Christians and abortion

Difficult issues series

Pregnant woman

In the previous two posts I have considered when in human evolution human life began, and when in pregnancy human life begins. In both cases, there were considerable uncertainties.

This naturally brings us to the polarising topic of abortion, and christian attitudes to termination of pregnancy.

This is a “hot button” issue, but if it is more personal than “an issue” to you, I apologise if any of my words are insensitive. I hope to offend no-one, but rather to offer thoughtful comment. If you have strong opinions either way, please try to avoid being upset at anything I say, and if you wish to express an opinion, please do it graciously.

Some statistics

Accurate statistics on births, miscarriages, stillbirths and abortions are hard to obtain. Many miscarriages are unnoticed or unreported, and not all terminations are reported either. But on top of this, the various sources give inconsistent, poorly defined and often confusing statistics. The figures I’ve used are therefore very approximate, based on recent estimates, and are provided simply to give the general idea.

In the western world, it appears that about 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages and stillbirths, and a further 25% in termination, so that just over half known pregnancies lead to a live birth. In addition, it is estimated that up to half of all fertilised eggs are miscarried, but often the mother is not aware of it, or doesn’t report it.

The table below shows how these percentages work out in Australia, UK and USA (round figures only).

Statistic Australia UK USA
Total population 23.9 million 64 million 319 million
Live births 300,000 750,000 4,000,000
Known miscarriages & stillbirths 95,000 240,000 1,300,000
Abortions 81,000 200,000 1,100,000
Unknown miscarriages up to 220,000 up to 560,000 up to 3,000,000

It can be seen that abortions occur approximately as frequently as known miscarriages. Some studies suggest that evangelical christians have about 200,000 of the US abortions, a rate lower than average, but still significant. Catholics have abortions at the same rate as average.

A short history of abortion ethics

Most cultures in ancient times were reasonably accepting of abortion in general, and often even infanticide, but abortion was often punishable if the father wished to keep the child. Most cultures were patriarchal, with both women and children subservient to men.

Jewish culture tended to see the child as fully human when its head appeared at birth or when it took its first breath and its spirit entered it. Nevertheless, abortion was condemned because of the loss of a potential child, and some rabbis considered abortion to be murder. Modern Judaism generally allows abortion when the mother’s life is threatened, but officially opposes it gently otherwise.

The early church most often treated abortion as murder and thus opposed it, as they opposed infanticide. Christians in the Roman Empire were known for their more humane treatment of children and women, to the extent of rescuing babies left out to die by others. In later centuries,some christians believed abortion before “quickening” (which generally occurs sometime after 12 weeks) was acceptable.

The debate about abortion really heated up and became polarised in modern times when medical science made it much safer and women’s rights became an important issue. Almost all christians oppose abortion except in special circumstances, whereas non-religious people generally believe it should be allowed, at least up until 20 weeks.

What does the Bible say?

I have looked up several christian sites that list Bible verses on abortion, and found that the main subjects the passages address are these:

God knew us before we were born

It is true that God knew us before we were born (e.g. Jeremiah 1:5, Galatians 1:15), but these passages say he knew us before he formed us in our mother’s womb. In fact, he knew us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)! These passages are about God’s omniscience and foreknowledge, not about abortion.

The wonder of God’s creation of us

God created us in our mother’s womb (e.g. Psalm 139:13-16). But these passages don’t discuss abortion or define when life begins, only the amazing process by which life begins.

The sanctity of human life

Many passages point out the value of human life and the punishment for taking life (e.g. Exodus 20:13). Most of these passages have nothing to say about the unborn, but two may be relevant:

If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Exodus 21:22-25

In context, it seems clear to me that this passage (1) is not necessarily about taking human life, which is the question we are examining (it also talks about kidnapping and wounding) and (2) the concern here seems to be injury done to the mother by an enemy, not the loss of the baby, and certainly not the choice of the mother to abort.

