worse evils while the last vestiges of exploitation and its consequences were being overcome. Now, the prologue continues, socialism has succeeded so well that welfare measures and provisions for “combating a light-minded attitude toward family and family obligations—such are the roads which must be followed in order to solve this important problem affecting the entire population. In this respect, the Soviet Government responds to numerous statements made by toiling women.”

Thus by popular consent and feminine demand, the law went on to lay out its program. Abortion was forbidden unless the pregnancy threatened the life or seriously threatened the health of the pregnant woman, or when a serious disease of the parents could be inherited. The permitted abortions had to be performed in hospitals or maternity homes by physicians. In other circumstances, both the abortionist and the woman herself were subject to criminal penalty; also anyone compelling a woman to undergo an abortion was to be penalized.

The decree increase state aid to mothers and provided special allowances for large families. Pregnant working women were given special job and income security (an exception to the equal-pay-for-equal-work rule). The network of maternity homes, nurseries, and kindergartens was extended. Authority over kindergartens was somewhat decentralized; they became adjuncts to factories or other places were the mothers would be employed.

Stricter administrative provisions were set down concerning divorce; how restrictive they would be in practice clearly would depend on administrative policy. The father of the children was held to contribute for their support from one-fourth (for one child) up to one-half (for three or more children) of his wages.

An official directive also was published listing medical indications and contra-indications for therapeutic abortion.

The decree prohibiting abortion introduced the prohibition proper with the phrase: “In view of the proven harm of abortions…” This suggests that the medical arguments had been a decisive factor. However, the Ukrainian gynecologists in 1927 had urged the substitution of contraception for abortion, and such a step would have solved many of the medical objections. However, when Margaret Sanger visited Russia in 1934, though she was pleased to see the emancipation of women, she was disappointed to discover that the paper plans for contraception were not resulting in practical programs. Mrs. Sanger asked the Secretary of the Comissariat of Public Health, “Has Russia a population policy, Dr. Kaminsky?” She felt that a country with five-year plans for agriculture and manufacturing should certainly have a birth control program. But the official rejected the idea: “There is no policy as to the question of biological restriction. For six years, we have had a great shortage, not only of skilled workers but of labor in general. Now the only question is the increase of population.”

Thus we see the explanation of the 1936 decree’s reference to Lenin’s remark about neo-Malthusianism. The Soviet policy was not aimed at feminine emancipation nearly so much as at the national interest. The birth control movement took an essentially individualistic and libertarian approach. The Soviet policy was more in the nature of controlling the production of an important economic factor—workers. Legalized abortion in 1920 turned off the population stream to aid industrialization. the prohibition of abortion in 1936, together with the other measures in that decree, turned the stream of population on again.

There are several confirmations that this, in fact, is what happened. As the Kinsey study observes, several sympathetic non-Russian observers suggested “that economic and political motives demanded a cut in abortions so that a higher birth rate could produce a larger labor force and more manpower for a future possible war.” A Russian refugee physician explained that “the government’s intention to increase the birth rate backfired.” Provisions had been made for handling more maternity cases, but many women had illegal abortions instead.

Most important, in 1939 the Soviet ambassador to the United Kingdom answered inquiries from the British medical profession with an official memorandum explaining the Soviet Union’s 1936 decree prohibiting abortions. Most of the memorandum summarizes the explanation given in the decree itself. But two added points concern population. The first notes that the birth-rate has increased since July 27, 1936, but asserts this was mainly due to prosperity and improved health. The final point in the memorandum is this sentence: “Subsidiary reasons for the abolition of the law of 1920 on abortion were to inculcate in the young a greater sense of responsibility both in regard to marriage, the bearing of children, etc., and to raise the birth-rate.”

It is difficult to say how effective the 1936 decree was. We have noticed already the refugee testimony that it “backfired” and the ambassador’s observation that the birth-rate had increased���not, of course, mainly because of the prohibition on abortion. Certainly at the time the draft decree was under public discussion, many who wrote letters published in Izvestia showed that they had adopted the view that abortion was one of an emancipated woman’s rights.

A girl who as a medical student complained of the housing situation and added: “In five years’ time when I am a doctor and have a job and a room I shall have children. But at present I do not want and cannot undertake such a responsibility.” A group of women on a collective farm wrote that conditions under which abortion was permitted should be stated so that physicians could not refuse a patient.

