In a recent article remembering Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Robert George explains Neuhaus’ view that society owed pregnant women “love, moral and spiritual support, and practical assistance,” not the “ghoulish compassion of the abortionist’s knife.” “Ghoulish compassion” is a fine phrase that calls to mind these lines from Eliot’s “East Coker”:
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
The imagery is similar, but the moral vision could not differ more. The ghoulish abortionist offers death as a panacea, but Christ (“the wounded surgeon”) desires our flourishing far too much to spare us pain. I think we could measure any society’s moral health by the number of people who think “sharp compassion” an unintelligible contradiction.