For he did not kill me in the womb

Jeremiah 20:17

This is a strange verse. It comes in the middle of a lament by Jeremiah that he was ever born. In this verse, he is actually complaining that the man who brought his father the news of Jeremiah’s birth should have killed him before he was born. This is hardly a verse that speaks against abortion – it actually speaks in its favour, in this one case at least.

On the other hand, it does use the word “kill”, which suggests that an unborn baby should be considered to be “human”. But overall, I can’t see how this passage, a lament by Jeremiah, can be taken as a source of a clear teaching.

So what does the Bible say?

I really don’t feel it says much at all about abortion. The Old Testament does indicate that human life is valuable, and the unborn worthy of some protection, but the New Testament says nothing that is directly relevant. I’m not sure this gives us very much clear guidance.

Reasons to question the “pro-life” view

Deciding on conception as the point where human life begins, and hence judging abortion to be murder, is perhaps the most obvious choice. But there are reasons to question this choice.

Uncertainties

We have seen (When does human life begin?) that it isn’t easy to say with certainty that human life begins at conception – or at any other definite time for that matter. Christians and Jews haven’t always been as certain about abortion as modern pro-lifers are.

Patriarchy

For millennia, rules on abortion (as well as on marriage and conception) have been made mostly by men, and women have not had a lot of control over their own bodies, nor of the long term task of rearing each new child. It is understandable that many modern women would see readily available abortion as part of female emancipation.

Natural abortions

The natural rate of abortion is high – more than the current rate of induced abortion, and probably much more if very early miscarriages could be counted. It seems that God has created us with a reproductive process that naturally involves many abortions, and it seems that either these early miscarriages are not taking human life, or God is willing to allow that to happen.

It may be that miscarriage is a result of human sin and “the fall”, but I’m a little doubtful that evolutionary biology could support that view – animals can miscarry too.

It seems that the relatively common occurrence of natural abortions (miscarriages) must cause us to question whether the pro-life case has been over-stated.

Is abortion sometimes allowable?

Most of us would accept that abortion is sometimes allowable – for example, if the mother’s life is seriously threatened, or if a young girl is raped (which may leave her with physical or emotional issues). But after a baby is born, we would admire a mother who gave her life for her baby in some extreme circumstance, and would generally not approve of a mother who jettisoned her baby when under some external threat.

Such a situation may only be hypothetical, but it does indicate there is some difference between an unborn baby and and a post-natal baby. The difference may not be in the baby’s status as a human being, but more in our pragmatic assessment of its ability survive without its mother, but it does seem that there is some difference.

Pro life??

Being “pro-life” doesn’t just mean opposing abortion. It surely covers being willing to assist pregnant women who would choose to carry the baby to birth. Abortion rates are higher among poorer women, illustrating that abortion is a social (poverty) issue as well as a moral one. So being pro-life must surely also mean supporting poorer mothers to allow their children to have reasonable opportunities for healthcare, education and work.

But we could go further. If we are truly pro-life, we will surely oppose war as a solution to almost all situations, and support measures to reduce third world poverty, slavery and exploitation, all of which lead to reduced life expectancy.

Hate is unbecoming

Some segments of the pro-life movement seem to be unsympathetic to the dilemmas faced by some women, and almost hateful in their attitude to those who have an abortion or support abortion. This demeans the pro-life movement. Even if we see pro-choice people as enemies (and as christians I cannot see how that can be justified), we have Jesus’ command to love our enemies. If we cannot share our convictions without sounding hateful, we surely need to think again.

In the US, abortion clinics have been attacked, at least one abortion doctor has been murdered. It is beyond ironic that someone would commit murder in the pro-life cause. Christians should not give any support, not the slightest bit, to such atrocities and attitudes.

Reasons to question the “pro choice” view

Uncertainties

The uncertainties about when life begins work both ways. If we cannot be certain that life begins at conception, we cannot be certain that it doesn’t. If we have to choose a definite point, conception is probably the easiest to justify.

