Light is Right Joe Campbell

I feel like a fool when someone says there are no absolutes. It’s not that I can’t bring myself to respond. I can and I do. It’s just that I feel foolish contradicting something that contradicts itself.

To insist on no absolutes is to concede a least one. So it seems a foolish waste of time refuting what is already refuted. I feel the same way when I respond to someone who says that we shouldn’t impose our morality on others. To insist that it’s wrong to impose morality is to concede that it’s right, and once again I find myself contradicting something that contradicts itself. For to say that we shouldn’t impose morality is a moral precept, just as to say that there are no absolutes is an absolute principle; and by pointing out the obvious, I feel like an absolute fool.

It is no secret that many who are pro-abortion dismiss absolutes and decry imposing morality. So I was surprised to learn that the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada departs from this conventional “pro-choice” wisdom on both counts. Not only does it maintain that a woman’s right to choose is absolute. In doing so, the coalition attempts to impose its morality on the rest of us, beginning with the unborn. For if a woman’s choice between life and death is absolute, the rest of us have absolutely no choice.

Apparently absolutes are back in fashion. At least that’s what my friend Dingwall says.

“Even our Prime Minister supports them,” Dingwall told me. “He’s absolutely opposed to speaking in Parliament about abortion.”

“But, Dingwall,” I protested, “the word ‘Parliament’ originated from parler which, in French, means ‘to speak’.”

“The Prime Minister is a politician,” he replied. “You don’t become a politician unless you can embrace contradictions.”

“Surely, there’s a more benign explanation.”

“There could be a religious explanation,” he said. “The Prime Minister may oppose speaking about abortion because the second Vatican Council called it an unspeakable crime.”

“Some words have more than one meaning,” I said.

“You don’t become a politician unless you can embrace ambiguity,” he replied.

“Maybe the Prime Minister can’t see his way around the Criminal Code,” I suggested. “According to the Code, children don’t become human beings until they are born alive.”

“Ah, yes,” Dingwall said, “the old ‘born-alive’ rule. Centuries ago, the only way courts could prove that an unborn child had been alive was if it survived birth. A live delivery established that before birth, as well as after, it had the right to inherit property, to sue for injuries suffered in the womb, to be compensated for the negligent death of a parent  – things like that. The ‘born alive’ rule originated as a standard of evidence. In no way was it intended to define when children become human beings.”

“Are you saying that today’s courts misinterpret the rule?”

“Persistently,” he said, “even though we regularly establish pre-natal life with technologies like real time ultrasound and fetal heart monitoring. The old ‘born alive’ fiction has long since been superseded by the ‘conceived alive’ fact.”

“If the criminal code is scientifically obsolete,” I said, “it’s ridiculous for parliamentarians to retain the fiction.”

“You don’t become a politician,” Dingwall said, “unless you can embrace absurdity.”

“It sounds as though judges can embrace absurdity, too,” I said.

“For one thing,” Dingwall replied, “they accept the legal fiction that a child isn’t a human being until born alive. For another, they deem it to have rights before birth only if this is necessary to protect its interests after it is born.”

“But, Dingwall,” I said, “this means that although a widow may not legally seize her unborn child’s share of her late husband’s estate, she can legally kill the child and seize it.

“Although a child born alive is deemed to have a prenatal right to inherit,” Dingwall said, “it is not deemed to have a prenatal right to life.”

“Because it’s not deemed,” I said, “it can be doomed. But the right to inherit depends on the right to life. For parliamentarians to support a law that privileges inheritance over life is crazy.”

“You don’t become a politician unless you can embrace insanity,” Dingwall said.

I told him I had difficulty with the idea of provisional rights. It seemed arbitrary to say that children who are demonstratively alive in the womb have selective rights retroactively, provided they survive birth. We don’t talk that way about rights otherwise. 15-year-olds don’t have selective rights retroactively, provided they turn sixteen. They have the same fundamental rights as the rest of us, even though they die while fifteen.

“Your problem,” Dingwall said, “is that you’re trying to make sense of the ‘born alive’ rule. But you don’t become a politician unless you can embrace nonsense.”