In the first section of his paper, Gustafson describes what he takes to be six characteristics of traditional Catholic moral argument - and offers alternatives along the way, thus constituting a different framework for taking up the abortion question. In the second section, he applies this framework to a specific case - arriving at the conclusion, finally, that abortion in this specific case is morally justified. He concludes by observing one way in which a Catholic theologian might agree with his decision - and he offers a final observation on how his approach is not as "Protestant" as some others: that is, between the poles of a highly rationalistic and juridical Catholic model and a highly intuitive Protestant model relying on personal access to divine revelation, Gustafson hopes to strike here a middle ground which will perhaps moderate the otherwise obvious polarization in the abortion debate.
Briefly, Gustafson moves towards a position which accepts the moral legitimacy of abortion under at least some circumstances - generally, by moving
from a framework he characterizes as external, juridical, focused on the physical, limited to the physician and the patient, rationalistic, and based on natural law,
towards a framework less external and juridical (especially as the moralist shares responsibility for the decision and its surrounding acts), inclusive of factors beyond the physical, and inclusive of imagination, sensitivity, and empathy as legitimate sources of moral value.
His position thereby becomes more fallibilistic and pluralistic, as it relies more on explicitly human sensibilities (over against a more external and objective conception of morality as a kind of natural law which must hold the same for all human beings).
At the same time, because his framework, as he presents it, encompasses a greater complex of moral sources and particularities surrounding each case, it results in a conflict between fundamental values which, he argues, cannot be resolved into a single, unambiguous, objectively right "answer" regarding the morality of abortion.
Gustafson notes that the difference between the Catholic framework and his further involves larger differences, e.g., "the relation of religion and morality in the two approaches, in the uses of the concept of sin, and other matters too large to be developed here."(411) For the purposes of this Forum, Gustafson's article may provide us with the occasion to move our discussion to precisely a consideration of these larger matters, so as to better understand the contrasts between these positions.
Gustafson begins by noting what he takes to be six characteristics of traditional Catholic argument. These characteristics are important to note because of the nature of moral argument:
Every moral argument, no matter who makes it and what is the issue at hand, must limit the factors that are brought into consideration. No one can handle all possible relevant bits of data, ranges of value, sources of insight, and pertinent principles in a manageable bit of discourse. What one admits to the statement of the moral issue in turn is crucial to the solutions given to it. The determination of which factors or principles are primary, or at least of greater importance than others, in the way one argues is also fairly decisive for the outcome of the argument. (403)
Moreover, his strategy is to highlight these characteristics in order to propose alternatives - alternatives which will then constitute the framework for his working through a specific case in the second part of his paper.
First, the arguments are made by an external judge. They are written from the perspective of persons who claim the right to judge the past actions of others as morally right or wrong, or to tell others what future actions are morally right or wrong. To make the point differently, moral responsibility is ascribed to others for their actions, or it is prescribed or proscribed.
The perspective of the external judge can be distinguished from those of the persons who are more immediately involved in an abortion situation. It is clear, of course, that those involved, for example, physicians or mothers, might interpret their situation in terms that they have been taught by the external judges. Even if they do, however, the position of personal responsibility that physicians, mothers, and others have is different from that of the writer of a manual of moral theology, or of the priest who judges the moral rectitude of others and determines the penance that is to be required. To assume responsibility for an action is quite a different order of experience from ascribing responsibility to others for an action. Physicians, mothers, and others are initiators of action, they are agents in the process of life who determine to a great extent what actually occurs. Their relationship to a situation involves their sense of accountability for consequences, their awareness of particular antecedents (for example, the conditions under which the pregnancy occured), their sensibilities and emotions, their private past experiences and their private aspirations for the future, their personal commitments and loyalties.