Don’t take risks with human life

In most situations in life, we try to reduce the risk to human life. For example, new drugs are supposed to pass stringent tests about their side effects before they can be released for general use.

Risk is defined as consequence x likelihood. For a new drug, the consequence may be the loss or severe impairment of human life, so the likelihood must be significantly reduced to make the risk acceptable.

With abortion, the risk is of a different nature. The likelihood of the termination ending the opportunity for the fetus to live is almost certain, so to keep the risk at an acceptable level, we should be fairly certain that this consequence is not the end of a human life. But we don’t have that near-certainty.

Funerals after a miscarriage

When a natural miscarriage occurs, the parents are often grief-stricken. They had plans, or at least hopes, for this baby, perhaps they had a name picked out. The loss can be devastating. Some parents still name their miscarried baby and have a funeral for them.

All this suggests that intuitively we know this is a human life, and something of great value has been lost. Perhaps these responses are just ways of coping, and mean nothing, but perhaps they reveal a deep truth.

Sometimes a woman can choose to have an abortion and at another time grieve a miscarriage. Can the value of an unborn child vary so much with the mother’s circumstances and feelings? Perhaps it can, but perhaps not.

What is human?

Christians hold a high view of human life – we are made in the image of God, however we may understand that. But for naturalists or materialists, who don’t believe in the supernatural, while humans are “our species”, objectively, we are no more that clever animals, in the end reducible to mere atoms.

Some naturalists take that to the logical extreme of believing there is no morality and no purpose, but most do not. For them, ethics are based more in avoiding causing pain and maximising happiness. Therefore, they may think it is quite moral to abort an early stage fetus that has no self consciousness (it is presumed), or even a late term baby, if they won’t experience significant pain or apprehension of pain.

However much we might disagree with this philosophy, many people hold something like it. So for them abortion may be quite acceptable. But if christians also support easy availability of abortion, we are (it is argued) supporting a godless philosophy.

What is morality?

It can be argued that, in many cases at least, justifying abortion is a victory of self interest over ethics.

Personal conclusions

1. We lack certainty

I think there are good arguments on either side, and I don’t feel anyone can speak with certainty on this matter. While I don’t think it is simply a matter of a woman’s control of her own body, I feel a man needs to be careful in what he says. This means I must be sensitive in presenting any view.

2. I think it is better to avoid risk

Because the ethics of termination are uncertain, I think it is better to be cautious. And that means avoiding abortion if at all possible. As a christian, I think I would be extremely reluctant to support termination except in rare circumstances (not that I’m likely to be in any position to have a say in such a matter!).

3. God can cope

The high natural miscarriage rate suggests that God can cope with abortion. We cannot know how he does this nor why he allows this, but it suggests that for him it isn’t the supremely desperate issue that many pro-lifers feel it is. I feel that we should avoid too strong an anti-abortion emphasis in the christian community, because it distorts our message of good news and can lead to condemnation and anger rather than grace. However christian convictions should be shared gently, and doubtless some people are specifically called to minister and advocate in this area.

4. It’s unlikely to go away soon

In western societies, christianity has been in slow decline as a cultural force, and materialism or a less well-defined spirituality are gaining cultural adherence. Without a definite belief in a creator God, there is less reason to believe that pre-birth life (at least before 20 weeks) is “sacred”. It is therefore less likely that non-believers will hold a “pro life” viewpoint.

Christians need to understand that the issue is often comes down to a philosophical or spiritual difference, and respond in an appropriate way.

5. Opponents of abortion must be loving

Those who feel they should oppose abortion, must do it lovingly and sensitively. Women have abortions for many reasons, and we cannot presume to know how reasonable and ethical they are, nor how inescapable the decision may have seemed.

It is unlikely that the law will be changed in any country any time soon, and attempts to strongly influence legislators may antagonise and be counter-productive. Gentle persuasion and gradual cultural change may be the only way forward, and christians would do well to develop a better understanding of all the facts and issues so they can present a more nuanced response. Men have to be particularly sensitive.

