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Old 11-04-2007, 08:22 PM   #1
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Sane Abortion Article To Start Insane Thread

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What makes opposition to abortion the issue it is for each of the GOP presidential candidates is the fact that it is the ultimate "wedge issue" -- it is nonnegotiable. The right-to-life people hold that it is as strong a point of religion as any can be. It is religious because the Sixth Commandment (or the Fifth by Catholic count) says, "Thou shalt not kill." For evangelical Christians, in general, abortion is murder. That is why what others think, what polls say, what looks practical does not matter for them. One must oppose murder, however much rancor or controversy may ensue.

But is abortion murder? Most people think not. Evangelicals may argue that most people in Germany thought it was all right to kill Jews. But the parallel is not valid. Killing Jews was killing persons. It is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons. Not even evangelicals act as if it were. If so, a woman seeking an abortion would be the most culpable person. She is killing her own child. But the evangelical community does not call for her execution.

About 10% of evangelicals, according to polls, allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. But the circumstances of conception should not change the nature of the thing conceived. If it is a human person, killing it is punishing it for something it had nothing to do with. We do not kill people because they had a criminal parent.

Nor did the Catholic Church treat abortion as murder in the past. If it had, late-term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person, which would require baptism and a Christian burial. That was never the practice. And no wonder. The subject of abortion is not scriptural. For those who make it so central to religion, this seems an odd omission. Abortion is not treated in the Ten Commandments -- or anywhere in Jewish Scripture. It is not treated in the Sermon on the Mount -- or anywhere in the New Testament. It is not treated in the early creeds. It is not treated in the early ecumenical councils.

Lacking scriptural guidance, St. Thomas Aquinas worked from Aristotle's view of the different kinds of animation -- the nutritive (vegetable) soul, the sensing (animal) soul and the intellectual soul. Some people used Aristotle to say that humans therefore have three souls. Others said that the intellectual soul is created by human semen.

Aquinas denied both positions. He said that a material cause (semen) cannot cause a spiritual product. The intellectual soul (personhood) is directly created by God "at the end of human generation." This intellectual soul supplants what had preceded it (nutritive and sensory animation). So Aquinas denied that personhood arose at fertilization by the semen. God directly infuses the soul at the completion of human formation.

Much of the debate over abortion is based on a misconception -- that it is a religious issue, that the pro-life advocates are acting out of religious conviction. It is not a theological matter at all. There is no theological basis for defending or condemning abortion. Even popes have said that the question of abortion is a matter of natural law, to be decided by natural reason. Well, the pope is not the arbiter of natural law. Natural reason is.

John Henry Newman, a 19th century Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism, once wrote that "the pope, who comes of revelation, has no jurisdiction over nature." The matter must be decided by individual conscience, not by religious fiat. As Newman said: "I shall drink to the pope, if you please -- still, to conscience first, and to the pope afterward."

If we are to decide the matter of abortion by natural law, that means we must turn to reason and science, the realm of Enlightened religion. But that is just what evangelicals want to avoid. Who are the relevant experts here? They are philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear. The experts have only secular expertise, not religious conviction. They, admittedly, do not give one answer -- they differ among themselves, they are tentative, they qualify. They do not have the certitude that the religious right accepts as the sign of truth.

So evangelicals take shortcuts. They pin everything on being pro-life. But one cannot be indiscriminately pro-life.

If one claimed, in the manner of Albert Schweitzer, that all life deserved moral respect, then plants have rights, and it might turn out that we would have little if anything to eat. And if one were consistently pro-life, one would have to show moral respect for paramecia, insects, tissue excised during a medical operation, cancer cells, asparagus and so on. Harvesting carrots, on a consistent pro-life hypothesis, would constitute something of a massacre.

Opponents of abortion will say that they are defending only human life. It is certainly true that the fetus is human life. But so is the semen before it fertilizes; so is the ovum before it is fertilized. They are both human products, and both are living things. But not even evangelicals say that the destruction of one or the other would be murder.

Defenders of the fetus say that life begins only after the semen fertilizes the egg, producing an embryo. But, in fact, two-thirds of the embryos produced this way fail to live on because they do not embed in the womb wall. Nature is like fertilization clinics -- it produces more embryos than are actually used. Are all the millions of embryos that fail to be embedded human persons?

The universal mandate to preserve "human life" makes no sense. My hair is human life -- it is not canine hair, and it is living. It grows. When it grows too long, I have it cut. Is that aborting human life? The same with my growing human fingernails. An evangelical might respond that my hair does not have the potential to become a person. True. But semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.

The question is not whether the fetus is human life but whether it is a human person, and when it becomes one. Is it when it is capable of thought, of speech, of recognizing itself as a person, or of assuming the responsibilities of a person? Is it when it has a functioning brain? Aquinas said that the fetus did not become a person until God infused the intellectual soul. A functioning brain is not present in the fetus until the end of the sixth month at the earliest.

Not surprisingly, that is the earliest point of viability, the time when a fetus can successfully survive outside the womb.

Whether through serendipity or through some sort of causal connection, it now seems that the onset of a functioning central nervous system with a functioning cerebral cortex and the onset of viability occur around the same time -- the end of the second trimester, a time by which 99% of all abortions have already occurred.

