Calm down, dears, and have a rational debate on abortion
Curiously, there is a coldness, a heartlessness, that often accompanies such emotive arguments. We also saw it when John Larkin – in remarks made before he became the North’s Attorney General — said that destroying a highly disabled foetus in the womb was akin to “putting a bullet in the back of the head of the child two days after it’s born”.
When it comes to arguing the anti-abortion case, the frequent assumption is that the end justifies the means, no matter how aggressive, inflammatory and distasteful those means appear to be.
Whatever their beliefs, there is an onus on political and religious leaders to use temperate, considered language, in accordance with the dignity of their public role. They have a greater responsibility than the rest of us to rise above the heat of the immediate situation.
That does not mean that passion and force should be absent. Last Sunday night, in Newtown, Connecticut, Barack Obama gave one of the most impassioned speeches of his presidency, making a strong, moving and deeply articulate call for a change in gun policy. Each word was carefully chosen. In such a heightened situation, it would be easy to give in to the temptation to storm and emote and fulminate. Obama resisted that, and his message was all the more powerful because it was calm and measured. Regardless of Obama’s other failings, this is what real leadership looks like. Our own public figures should take note.
The bishops and their like are not simply giving vent to heartfelt emotion. In that sense, this is not wild talk at all. Their statements are intentionally, and strategically, freighted with fear and hostility, aimed at evoking an emotional, rather than an intellectual, political reaction.
They also serve to perpetuate still further the deep sense of guilt around this issue, so that many people feel they are invoking something evil simply by uttering the word “abortion”. In short, they are continuing their attempt to frighten and shame us, in a visceral manner, rather than rationally persuade us.
But the intensification of their rhetoric in recent days may be telling. The use of excessively emotive language is often the hallmark of a group that knows it is losing the battle, resorting instead to increasingly hysterical claims. The position they cling to is archaic, abstruse and culpably inhumane. No amount of disingenuous emotional incontinence can disguise that.