6. Let’s all be truly pro-life

Christians and churches can be truly pro-life by providing tangible, “no-strings” and non-judgmental support for girls and women who may be at risk – counselling, contraception (yes I know this may facilitate promiscuity, but we need to decide which battle we want to win, and freely available contraception reduces abortions), pathways out of poverty, marriage and relationship support, and, ultimately, spiritual renewal – in our home countries and globally.

We can also offer non-judgmental support for pregnant women who would be willing to carry their baby to term if they have financial, housing and emotional support.

7. Forgiveness is at the core of christianity

If abortion is a sin, it is certainly not the ultimate sin, any more than murder or other killing is. It is not an unforgivable sin. Women who feel guilty because they have had an abortion need comfort and reassurance, they need to hear Jesus say “neither do I condemn you, go in peace” (John 8:11, Luke 7:48-50), they need to receive forgiveness and restoration in exchange for guilt.

Let us be christians who love extraordinarily rather than condemn.

Let’s talk

I am still exploring this issue. I would be interested in hearing your views, and your response to the issues I have raised here. But please be sensitive and loving.

References

Photo Credit: bies via Compfight cc

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40 thoughts on “Christians and abortion

  1. Eva says:

    I think that you have approached this topic very well- very evenhanded and informative. I have to many feelings about it to be constructively involved in the discussion, but it’s a great post.

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  2. matrimble says:

    I believe life begins at conception, because both my heart and mind tell me so. I believe this position is supported by science, logic, and my religious teachings, but I must admit I do not know.

    If there is ambiguity about the humanity of the pre-born, then the prudent, wise, and moral choice is to not abort until this ambiguity is resolved. The same logic applies to capital punishment with the same result; as we cannot be certain of guilt, we cannot be certain in judgment and therefore have no right to execute.

    Also, I confess to being uneasy with your characterization that “If abortion is a sin, it is certainly not the ultimate sin, any more than murder or other killing is. It is not an unforgivable sin.” It seems to me this provides perpetrators of all manner of violence just enough space to rationalize their choice and take a life. This suggestion puts God’s forgiveness to the test. It is irresponsible advice.

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  3. unkleE says:

    Hi Ratamacue, how are you going? We haven’t crossed paths for a while.

    Have you given me the right reference here? Numbers 5:11ff is all about infidelity and how to resolve who is responsible for a pregnancy. What do you see as applying to abortion?

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  4. unkleE says:

    Hi MA (sorry that’s a bit impersonal).

    Yes, I think you and I agree on what you have said here about abortion – the uncertainty, your gut feeling, the need for caution, and your comment about capital punishment.

    But I’m a little surprised about your comment about the unforgivable sin. Jesus gave some teaching on it (Matt 12:32, Mark 3:29) and my conclusions follow from that. Do you think that murder, or abortion, are unforgivable? I certainly wouldn’t want to give anyone any encouragement to violence, but I also want to present the truth that forgiveness is always available.

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  5. Mark says:

    I believe anyone (on Earth or below it) who truly repents their sins and asks forgiveness will be welcomed back by God. And I believe the path to that atonement is commensurate with the scale of the sin. Indeed, I want to believe that the end of time will arrive when the last self-tortured soul left in Hell comes back to God seeking forgiveness. But, I digress. 😉

    Anyway, I just don’t want our faith in God’s mercy to imply we may choose to sin now and then simply be forgiven later. Redemption involves a quid pro quo and the sins we choose to commit sicken our spirit like an addictive drug. Our purification, or as it were, our conscious withdrawal from sin, is something that awaits all of us in the future, sooner or later.

    So I believe the stakes are high for the choices we make in this life. As Jesus has told us there is no greater love than to give up one’s life for a friend, then the deliberate killing of innocent life, while perhaps not unforgivable, seems certain to be a very grave sin indeed.

