New Sherwood

Is conversation possible?

As mentioned in an earlier comment, I think we are at a point where the cultural divide is so great that conversation is no longer possible in many cases. The Other Side responds to our arguments with genuine abhorrence: to them, merely to utter something vaguely pro-life is to place oneself beyond the pale. They don’t care what our arguments are, their minds are made up, they simply don’t want to hear it. They react with revulsion rather than reason.

The reaction itself isn’t bad. Some arguments really are repulsive. Some ideas actually do merit derision, abhorrence, ridicule, and contempt. Some things are indeed “beyond the pale”. But here’s what’s interesting: we live in a divided culture where each camp finds the other revolting and intolerable. We are so far apart, for the most part, that we cannot stand one another’s company. We cannot have a simple conversation about fundamental values without going at each other’s throats or storming off in disgust. The abortion debate, for example, isn’t at all like slavery. The arguments for and against slavery were both rooted in a broadly Christian worldview with respect for the same authority and prescriptions. There was enough philosophical common ground to ultimately resolve the question. The same cannot be said for the hot topics of our time. There is no real debate or dialogue happening today: just shouting and emoting. The opposing camps simply do not have sufficient common ground for a rational discussion.

The situation is obviously unsustainable. In the long run it can only be resolved in one of three ways: conversion, political separation, or (heaven forbid) civil war. In the event that it is not resolved – a more likely scenario – the tension will result in persecution at the hands of those with the greatest power and the fewest scruples. Don’t look for scruples in the pro-choice crowd. I leave the details to the reader’s imagination.

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April 24, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

33 Comments »

  1. Conversion would resolve it of course, but so might the recovery of reason. That’s why both Pope Benedict and Pope JPII defended reason so vigourously, with JPII going so far as to write an encyclical on it.

    Because you can’t really have a conversation with someone who is irrational, which is why dialogue with pro-choicers and Islamicists is dubious.

    Amy Welborn recently wrote about that with respect to talk Jean Garton gave:

    The point of her talk was the moral and, to get down to it, intellectual dissonance that the abortion debate has planted in our psyches. When babies are babies when we want them and something else when we don’t, when things stop being simply what they are…you break, not only the baby, but the moral compass, shattering our ability to think rationally about anything.

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    Comment by TSO | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  2. Here from Cecily’s blog. I think one of the reasons we on the left find it so difficult to listen to you on the religious right is that you seem to hold us in such contempt, as with the comment: “Don’t look for scruples in the pro-choice crowd. I leave the details to the reader’s imagination.”

    I was a biblical literalist Evangelical anti-abortionist for over ten years, and I try very hard to remember how I thought then in order to see things from your point of view. I understand that you believe abortion to be an atrocity. And I agree that both sides are shouting past each other. I just don’t see how we can resolve it, without making more of an effort to respect each other even when we disagree.

    My very wise professor once said that abortion is a matter on which people of conscience can differ. Can you grant us that much? That we acknowledge the gravity of the issue, but come to different conclusions?

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    Comment by Rachel | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  3. I’m here from Cecily’s blog. I think that the reason you may find it difficult to speak with people who support choice is because we’re coming at it from completely different idealogical viewpoints. If you, as a Catholic, believe that sperm + egg = baby = human life, then you believe a totally different thing than I do.

    A commenter above stated that there’s an intellectual dishonesty because people who are pro-choice believe that a fetus is a “baby” only when it’s wanted. I can’t speak for everyone when I say this, but I definitely don’t think that way. Instead, I believe that up until 22 weeks (which is the “edge of viability” for all neonates at this point), a fetus is a fetus. It’s not a “baby” until it’s viable outside the womb.

    I mean, frankly, I would go further than that and say that it’s not a “baby” much longer than THAT, but that’s a personally held belief.

    Anyway, to my original point, I guess the thing is that you believe those two cells are a human because of religious teachings. First of all, I don’t share your religion, so trying to impose those values on me is inappropriate and rude. I’m sure you could say that you don’t share MY religious beliefs, so trying to impose MY religious beliefs upon you is also inappropriate and rude. And that’s why the First Amendment guarantees you the RIGHT to do as you wish regarding your beliefs, but not to foist them upon me — which is exactly what an abortion ban amounts to.

