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Friday, March 07, 2003
Even though they are often the subject of scorn in the media (and they always remind us of that fact), I would argue that the religious right actually gets a free pass in this country. What I mean by this is that while their politics are often criticized for being outside the mainstream, their moral values are almost never questioned. Almost everyone seems to presume that the adherence to strong, conservative moral principles is admirable. A couple of recent stories in the media have shed a nice light on how this isn't really so.

The first involves a 9 year old Nicaraguan girl who was raped and became pregnant, and sought an abortion. The link to the story is here:

The Health Minister of Nicaragua threatened criminal prosecution if the abortion went forward. The Roman Catholic Church attempted to persuade the little girl to carry the baby to term and give the child up for adoption.

I know it isn't fashionable, even among pro-choicers, to say that one is "pro-abortion", but no matter what the spin doctors say, part of being pro-choice is the recognition that abortion is the correct choice in certain circumstances. And this is one of them. Anyone who threatens to prosecute a 9 year old girl who terminates a pregnancy, or her doctor, or her parents, is committing an act of immorality many magnitudes higher than a therapeutic abortion, even if you believe that abortion is morally troublesome. It goes without saying that not only is a 9 year old in no condition to care for a child once born, but a 9 year old body is not fit for pregnancy. It would disrupt her life, imprisoning her for the term of the pregnancy, making going to school difficult, exposing her to taunts from her peers, etc. And it might even kill her. Plus, no 9 year old is ready for the emotional trauma of carrying a constant reminder of her rape in her body for the term of the gestation period. What are these people thinking?

I know, I know, "life begins at conception", it's murder, it's not the baby's fault that the conception was the result of a rape, etc. But even if you believe all of that (and of course, the truth is that early-term abortions are not particularly morally troublesome, because they snuff out life before it takes on human characteristics such as the sensation of pain, and the development of a brain and nervous system), the establishment of a principle that is never to be deviated from is not moral reasoning. It is rather deliberate blindness to the actual facts that govern specific situations. Even premeditated homicide can be justified in narrow situations. And it seems too easy for people who don't have to carry a child to term at age 9 to sentence someone else to do so.

Our second example of moralistic immorality from the right wing is contained in this item:

It seems advice columnist Dear Abby received a letter that described a disabled male, about 40 years of age, who asked a friend of his to procure a prostitute for him, so that the disabled guy could lose his viriginity. (The prostitute donated her services; this fact isn't very important to the moral issue, although it does mean that what was done was at least legal.) The bedridden man lives with his very religious parents, who hit the roof when they heard about this and now forbid the man from seeing his friend.

Dear Abby and her readers have reacted in a very compassionate manner. They are outraged at the proper parties, the parents, who are imposing their own morality on a 40 year old man, and are improperly leveraging the fact that they are his caretakers so as to conform his sex life to their moral standards. But to Rod Dreher of the National Review, that makes Dear Abby a "moral idiot". If there is idiocy here, Abigail Van Buren (who has such a longstanding record of giving out sound advice that even if an insignificant provocateur like Dreher, who has never been an advice columnist, disagrees with her about something, he has no business using such insulting and juvenile language to describe her) is not from whom it emanates.

Again, let's assume for purposes of argument that prostitution is morally wrong. (I am conflicted on this issue, and will write about it in detail at a future time. But I have no problem indulging the assumption.) Heck, we can even assume for purposes of this argument that sex with someone you aren't married to is morally wrong. (If Dreher is like almost all other American adult males, of course, he's probably engaged in it. But again, we are assuming these things arguendo.) The fact of the matter is, again, this is the beginning of the inquiry, not the end. For moral principles have exceptions to them. Guys like this rarely find spouses. He is 40 years old, no spring chicken. He is bedridden and requires a full-time caretaker. Since his parents have assumed that role, I will go out on a limb and say he isn't very rich. He was a virgin at 40, which is an indicator itself that meeting girls is going to be difficult. Anyone with actual moral scrupules would say that his friend performed a profoundly moral act, providing his friend with some sexual satisfaction that he was never going to experience otherwise. This is clearly an exception to any conception of sexual morality that would hold these acts to generally be wrongful.

The point is, these are the sorts of questions that the Pat Robertsons and John Ashcrofts of this world should be forced to face. Because the truth is, they elevate their "moral" principles to the level of inflexible dogma, and do not care whether immoral results are reached in particular circumstances. If you believe in forcing 9 year olds to have children, and precluding bedridden men from having sex with a willing partner, your ethical compass needs serious adjustment. And it will only be forcing these harmful beliefs into the open that we can ever hope to stem the damage that they do.

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