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  6. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Numbers 5 is often cited in abortion debates. The idea is that, when the suspected adulteress drinks the water, the water will result in an abortion if she is guilty. I’m not sure if I can justify that right now, but vv 27-28 may be relevant, since there is a contrast between the belly swelling and conceiving seed.

    Exodus 20:13 is often cited in abortion debates because it relates to how the ancient Israelites regarded the fetus. In the Masoretic Text, there is no death penalty or lex talionis for the fetus, but for the mother, and that is how it is in other ancient Near Eastern law codes. In the Septuagint, however, there is lex talionis for the damaged or dead fetus.

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  7. ratamacue0 says:

    I’m OK. You?

    Yes, Num 5:11ff. Note the consequences, in vv.20-22. The bible god allegedly causes a miscarriage because of adultery, and he commands the people to take the actions that being it to pass (drinking the bitter water).

    It’s not an issue I take lightly, and I appreciate that you’re less dogmatic than many. But it seems to me that biblical objections to abortion require selective reading.

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  8. carmen says:

    Ratamacueo – you’ve got that right! How anyone can state that Yahweh is pro-life, after reading the bible, is beyond me.

    Rather than writing a reply here that would be considered insensitive and not the least bit loving, I’ll just say that I would be very happy to have seen, in the body of ‘Christians and Abortion’, this statement –

    “It’s none of my (christian or any other persuasion) BUSINESS”. Full stop and end of story.

    Cheers, mate!

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  9. unkleE says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for your further explanation. We are in general agreement I think – certainly about God’s willingness to forgive and the seriousness of taking a human life. The matters where we would disagree, I think, are in your statement “the path to that atonement is commensurate with the scale of the sin” (I think on God’s side that isn’t true, though it may be on our side) and in the fact that I think grace and forgiveness must be very strongly emphasised, even if it means some people take advantage of God (which we all do). Thanks.

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  10. unkleE says:

    Hi James, I think your comment illustrates the difficulty I found in arriving at a definite Biblical view.

    Hi ratamacue, I’m going pretty well thanks. I agree with your thought that “biblical objections to abortion require selective reading”, though I guess a conservative view would be that it is permissible for God to do things that are not permissible for us – which I think is true in general, but I wouldn’t apply it here.

    As a christian, I think there are several reasons why this passage isn’t very helpful today. (1) That was old covenant, christians are not committed to it, but to something newer and better. (2) Rules like this were common in ancient near east cultures, as James points out, and so seem to have a distinctly cultural aspect. (3) Thus, whether we think the rules were God tailoring his commands to the culture, or God giving them improvements to ethics incrementally, or people doing their best to understand God, these rules were provisional at best, and as much as people of the day could do – obviously they didn’t have DNA tests to guide them!

    So I went through the Old Testament passages to see if I could glean anything relevant, even if it didn’t apply today, but I didn’t find much. Thanks for your clarification.

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  11. unkleE says:

    Hi Jonathan, that is a good post, thanks. His view is not that different to mine. The main difference is that while we both try to be sensitive to the issues and to women, he is more certain than I am about his conclusion, and he doesn’t address some of the issues I touch on..

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  12. Mark says:

    Ignorantianescia: You say you’re in favor of legal access to abortion; I’m curious as to why? I read the article you provided the link to, which gives me an idea for your reasons, but before I respond to you based upon these assumptions, I’d like to hear your position in your own words.

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  13. ignorantianescia says:

    Really in a nutshell, I see embryos/foetuses as potential persons gradually becoming actualised. I think there are multiple circumstances with defensible reasons for abortion and probably consider an unborn as not quite as on par with a person than the modal evangelical Protestant or traditionalist Catholic or Orthodox. From the view of objective morality I see abortion as ‘negative’ but not always wrong. I recognise it takes a human life. But I also see far-reaching restrictions on abortion (of course, it will always involve some regulation) as an infringement on women’s freedom and privacy, which is a topic about which I feel rather strongly, also more generally.

