“Every totalitarian regime begins with the suppression of religious liberty,” said French intellectual René Girard in a famous interview (with Italian newspaper Il Foglio).
If the legacy of abortionist Henry Morgentaler doesn’t bring forth a similar thought in your mind, then think again.
At first, the connection may sound ridiculous. But consider the way that opposition to abortion is frequently dismissed as private religious opinion and then removed from public debate.
Consider Langley MP Mark Warawa, with his campaign against gendercide, the practice of sex-selective abortion. Apparently Canada’s ruling elites continue to marginalize any debate about human rights that could even remotely challenge the status quo on abortion in Canada.
In 1988, the Supreme Court declared Canada’s longstanding abortion law unconstitutional. Since then, there has been no law. Dr. Morgentaler desired such an outcome, and marked it with annual celebration.
But its result has been a diminished liberty in Canada. The voices of Canadian citizens – and MPs like Mr. Warawa – who view abortion as a violation of human rights have been politically and culturally sidelined.
On the one hand, all Canadians should find this sidelining disturbing, insofar as abortion has nothing to do with religion. As Pope Francis has noted, “The moral problem of abortion is pre-religious in nature because the genetic code of the person happens in the moment of conception.”
“A human being is already there. I separate the topic of abortion from any religious concept. It is a scientific problem.” Jorge Mario Bergoglio made these remarks before he became Pope (as recorded in the book On Heaven and Earth). Subsequently, as Pope, Francis has appeared at the March for Life. “To abort is to kill someone who cannot defend himself.”
By his actions, Francis stands up for the conviction he previously enunciated: “The right to life is the first of human rights.” It is a rationally defensible position: “To not let the development continue of a being who already has all the genetic code of a human being is not ethical.”
On the other hand, it is undeniable that it is religious people (like the Pope) who frequently take this unpopular stand (against elite opinion) on abortion.
Why is that? René Girard argued that it had to do with the evolution of religious protections against violence. He thought abortion had a violent and retrograde cultural function:
“Micro-eugenics is our new form of human sacrifice. We no longer protect life from violence. Rather we smash life with violence. … Eugenics is the culmination of a school of thought initiated two centuries ago and which constitutes the greatest danger to the human species. Man is the species that can always destroy itself. For this reason, religion was created.”
In other words, you don’t have to be religious to value life. But if you find yourself suppressing rational arguments made by religious people, you are not making evolutionary progress. You’re disregarding a species-specific signal that human life is greatly endangered, while undermining the culture requisite for human flourishing.
C.S. Morrissey is an associate professor of philosophy at Redeemer Pacific College, the Catholic liberal arts college at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C.