Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On becoming pro-life

As you know, I just love the fact that we’ve thrown contraception out the window. I spend entirely too much time talking and reading about NFP. But the more time I spend reading and thinking about things like the dangers of the contraceptive mentality, the more abortion comes up. And abortion is something I’d rather ignore, thank you very much.

I mean, I’ve been able to ignore it the rest of my life. I don’t recall ever actually discussing it. Not once. In high school speech class, the teacher said we weren’t allowed to give any speeches on the topic because it was too controversial. With my strong aversion to disagreement, that sounded good to me. I only had a vague idea of what it was anyway.

Abortion never came up in college, either. I do recall discussing with a friend how people should have to take a test to prove they’re smart enough to have babies, and wouldn’t it be great if we had some way to sterilize everyone at birth and then they could only get pregnant if they could prove that they’d be good parents – the world would be a much better place. (I shudder as I recall that.) But I didn’t think much about abortion.

After all, people had to face the consequences. If you had sex and got pregnant, you shouldn’t be able to just get rid of it. You needed to pay the piper. Tough luck, young pregnant woman – you shouldn’t have been such a whore and had sex before you were married.

That was my viewpoint. I would call myself marginally pro-life. So I don’t have any amazing story about going from being vehemently pro-choice to passionately pro-life. I always knew that sex could equal babies. My self-righteous self was certain that irresponsible girls needed to face consequences and learn their lesson. Oh, and for those women who were raped or whose lives were endangered, abortion was fine. (Did you know that’s only the case in 7% of all abortions?) My ideology was completely focused on the mother.

And actually, ideology is a strong word for my view. I was more indifferent than anything. Abortion had never been an issue for anyone I knew. It was something that happened in back alleys of big cities to delinquent teenagers. It was something I could completely ignore.

So when I became Catholic earlier this year, I knew that their social teachings on abortion were something I didn’t want to think about much. Yup, abortion’s bad, let’s move on to the next topic. Sure, I can be pro-life, but don’t think I’ll be one of the crazies who only votes based on that. Let’s move on to something that actually affects me – contraception!

But the connection between contraception and abortion just kept coming up. I don’t even really need to cite the correlation between the rise in both over the past 40 years – I can just quote the Supreme Court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v Casey ruling:

“In some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception… for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the even that contraception should fail.”

Great. So since we have contraception, we’re allowed to have all the sex we want, and if that doesn’t work we always can have an abortion.

But what is really turning me more and more pro-life is a shift in focus. I’ve realized that my focus (and that of the Supreme Court) was in the completely wrong place. Abortion isn’t about the mother. Abortion is about the baby. You know those bumper stickers that say “It’s a child – not a choice”? They’re right.

The more I contemplated this, the more I realized that the key to the whole abortion debate is determining when life begins. (I know, other people have known this for a long time.) Turns out, this is an extremely complicated question, and people can use scientific knowledge to argue just about any time they want. The pro-lifers can argue it begins at conception. The pro-choicers can argue it doesn’t begin until birth. Everybody else (including many Christians) reasons it’s somewhere between there.

The response to a baby’s death is based on intentionality. Unwanted fetus terminated at 10 weeks – good for the mother and society. Desired child miscarried at 10 weeks – a tragedy. Which was a life?

I honestly don’t think we’re ever going to be able to come to an agreement on when life begins. We have to hone in on an even more important question – when does God imbue a human being with a soul? “Life” has become a theoretical scientific question, wrenched apart from God. But a human life and a human soul go hand-in-hand.

When is a soul created? That has to be our litmus test. And since that is something we will never know in this life, we have to play it safe and say at conception. Abortion is wrong because it kills a child who was already given a soul.

I’ve gone on long enough for this morning, and haven’t even gotten into the dehumanizing of “fetuses”. (Please do read that link.) But I’m going to stop now, because I’m interested in your reactions. I’m still working this all out in my mind, and wanted to share it in the hopes of fruitful discussion. What are your views on abortion? When do you think life begins? When do you think a soul is born? Do you have a different angle?