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  14. matrimble says:

    Thank you for your explanation. I otherwise probably would have spent some time focusing on the essential humanity of the pre-born, but your statement that you realize abortion takes a human life makes that redundant. I think that both to yourself and others you attempt to rationalize that otherwise merciless assertion by claiming that the unborn “are not quite on par with a person”. So, you acknowledge their humanity as a kind of sub-humanity that doesn’t endow them with the same right to life as a “person”. You are aware, aren’t you, that this same deficient reasoning has been used by the architects and practitioners of slavery, genocide, and war since time immemorial? I advise you to avoid justifying the killing of other human beings on the premise of presumed inferiority, it puts you in very bad company.

    Regarding the article’s central theme of pregnancy being a type of organ donorship that should not be mandated for the unborn any more than than the born, I offer this: human beings have an inalienable right to life from conception till natural death. This means that no one has the right to artificially end another’s life. In the case of a person needing, but denied, a kidney or a liver or a heart, they will die naturally. Mandating that any human give up these organs for a recipient introduces certain or at least possible death to the donor unnaturally and as such is wrong. Needless to say, the intentional killing of the unborn ends their life unnaturally and is therefore also wrong.

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  15. carmen says:

    Of course, no one can have a conversation about abortion without a forced-birther – a man, at that – showing up.

    I’m sure YOUR merciless assertions (MATRIMBLE) are cold comfort to Savita Halappanavar’s husband and family.

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  16. carmen says:

    Ignorantianesca – you see how MATRIMBLE basically hand-waved away your ‘multiple circumstances with defensible reasons for abortion’ with his moral highroad? It’s typical of forced-birthers. They don’t give a fig about women’s freedom and privacy – in fact, women’s rights will always take second place to fetus’. One wonders about their relationships with the women in their lives.

    I am wondering how his merciless assertions sound to people like Savita Halappanavar’s husband and family?

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  17. carmen says:

    I am certainly glad to be living in a country where there is no legal restrictions on abortion. More importantly, it’s wonderful that my daughters and daughter-in-law have that choice.
    MATRIMBLE, you might want to read this article for some enlightenment on your position, although I fear that your mindset is immune to reason.
    http://valerietarico.com/2015/04/26/why-i-am-pro-abortion-not-just-pro-choice/
    Respect for women encompasses many situations.

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  18. ignorantianescia says:

    I see the parallel with genocides, but I don’t think it’s fair to lump me in with them. I would see the victims of genocides as full persons. In a nutshell, we have a definitional disagreement and these conflicts cannot be solved by rhetorical arguments. How would you like it if I defined common livestock animals as persons and try to pull such an argument on you?

    Your definition of a right to life has the problem of starting with conception, which is a notoriously messy concept. Does it refer to fertilisation, the merging of the ovum with a sperm cell? If so, it is still a stage before the new being is naturally sustainable. That only occurs when the freshly fertilised embryo implants into the placenta. Does the prevention of implantation by a IUD count as an artificial killing? But even right after implantation, the embryo is only that far from being a separate ovum and a sperm cell. Whence does the vast increase in status come?

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  19. ignorantianescia says:

    UnkleE, I forgot to mention earlier that some abortions would have been miscarriages or stillbirths – sometimes parents decide on an abortion if their unborn has a lethal condition.

    I don’t have any numbers on those, however.

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  20. carmen says:

    The comment that showed up at 11:09 was one that I thought did not get to the site — not sure why it showed up later…please disregard.

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  21. ignorantianescia says:

    Carmen, it possibly went into moderation first and was later approved. I can attest to the fact that it only appeared in the visible comments later.

    Would you mind to elaborate on who Savita Halappanavar was (or maybe still is, but the context implies she has deceased)?