    I will say that if there is ever proof that a sperm + egg = human life, then I will support a complete ban on abortion. But until that time, how could I ever logically support it? A fetus is a parasite (in the scientific and non-negative sense of the word) until it is born.

    I hope this doesn’t come off as judgmental. I’m trying to explain where I am coming from; I think I understand where you’re coming from. One thing we both agree on is that until our definitions are the same, we can never have a “conversation” that will result in anything final. I do think, however, that attempting to impose a Christian viewpoint of “life” onto people who are not Christian is inappropriate. And, all honesty, I’m a lawyer and I think I do understand the meaning of the First Amendment.

    Anyway, this comment is very long. Sorry for hijacking your comments section.

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    Comment by Ariella | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  4. Hello Rachel, and welcome.

    “My very wise professor once said that abortion is a matter on which people of conscience can differ. Can you grant us that much?”

    Certainly I can grant that pro-choicers are people too, with consciences, and that many (or even most) of them are well-intended. But lots of mischief has been worked by well-intended people whose consciences are dull or malformed.

    When I say “don’t look for scruples in the pro-choice crowd”, I mean that pro-choice people are those who think it is OK to do bad things (abortion) to achieve a good end. Such people may not like abortion, but they think it is fine if a higher good results from it. There is no reason why they wouldn’t use the same kind of logic in dealing with their political adversaries.

    “That we acknowledge the gravity of the issue, but come to different conclusions?”

    Unfortunately I don’t think we can go this far. The gravity of abortion derives from the fact that an innocent human being is deliberately killed. To acknowledge this fact has certain implications. If one knows this to be true, and yet concludes that abortion is nevertheless OK sometimes, then we have a problem with “acknowledging the gravity of the issue”.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  5. Hello Ariella.

    “A commenter above stated that there’s an intellectual dishonesty because people who are pro-choice believe that a fetus is a ‘baby’ only when it’s wanted. I can’t speak for everyone when I say this, but I definitely don’t think that way.”

    Well, Cecily regularly speaks of her boys as babies, even though they weren’t viable. That seems to be the case with lots of pro-choicers. I wonder if she really believes that.

    “Instead, I believe that up until 22 weeks (which is the ‘edge of viability’ for all neonates at this point), a fetus is a fetus. It’s not a ‘baby’ until it’s viable outside the womb.”

    This is progress then! You are pro-life for all unborn babies older than 22 weeks! Correct?

    “I mean, frankly, I would go further than that and say that it’s not a ‘baby’ much longer than THAT, but that’s a personally held belief.”

    Now I’m confused. When, in your opinion, does a fetus become a baby?

    “First of all, I don’t share your religion, so trying to impose those values on me is inappropriate and rude.”

    No, it isn’t rude or inappropriate. What if my religion is right and that fetus really is a baby? A baby is a baby. Just because you don’t believe it is a baby doesn’t change anything.

    My religion also teaches that women are people too. If you don’t happen to share that belief (for example), your beliefs don’t change the fact that my religion is right, and you are wrong, and I am going to seek to impose legal protections for all women against your will.

    “I’m sure you could say that you don’t share MY religious beliefs, so trying to impose MY religious beliefs upon you is also inappropriate and rude.”

    No, I would not say that at all. If your religious beliefs are true, then you should impose them to the extent they benefit the common good. If they are false, you should discard them.

    “And that’s why the First Amendment guarantees you the RIGHT to do as you wish regarding your beliefs, but not to foist them upon me — which is exactly what an abortion ban amounts to.”

    What an abortion ban does is prevent you from foisting your belief that a fetus is not a child upon the child.

    “A fetus is a parasite (in the scientific and non-negative sense of the word) until it is born.”

    What is so magical about being born that makes it cease being a parasite? A baby that is born still depends upon its mother for everything. It is still parasitic. It is still a physical, emotional, and financial drain on the mother and therefore on society. I don’t know why you would oppose infanticide, or indeed the killing of children up to the point where they can take care of themselves.