An engineer wrote: “The prohibition of abortion means the compulsory birth of a child to a woman who does not want children. … Where the parents produce a child of their own free will, as is well. But where a child comes into the family against the will of the parents, a grim personal drama will be enacted which will undoubtedly lower the social value of the parents and leave its mark on the child. … To my mind any prohibition on abortion is bound to mutilate many a young life.”

A research worker wrote: “[W]e all want to be ‘working women.’ The tribe of ‘housewives’ is dying out and should, I think, become extinct.”

Despite these attitudes, the 1936 decree was passed and criminal prosecutions of abortionists were carried on under its terms. The continuance of abortion was explained as a residue among the unenlightened of bourgeois consciousness. The Soviet Encyclopedia held that in other countries the poor had abortions through misery, the rich through selfishness. Governments outside the Soviet Union could not fight abortion by improving social conditions, and greedy physicians practicing non-socialized medicine performed abortions as a lucrative part of their practices.

However successful the 1936 decree may have been, a new decree was required. It was issued July 8, 1944, and began as follows:

“The Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. has issued an edict on increasing state aid to expectant mothers, mothers of large families and unmarried mothers; the protection of motherhood and childhood; and institution of the honorary title of Mother Heroine, the Order of Glory of Motherhood and the Motherhood Medal. The welfare of children and mothers and the consolidation of the family has always been one of the major tasks of the Soviet State.”

The decree explains that war conditions require the extension of state aid. A “Mother Heroine” title goes to women who have had and raised ten or more children; the other honors can be earned in various grades by mothers of somewhat fewer children. The decree also ends the parity between legitimate marriage and de facto unions, makes divorce more difficult, taxes single persons and couples with small families, and orders that certain existing laws—including that prohibiting abortions—be enforced.

In effect, this decree was a measure to step-up population growth in order to make up for war losses and to provide the population input needed for postwar expansion.

But other decisive shift was made November 23, 1955, when the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet passed another decree: “The Repeal of the Prohibition of Abortions.” The prologue to the decree argues that social and economic progress is so great that a law prohibiting abortion is no longer necessary; the encouragement of motherhood and educational measures are sufficient. Also, the repeal of the law will limit the harm done to women by abortions done outside hospitals. The final reason given was “in order to give women the possibility of deciding by themselves the question of motherhood.”

Thus, as the population input was to be slowed, the old appeal to individual freedom was used as a reason for a shift in public policy. Very little publicity was permitted for the new order, but reports indicated that in many cities abortion outnumbered live births. Some experts estimated that by 1959 the total annual rate of abortions in the U.S.S.R. ran over 5,000,000. In addition, one survey showed 21 percent of all abortions taking place outside hospitals. Many of these were illegal. A report indicated that 40 percent of women students at Moscow University had undergone abortions; a coed told an American visitor the true figure was nearer to 80 percent. Promiscuity was officially frowned upon—but economically desirable for female students, who supplemented small stipends. Abortions at the University clinic cost five rubles—one dollar at the U.S. rate of exchange.

In the population at large, lack of housing, inadequate care facilities, and too many or too close births were the chief reasons given by a sample of 26,000 women having abortions; about one-third of this group, however, simply did not want to have a baby.

We have considered the history of the Soviet Union’s legal provisions concerning abortion at some length. This history is significant because the 1920 law was unique in its time and as we shall see the Soviet experience was a model and inspiration for other efforts to relax the old laws against abortion. The old laws had been based on the inviolability of the life of the unborn child. The Soviet decrees were based on the requirements of society, although individual liberty and medical considerations also were given as reasons, and the latter undoubtedly played some role. The Soviet government’s style of policy-making in disregard of the right of the unborn to life has been perfectly consistent with its style of policy making in disregard of other human rights, including the right to life of persons already born.

Tomorrow I’ll excerpt a much shorter bit of Grisez’s history of Nazi abortion policies from the same historical moment.


Consensus, divisiveness, and the consistent life ethic

Recently the U.S. Senate failed in a 51-46 vote to move the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” out of debate to a floor vote. A version of the bill had already been passed in the House of Representatives, and 14 Catholic Senators were among those who chose to spike this bill. In light of this, Austin Ruse asks whether those advocating the “Seamless Garment” or consist life ethic (for reference) were ever serious:

Back in my New York days, when I was the greenest of greenhorns, I used to watch the three card monte players around Times Square. These are the guys who flip three playing cards around on an upturned box and goad the audience to “pick the red, pick the red, pick the red.” And they would make it look very easy. You could always see the red. Always. They’d also have a colleague in the crowd who would lay down his money and pick the red and he would win a wad of cash.

