Legislating Morality

October 28, 2007

As a Catholic, I believe that abortion is murder. I also believe that contraception, while not murder, is gravely immoral.

It seems pretty obvious that I should be in favor of outlawing abortion. And I am. What about contraception, though? Should it be outlawed?

One answer would be that it depends on whether contraception is immoral according to the natural law, or according to Christianity.  If according to the natural law, we should outlaw it, but if according to Christianity only, we shouldn’t, since we don’t want to establish a religion. It seems to me that it is immoral according to the natural law, but I’m not sure – it might well be fine unless you know what we know through divine revelation.

The thing is – even if it is against the natural law, should we outlaw it? After all, there are a bunch of things that are against the natural law that we don’t, and shouldn’t, outlaw. What should the criteria be? Does it have to do harm to others as well? So does that mean we shouldn’t outlaw prostitution (St. Thomas Aquinas made that argument, by the way)? In a perfect society, of course, there would be no prostitution, but there is an argument to be made that it shouldn’t be outlawed in an imperfect society like ours. Then there’s stuff like the various drugs (marijuana, cocaine, etc, for example, and more and more tobacco is joining the list) that are against the law because they harm the user. Even if suicide is immoral, does that mean we should outlaw dangerous and harmful activities? I tend to think not.

At any rate, I find it absurd that in current U.S. law abortion is legal but prostitution, using marijuana, smoking, drinking, etc, are not. But the question is, ought we to legalize all of them (certainly not!), legalize none (but why should drinking be illegal?), or legalize marijuana, prostitution, smoking, etc, but not abortion (why does this seem so extreme to me when it makes a great deal of sense)?

I think a lot of it is that I include prostitution in the list along with smoking and marijuana use. We immediately recoil from legalizing it, because it has to do with objectivizing sex. The thing is – can we really make an argument for prostitution being illegal that doesn’t require banning smoking and drinking? I don’t think we can, though I may be wrong. And this leads us to something that Christians are often accused of that may actually be true – we’re sex–obsessed. That’s a stereotype I’d like to prove false.


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