    “I hope this doesn’t come off as judgmental.”

    Polite judgmentalism is allowed here. Sometimes impolite judgmentalism is allowed too. This is a tolerant blog. :-)

    “I’m trying to explain where I am coming from …”

    I don’t think you really know where you’re coming from, but I’ll keep listening.

    “Anyway, this comment is very long. Sorry for hijacking your comments section.”

    No apology necessary, Ariella. Your comments are welcome.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  6. Aristotelians bear the company of uncertainty calmly enough, of course: ‘error is a state more natural to the animals than the truth, and in which the mind spends the greater part of its time’ (De Anima, III.3. 427b). Aquinas’s paraphrase reads as follows: ‘For error seems to be more natural to animals, as they actually are, than knowledge. For experience proves that people easily deceive and delude themselves, whilst to come to true knowledge they are in need of being taught. Again, the mind is involved in error for a longer time than it spends in knowing truth, for we barely attain to knowledge of truth even after a long course of study.’ Charles DeKoninck, The Hollow Universe (Oxford University Press, 1960)

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    Comment by rjp | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  7. This is the closest semblance of an intellectual discussion of abortion that I’ve seen this week.

    Jeff, I agree with you that there is a big divide and it is almost impossible to cross it. Particularly on women’s blogs I’m sad to say. Strong liberal emotions in my experience will not tolerate calm, cogent logical argumentation. It doesn’t matter how compelling or persuasive it is, it will simply not be tolerated. That seems to be true in blogs, in the media, on the radio, television – its pervasive!

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    Comment by mydomesticchurch | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  8. Anyway, to my original point, I guess the thing is that you believe those two cells are a human because of religious teachings.

    Well to me those two cells are a human being because of biologic training. This is simply one phase of human existence and development much like infancy, toddlerhood, adolescence, and old age.

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    Comment by mydomesticchurch | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  9. What if there were no cost (financial or otherwise) associated with carrying a baby to term?

    The fact that there is a cost means there is a huge conflict of interest. That which is burdensome we will naturally devalue. Illegal immigrants are “migrant workers” to the businesses who need them. They are “illegal aliens” to those who see them as a burden on city services.

    For those who *want* to be pregnant, there’s no greater thrill than looking at their baby via sonogram.

    For those who *don’t* want to be, it’s a fetus or collection of cells.

    In practical terms, the difference between fetus and baby appears to be whether the child is wanted.

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    Comment by TSO | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  10. Oh well. I appreciate that you tried to answer my questions. I am sorry you can’t respect my intelligence or my integrity, simply because I have reached conclusions that differ from yours.

    I will say this: I think that in acknowledging that abortion is a matter in which people of conscience can differ, I have become more sensitive to the complexity of these kinds of moral quandaries, and less likely to write off my political opponents with absolutist logic. It’s precisely because I do see you as an informed, conscientious person that I will not resort to force to gain my point. You have nothing to fear from me except more free speech :)

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    Comment by Rachel | April 25, 2007 | Reply

  11. What is Cecily’s blog?

    I’m curious, because I have a large number of hits from a Facebook account, and I was curious if maybe Mr. Culbreath and I were linked in this way.

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    Comment by M.Z. Forrest | April 25, 2007 | Reply

  12. “Oh well. I appreciate that you tried to answer my questions. I am sorry you can’t respect my intelligence or my integrity, simply because I have reached conclusions that differ from yours.”

    Rachel, while I can’t speak for Mr. Culbreath, I can say that I am just as much a pro-lifer as anyone, and that I do not disrespect your integrity and intelligence because of your conclusions about abortion. I do believe your conclusions to be incorrect, however. The two are not the same. For instance, I certainly respect the intelligence and integrity of St. Augustine of Hippo, though I believe he was wrong about double predestination. People who are wrong have the right to their opinions, but if I believe that I am right I will work to get laws which I believe promote the common good passed.

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    Comment by Daniel A. | April 25, 2007 | Reply

  13. “I am sorry you can’t respect my intelligence or my integrity, simply because I have reached conclusions that differ from yours.”

