When life needs justification

It’s strange how the most justifiable things in life need no justification.

No one ever thought it necessary to explain the heart-stopping joy of holding her first child for the first time. No one ever bothered to justify himself for enjoying the smell of a fragrant flower. No one ever took the time to wonder why she thought bright, spring days were magnificent.

All of these things are so obviously good and right that there is no further explanation needed. That simple fact is the reason every mother can tell when her child is lying. It’s only when little William starts trying to explain why he tripped Henry, instead of just saying he did it, that there is cause for real concern. It means, quite plainly, that he did something he knew to be wrong, and is now in the throes of a futile effort to convince his mother why it was actually an accident, or quite the right thing to do given the circumstances.

Indeed, the more justification needed, the more deeply wrong our actions likely are.

This urge to justify something wrong, though quite obviously impossible, carries on when we are adults. There was a great example of it this week, in yet another of the fads that briefly took over social media. This time it was a campaign called “shoutoutyourabortion”, which encouraged women to share their abortion stories, and the reasons it was the right choice for them at the time.

Most women who – quite bravely (for there are some very nasty, rude people on both sides of the abortion debate) – shared their no-regrets abortions spoke of the freedom, economic stability, or maturity they had gained since.

Sometimes those justifications centred on how the aborted child wasn’t really a child, or a life, or a human. That, of course, is the most common justification of all. Whenever we’ve wanted, as entire societies, to make the harming or killing of other people OK, we’ve generally resorted to arguments about how that other group wasn’t really human. Some said in horrific cases like rape, abortion was the only humane option. But I can’t think of any other instance when the children are given the death sentence because of the sins of their parents. Yes, we remove them from their families and give them another when necessary, but we don’t demand their lives.

But, oddly to my mind, not one of the comments I read was along the lines of “abortion is absolutely delightful, good and wholesome, so I don’t need to bother explaining myself”. All, in one way or another, tried to justify the cutting off of a child’s life, and it began to seem a very sad campaign indeed.

Perhaps that’s why support for abortion is steadily starting to decline, particularly among younger age groups, across both the United States and the United Kingdom, as both Gallup and ComRes polls recently found. After all, it doesn’t matter how many reasons we come up with for why something is justifiable. What really matters is whether it was right.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

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