Second, the arguments are made on a basically juridical model. The action is right or wrong depending on whether it conforms to or is contrary to a rule, a law, and the outcome of a moral argument. The rules or laws, of course, are defended on theological and philosophical grounds; they are not arbitrary fiats imposed by an authoritarian institution. Traditional authorities are cited; theological and philosophical principles are given to support the rules; the consequences of different possible courses of action are considered. The argument's principal terms and its logic, however, are directed toward the possibility of defining a moral right act and a morally wrong act. As with the civil law, there is a low tolerance for moral ambiguity. The advantages of this for the person whose behavior conforms to the outcome of the authoritative argument is that he probably can act with a "clear conscience," and he can justify his actions on the basis of authorities other than himself. His own responsibility for his actions, including its / consequences, is decisively limited, for with reference to the juridical model of morality he has done what is determined by those whose authority he accepts to be correct. If the primary agents of action, mothers and physicians, for example, do not judge themselves only in light of the rules, if they exercise the virtue of prudence, and the virtue of epikeia, or equity in interpreting the law in a particular case, they are in a slightly different situation. Their own degree of responsibility is increased, and yet they have the advantage of the clarity of reflection that is given in the moral prescription. (403-4)
[Gustafson contrasts this juridical model with other models, such as consequentialism, moral emotivism, rational intution, and the notion that love may have "sufficient perspicacity and motivating power to enable one to perceive what is right in a situation." He also notes that "It has been cogently argued that morality develops out of experience, and that when laws become abstracted from experience, their informaing and persuasive powers begin to evaporate." (404)]
Third, the traditional Catholic arguments largely confine the relevant data to the physical. The concern is with physical life, its sanctity and its preservation. Obviously, other aspects of human life depend upon the biological basis of the human body, and thus the primacy of this concern is valid. But on the whole, the arguments have not been extended to include concern for the emotional and spiritual well-being of the mother or the infant. The concern has been largely for the phsycial conseuqneces of abortion.
Fourth, the arguments are limited by concerning themselves almost exclusively with the physician and the patient at the time of a particular pregnancy, isolating these two from the multiple relationships and responsibilities each has to and for others over long periods of time. The obvious basis for this is that the physician has to decide about abortions with individual patients as these patients come to him. But he also has responsibilities for the well-being of the whole of his society, and for the spiritual and moral well-being of the patient's family. It could be argued that there is no dissonance between what would be decided in a particular relationship between two people and what is good for society, but that is not self-evident....I am suggesting that the time and space limits one uses to isolate what is "the case" have a considerable effect on the way one argues.
Fifth, the traditional Catholic arguments are rationalistic. Obviously to make an argument one has to be rational, and to counter an argument one deems to be rationalistic he has to show what would be better reasons for arguing differently. What I refer to as rationalistic can be seen in the structure of many of the sections of the manuals of moral theology that deal with questions such as abortion, or the structure of manuals of medical ethics. One often finds brief assertions of "fundamental truths" which include definitions of terms used in these truths or in subsequent arguments. This might be followed by "basic principles" which will include distinctions between the kinds of law, principles pertaining to conscience, principles of action, a definition of the principle of double effect, and others. The principle of the sanctity or inviolability of human life is discussed at great length since its application is primary to particular cases.
One must recognize that any argument about abortion will use principles. But the rationalistic character of the arguments seems to reduce spiritual and personal individuality to abstract cases. The learning from historical experiences with their personal nuances seems to be squeezed out of the timeless abstractions. The sense of human compassion for suffering and the profound tragedy which is built into any situation in which the taking of life is morally plausible are gone. Individual instances must be typified in order to find what rubric they come under in the manual. While it is eminently clear that any discussion must abstract facts and principles from the vitality and complexity of live-experience, the degree of abstraction and the decutive reasoning of the traditional Catholic arguments remove the issues far from life. The alternative is not to wallow in feeling and visceral responses, nor is it to assume that one's deep involvement with the persons in a situation and one's awareness of / the inexorable concreteness of their lives are sufficient to resolve the issues. But an approach which is more personal and experientially oriented is another possibility. (404-5)
Sixth, the traditional perspective seeks to develop arguments that are based on natural law, and thus ought to be persuasive and binding on all men. Intentionally the particular historical standpoint and substance of the Christian message are subordinated to the natural law in the arguments. To be sure, arguments can be given for the consistency between the natural law and particular Christian affirmation; also any one who would begin with particular christian affirmations would have to show their viability on moral questions to those who did not share his religious outlook and convictions. To indicate that arguments from natural law can be distinguished from arguments that place particular historical aspects of Christian thought at a different point in the discussion is not to assert that the answer to questions about abortion can be found in "revelation," or that the use of human reason is less necessary. it is to suggest, however, that one's basic perspective toward life might be altered, and one's ordering of values might be different if the first-order affirmations dealth with God's will not only to preserve his creation, but to redeem it. One's attitude toward the persons involved might well be more tolerant, patient, loving, and forgiving, rather than judgmental. One might look for consistency between one's principles and the great themes of the Christian faith at a more central place in the discussion than the traditional Catholic arguments do. To predict that the outcome of the argument would be greatly different in every case would be folly, though it might very well be in some cases. Since theologically based moral arguments, like all others, are arguments made by human beings, many other factors than commonly held convictions enter into them. (404)
From here, he intends to show the application of the alternatives he has suggested by way of a particular case from his experience. The woman he describes is a lapsed Catholic in her early twenties. She comes from an abusive environment, and is divorced. She is pregnant because she was raped by her former husband and three other men, in an act of sadistic revenge. She has no steady job. There are no physiological difficulties which threaten the life of either the mother or the child. (405)
Gustafson works through in considerable detail the following components of his framework:
The Christian Moralist's Responsible Relationship (405f.);
Salient Facts in One Christian Moralist's Interpretation (406-8);
Salient Aspects of the Moralist's Perspective (408-9).