Opponents of abortion like to show sonograms of the fetus reacting to stimuli. But all living cells have electric and automatic reactions. These are like the reactions of Terri Schiavo when she was in a permanent vegetative state. Aquinas, following Aristotle, called the early stage of fetal development vegetative life. The fetus has a face long before it has a brain. It has animation before it has a command center to be aware of its movements or to experience any reaction as pain.

These are difficult matters, on which qualified people differ. It is not enough to say that whatever the woman wants should go. She has a responsibility to consider whether and when she may have a child inside her, not just a fetus. Certainly by the late stages of her pregnancy, a child is ready to respond with miraculous celerity to all the personal interchanges with the mother that show a brain in great working order.

Given these uncertainties, who is to make the individual decision to have an abortion? Religious leaders? They have no special authority in the matter, which is not subject to theological norms or guidance. The state? Its authority is given by the people it represents, and the people are divided on this. Doctors? They too differ. The woman is the one closest to the decision. Under Roe vs. Wade, no woman is forced to have an abortion. But those who have decided to have one are able to.

Some objected to Karl Rove's use of abortion to cement his ecumenical coalition, on the grounds that this was injecting religion into politics. The supreme irony is that, properly understood, abortion is not even a religious issue. But that did not matter to Rove. All he cared about was that it worked. For a while.



Garry Wills is the author of numerous books, most recently "Head and Heart: American Christianities," from which this article is adapted.
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Old 11-04-2007, 09:40 PM   #2
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Good article.

Great thread title.
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Old 11-04-2007, 11:51 PM   #3
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these very same points have been raised for as long as this has been debated. unfortunately, logic and common sense don't enter these debates too often, so i wish you luck with your pending insane thread!
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Old 11-05-2007, 01:23 AM   #4
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Opponents of abortion will say that they are defending only human life. It is certainly true that the fetus is human life. But so is the semen before it fertilizes; so is the ovum before it is fertilized. They are both human products, and both are living things. But not even evangelicals say that the destruction of one or the other would be murder...

...semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.
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Old 11-05-2007, 01:37 AM   #5
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Brilliant article.

I've always been mystified by the mania with with which the Christian Right has latched on to this issue.
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Old 11-05-2007, 11:42 AM   #6
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I think the whole abortion tug of war resides in the subjectivity of defining the moment when the cell becomes a living being. It would be difficult to pinpoint with all certainty when that cell becomes a human being and when it´s merely a cell but that´s what it would take to remove doubts.
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Old 11-05-2007, 12:16 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by BrownEyedBoy
I think the whole abortion tug of war resides in the subjectivity of defining the moment when the cell becomes a living being. It would be difficult to pinpoint with all certainty when that cell becomes a human being and when it´s merely a cell but that´s what it would take to remove doubts.
For a lot of people, the abortion tug-of-war is whether a medical decision made between doctor and patient is any business of the state's. I don't think it is. That's all the issue boils down to for me. Not religion, not when a baby is really a baby, just whether or not I think the government should make or limit my personal medical decisions (not limited to abortions or birth control).
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Old 11-05-2007, 12:29 PM   #8
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I´m pro choice, btw.
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Old 11-05-2007, 01:26 PM   #9
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As stridently pro-life as I am, though for me, (I know this sounds CRAZY, everyone) life continues after birth,, this http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071105/...a_abortion_ban

is the kind of the thing that could happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned. I consider every life precious. If you're not pro every life, you're not pro-life at all.
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Old 11-05-2007, 04:22 PM   #10
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Thanks for sharing A_Wanderer. As someone who’s pro-life, I think he brings up some interesting points in places, but he also fails to make strong arguments in others.
For starters, the one thing that stood out to me though is his claim that there’s a “lack of scriptural guidance.” No, there isn’t a verse that says “Thou shalt not have an abortion.” He’s right on that. But there’s enough in the Bible to piece together a solid argument against abortion.

Exodus 21:22-23 explains what should happen if an injury brought on a woman by someone leads to a miscarriage.
"And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life." (Exodus 21:22-23)
This indicates a value placed on the unborn life.
What’s interesting after looking at this and considering today’s law is that if a woman and her unborn child are murdered, it’s considered two murders. Consider the Lacy Peterson case.

Also, throughout the Bible the womb is considered a sacred place, where the formation of life occurs:

“Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?” (Job 31:15)

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother's breast.
From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother's womb you have been my God. (Psalms 22:9-10)

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (Psalms 139:13-16)

This is what the LORD says—
he who made you, who formed you in the womb,
and who will help you:
Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant,
Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. (Isaiah 44:2)

"This is what the LORD says—
your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I am the LORD,
who has made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,” (Isaiah 44:24)

The womb is mentioned also in references to prophets.

Samson:

“Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, "A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. "But he said to me, `Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'" (Judges 13:6-7, see also Judges 16:17)

Jeremiah:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5)

John the Baptist:

"For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb." (Luke 1:15)

Paul:

But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased (Galatians 1:15)

And let’s not forget how Christ came to us: God born as a baby. He didn’t just appear as a man, he experienced our life from birth to death. Our savior came to us by the womb, therefore, that much more value is placed on it.

