President Barack Obama recently struck down the Bush Administration’s ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information-the so-called “gag rule”. President Obama’s ruling has elicited both joy and consternation within US. Do those very different reactions indicate something about where people stand on issues of moral relativism? If so, explain; if not, explain why not?
One of the first acts of the new President Barack Obama’s is the overturn of the ‘gag rule’ which bans federal funding of international organizations that support abortion and family planning. This overturn is as much motivated by political reasons as it is by moral standards espoused by the new administration. For example, ever since its initial imposition under the leadership of Ronald Reagan the ‘gag rule’ has been overturned and re-instated by subsequent Democratic and Republic Presidents respectively. Hence, it won’t be far fetched to presume that the new President utilized the opportunity to express party solidarity and win some crucial political points. But, at a deeper level, the issue of ‘right to abortion’ poses dilemmas pertaining to moral relativism, which I will explore in the rest of the essay.
Different ethnic communities across the world adhere to their own sets of cultural norms and practices. Hence, what is an aspect of tradition to a particular community might seem unacceptable for American citizens. It is here that moral relativism rears its head. The international groups towards which the federal government funds are channeled are not-for-profit organizations, whose primary purpose is to create awareness among uneducated women about all facets of pregnancy, child birth and child rearing, so that they are well equipped to make rational choices for themselves. In other words, these groups are not pro-abortion per se. They do help women get abortions, but only at their own behest. Spreading awareness and informing uneducated women about upkeep of their mental and physical health cannot be an objection under any standard of morality – be it relative or absolute.
Moreover, in all civil societies, morality and law do not always converge. Even if we were to concede to the point of view of conservative Americans that “abortion is morally wrong” their position still falls short of explaining the legal right of a woman to claim ownership of her own body. In this particular case, where there is a conflict between moral dogma and practical law, it is the latter that has to be supported for it is based on ‘reason’ while the former is simply based on ‘belief’. Further weakening the position of those who are against abortions is the lack of definitive proof that a fetus possesses consciousness, thereby making it an individual. The position of anti-abortionists breaches common sense in that they want innocent fetuses to inherit genetically transmitted diseases from its mother. It is also unfair and unjust for a baby to be brought into an atmosphere of poverty, emotional abuse and illiteracy. Hence, all standards of rationale, fairness and justice points that the overturn of the ‘gag rule’ was the correct course of action. Those Americans who oppose it have no more than a vague, undefined sense of religious dogma to support their case.
Even if we were to concede that conservative Americans (read Christians) are right about abortion, it still begs the following question: How can they speak for people of a different religion living under a different socio-political context? Seen in this light, the gag rule is no more than an indirect Christian missionary campaign, cloaked under the guise of diplomacy. Apart from failing to upkeep the separation of church and state its perpetrators have done immense harm and caused suffering to thousands of people across the world. Under the eight year gag rule of the Bush Administration, the foreign organizations that were dependent on American government funding suffered immensely. The healthcare systems that these organizations put in place were seriously undermined, which jeopardized the health of millions of women who were essentially from low socio-economic backgrounds. These vulnerable women were denied their basic right to plan their family, maintain sound reproductive health and take necessary precautions to prevent HIV infections. To cap off these horrors, they were at times forced to abort at late stages of pregnancy, which put their own lives at risk.
Hence, in conclusion, I will assert that the conservatives’ support for the implementation of the ‘gag rule’ is devoid of merit. Issues of moral relativism can only be raised only if moral absolutes are thought through. It is a self-evident truth that a woman has the right to take charge of her own body and its reproductive processes, making it a moral absolute. This means that women across the world have the attendant rights to information about their bodies, consequences of pregnancy, reproductive health, etc. As long as the decision to abort remains solely with her, no government can make interventions of the sort the Republic Administrations since Ronald Reagan have been making to discourage family planning, abortions, etc. The conservative viewpoint fails on count of moral absolutism as well as moral relativism. Their only basis for what might be construed as an argument is neither scientific evidence nor practical consideration, but rather an ancient decree in a book that is two millennia old, namely the Bible. Surely, this is no basis for an argument.