And then a greenhorn would step forward, slap down a twenty, and pick the red. Only the greenhorn never could pick the red. The red—that was RIGHT THERE—was no longer there. It was palmed by the con man running the game who would then pocket your twenty and goad you into going again.

The Seamless Garment is a little like that.

The political left in the Church says let’s include all these other issues in with abortion. Let’s include the minimum wage, and the environment, and disarmament, and gun control, open borders… This will mean we are consistent because all of these are life issues. Pick the red. Pick the red.

The funny thing you end up seeing is that the political left never really gets around to abortion. Or they won’t get to the heart of the matter—that is, stopping abortion—but would rather talk about other issues they say reduce the need for abortion. But when it comes to straight up votes to stop abortion, well, that’s divisive and partisan and we can’t have that.

The U.S. Senate just failed to close debate about a law that their colleagues in the House already passed, and the president would have signed, that would have banned abortion after the time the unborn child feels pain, about twenty weeks. Now certainly there would have been constitutional issues. Certainly, it would have gone to the Supreme Court. But, there are more pro-life votes there than there used to be. What’s more, Emperor Kennedy has signaled that he might be open to new information on abortion, like fetal pain.

But it won’t get there, not this time anyway, because Seamless Garment Catholics, overwhelmingly Democrat, in the U.S. Senate voted against it. Had they voted the Seamless Garment, it would have passed. But they didn’t vote the Seamless Garment because they don’t really mean it.

The best example of the Seamless Garment scam in the Senate is Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was touted during the last campaign as a faithful Catholic, the Seamless Garmento par excellence. He was educated by Jesuits! He took mission trips to Latin America to build houses or something! He’s the real Catholic deal! Kaine voted in favor of 20-week fetuses being torn apart in utero. He wasn’t the only Seamless Garment Catholic who did this; there were 13 others, two of them Republicans, all the rest Democrats. …

America Magazine published a decent editorial condemning the practice of abortion past the 20th week but the article goes on to condemn the GOP for bringing up the vote at all because it had no chance of passing. They say it was a wedge issue. But the reason the vote went down is precisely because of the 14 Seamless Garment Catholics who voted against it. Had they voted right, it would have passed with 65 votes. Instead of criticizing them, America condemns the pro-life party for partisanship. …

If a 20-week baby does not fit within the Seamless Garment, then the Seamless Garment simply does not exist and the purpose of it is clear: to fool the rubes. Pick the red. Pick the red. Pick the red.

Alexandra Desanctis’s post-mortem on the failed legislation:

The bill was based on scientific evidence showing that fetuses have the capacity to feel pain beginning at 20-weeks’ gestation. This vote is yet another indication of how radical today’s Democratic party has become on abortion. The 46 senators who opposed this legislation today stand not for choice, but for late-term abortion procedures that involve lethally injecting and dismembering highly developed, near-viable fetuses. In supporting this gruesome reality, they stand against a majority of Americans.

Recent polling from Marist finds that two-thirds of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban, including more than half of Democrats and more than half of self-described pro-choice Americans. Though the Pain-Capable bill didn’t pass tonight, the vote forced pro-abortion Democrats to show Americans how out of touch they continue to be on the question of human life—even as science and technology prove them wrong.

I joined Democrats for Life because I’m interested in the Democratic Party recovering a life-oriented sanity on the issue of fetal protection. No serious society should condone forms of infanticide simply because it’s uninterested in creating a meaningful social safety net to care for the women, children, and men most vulnerable to the decision to abort.

I give Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania credit for voting to bring this bill to the floor for a vote. It seems the seamless garment idea might mean something to him, and we’ll find out if his colleagues ever give him a chance to vote on a future pain capable bill.


Principles of Adult Behavior

John Perry Barlow‘s Principles of Adult Behavior, which he created when he was 30 years old:

  1. Be patient. No matter what.
  2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.
  3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
  4. Expand your sense of the possible.
  5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
  6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
  7. Tolerate ambiguity.
  8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
  9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
  10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
  11. Give up blood sports.
  12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
  13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
  14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
  15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
  16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
  17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
  18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
  19. Become less suspicious of joy.
  20. Understand humility.
  21. Remember that love forgives everything.
  22. Foster dignity.
  23. Live memorably.
  24. Love yourself.
  25. Endure.

John Perry Barlow died at 70 earlier this week.