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  22. carmen says:

    You can get the full story from Wikipedia, but she was a 31-yr-old dentist who died after being refused a termination in Ireland. (There were medical complications)
    I gave an extreme example about a woman whose termination was desired b/c of medical problems, but I feel that women need unrestricted access to abortion – that is, I truly believe in the slogan, “every child a WANTED child”. Here’s why. When you take that choice out of an individual woman’s hands, it gets to be EVERYONE ELSE’s choice. People like MATRIMBLE’s. And THAT is wrong.

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  23. matrimble says:

    Ignorantianesca – Conception is the only rational point at which we can say life truly begins. It certainly doesn’t begin before conception and everything that comes after it is natural, predictable development. That is of course not to say that other natural and artificial factors can’t influence that development and even terminate it, but it is absolutely correct in saying that from the conception onward, a human being begins to grow in a mother’s womb. This is our null hypothesis. Morally and ethically, the burden of proof rests with those that advocate for abortion. If the null hypothesis cannot be disproven, rationally we must accept that life begins at conception.

    So, do as you will and as society permits, but don’t deceive yourself about the moral gravity of what you’re advocating.

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  24. ignorantianescia says:

    Matrimble;

    Conception is the only rational point at which we can say life truly begins.

    I agree that fertilisation is the only rational point at which one can say that a unitary human being (a human ontogeny) begins to exist. That in no way requires the significance that you attach to it; there are multiple rationally defensible options. Biological definitions do not have to dictate the terms on which we do ethics – not even as a null hypothesis. I for one find it hard to believe that a foetus, particularly in the earliest stages of pregnancy, is morally equivalent to an adult female.

    The most I’m willing to deduce from the consideration that fertilisation is the beginning of an ontogeny is that abortion is generally bad in that it takes a life, but that it can still be the better of several options.

    If I may return a ‘volley’, how do you think miscarriages should be treated under the law?

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  25. Mark says:

    My point is that the burden of proof of life rests with the one advocating for abortion. If they are unable to provide definitive evidence for the beginning of life at a later stage than conception, they cannot with moral and ethical conviction claim that they are not killing a human being. In your case, you have already accepted that on the basis of the physical and mental inferiority of the foetus. And that way of thinking I’ve said puts you in evil company, people that use/d the very same justifications for killing others they deemed undesirable. And while you may not identify yourself with that crowd, I believe you have placed yourself on their side by attempting to give legitimacy to principles of their arguments.

    And without even knowing the circumstances, I say taking an innocent life should never be considered the better of several options.

    Regarding miscarriages, that would depend on if were unintentional and not the result of negligence. If is was, it is natural and regrettable. If not, and if it occurs prior to what is considered Full Term, it is abortion. If it occurs as a result of negligence after the baby is Full Term, it is considered manslaughter. If it occurs intentionally after the baby is Full Term, it is murder.

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  26. ignorantianescia says:

    Hello Matrimble,

    I think you’re reading more into my replies than I actually wrote. What matters to me is the gradual attainment of personhood. So it’s not at all as if perceived “physical and mental inferiority” is a condition for having a right to life in my view. My criterion is not generalisable to the arguments of the Nazis, for instance, and minorities enjoy a full right to life under my view. Rather, it’s that I don’t see why an unborn after conception, something quite close to a separate ovum and a sperm cell, is entitled to the same rights as an adult woman (because it’s a woman’s rights that are usually pitted against an embryo’s). It depends a lot on relatively conventional interpretations of what life is or what a soul is. I also implored you to delve further into the justification of extending such rights to embryos, rather than using a genocide analogy.

    If an embryo or foetus has a physical defect that leads to miscarriage and waiting until birth is induced naturally creates lethal danger to the would-be mother and means the foetus would have a more developed nervous system and thus experience more pain, then abortion surely is a better alternative than waiting until a natural miscarriage or stillbirth occurs, the woman is at greater risk of dying and the unborn suffers more? My point really is, these cases can happen.

