An interesting and troubling debate lurks just behind the headlines as the possibility increases that the Freedom of Choice act, which legislates what the Supreme Court established as a right, will becomes law.
The problem is that the act would probably require hospitals that receive federal funds to perform abortions, including Catholic ones. If that happens, Catholic bishops are already talking about closing down the faith’s 624 hospitals, 13% of the nation’s total. These hospitals employ over 600,000 people and provide services to one out of every six hospitalized Americans.
Reported the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a Chicago auxiliary bishop, took up the issue of what to do with Catholic hospitals if FOCA became law. ‘It would not be sufficient to withdraw our sponsorship or to sell them to someone who would perform abortions,” he said. “That would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil.'” Other bishops, such as Robert Lynch in Florida would have the hospitals stay open but engage in civil disobedience: “We will not comply, but we will not close.”
In any case, it could easily become an extremely heated issue, largely because so many Americans have come to think that what they believe to be right should be required of all their fellow citizens. They want, in effect, to define everyone else’s freedom. The abortion issue is a classic example.
There is, however, an alternative to such rigidity in our politics and the abortion issue also offers an opportunity to use it.
Although the right to an abortion is frequently compared to the civil rights of minorities, there is an important difference. One can not practice discrimination against blacks, latinos or gays without actually causing harm to other Americans. On the other hand, one can oppose or have an abortion without doing harm to others, even if some activists have made it seem otherwise or have actually done harm to those who disagreed with them. In other words, as abortion supporters say, it is a matter of choice.
Admittedly, there is the fetus as human argument, but this again differs from the civil rights example as all sides of the latter now accept the premise that the minority in question is human. Most Americans don’t accept this premise in the case of a fetus and not even anti-abortionists logically follow their faith to the point of publicly arguing that a pregnant woman should be allowed to drive down a HOV-2 lane.
Leaving aside the question of why anyone would go to a Catholic hospital for an abortion in the first place, if we are to have a free and decent country we have to pay a lot more attention to respecting the views of those with whom we strongly disagree. Catholicism is the most popular religion in the United States – one out of five Americans consider themselves Catholics – and there are four times as many Catholics as there are Baptists, who seem to have at least four times as much luck getting their way in our political system.
But if abortion should be a woman’s choice, why should Catholic hospitals be exempt from granting that choice? Because you don’t have a right to impose your personal choice on others.
Does this mean that Catholic hospitals can also refuse to serve or hire gays? No, because in this case the choice directly restricts another person’s choice.
It is true that in towns with only one hospital, and that one run by the Catholics, a similar argument could be made and, in fact, the law might have to reflect that. A compromise might be to have a secular abortion clinic next to the hospital entitled to use its other facilities.
Similarly, the funding question is one that needs to be examined and debated. My inclination would be to cut funding by a certain portion to cover the costs of providing abortions elsewhere. The beauty of this is that both sides retain their honor and nobody is hurt.
But the point is that these are the sort of issues that should be discussed – not as polar positions but in a common search as two cultures seek a satisfactory compromise.
This is what diversity is really about. It is not about forcing your values on someone else. It is about sharing space with those of different values in a way that no one is hurt.
This is not a new concept in American life, although it seems to have faded from view. Absent these days, for example, is the concept of reciprocal liberty. As Thomas Paine said, “Where the rights of men are equal, every man must finally see the necessity of protecting the rights of others as the most effectual security for his own.”
Describing David Hackett Fischer’s discussion in ‘Albion’s Seed’ of the difference in the view of freedom within the American colonies, Leonard J. Wilson writes, “Their contrasting concepts of liberty are among the most visible today. The Puritan concept of liberty, ‘ordered liberty’ in Fischer’s terminology, focused on the ‘freedom’ to conform to the policies of the Puritan Church and local government. The Virginia concept of liberty, ‘hegemonic liberty’, was hierarchical in nature, ranging from the great freedom of those in positions of power and wealth down to the total lack of freedom accorded to slaves. The Quaker concept of liberty, ‘reciprocal liberty’, focused on the aspects of freedom that were held equally by all people as opposed to the unequal and asymmetric freedoms of the Puritans and Virginians. Finally, the Scotch-Irish concept of liberty, ‘natural liberty’, focused on the natural rights of the individual and his freedom from government coercion.”
The good thing about the Quaker notion of reciprocal liberty is that you don’t have to approve of the other person’s behavior to accept his or her right to engage in it.
America, at its best, knows that you don’t have to like someone or their beliefs to extend to them the same freedom to be right or wrong. As Walter Kelly said, we have to defend the basic American right of everyone to make damn fools of themselves.
For diversity to work, no one gets to approve its membership. It exists because that’s the way the world is.
The distinction is whether diversity is merely different or if it hurts someone. If it hurts someone – as with ethnic discrimination or the physical mistreatment of women – then society rightfully gets to call a halt to it.
But an abortion is not a public or social act. It is apersonal matter chosen for personal reasons. So is opposition to abortion.A decent America would neither prevent abortions nor punish those in medicine who decline to provide them.
And if we understood and practiced such a principle of reciprocal liberty we might feel much better about our land and about each other.