Putting justice aside

My dear aunt, who was also my godmother, would regale me with gifts on my birthday. They filled a young lad’s heart with genuine appreciation. My two younger brothers, however, complained to my father that they were being left out. Although they did not have in their verbal arsenal such words as “discrimination” and “inequality,” they made a persuasive case. My father then told his sister that she should treat his sons alike and buy presents for all or for none. She complied and chose the latter option.

I do not relate this incident with any bitterness or suggest that my father did not have his heart in the right place. He was moved by the desire to establish equality and eliminate discrimination. I respectfully thought his decision was not in the best interest of fairness. Actually, I am grateful for this experience for it provides me with a clear example of how it is possible to solve certain problems of inequality and discrimination while retaining the more important factor of injustice. One can be unjust to everyone without breaking the rules of discrimination and equality.

This incident was brought to the surface recently when I read a United Kingdom report titled, “Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion on the Grounds of Disability (July 17, 2013).” The Abortion Act of 1967 allowed abortion up to 24 weeks for what the report referred to as “able-bodied babies,” but up to 40 weeks for “disabled-bodied babies”(Section 1(1)(d)). The passing of the Equality Act in 2010 gave added focus. The report dealt with the twin issues of discrimination and equality.

Its recommendation reads as follows: “Parliament should consider at the very least the two main options for removing those elements which a majority of witnesses believe are discriminatory — that is reducing the upper limit for abortions on the grounds of disability from birth to make it equal to the upper limit for able bodied babies or repealing Section 1(1)(d) altogether.”

If Parliament accepted the first option, equality of treatment would be achieved for both the able-bodied and the disabled-bodied babies. Furthermore, discrimination against the disabled-bodied babies for that additional period of 14 weeks would be removed. Yet the injustice done to any of the babies through abortion would persist. Yet, if disability is the reason for aborting a child within the 24-week limit, the discrimination factor remains. One can hardly argue that aborting a 25-week old unborn child because it is disabled is discrimination, whereas aborting a 23-week old unborn child for the same reason is not discrimination.

If Parliament adopts the second option, it can still establish equality and remove a particular element of discrimination, but without tending to the more important issue of injustice for the unborn. By ignoring the underlying and basic issue of justice, the notion of unjust discrimination and treating people with equal injustice is never considered.

Those who drafted the report may pride themselves in thinking that they are working to end discrimination and inequality. But if they do, they are entertaining an illusion. Discrimination and inequality are pernicious only when they violate justice.

The weakness of the report is one that is widespread in today’s society. It serves as an object lesson for those who think that they can put justice aside and still build a world where discrimination and inequality no longer operate. Their concerns should be the eradication of unjust discrimination and unjust inequality. Justice is the irremovable building block for a better society. Its position of priority cannot be compromised. 

Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International.