Abortion brings up very important moral question that a society must grapple with. Many people who are anti-abortion want to pass a law that prevents abortions. Many people who are pro-abortion want law to facilitate abortions. Often we as individuals expect laws to reflect our values.
Unfortunately there is a great abyss between values and law. Values exist in the kingdom of the soul. They need not compromise and a person should not compromise their values. Values are black or white; we need only decide if we are for or against abortion, there is no middle ground.
Law does not exist in the kingdom of the soul. They exist in an imperfect Earthly realm. Laws are not for or against things. They are only words on paper that put limitations on action or facilitate action.
When we grapple with abortion as individuals, we need only look to our values and decide whether they support or are opposed to abortions. Unfortunately, it is not that simple when we decide on laws regarding abortions:
For example, let’s consider a law that favors abortions. When creating such a law, we must consider things like:
1) How will the law deal with social stigma and religious and political pressures that might prevent a woman from getting abortions? If it does too little, it doesn’t create a meaningful right to choose. If it does too much, it may restrict things like freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
2) How will the law prevent scenarios in which women are pressured to get abortions? These pressures may come from family members, or economic pressures. If we allow for women to be pressured into getting an abortion, we haven’t created a meaningful right to choose.
Anyone who wants a law favoring abortions cannot merely ask themselves if they want to allow abortions. Instead, the law will demand a decision on how far we are willing to go to facilitate abortions. How much are we wiling to restrict freedom of expression and religion? How much are we willing to risk scenarios in which women are pressured into getting an abortion?
A similar story applies to a law that favors abortions. When creating such a law, we must consider things like:
1) How will the law punish abortions? The lower punishment, the less likely women are to obey the law. However, even the harshest penalties cannot ensure 100% compliance with the law.
2) Will the law prevent women from going to another country where abortion is legal to get one? If so, how? How much are we willing to restrict social freedoms like the freedom to travel in order to achieve our goal of preventing abortions? If the law doesn’t include such restrictions, then is it really a serious attempt to protect fetal life?
Anyone who wants a law opposing abortions cannot merely ask themselves if they want to prevent abortions. Instead, the law will demand a decision on how far are we willing to go to prevent abortions. How severely are we willing to punish people for abortions? How much are we willing to restrict other freedoms like travel in order to prevent abortions?
We can see that in making a law, we are sometimes forced to compromise between our goals and other competing interests. We are constantly being asked how much we are willing to compromise other social interests in order to achieve our goals.
We also find that law cannot perfectly mirror our values. Even the toughest anti-abortion law might not deter a determined would- be aborter. Similarly, even the toughest pro-abortion law couldn’t erase the social stigmas attached to abortions. It can’t also ensure that women were not pressured to get abortions.
Furthermore, there are many unforeseen issues that may accompany a law. For example, in a world where abortions are legal, it may encourage unsafe sexual practices and lead to the spread of STDs. In a world where abortions are illegal, it may encourage a thriving black market medical industry that provides illegal abortions.
Anti-abortion advocates do have valid points. I do not deny their argument that it is killing babies. Pro-abortions supporters also have valid points. I do not deny their argument that society should not interfere with a woman’s choices. However, both sides must remember that law is not meant to prevent every evil – nor is it here to facilitate every freedom. The law is a limited tool that must compromise. It is also a tool that may have far reaching and unexpected consequences if it is not used with restraint.
Fortunately laws are not the only means of providing for a society’s values. Institutions such as family and religion provide for a society’s values much better than laws do. These institutions can teach values without compromising the way laws do. They can also do so without the risk of large and unpredictable side-effects that accompany laws.
The idea of changing the World by changing the law is appealing thought. It seems like a quick, easy solution. It provides a sense of power. However, it is very foolish to believe that law can save us. Matters of salvation must be left to God alone. Law is not here take his place and we must be careful that we do not make an idol of the law.