    Such an approach to miscarriages also leads to problem. Trying to figure out intentions can be messy and (wilful) mistakes can be made. It goes without saying that a miscarriage can be a horrible experience for women and being investigated for potential abortion would be highly distressing if abortion is considered murder. In the United States and some Latin American countries this can lead to the treatment of women who had the bad luck of having had a miscarriage as if they were criminals. That can be very traumatising. In other words, women can – and often do – suffer doubly. A pregnant woman was even arrested in some Midwestern state in 2014 after she fell, because she had told a nurse that she had thought about abortion. That’s was an invasion of privacy means for women – and getting a circus like that after every miscarriage is cruel to whoever suffer them and unsustainable for society.

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  27. matrimble says:

    Attaining personhood gradually sounds like a compromise agreement of a government blue-ribbon committee. As arbitrary as it is, you might as well extend the period of human formation to birth or eating solid foods or first steps or speaking first word, etc. Again I say if you cannot disprove conception as the start of human life, you cannot with conscience advocate the termination of the obvious lIfe that exists after conception. This may be furiously frustrating for someone that doesn’t believe human life exists at conception, but it is what it is. Until we know, we should be obliged to refrain from aborting.

    Now, I recognize that the scenarios you describe are real and I have no words to offer to lessen the sense of tragedy. But I ask you, are you willing to euthanize a breathing child in a re-written but similar scenario in terms of physical/mental disability of child and danger of physical complications for mother? If your answer to that question is yes, then I again ask you to re-examine your presumed differences from Nazis and their eugenist ilk. On the other hand, if your answer is no, then the obvious follow-up question is why, but that unfortunately brings us back to the question of sub-humanity (or I guess partial personhood to use your terminology) and once again we find ourselves in company with Nazis and eugenicists. This isn’t a coincidence or my imagination, it’s because the positions you advocate keep leading us back there.

    Like with the previous point and the painful, complex situations you describe regarding miscarriage, you seem to expect me to concede that because of the pain, trauma, and danger that woman are exposed to as a consequence of pregnancy and its potential complications, these should provide a basis for the justifiable murder of the innocent human beings in their womb. It doesn’t. I of course recognize there are tragic situations, but need I remind you that there are many more tragic situations played out everyday by born children and their parents and I would be aghast if you advocated for infanticide or exposure in those scenarios.

    If we are to keep our bearings in this crazy world, we must endeavor to stick to the charge to “Do No Harm”, knowing that the answers/treatment/support will likely not be simple, cheap, or painless, but that they must always advocate for and defend all life.

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  28. ignorantianescia says:

    Matrimble, this part about definitions is becoming repetitive. I’ve said multiple times that your ethical decision to put an embryo on par with an adult woman also needs justification; your coupling of the two is no less arbitrary than my alternative. If you are not going to move beyond biological definitions, we aren’t going to get anywhere in our discussion and I’d better leave this point be.

    No, my positions do not lead to a situation where a born child has to be euthanised to save its mother’s life. I’d be very interested if you can up with such an example, but in the scenarios that I tried to imagine less grave alternatives exist. But during a pregnancy, abortion is the only option that avoids actual childbirth, and with that the risks that brings (miscarriage isn’t a conscious option).

    The point was rather that criminalising abortion will lead to circumstances where miscarrying women are treated as criminal suspects – and that is a policy decision. It is a political decision that subjects a diverse group of women, some of whom may have been traumatised already by the miscarriage, to criminal investigation. It also leads to other situations where women are arrested for trivial reasons – such as accidentally falling from stairs, because some suspect she may have attempted to kill her unharmed child. That is what infringing on women’s freedom and privacy also means, but no sane person can maintain that miscarriage or having an accident should be criminalised. Miscarriage is after all a normal, common biological function the the female body – and some of the treatment of miscarrying women that already occurs in the U.S. is very unethical.

    So criminalisation of abortion has effects outside simply the availability of abortion and any ethical engagement should include these influences.

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