Thinking Catholic Gary Wills has an embarrassing op ed in the L.A. Times that makes me blush for him. Ramesh Ponnuru has done the commentary for me.
He has a long, confused op-ed on abortion in the L. A. Times. His focus on evangelicals is a little odd if all you had to go on was this op-ed, you might think they were the only people who oppose abortion.
If we are to decide the matter of abortion by natural law, that means we must turn to reason and science, the realm of Enlightened religion. But that is just what evangelicals want to avoid. Who are the relevant experts here? They are philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear.
What is Wills talking about? Evangelical (and other) pro-lifers are perfectly willing to turn to embryologists, regardless of those embryologists’ position on abortion policy, for confirmation of the thesis that human embryos are living organisms of the human species. There are pro-life philosophers, too, and plenty of pro-lifers cite them.
If Wills had consulted one of them, he might have avoided some of the wrong turns he takes when he tries to commit philosophy. “Harvesting carrots, on a consistent pro-life hypothesis, would constitute something of a massacre.” Okay, that’s
just embarrassing, so let’s move on.
It is certainly true that the fetus is human life. But so is the semen before it fertilizes; so is the ovum before it is fertilized. They are both human products, and both are living things. But not even evangelicals say that the destruction of one or the other would be murder. . . .
The universal mandate to preserve “human life” makes no sense. My hair is human life it is not canine hair, and it is living. It grows. When it grows too long, I have it cut. Is that aborting human life? The same with my growing human fingernails. An evangelical might respond that my hair does not have the potential to become a person. True. But semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.
Wills’s skin cells and sperm cells are human, and alive, but they’re part of an organism (him). They’re not living human organisms, as a human fetus is. As for the notion that semen has the potential to become a person: Wills needs a refresher course in biology. Perhaps he should ask an evangelical for a referral to an embryologist? Catholics were discussing natural law theory long before the so-called enlightenment that was more apt to chop off heads than to make decisions based on reason and science.
Wills would be on steadier ground he if mentioned evangelicals that had abandoned natural law theory in the first place, though it is certainly making a comeback in those circles.
If it was Lent I would recommend reading Wills’ whole column.