...it is extraordinarily rare for me to get mail that disagrees with or expresses anger toward me. But, incredibly, I recently did. A reader wrote to complain that I was being mean for writing that journalists advocating for abortion as an alternative to infanticide were doing advocacy journalism for an evil cause. My reader complained that merely to write “Abortion is prohibited in Pakistan, except when the mother’s life is at risk from her pregnancy, but advocates say that legalisation would reduce infanticide and save mothers from potentially fatal back-street terminations” is not to say “advocates including me”.
The problem is that this makes the blunder of presuming that every moral issue can have two legitimate and equal sides and one can maintain perfect neutrality while speaking as though something morally repugnant is just all part of life’s menu of moral options. To be sure, on a huge range of issues, this can be so. So a reporter can write that some people like the health care bill but others don’t. But on certain issues, involving intrinsic and grave evil, it becomes folly to treat good and evil as legitimate and equal options. So, for instance, should a journalist in September 1939 write “Slavery is prohibited in Poland, but race theorists of the Reich say that legalisation would reduce the burden on our economy in wartime and free Germans to fight for the Fuehrer” nobody would read that as “objective” because it is giving legitimacy to a morally repugnant doctrine. Or say, “Extermination of racial groups is prohibited under Weimar law, but advocates say that the clear and present danger of the Jewish menace to the German way of life would reduce storm trooper violence in our streets and save the Reich from potentially fatal fifth column threats during a time of war.” Once again, merely to treat the morally repugnant “alternate view” as admissible to the conversation is to give it legitimacy and, therefore, to advocate for it. Or, to pick another issue of more recent moment in my own country, stories on FOXNews which say, “Torture is prohibited in America, but Bush Administration officials say that legalisation would make America safer by allowing us to use the full toolkit of options to pursue national security” are, in fact, stories which are advocating for torture by treating something evil as a moral option. Or suppose, in discussion of Islamic democracy movements, the Euro-press persistently runs stories saying, “Women are commonly allowed the vote in western democracies, but advocates of male-only voting rights say that prohibiting the vote for women will reduce confusion and protect women from making mistakes in the voting booth that could lead to violence against them should they behave in ways too Western.” Sorry, but that’s advocacy journalism disguised as objectivity. Torture, like slavery, denial of basic human rights to political participation—and like abortion—are not legitimate menu options which reasonable people can see both sides of. To grant legitimacy to something morally repugnant is to advocate for it. And the destruction of innocent human life, whether by abortion or infanticide, is morally repugnant.