by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 22
June 2021
Idea
11:02

A battle of faiths: Liberals clash with Catholics on abortion

To which moral order does the fertility question belong?
by Mary Harrington
President Biden is caught between two worlds

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and tells his disciples: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This is generally understood to mean that faith and politics are distinct domains. But in practice, disentangling what belongs to Caesar, and what to God, is less straightforward — least of all when a quiet contest is under way over which god we’re even talking about.

The Catholic Church recently recognised the ‘heroic virtues’ of Robert Schumann, one of the founders of the European Union, and granted him the title ‘venerable’ — the first step on the path to sainthood. And it’s true that as Elena Attfield explains, the EU’s founders were deeply shaped by Christian democratic principles.


Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in


But the EU’s founders deliberately left the Christian backdrop to their European vision implicit in the EU’s founding principles, in the expectation that its Christian roots would be no less effective for being unstated — an expectation that turned out to be somewhat optimistic. Since those founding days, the EU’s secular liberal values have diverged ever more palpably from their roots in a Christian democratic vision, producing a political entity increasingly hostile to at least some strictures of Roman Catholicism.

Despite the EU explicitly disavowing any competence to regulate member states’ laws on abortion, for example, European values are routinely cited as justification for challenges to abortion restrictions, notably in Catholic-majority EU member states such as Poland and Ireland. Secular liberalism, the child of Christianity, has here assumed political supremacy and turned on its progenitor in that most uneasy and volatile overlap between the moral and political: the creation of new humans.

This battle reaches the European Parliament tomorrow, when MEPs will vote on a controversial resolution that describes abortion as an ‘essential health service’ and ‘human right’, which has triggered protest from EU Catholic bishops. ‘Human rights’, itself a concept with deep roots in Christian tradition, here runs head-on into another strand of that same Christian tradition, the prohibition on ending a pregnancy.

Meanwhile, in the United States the NYT, house journal of bourgeois secular liberalism, reports threats by America’s Catholic bishops to excommunicate President Joe Biden for his support of abortion rights. The article is striking in its careful effort to imply that Pope Francis, by dint of supporting liberal policies on climate change and immigration, must by necessity also share Biden’s view on abortion — despite the Holy Father having made very clear statements to the contrary.

Once again we can see the struggling outlines of two overlapping yet distinct integrated moral and political orders — the secular progressive and the Christian ones — fighting for dominance. And once again, the battlefield is fertility.

“Why is the Catholic Church still a thing?” wondered pundit Julio Ricardo Varela last week, reflecting a common liberal-progressive assumption that the West’s falling-away from Christianity is necessarily terminal. But an institution that’s persisted for some two millennia already should not be written off hastily.

And against a backdrop of free-falling Western secular liberal populations (even as the worldwide population of Catholics is growing faster than the population overall) we can expect the contest between integralisms to be fought ever more frankly on the field of fertility medicine. Providential liberals should not be too quick to assume which moral and political order will win.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
8 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

Part of Catholicism’s enduring appeal is as a Sign of Contradiction to prevailing secular opinion. Many on the left have a peculiar attitude towards the sanctity of life, supporting (in the case of Biden’s administration) infanticide up to the point of birth, yet generally opposing the death penalty. Many on the right support capital punishment, while fiercely opposing abortion. I suspect that capital punishment is more morally defensible, insofar as it’s usually reserved for people who have committed heinous crimes, a charge that can hardly be laid against an unborn child. However I think the Catholic Church is consistent and probably right in opposing both.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew D
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I don’t know about that, “a charge that can hardly be laid against an unborn child” the Liberal Left uses rape and incest and birth defects as that category.
Decades ago I finally tackled ‘The Raj Quartet’ Paul Scott, one of the hardest books to ever read as it is massive and just is the same story repeated from 5 views in thousands of pages, makes Anna Karina seem a short story. But one passage always stuck in my head, where the raped British woman is pregnant, and a line overheard in passing…
““To get rid. . . . To tear the disgusting embryo out of the womb and throw it to the pi-dogs,””

Now the convoluted story is of the end of the Raj (means to rule in Hindi) and naturally involves a mixed race pregnancy, but that is what the entire book is, India/British (with the quoted ‘Bridge Parties’ the ruling class have, inviting the local, Native, ruling class, to have a gesture at Bridging the gap. although all know it is gesture…)

Oh, how I would love to have a hand annotated copy of the book done by some Woke Thought/Purity Police member… how their heads would explode…… But it will never happen, it is so far above the scope of that illiterate class.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

And what is so interesting about abortion in the West is how it has utterly defeated the main goal, steady, replacement, demographics wished by the Western governments.

So say EU and USA together have had about a million legal abortions a year for the last 40 years, 40,000,000, well this has so tilted the demographics that migration of about that number was ‘Needed’ just to pay for all those ‘Unfunded Mandates’ of pension, health care, and so on, as the Baby-Boomers aged.
We killed out own, then brought in outside peoples to replace them. Self Genocide is the Gov policy, in the West, a unique thing.

Now Biden has just made law that all children in USA get $300 per month free money (on TOP of very generous welfare) for earners under $150,000/pa.
If this had been done in the 1970s then we would have great demographics, children raised by married parents – instead we have paid single mothers to have the children, and made it too expensive for workers to have replacement numbers of children as Both parents had to work from the 1980s on. The middle class and working class could not afford their 2.2 children.

Abortion, the Tax code, and Liberalism – that is what has formed us, a dieing out people and society. Something will replace us in 50 years, but with AI and the rest, it will be something very different than the last thousand years.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
1 year ago

It’s not only with respect to abortion that the Catholic Church is in tension with liberal progresives. It still does not recognise same sex marriage.

Antonino Ioviero
Antonino Ioviero
1 year ago

The Roman Catholic Church has a clear succession policy, secular liberalism seems to rely on ‘conversion’ – a difficult route that will usually end up in failure. See the debacle in Batley for an example.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

The borders in Europe are open. There is a steady stream of women going from Poland to Germany for abortions. We know about Ireland. So, to say that the EU does not want to get involved in ‘local’ issues is a lie because it explicitly allows this cross-border traffic.

In Northern Europe the Catholic church is less important and national rules would not take Catholic views into account. What is special about Catholicism? Why can’t Poland and Ireland take in the views of all churches and even humanists? The answer is only … history and folklore and keeping the populations in fear of the wrath of a Catholic god. Mind control in a benevolent disguise.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

It isn’t “mind control” that leads people to go to Mass.

It’s the hope that Catholicism gives people, whereas humanism doesn’t.

It’s humanists and secular liberals, in fact, who try to control the Minds of others – outright folly and wickedness in a benevolent disguise.

Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Free of charge legal abortion on demand (up to 12 weeks gestation) has been available in the Republic of Ireland since a referendum on the matter was passed by 66% of the electorate in May 2018.