    Rachel, I don’t know anything about your intelligence or integrity. What I said is that one side “acknowledges the gravity of the issue” and the other does not. What I do know is that you approve of abortion. That may be a character problem rather than an intelligence problem.

    “It’s precisely because I do see you as an informed, conscientious person that I will not resort to force to gain my point.”

    For that I’ll sleep much better tonight. :-)

    “You have nothing to fear from me except more free speech.”

    Do unborn children have anything to fear from you? They’re not too concerned about free speech.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 25, 2007 | Reply

  14. M.Z. Forrest: Cecily’s blog is here. I don’t know of any connection other than my posting some comments there.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 25, 2007 | Reply

  15. Daniel A: You can speak for me anytime. I would only add that, although being wrong doesn’t necessarily imply culpability, in the case of abortion being wrong is not generally without culpability. In theory I suppose it is possible to be pro-choice from invincible ignorance, but in practice I doubt it happens much.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 25, 2007 | Reply

  16. I’ve been following this on other blogs, and am now cautiously stepping into the discussion, because you sound very reasoned (and reasonable) here. In response to your comment on the “parasite” argument, I think it’s not disputed that, pre-viability, a fetus requires the mother’s body to sustain its life. Up till that point, it seems the law recognises that the mother’s rights outweigh that of the child, and, in the same way that it would be an infringement of an individual’s rights to force him/her by law to engage in, say, a life-saving organ donation (or even blood or sperm donation which would not put the donor’s life at risk), there would be a clear difficulty in having legislation which effectively forces mothers to give their bodies (even temporarily) as fetal life support.

    Post viability, as fetuses can survive outside the womb and be born and could (at least theoretically anyway) be “born”, the lawmakers can get away from the “parasite” scenario with its attendant difficulties. In a comment on another blog, you said that with advances in technology, the age of viability may be reduced to zero in 20 years’ time and the commentator would then be pro-life, and I would agree with that: to the extent that there would no longer be a rational basis, rooted in the rights of the individual, for permitting abortion – since a fetus would no longer “only” be a parasite but could survive gestating in an artificial womb, or other science fiction apparatus of your choice.

    Hope that makes sense; it’s the only way I’ve managed to make sense of what I’ve found to be a deeply difficult and troubling issue.

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    Comment by Jehane | April 25, 2007 | Reply

  17. Parasites?
    A parasite is a species that survives by nourishing itself by consuming, but not killing, another species.

    I believe the correct term for this phenomenon you are describing would be “offspring” and “mother”.
    I don’t mean to sound snippy, but I think this falls into the category of “something so silly that only an academic could believe it”.
    For me, the debate on abortion ended when my first child learned to read. He spied a newpaper article on abortion and asked what the term meant. After an internal debate about how honest I should be I answered “sometimes a woman is pregnant, but doesn’t want to be, so she goes to the doctor and he will kill the baby”.
    When he laughed, I admonished him, “that is not funny at all!” Only then did he realize that I was not joking.
    Do you think that 6 year old child with a crystal clear sense of right and wrong would be persuaded if I explained to him that his pregnant mom in the next room was really the host for a parasite who we would later name Clare Francis? Could I credibly tell him that it is acceptable for women to kill their unborn children, but it still makes sense that we pray for the health of the parasite in mom’s tummy?
    I humbly submit to you that if you have to turn such mental contortions to convince yourself that you were once a parasite in order to justify abortion, then perhaps you need to start all over again with your analysis of the situation. We can debate all day about how to support pregnant moms, prevent unwanted pregnancies, and even whether and whom to prosecute in cases of abortion, but can anyone really honestly believe that abortion is no different than picking a tick out of one’s hair after a walk in the woods?

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    Comment by Marc | April 26, 2007 | Reply

  18. Jehane wrote:

    “In a comment on another blog, you said that with advances in technology, the age of viability may be reduced to zero in 20 years’ time and the commentator would then be pro-life, and I would agree with that: to the extent that there would no longer be a rational basis, rooted in the rights of the individual, for permitting abortion – since a fetus would no longer ‘only’ be a parasite but could survive gestating in an artificial womb, or other science fiction apparatus of your choice.”

