Argentina’s legislature is currently debating legislation to completely decrimininalise abortion. The lower house has approved the bill with the Senate still to vote (though it looks like that will pass it too). Their current law – at least in principle – allows it where there is a risk to the life or health of the mother and where this risk cannot be averted by other means, and in cases of rape.

One of the things the Argentine health minister said in defence of the decriminalisation is pretty interesting:

“Here there are not two lives as some say,” the health minister said, making reference to the slogan of the pro-life campaign in Argentina. “There’s clearly a single person and the other [thing] is a phenomenon. If it were not like that, we would be facing the greatest universal genocide, [because] more than half the civilized world allows it.”

In my experience, something like this line of thinking is a pretty important reason why a lot of people are pro-choice. There’s the macro-level version that the health minister is saying (“if abortion were the killing of an innocent human, most western countries would be perpetrating moral horrors”), and the more personal one (“if abortion were the killing of an innocent human, me / my friend / various people I know would all have voted for / supported / done something extremely bad”).

I don’t think this kind of inference is automatically suspect. If you think your country or the pro-choice people you know are basically good or at least not terrible, and you think that non-terrible countries or people don’t commit or support very morally bad things, then that’s at least some reason to think that abortion might not be what pro-lifers think it is.

However, two possibilities worth pondering:

1. Abortion might be wrong without most people supporting it failing to be good people.

There’s a difference between the objective badness of an action and people’s subjective responsibility for it. People can do very bad things unknowingly without ceasing to be good people. It could be the case that pro-lifers are correct and that abortion is very morally bad – but most pro-choice people are honestly mistaken about some important fact that leads them to the wrong conclusions.

Humans have been emitting significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. But the link between greenhouse gases and increasing global only became widely accepted and understood much later.  The people emitting carbon into the atmosphere before the greenhouse effect was discovered were not subjectively responsible for contributing to rising global temperatures, even if their actions were causing global temperatures to rise.

2. ‘Good people’ might not really be very common, or the division of the world into ‘good people who don’t support really bad things’ and ‘bad people who do’ might be a bad way to think about things. 

Most people who have ever lived have supported some forms of slavery. Most people who have ever lived have supported extremely sexist social practices and ideas. Huge numbers of people have supported brutal executions and torture. It would be the exception rather than the rule if our society was to be the one that didn’t have any kind of institutionalised atrocities. It’s not even as though we don’t think western countries – and by extension, at least some of the people who live in them – are responsible for a lot of bad things now: sweatshop and child labour, environmental destruction on a grand scale, institutionalised racism. We might just have to grapple with the fact that people and societies are often – indeed most of the time – very far from being good. (And perhaps figure out a way of loving people, ourselves included, anyway).