Examples of Telltales

We have been discussing Thomas Aquinas’s claim that the moral basics are universally known.  I have suggested that even violators who deny that they are doing wrong give evidence of suppressed guilty knowledge.  The hypothetical objector has suggested that so-called guilty behavior can be just as easily explained in other ways.  I have promised to provide examples of cases in which alternative explanations are implausible.

Each of these examples is drawn from the annals of a single hot button issue in our culture, abortion, which is rather obviously the deliberate taking of innocent human life, but which many claim to view as entirely blameless.

  • The pro-life young woman who gets pregnant, has an abortion, suddenly reverses her views and becomes pro-abortion, looks for opportunities to tell everyone how her abortion solved her problems, but falls into depression around the time the baby would have been born.[12]

  • The abortion clinic operator and head nurse who write an article about the psychological burdens of doing such work in an article revealingly titled, “What About Us?”[13]

  • The clinic workers mentioned in the article who have dreams of vomiting up fetuses.[13]

  • The ones who report suffering from an obsessive need to talk about their experience.[13]

  • The ones who refuse to look at the fetus.[13]

  • The one who reports increasing resentment because some of the clients don’t seem to feel as bad as she does.[13]

  • The women in the clinical trials of the abortion pill who seem glad to submit to the protracted bleeding and cramping of this method of abortion because it makes them feel that they are accepting punishment for what they are doing.[14]

  • Other women in the trial, as well as some members of the clinical staff, who refuse to use the term “abortion” and call what is happening a “miscarriage.”[14]

  • The pro-abortion counselor, quoted by a pro-abortion journalist, who is frustrated by clients who have had abortions and subsequently feel guilty about not feeling guilty.[15]

  • The abortion clinic operator who publishes the bizarre proposal that pregnancy be socially redefined as an “illness” which “may be treated by evacuation of the uterine contents”[16] – a suggestion one finds hard not to view as desperate.

  • The pro-abortion activist who insists that the act is not wrong and yet proposes that feminists “hold candlelight vigils at abortion clinics, standing shoulder to shoulder with the doctors who work there, commemorating and saying goodbye to the dead.”[17]

Do such phenomena provide airtight proof that everyone who claims to consider abortion blameless knows better?  No.  However, I think most reasonable persons would agree that the hypothesis of moral denial explains them much better than the hypothesis of moral ignorance does.


12.  Anecdote passed on by the young woman’s college chaplain.

13.  Warren M. Hern, M.D., M.P.H., and Billie Corrigan, R.N., M.S., “What About Us?  Staff Reactions to D & E.”  Advances in Planned Parenthood 15:1 (1980), pp. 3-8.

14.  Wendy Simonds, Charlotte Ellertson, Kimberly Springer, and Beverley Winikoff, "Abortion, Revised: Participants in the U.S. Clinical Trials Evaluate Mifepristone," Social Science and Medicine 46:10 (1998), p. 1316.

15.  Nicci Gerrard, with Kim Bunce and Kirsty Buttfield, "Damned If You Do ...", The Observer (22 April 2001),

16.  Warren M. Hern, M.D., "Is Pregnancy Really Normal?" Family Planning Perspectives 3:1 (January 1971),

17.  Naomi Wolf, “Our Bodies, Our Souls,” The New Republic 233:16 (October 16, 1995), pp. 26–35.

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