  1. You're absolutely right to cite that Supreme Court case in order to draw the immediate connection between abortion and contraception. It becomes an even clearer connection when you look through history and see the evolution of legal cases, first deeming limitations on contraception between married couples illegal (Griswold v. Connecticut) and then extending that to unmarried couples (Eisenstadt vs. Baird) and then finally, like you're saying, to abortion. While I actually don't think that contraception should necessarily be illegal (surprise for all you people who thought I was crazy!), I do think the jump to making abortion legal based on the reasoning that "Oh we don't know when it becomes a baby" is completely wrong and deviates from the previous arguments of personal freedom to morality.

    I guess in my opinion and personal experience (in debates and once seeing "pro-choice" as the only answer), the abortion debate is not about, has never been about, and will never be about if that baby is really a baby or not. Anyone can clearly see that left alone that "group of cells" will naturally develop into a baby and nothing else. To debate that is to derail from the real issue. The real debate is about whether or not the mother has the legal right to choose to abort her baby, asserting the value of her life greater than the baby's. I cannot understand how anyone can be given the "right" to assert superiority in life and to place their life at a higher value than others to the point of death of the other. This is the type of thinking that leads to genocide and other events like the Holocaust.

    Also, I think part of the strategy to avoid the abortion debate (like you said you experienced) is also a strategy to let decisions lie where they lie, i.e. keep abortion legal. The whole concept that it's been "debated too much" is a farce for not wanting to engage in dialogue because its uncomfortable. I had the same experience as you when in 7th grade our teacher wouldn't let us debate abortion because it was "too controversial"...when I didn't even know what abortion was yet! So instead of teaching us to engage in the topic intelligently, she just indirectly taught us that that is merely a personal choice. Very smooth in hindsight.

  2. I just realized I compared abortion to the Holocaust without clicking on that link first...anyway I just clicked on it and thanks for the reference!

  3. Well, first of all I'll just get it out of the way and point out that I'm Pro-Choice: that's how I was raised, that's what I believe, and I'll defend it to the end! Obviously I won't change any minds here, but hopefully, I'll get a few points across as things to think about.

    I'll also quickly point out that my wife is also very Pro-Choice. In her view, the debate should center around that aspect of things (i.e. the choice to have a child or NOT, but not necessarily "when life begins").

    That all said, I think a lot of your argument centers around when God imbues us with a "soul."

    "When is a soul created? That has to be our litmus test. And since that is something we will never know in this life, we have to play it safe and say at conception. Abortion is wrong because it kills a child who was already given a soul."

    I believe this paragraph will suffice!

    While we can't be sure when a soul is officially "imbued," I think there are a few things that we know about a soul. As Wikipedia tells us (and I agree), many believe that the soul makes up everything about us that ISN'T "the body." That includes your personality, your consciousness. These are the things that give you your sense of identity. Your "identity" is comprised of all those things, but it is also built upon the choices you've made in life. One could argue that my "soul" at age 5 (were I to die then) would be completely different than my "soul" at age 27 (i.e. today). So, if I died and went to Heaven at age 5, that's how I'd be: not some future version of myself.

    Now, assuming that your soul is made up of these life experiences, your consciousness, then we know for a fact that none of these things are present at the time of conception, nor in the embryonic or fetal stages. While you don't necessarily remember anything prior to the age of 2 (on average), you would still have some experiences and personality (i.e. babies smile at certain things, so obviously they "like" them. They also "dislike" things. These are signs of personality, of consciousness). So, you could argue that a fetus in the third trimester may have some signs of consciousness, and thus, could be considered to have a soul, but it would be difficult to say that anything younger than the second trimester has anything
    resembling personality or consciousness.


  4. On a related note, one thing that is frequently done within the Pro-Life Community is equating a
    "child" with a "fetus." Abortion does nothing to "children," but it does end the progression of a "fetus." I imagine that if we were discussing whether a fetus has a soul, this would be a different conversation. A "fetus" is not a "baby" until it is born, cut from the umbilical cord, and able to survive on its own with minimal (physical) support from its mother. My impression is that many will say "child" because that word has more emotional attachment than "fetus."

