The Catholic Church Wants Women to Die

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 16:02 EDT
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I’m sure you’ve all seen this horrible story about a woman in Ireland who was killed by her doctors, because they refused to abort an incomplete miscarriage that turned septic, but still had a fetal heartbeat, thus the Catholic hospital refused to do it on the grounds that they’re “killing a baby”. She died, horribly.

Invariably when one of these situations happens, you have people who still buy the myth that it’s just shoddy ethical reasoning and not misogyny that creates these problems. You’re seeing that argument less often, as pro-choicers are successfully pointing out links between anti-contraception and anti-STD treatment people and anti-abortion people (though, c’mon, who else would they be?), but still, it happens. Like in the comments of Lawyers, Guns, and Money.

As a philosophy geek, I’ll try to argue that the moral failure of the Catholic position on this is not hatred of women per se, but embrace of a non-consequentialist system of ethics. Basically, the doctors had two options:

1) Abort the baby. Consequences: mother lives, baby dies. Fault for baby’s death -> doctors. (Obviously the baby was not likely to live in any event, but if it hadn’t literally died yet, the abortion is the proximate cause of its death.)

2) Do nothing. Consequences: uncertain. Fault for anyone’s death -> no one (it all just happens “naturally”).

They chose #2 under a deontological ethics that says one’s duty is never to cause the death of an innocent person (through action rather than inaction). If your ethical theory doesn’t try to optimize outcomes, it’s not surprising that it will lead to bad ones.

False. The church did not start from a premise and argue themselves into letting women die of sepsis from principles. They started with the belief that women should die from sepsis and argued backwards to create a rationalization for it. And I can prove it. Because there’s a way to fix this situation without directly killing the fetus, but instead merely separating it from its mother on the grounds that its presence and not its life is what’s the problem here. It’s not murder, since her body had already rejected it and it was dying. It’s really just separating the two and letting the chips fall where they may. Carole Joffe interviewed a doctor in a Catholic hospital who did just that here in the U.S. 

See, you’re not laying a hand on the fetus. You’re simply cutting ties. Yes, the argument has a whiff of bullshit to it, because obviously, you’re taking actions that lead to its death, but that’s the point. The “we can’t murder a fetus” argument is also a bunch of legalistic bullshit. With this strategy, you can make an equally valid claim that you didn’t actually kill the fetus so much as prevent it from infecting its mother further, and that the death was merely a byproduct. And the advantage with this argument is you can save the mother, while only losing a fetus that was basically dead anyway. Basically, you have a choice to indirectly kill the mother or the fetus, either by cutting off resources they need to live. You can choose the mother, but they don’t.

But they don’t go there, for a very simple reason: They started with a predetermined conclusion, which is that nothing—not even the will to live—matters more than being a life support system for a fetus, even if it’s dying naturally. They then created a bullshit rationale to justify it. In many cases, they then turn around and claim that a woman’s greatest honor is dying to sustain a pregnancy, even if doing so makes it impossible to be an actual live baby out of it. And if you’re not down with that program, well, they can always force you. This is misogyny, pure and simple: The desire to kill women to pay tribute to your imaginary god that decreed that painful and deadly child-bearing is women’s punishment for the sins of Eve. Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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