He recapitulates these at the beginning of the subsection, "Pertinent Principles That Can Be Stipulated for Reflection":
Neither the moralist nor the woman comes to a situation without some convictions and beliefs that begin to dissolve some of the complexity of the particularities into manageable terms. Perhaps the traditional Catholic arguments simply assume that one can begin with these convictions and principles, and need not immerse one's self in the tragic concreteness. The pertinent ones...can be reduced to a simpler scheme:
1. Life is to be preserved rather than destroyed.
2. Those who cannot assert their own rights to life are especially to be protected.
3. There are exceptions to these rules.
Possible exceptions are:
a. "medical indications" that make therapeutic abortion morally viable. Condition not present here.
b. the pregnancy has occurred as a result of sexual crime [....]
c. the social and emotional conditions do not appear to be beneficial for the well-being of the mother and the child. (409)
There is an inconsistency between 1 and 2, on the one hand, and 3.b, perhaps 3.c, on the other. He comments, "While I am called upon to give as many reasons for a decision between these two as I can, the choice can never be fully rationalized." (409)
His decision is
(a) if I were in the woman's human predicament I believe I could morally justify an abortion, and thus:
(b) I would affirm its moral propriety in this instance. (409)
He claims less than perfection for this decision:
Clearly logic alone is not the process by which a defense of this particular judgment can be given; clearly, the facts of the matter do not add up to a justification of abortion so that one can say "the situation determines everything." Nor is it a matter of some inspiration of the Spirit. It is a human decision, made in freedom, informed and governed by beliefs and values, as well as by attitudes and a fundamental perspective. It is a discernment of compassion for the woman, as well as of objective moral reflection. It may not be morally "right" in the eyes of others, and although we could indicate where the matters of dispute between us are in discourse, and perhaps even close the gap between opinions to some extent, argument about it would probably not be persuasive. The judgment is made with a sense of its limitations, which include the limitations of the one who decides (which might well result from his lack of courage, his pride, his slothfulness in thinking, and other perversities.) (409-10)
Recalling the contrast he seeks to draw especially in his first point between the standpoint of an external judge and the personal responsibility of the moralist as he understands it - Gustafson further stresses that the moralist who makes such a decision has a number of continued responsibilities towards the woman: Gustafson's approach implicates the moralist in an on-going relationship of care for the person facing the decision - as well as direct responsibility for the decision itself (410).
Gustafson now reviews other differences between his approach and what he has characterized as the Catholic position. Over against the juridical model, for example, which determines the rightness or wrongness of an act insofar as it conforms or fails to conform to a specific rule,
I have stressed the primacy of the person and human relationships and the concreteness of the choice within limited possibilities. (411)
In doing so, the context of the decision further involve a number of fundamental values - but values in irresoluble conflict with one another. This means a correlative shift for Gustafson away from the hope for a single, unequivocal "right answer":
There can be no guarantee of an objectively right action in the situation I have discussed, sincere there are several values which are objectively important, but which do not resolve themselves into a harmonious relation to each other. Since there is not a single overriding determination of what constitutes a right action, there can be no unambiguously right act. (411)
Another contrast which pushes us in the direction of ambiguity and a plurality of answers:
Whereas the moral theology manuals generally limit discussion to the physical aspects of the human situation, I have set those in a wider context of human values, responsibilities, and aspirations. While this does not make the physical less serious, it sets it in relation to other matters of a morally serious nature, and thus qualifies the way one decides by complicating the values and factors to be taken into account. (411)
(He also acknowledges that he has not done justice here to the theological convictions that inform his perspective - but he wants to make it clear that he is not seeking to replace a Catholic natural law tradition with a more Protestant reference to supernatural revelation as the basis of his moral authority. )
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He also points out here one way in which a Catholic moralist might reach the same decision as Gustafson. These comments are worth noting, especially as they highlight the larger questions raised by the abortion issue regarding the differences between Catholic and Protestant moral frameworks:
[The Catholic moral theologian] could [perhaps agree with Gustafson in this case] by means of the classic Catholic doctrine of "good faith." As expounded by Alphonsus Liguori, a confessor is not to disturb the good faith of the penitent if he believes that telling the pneitent he is committing a sin will not deter him from his course of action, but will merely put him in "bad faith," that is, in a state of mind where he is aware that what he is doingis opposed to the will of God. There are exceptions to this doctrine where the penitent must be informed of what is necessary to salvation, or where the common good is endangered by the proposed actions. These exceptions, however, do not seem applicable to the special kind of case I have outlined. Consequently, a Catholic moralist faced with a woman who believes she is doing what is right in seeking an abortion, and who in all probability would not be deterred by advice to the contrary, might well conclude that his responsibility was not to put the woman in bad faith.[ftn.4: see Bernard Häring, "A Theological Evaluation," in The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives, ed. John T. Noonan, Jr. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970)]
This Catholic approach to a particular case accords with mine in recognizing a principle of personal responsibility which the moralist must honor. He cannot coerce the person; in some sense each person must decide for himself. This approach differs from mine, however, in the analysis of the act of abortion, which is treated in a special sense as a sin. Elucidation of this difference would require extensive discussion of the relation of religion and morality in the two approaches, in the uses of the concept of sin, and other matters too large to be developed here. This Catholic approach also differs from mine in the limits it would impose on cooperation with the act by the counselor. [emphasis added, CE]
A Catholic moral theologian, if he approved of the outcome of the discussion presented here, might compliment it by indicating that it is an example of prudence informed by charity at work, or that it is an excercise in the virtue of epikeia, applying principles to particular cases. If such generosity were shown...it would indicate that some of the polarizations of contemporary moral theology between ethics of law and situational ethics are excessively drawn. I would also suggest, however, that there is a different valence given to prudence and equity, indeed, to the moral virtues, in the order of ethical analysis here than is the case in the treatises on medical ethics. There is a sense in which the present discussion subordinates law to virtue as points of reliance in making ethical decisions. (411)
Gustafson concludes by contrasting his position with that of Paul Lehman's "ethics of the theonomous conscience, with its confidence in a renewed sensitivity and imagination to perceive what God is doing in the world to make and keep human life human...." (412, with reference to Lehman's Ethics in a Christian Context [New York: Harper & Row, 1964]) Over against what might be characterized as a Protestant temptation, hinted at here and elsewhere by Gustafson, to turn from the rigors of Catholic moral theology and natural law tradition to simple reliance on intuition and ostensible revelation - Gustafson wants to stress that he remains, in my terms, in the middle between these two approaches. As he has contrasted his approach with a Catholic framework throughout the paper, he now closes by drawing the contrast with Lehman's optimism regarding direct insight into God's action and intention in the world:
...the approach of this paper is more complex, and ultimately less certain about its answer. Further, the weight of responsibility for reflection and for action rests heavily upon the actor, since no perceptive powers I have enable me to overcome the distance between God and the action that I respond to. I cannot claim to perceive what God is doing.
Moreover, Gustafson rejects Lehman's attack on rationalist ethics (so as to replace these with a more intuitive, revelatory approach):
...while I clearly believe that abstract principles and logic alone do not contain the dynamics of suffering and evil, or of love and good, their utility in bringing clarity to discussion is much treasured. (412)
Finally, Gustafson draws an emotionally powerful analogy between the Christian soldier who, over against the injunction to love one's enemies, is compelled to kill the enemy in a just war, and the moralist who concludes that some abortions may be justified:
As the morally conscientious soldier fighting in a particular war is convinced that life can and ought to be taken, "justly" but also "mournfully," so the moralist can be convinced that the life of the defenseless fetus can be taken, less justly, but more mournfully. (412, with reference to Roland H. Bainton, Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace [New York: Abingdon Press, 1960], pp. 98, 112, 139, 145, and 221-222.)
[This analogy is of interest in part because it suggests that a position of strict opposition to abortion under even these dire circumstances is analogous to the pacifist's refusal to use violence against another, even in the sake of self-defense - and insofar as it recalls the line of argument in Jewish moral thought which considers the possibility of justifying therapeutic abortions as a form of self-defense against the fetus as an aggressor - only to reject this line of argument.]
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