    I hope you can see the problem inherent in this position. An 18 week old fetus (let’s say) will not be ontologically different in 20 years than it is today. It is the same being, no matter what technology is available.

    That is why the viability argument really amounts to a meaningless diversion. In any particular case the viability of a fetus varies according to its own condition, the health of the mother, the level of technology available, and the ability to pay for it. Are you really prepared to argue that legal protection for human life ought to depend upon such things? I didn’t think so.

    The point is that the essence of the being itself does not change with viability. The fetus is either human, or it isn’t. As a civilization we protect human life because it is human, not because the circumstances necessary to preserve human life are inconvenient or burdensome.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 26, 2007 | Reply

  19. I once heard it said that for many women, the ‘choice’ to abort was the equivalent of a trapped animal chewing off its leg to survive.
    I talk to women about their reproductive systems day in and day out. It is what I do for a living.
    I have noticed that women can be either so defensive about past choices (on both sides, to abort or to carry) that they can not see any logic – only emotion. However, I have only rarely heard a woman say that she wishes that she’d chosen an abortion – and I have repeatedly heard women say that they wish that they had chosen (or been able to choose) to carry to term. I actually had one young woman tell me that she wished that there had been protesters at the abortion place the day she went in, so that she would have had an excuse to cancel her abortion.
    I beg the ‘pro-choice’ faction to allow for true informed consent – and this includes parental notification for minors, and possibly a waiting period. Currently abortion is the least regulated surgical procedure in this country – surely protection of women’s health should require at a minimum the same standards of hygeine and regulation that are demanded of a tattoo parlor or body piercing shop!

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    Comment by alicia | April 26, 2007 | Reply

  20. “…there would no longer be a rational basis, rooted in the rights of the individual, for permitting abortion – since a fetus would no longer ‘only’ be a parasite….” -Jehane

    “I hope you can see the problem inherent in this position. An 18 week old fetus (let’s say) will not be ontologically different in 20 years than it is today. It is the same being, no matter what technology is available.” -Jeff Culbreath

    I think this is a part of the fundamental difference that makes conversation between the two sides, if not impossible, at least difficult. The pro-choicer usually begins from an ideology of “abortion rights”, and they use scientific facts to back it up (after all, the fetus is fully dependent on the mother, the word “parasite” not being particularly helpful here.) The pro-lifer, by contrast, usually starts with something very different: a philosophy. When the pro-choicer and pro-lifer in a debate are merely discussing science, it is just a shouting match of “HUMAN DNA!” “NO, PARASITE” “NO, UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL” and so on. Not to say that science isn’t useful, and I would say that the facts support Life. However, reliance on science alone is not sufficient for either side.

    A pro-lifer asks how the fetus will be ontologically different at a different time in the pregnancy. A pro-choicer either doesn’t care about that question, or finds it interesting but not as important as other concerns. The pro-lifer is usally (in my experience) a moral absolutist, who wishes the pro-choicer to explain how an evil act can ever be right. The pro-choicer, by contrast, tends to want the pro-lifer to answer several horror stories about what would happen if abortion were made illegal. I have seen and participated in debates that have gone directly thus, and I have come to believe that the two sides are usually, though not always, coming from entirely different worldviews, and usually come away from debates thinking the people on the other side are cruel, ignorant, and dumb.

    None of this takes away from the fact that the pro-choicers are wrong, but I tend to think that a pro-lifer can better understand them than they tend to understand us…perhaps I’ll talk about that on my blog sometime.

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    Comment by Daniel A. | April 26, 2007 | Reply

  21. I suppose Daniel is right that reliance on science is not sufficient for either side, I think it is important to be accurate and honest about it. The question “when does a human life begin” is not normally a religious question. It certainly is not a religious question if we are dealing with the Roman Catholic religion. The Catholic Church has many dogmas in regards to faith and morals, but it leaves scientific questions to the scientists. The question of when a life begins is a biological question.

    Questions such as “when is killing a living human being morally justifiable” or “is a very early (pre-implantation, say) abortion morally justifiable apart from when exactly life begins” are ethical, and therefore religious questions.