    "It's a fetus, not a choice" just doesn't sound as effective, eh?

    That's a key distinction for you too, Allison, where you said:

    "Anyone can clearly see that left alone that 'group of cells' will naturally develop into a baby and nothing else."

    That is hardly true, as a "group of cells" left on a lab bench will certainly not develop into a baby: it must grow inside a mother's womb. Really, the fetus is an extension of the mother until it is born from the mother.

    Personally, I'm against late-term abortions: If the fetus can survive outside the mother, then I think we should do everything in our power to save it. Until that point, however, it really is "just a group of cells" and should be treated as such.

  5. Since I was cited, I'll respond :) But I do want to point out that my original opinion in the first comment still stands! (i.e., debating beginning of life is futile and to side-step the real issue - it seems I might agree with your wife?).

    Andy, as you pointed out, a "group of cells" on a lab bench, yes, will die. Fortunately, one cannot conceive a child by leaving a bunch of cells on a lab bench! Left to their place of origin, however, a "group of cells" will continue growing until it resembles what we recognize as a baby, unless someone/thing purposely removes them. That's what I meant, but I'm sure you knew that.

    I understand your thought process though. That reasoning is similar to the idea that a building is not really a building until it's completely built. Before that it may resemble a building and have the potential to grow into a building, but it is still not yet a building.

    The key distinction between this type of logic and a baby growing inside a mother is that in order for a building to become a building, outsides workers have to construct it. With a baby, however, the baby is making itself and making its own cells divide, forming itself without a plan, without a care whether or not the mother considers it as a baby yet. "Life" has literally begun and is consciously propagating itself, without any outside help that would not be there otherwise (as in, a mother would be eating anyways, so it doesn't require anything additional.)

    I am curious about your idea of a soul developing at some point along in all that process. New born babies can't smile until they are somewhere around a month old, so does that mean they don't have a soul? Babies can make noticeable kicks when they are 16 weeks, is that a soul? My sister said she saw her baby do flips and swirls in the womb when it was just 7 weeks old, is that consciousness? I really am curious to how you would define it since it seems so nebulous to me.

  6. Okay, it appears my original thought process may be incorrect! I'm cool with that :) I do enjoy hearing your all's opinions (because I assume you've thought through this stuff more than I have!).

    I guess I'll just say, on the point of a soul, that by soul I don't mean a generic, "spiritual" identity, but an actual Christian construct. As in, that immortal essence of a person. Hm, that's not really a good definition either. I know you're not big on the Catechism, Andy, but I'll just cite it, since that's the angle I'm coming from:

    363 "In Sacred Scripture the term "soul" often refers to human life or the entire human person. But "soul" also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God's image: "soul" signifies the spiritual principle in man."

    365 "The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature."

    366 "The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection."

    I guess that last one is the most relevant one. As the guy on the radio said just yesterday, "When life is detected, the infusion of the soul has already occurred."

    So while we might include personality and consciousness under the umbrella of a person's soul, I think it's more than that.

    And as always, I'm open to other opinions :)

  7. I agree with Alison. On the topic of defining the soul... if one defines it based on personality and memories and such - does this then make it okay to kill children who cannot yet smile? Who cannot yet remember? Babies don't typically smile - as in actually showing they like something - until they are 6-8 weeks old. But of course it is not okay to kill them prior to smiling... I don't get the logic there at all.

    Use of the word child rather than fetus: I don't know about anyone else who's ever carried a child in her womb, but I considered it to be my child from the beginning. I didn't think, "Oh, there's a fetus in there" and then at birth say, "Now the fetus has become my child." They were *always* my children from the moment they were conceived.

  8. Thanks for this post! I enjoying hearing how people came to be aware of abortion as an issue and how they've become pro-life in more than just a nominal way.

    Great blog -- I love the NFP links!


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