Consider this prophecy of Christ:

“And now the LORD says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD
and my God has been my strength-he says:
"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:5-6)

So, clearly, the womb was considered a place where life began and where we come to be the people God intended us to be before we’re conceived.

So, what does the Bible say about when life begins? Well, throughout the Bible blood equals life. That’s why the lambs where slaughtered and why Christ’s blood (the lamb of God) is so important. It equals a life sacrificed for another. The penalty of sin is death, so blood has to be spilled. Also, consider this from Genesis 9:4: "Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood." Also, murder is described as “shedding of man’s blood.” So, you bring in modern day science and we know the heart of a fetus forms 18 days after conception and begins beating a few days later. Blood is flowing at this point. According to the Bible, there is life. Most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at this point. I guess you could make the argument that the first 20 days are open to debate, but, as a Christian, you still have to consider the other parts of the Bible mentioned above.


Sorry this is so long. I was only attempting to correct the author on his idea that the Bible doesn’t say anything about this, when it clearly does.
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Old 11-05-2007, 04:49 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by coemgen

And let’s not forget how Christ came to us: God born as a baby. He didn’t just appear as a man, he experienced our life from birth to death. Our savior came to us by the womb, therefore, that much more value is placed on it.
While you present a compelling argument here, I do not think it follows that more value is placed on the womb simply because Christ was born from one. He was also born in a manger, does that mean mangers have more value placed on them than other places of birth? God wanted to manifest himself to us as one of us, and so he had a son born as a human would.
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Old 11-05-2007, 05:11 PM   #12
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Originally posted by Diemen


While you present a compelling argument here, I do not think it follows that more value is placed on the womb simply because Christ was born from one. He was also born in a manger, does that mean mangers have more value placed on them than other places of birth? God wanted to manifest himself to us as one of us, and so he had a son born as a human would.
And that's the value of it. I see what you're saying, and maybe I could've explained it further. Basically, God chose to come to our level by way of human birth, so why should be consider abortion? What if abortion was considered during his time? Do you see what I'm saying (or trying to say)? With abortion, we never know what potential that life would've had and in the case of Christ, it was our savior. So, maybe the value of the womb wasn't necessarily increased, but the potential loss from abortion is increased considering his human birth.
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Old 11-05-2007, 05:44 PM   #13
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Originally posted by coemgen


And that's the value of it. I see what you're saying, and maybe I could've explained it further. Basically, God chose to come to our level by way of human birth, so why should be consider abortion? What if abortion was considered during his time? Do you see what I'm saying (or trying to say)? With abortion, we never know what potential that life would've had and in the case of Christ, it was our savior. So, maybe the value of the womb wasn't necessarily increased, but the potential loss from abortion is increased considering his human birth.
That's always been the sticking point for me. I agree with those who believe the state or country should not tell someone how to make personal, medical decisions. Yet, I believe every human life from birth to death has a purpose. I often wonder, "What if the person who would've found the cure for AIDS, cancer, etc. was aborted?" "What if Martin Luther King Jr., Gahndi, Mother Theresa, Bono, etc. had been aborted? What if I, my mother, my father, my best friends, any one I know in any way, shape, or form had been aborted?" What would the world be missing out on now and in the future? I don't have the answers, but these are questions I'd raised in my mind quite awhile ago.
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Old 11-05-2007, 05:54 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by U2isthebest


That's always been the sticking point for me. I agree with those who believe the state or country should not tell someone how to make personal, medical decisions. Yet, I believe every human life from birth to death has a purpose. I often wonder, "What if the person who would've found the cure for AIDS, cancer, etc. was aborted?" "What if Martin Luther King Jr., Gahndi, Mother Theresa, Bono, etc. had been aborted? What if I, my mother, my father, my best friends, any one I know in any way, shape, or form had been aborted?" What would the world be missing out on now and in the future? I don't have the answers, but these are questions I'd raised in my mind quite awhile ago.
It's interesting you bring that up. I once read that someone interviewed Mother Theresa and asked her why she didn't ask God for a cure for AIDS. She said he did and the person who was to come up with it was aborted. I don't know how true that is, but it makes you think. It makes a point.

I know Mother Theresa did say "It's a poverty to decide that a child must die in order that you can live as you wish" regarding abortion . . .
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Old 11-05-2007, 06:13 PM   #15
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By that logic, couples should not only never use birth control, but in fact should attempt to conceive every month when the woman isn't already pregnant, because THIS might be the month when the stars are aligned for YOU to produce the next Einstein, and who are you to deny the world that opportunity just because you can't afford to support another kid right now? It's as if you're saying on the one hand that destiny is written into the genes, but that on the other hand the "right" genes somehow don't exist until an embryo does. But they do, of course; the sperm and egg in question would already have been carrying them. Unless you're assuming that God personally determines which sperm gets to the egg first (and had previously been micromanaging spermatogenesis and ovulation all along to ensure that the Really Good Stuff remained on hold until the stars-aligned moment), I don't see how this line of thinking carries much weight.
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