Is Change of Heart Sufficient?

Fr. Bloom:

I just read your excellent homily on choice and Cardinal Mahoney's finish the sentence. I also read with interest the questions and answers regarding whether making abortion illegal will actually solve the problem, and how you were unsure as to how to answer.

The answer (to "will making abortion illegal stop abortions?") is of course not, but that's still no reason not to push for abortion to become illegal. Lots of things are illegal: everything from using drugs to arson and stealing. These things still go on. You could argue that since they still happen, the law has not stopped them, so therfore get rid of the law.

Then why have law? The reason is that law also expresses our values as a society. Some law IS purely regulatory, such as "drive on the right side of the road." This implies no immorality about driving on the left as they do in England: it is purely a regulation. But think of law about everything from drugs to prostitution. Surely if these things were legal there would be no immediate huge climb in the number who participate in these activities (it would go up some, as those who are currently "scared away" by the legal penalty, but otherwise want to participate, would now feel free to do so). But the majority of people would not suddenly start doing them because our own morality tells us not to. So law against drugs and prostitution exist not so much to prevent them from occuring on a nationwide basis, or to curb them, but rather to codify "WE DO NOT APPROVE" on the part of society (which has a strong curbing effect).

Now this small rise would be only true IMMEDIATELY. Over time, the society would eventually become immune to the idea, and a given conduct, formerly illegal, would then become widespread. This is where the Church's efforts come in. Certainly convincing people that abortion is evil will reduce it's incidence, but making it illegal will reduce it further. Convincing the super-majority that it is evil will result in the votes needed to modify the law, and the resulting law will dissuade those who still want to obtain or provide abortions but won't go through with it due to the penalties. For those who are really bent on abortions, well, there is really no stopping them, but there is really no stopping anyone who really wants to commit any other crime, either.

So to summarize: A change of heart leads to new law. New law leads to a further reduction in abortions (already low due to the change of heart).

A change of heart alone is not sufficient because (1) not all will experience this change of heart, but the law's sanction will be the deciding issue for some of those who are still contemplating it, (2) a change in heart without a corresponding change in law will be short-lived, due to the "numbing/immunity" effect and (3) a change in heart without a change in law will not have the teaching effect that only codification can achieve, reducing the effectiveness and extent of the change of heart, and hastening the numbing effect. For instance, who today actually believes slavery is OK? Very few, mostly because we've been brought up in a society where it is illegal, NOT because we've been brought up in a society that says its immoral. Even though morality should shape law, for many individuals, law shapes morality. Look at the shifting public opinion on abortion that occurred after Roe--abortion's legality sould not have had any infuence on individuals' view of its morality, but it did! Abortion's absence from the penal codes resulted in its increased moral acceptance.

I'm no legal theorist but the above makes sense to me. Let me know if the logic is flawed.

David Clippinger


Dear David,

What you say does make a lot of sense. Women who deeply regret their abortion have told me that at the time they thought it was OK because it was legal. The authority of law (and of medicine) have been huge factors in masking what is really happening when an abortion takes place. Thus we have become schizophenic society: when a baby is wanted, a couple will go to almost any length to conceive, then protect and monitor development. But when a baby is unwanted... The key word here is "wanted." To understand the root of this issue we must go back to the philosophy of "will" which we have imbibed from 19th century Germans like Nietzsche. One of the best responses is Pope John Paul's encyclical Veritatis Splendor. He addresses the two great errors of our society: 1) that man is not free and 2) that man is so free he can create his own moral law. Do you see what I am saying?

Hope you are having a good summer, David. Prayers.

Fr. Phil Bloom

Germaine Greer on Birth Control

Stem Cell Research: Teaching of Bible & Catholic Church

Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)

Home Page