The Other I

May 8, 2012

Reflections on abortion

I am too old for the question of abortion to be one which I will face personally.  And the terminated pregnancies which I have experienced were not chosen.

However, in the face of the increasing number of states in America which are trying to outlaw abortion outright under any circumstances, I have been thinking about why I disagree  with what is essentially the Roman Catholic position that abortion is always murder, and therefore never justified.  Since murder is wrong, Catholics are taught that they have an obligation to stop what they see as the mass murders of abortion, whether or not the persons involved in the act believe it is.  The obligation is as great as it would be to stop the mass murders of Jews or the mentally retarded or ethnic groups who may be considered to be sub-human.

I’ve asked several people whose values I respect for their take on this question.  The answers I found most enlightening are from Tony Equale whose blog I also read regularly.  I don’t claim they are original, but these are the conclusions which I myself have now reached.

First of all, I think sex is not part of the natural order purely for the sake of procreation.  Nor is it purely for the sake of pleasure.  Some 2 million years ago, humans evolved in which it was no longer apparent when the female was fertile.  The result of this was greater equality between the sexes, less competition, and a more influential and long-term role for fathers during what became the long years of human childhood.  So in my opinion, natural law dictates that the purpose of human sexual intercourse is not simply procreation, but the maintenance of a loving,  stable relationship between the parents which greatly facilitates the raising their offspring. (Paradoxically, sexual relationships between people who have no intention of having children together is often a learning experience which leads to a maturity which is of great benefit to us all.  Even to those of us who are no longer children.)

So I don’t think we humans have evolved in such a way that we benefit from reducing sex to no more than a passing pleasure with no inter-personal consequences.  But sex isn’t just about having children either.

So what about abortion?  Catholics believe that what makes a human being a person is the addition of a spiritual soul to the material body.  It is the soul that makes the person and is put there by God in a deliberate act.  It is not clear to theologians when the soul is combined with the physical body, and so the church argues that we must assume it is from the very moment of conception.

But must we?  Does this make sense?  Let’s think about it.  The church teaches that God is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing.  Yet it also teaches that this God inserts a living soul into the body of human beings conceived under the most terrible circumstances.  Perhaps the woman was raped.  Perhaps it was a young girl impregnated by her father.  Perhaps the foetus will be born under circumstances where the child will be abandoned, starved, abused, severely deformed, in extreme pain.  Perhaps the pregnancy will kill the mother through no fault of her own, leaving other children motherless.  According to the church, this all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God going to make this egg which has been penetrated by a sperm a person, come hell or high water.

No.  I don’t believe it.  This is a contradiction in terms.  If a human being were to behave in such a fashion, would impose this kind of suffering on another human being when he had the knowledge and power not to do so, we would never call it loving.  We might even call it evil.  We certainly would not tell everyone to go and do likewise.

Roman Catholics believe that abortion must be treated as murder because it is the willful termination of the life of an innocent person.

I don’t think it necessarily is.  I don’t think we are dealing with a person in the early days of pregnancy.  It is a potential person, which is something entirely different. Just as an acorn is not an oak tree but a potential tree, just as a seed is not an apple but only carries that potential, the foetus is not a person with all the rights of personhood.

But there’s a second issue, and that revolves around the times when the church, and indeed society, condone the murder of persons.  We can kill another person in war, to protect our own lives or the life of someone else.  Sometimes we are faced with the terrible and difficult decision of having to choose who should die, rather than if anyone should die.  Even if one believes that abortion always results in the death of an innocent unborn foetus, there are conditions under which I believe it is justified.

Is abortion simple?  rarely.  Does it have consequences?  inevitably.  Do I think it should be treated as a birth control method when other methods are available?  no.

But there are times when abortion is the brave, the courageous, the moral choice.

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