You may recognize the fractured English in my title as the considered judgment of Mr. Bumble, the selfish, scheming, self-satisfied character in Oliver Twist. In true Dickensian style, he lives up to his name as his petty plots while working as parish beadle backfire, leaving him and his nagging wife penniless in the workhouse where he once cruelly ruled over Oliver and other orphans. Throughout the novel, Bumble turns a blind eye to the suffering he causes others, but he does have a keen sense of the circumstances that impinge on his own person, and in the quote cited above, holds forth with a bit of common wisdom. When informed that in the eye of the law he is more blameworthy for his wife’s theft than she is, due to the fact that the law supposes a wife acts under her husband’s direction, he responds:
“If the law supposes that … the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”
Bumble had married a widow for the value of her few household items and the coal and candles the parish provided in charity, not suspecting how cold and dominating she would prove to be. When confronted by Oliver’s benefactors, Mrs. Bumble confesses that she had taken and sold items from Oliver’s mother after she died, thus disposing of evidence of the boy’s high-birth father. Mr. Bumble approved of the sale but had no part in the theft, and on this fact he is willing to accuse his wife and save himself.
Yet amid his pathetic self-pleading, Bumble has a point about the law, and Dickens, in his genius, elicits a speck of sympathy for this unlikeable character through words that ring true. The law must not be arbitrary, lacking connection to human action, motivation, and circumstance. It must take into account human nature and relationships, and be based on what is just or unjust. In short, the law must articulate the truth about humanity and neither dismiss wrongdoing nor demand the impossible from the model citizen, the average man.
As St. Thomas Aquinas says in his Summa Theologiae: “the law belongs to that which is a principle of human acts, because it is their rule and measure. Now as reason is a principle of human acts, so in reason itself there is something which is the principle in respect of all the rest: wherefore to this principle [i.e., reason] chiefly and mainly law must needs be referred” (I-II, q. 90, art. 2).
With this in mind, let us imagine for a moment what Mr. Bumble, if he lived in our own day, might say about current abortion law and jurisprudence. Certainly, he would observe that the regime of abortion on demand through all stages of pregnancy is unconnected to the experience of the many women who seek the procedure, not so much to get rid of a child but because they have no support from the father and much encouragement from the culture of death. Bumble might also contend, with even more assurance, that abortion laws are totally oblivious to the reality of the child in the womb, the main victim of abortion. He might put it this way:
Don’t talk to me about quickening or trimesters or viability or, save us, potential life. I can see straight with mine own true eyes, even if the law can’t, mind you, that there’s a live child in the ultrasound. There’s no need, to anyone’s reckoning, to philosophize or temporize about it, I say. It’s as clear as day, as clear as the teeny nose of his face, that that’s a baby, a child, the proper fruit of the womb. Check your medical books, that’s the best of what I’ll say, and lay it to your own wits to figure about the rest of it.
But that’s not all. I can also hear him saying that Roe v. Wade is very far from being “the law of the land,” as abortion supporters contend. In his unique Bumble-speak, he might continue:
Law of the land is no way of saying it, I’ll let you know, because it is no law at all. It is, what we all may say, a decision of seven justices at a particular moment in time that masquerades as law, and talks a lot of nonsense about being a law that can never be touched or changed or turned by any ‘nother court, or even by the true law passed by a elected legislature. Here I will repeat for those who don’t have sense of eye or mind, Roe is not the land’s law, cause it is no law at all.
Admittedly, Mr. Bumble is not a model for the culture of life, famous as he is for punishing poor Oliver for asking for “more” at the common workhouse meal. The beadle evinces no sympathy for any of the orphans under his charge or for anyone else who falls under his questionable care. Yet sometimes an ass can speak true of another ass, and when he does his wise words may hold a special force, given their surprising source. After all, a donkey, guided by God, spoke the truth to the selfish prophet Balaam and stopped him from cursing the Israelites (Num 22:28-30). So let us take a lesson from the few good words and one keen insight of Mr. Bumble regarding the law and apply it to our nation’s illicit abortion regime. Such law is “a ass,” indeed, far removed from human “experience” and modern science.