It’s Legal and Experts Agree, But is it Moral?

I’ve read more than a few news and opinion articles on the topic of contraception, abortion, and Obamacare. Common arguments used to support the contraception mandate over religious objections include long discredited arguments.

It’s Legal

One version of this argument presents the establishment of a law on a topic, like contraception or abortion, as the end of the debate on the ethics of the subject. It is now legal in our democracy, therefore it is moral (or therefore moral arguments no longer matter).

A more clever version of the argument states that the legal definition of pregnancy begins with implantation. So any device or drug that prevents implantation does not end a pregnancy, and therefore is not an abortion. It’s still just contraception, legally.

The Christian objection to contraception and abortion is based on ethics. When someone tries to refute an ethical objection by arguing that contraception and abortion are legal, they put law above ethics. Essentially, they imply that once a democracy decides to make an act legal, ethical objections are no longer valid. Such objections are rejected on their face, as if there were no need to consider whether an existing law were unethical and should be repealed.

Clear examples from human history prove that this “legality overrules ethics” argument is wrong.

1. Slavery was once legal and socially-accepted in the United States. The founders of this nation owned slaves, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. However, slavery is a grave moral evil. The fact that slavery was legal in the U.S. does not make it ethical. Therefore, the fact that any act is legal does not establish that act as moral. A person should always be able to object to a legal act on ethical grounds. Laws are sometimes immoral.

2. Adolf Hitler was elected in a democracy, and he changed the laws of Nazi Germany to make (at least some of) his atrocities against the Jews legal. I don’t know of a clearer illustration of the distinction between legal and ethical. Any act can be made legal. Human laws can be devised in any form, with any wording, without limits. The mere passing of a law does not change the ethical reality.

3. Abortion is worse than the Jewish Holocaust. The Holocaust killed 6 million Jews. World War 2 killed a total of tens of millions of human persons. The U.S. alone has killed an estimated 58 million unborn human persons by abortion since 1973 (year of Roe v. Wade decision). Planned Parenthood alone has been responsible for the deaths of 6 million unborn human persons since 1970. And worldwide well over one billion unborn children have been killed by abortion since 1980. [Source:]. Add to those figures the unborn children killed by abortifacient contraception, and the total might exceed 2 billion innocent lives lost.

The fact that abortion and contraception are legal does not justify the deaths of those unborn children. The fact that a democracy has decided an issue legally, by court rulings or laws or executive orders, does not settle the ethical debate.

Experts Agree

And the same can be said for the “experts agree” argument. Even if a majority of experts consider pregnancy to begin with implantation, not conception. But that agreement does not take away personhood from the conceived prenatal at any point in time. For all the experts cited are fallen sinners, and their conclusions are fallible.

The body of “legal experts” called the Supreme Court of the United States have had a checkered past in issuing decisions on social issues. The dreadful Dred Scott Decision of 1857 supported slavery: “the Court held that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, could not be American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court, and that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the federal territories acquired after the creation of the United States.” [Wikipedia]. The decision was 7-2, not 5-4.

Prior to World War 2, eugenics rose in popularity among scientists and in popular thought, leading to forced sterilizations, the denigration of some ethnic groups as supposedly “inferior”, and eventually the claimed superiority of the “Arian race” by Nazi Germany. Take a look at the Wikipedia article on Eugenics. It was a terrible chapter in human history. Many atrocities were committed in many nations on the basis of this bogus scientific theory and the opinions of scientific “experts” on the topic.


So when persons today argue on the basis of law or scientific expertise, they are recycling long-discredited arguments. Their premises are unsound. The establishment of a law in society does not prove the morality of the act in question. The predominance of a particular scientific conclusion or opinion is not infallible, and does not prove the morality of any related questions.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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