    Of course there may be other religions, or non-catholic Christian sects, that do make when life begins a religious question, much as fundamentalism makes six-day literalist creationism a religious question, but if Aiella belongs to such a religion and this religion tells her that “pre-viable” human fetuses are not alive or not human, she belongs to a religion that is teaching something absurd, from the point of view of science. The same can be said of Aiella’s strange and very unscientific “parasite” argument.

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    Comment by Steve Polson | April 27, 2007 | Reply

  22. Thank you for engaging me in civil conversation. I hope that my use of “parasite” was not unduly inflaming, as I picked it up from another commentator upthread and hoped to use it as shorthand for the intimate connection that pregnancy requires of mother and fetus. Jeff, you said there would be little ontological difference between an 18 week fetus now and one in 20 years’ time, and I would agree – but then, I believe life begins in the womb, and that abortion is (avoiding overly emotive language) “Wrong”, save for instances concerning the health of the mother and defects incompatible with life.

    What I was trying to say was something a little different: that I understand the basis for a law that permits pre-viability abortion, as a (perhaps overly academic/contortionistic) attempt to uphold (or balance) the rights of the woman who does not believe life begins in the womb, and would have reason to be concerned that an imposition, of what she would see as religious beliefs, would (by virtue of the pre-viability “parasite” effect) infringe her rights over her body. (I should explain I come from a multi-cultural Asian country where less than 20% of the population is Christian, so I live with a *complete* separation of church and state; my church is discouraged from commenting on state laws, and in certain cases, required not to comment thereon.)

    Put another way: the religious harmony laws of my jurisdiction prevent me from forcibly converting a non-Christian, even though I firmly believe in a saving knowledge of Christ. I would hope I lived my faith enough to donate an organ to a neighbour in need, but the law does not require that people do so, as that would infringe their rights over their bodies.

    In the same way, I can see the basis for a law which would permit pre-viability abortion: I mean, I think most people would agree that the law should preserve all human life, but subject to two caveats/limitations: (1) such preservation should stop short of forced organ/blood donation from healthy individuals, and (2) some agreed basis for what constitutes human life. Many women do not believe that a fetus *is* a human life, and would consider a law that would preserve the (pre-viability) fetus to be one which unacceptably imposes on them a belief which they don’t share. When you bring the two considerations together, that which might seem merely inconvenient or burdensome to those of us who believe that any sacrifice would be preferable to murdering another, might to non-believers amount to forcing unwilling women to (1) donate/sacrifice their bodies and uteruses intimately (albeit temporarily) (2) in respect of something they may believe to be a bunch of cells, a parasite without a soul, etc. (I can only see this justification applying until the age of viability, though.)

    Put yet another way – I believe the following matters to be Wrong (sorry, very politically incorrect list): adultery, divorce (save for instances of extreme depravity), homosexuality, the death penalty. Yet I understand why, for most part, these are not illegal, and why people who don’t share my beliefs might consider it an unacceptable imposition of those beliefs on them.

    Yet another – contraception. My church and denomination has, by and large, no issues with contraception, and, while I believe many orthodox Catholics (please correct me if I’m in error) would support it being made illegal, I would not.

    As you probably can tell, I struggle with this issue, as I struggle with the issue of civil unions, and it’s hard for me to have this debate with others (not here, obviously) who are shouting and emotional, and whom I have no desire to cause further distress. I deeply grieve for fetal lives lost (and you would have thought, even if pro-abortion individuals aren’t sure whether life begins in the womb, they would give the fetus the benefit of the doubt, per Pascal’s Wager). But in this fallen world, I can understand why legal standards do, and arguably, must, conform to the lowest common denominator – or else we’re back to forced conversions and A Handmaid’s Tale.

    I’d love to be convinced otherwise, of course (hence the contortionistic science fiction artificial womb scenario somewhat flippantly posited by me earlier).

    Thank you for letting me voice this. I wish all of you peace.

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    Comment by Jehane | April 27, 2007 | Reply

  23. I think that at least part of the problem is that there really can be very little crossover between the two sides. On the one hand, I find it reprehensible that a legislator would tell me what medical prcedures I can and cannot have done. Now, to be fair, I have a fairly constitutionalist view of government, and I don’t think the federal government belongs in these sorts of small scale things (not small scale in terms of implication, but small scale in terms of individual effect on the country as a whole. It’s simply not the province of the federal government). Even on a local level, I feel like medical decisions should be made between individuals and their doctors.
    That said, the problem is that for abortion to be legal AT ALL, in any circumstance, you have to legally classify a fetus as “not a person”. Otherwise, abortion legally is murder. The minute that legally a fetus is not a baby, then creating new stem cell lines to kill them off is legal, even though you are making embryos that could well survive. Then you legally get into a class of “not-babies” created for research, and that opens the door to a whole host of unsavory practices. While I believe that women should not be told by the government what to do with their bodies, while I belive that saving the life of the mother is important, and that allowing her to die to save a badly damaged fetus is wrong; I find myself in a quandary, because making abortion legal in any way is a “gateway drug” of sorts. So much of the abortion debate focuses just on the fetuses being aborted. When you think of it as just a “woman’s right to choose” issue, it can be easy to be pro-choice. The argument focuses on this procedure, or that procedure, and ignores the overarching issue. When you make a fertilized egg a “not-person” for all legal purposes, you remove basic rights and protections, creating a new legal class that can be killed, dismembered in womb, cut apart for stem cells, grown in a petri dish to harvest for organs, and so forth. Similarly, if abortion is legal, then laws allowing someone to be charged with assault AND murder for hitting a pregnant woman and killing the baby are unconstitutional. You allow the government to define what is and isn’t a person. In that way alone, it is similar to the slavery debate. The issue was whether or not slaves were “people”, and the conclusion was that allowing government to decide a persons’ humanity based on expediency (in that case, for the slaveholders who made their money from slave work, and in this case, for women and biotech) was unconscionable. The biotech research firms have lobbyists with big money pushing pro-CHOICE agendas, because it allows them to profit from what would otherwise be considered felony child abuse and murder.Even in cases of conjoined LIVE twins, doctors have to sometimes, after trying everything to save both, make choices as to which one to save. Despite the fact that their actions led to the death of a person, they don’t get charged with murder, or even malpractice, as long as they tried their best to save both. I find it highly unlikely that they will be punised any more harshly for making similar decisions when the two lives at stake are mother and child, despite any pushback of abortion law.
    I think that this is a debate where most REASONING people find themselves somewhat torn. Even the most vocal pro-choice individual will have to admit that it is a dangerous precedent to classify ANY human life as “not-people”. Even the most rabid pro-life individual will admit that it is not always medically possible to save both mother and child, and that if the mother wishes to be the one saved, that sometimes has to happen (this could be the point where I go on about single moms with children who need them, and so forth, but lets leave the emotion out, ok?). The biggest issue here, with the farthest reaching implications, is that allowing government to classify “people” and “not people” is a lot more dangerous to continued freedom than allowing it to regulate reproductive rights.

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    Comment by Teresa | April 28, 2007 | Reply

  24. Teresa: I hear you and your many good points, and actually think your post does go some way to finding some common ground, or at least basis for conversation, between both sides. But then the question becomes, if the government (or legislature, if we’re considering the separation of powers) isn’t in the right position to classify “people” and “not people” for purposes of legality, then who is? The courts arguably are less prone to lobbying by deep pockets lobby groups, but anyway, they do have the ultimate say (and seem to have, via Roe, more or less sanctioned the pre-life definition of “people”).

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    Comment by Jehane | April 28, 2007 | Reply

  25. Ack: I meant, the “pre-*viability*” definition of “people”. Sorry.

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    Comment by Jehane | April 28, 2007 | Reply

  26. Jehane- I hear what you’re saying about who gets to classify what is and isn’t a person. That’s just the problem. In my opinion, sperm+egg equals at least *possible* person, and so you can’t say “it’s ok to abort this embryo”, or “it’s ok to create this embryo in a lab to destroy it for cells” without ALSO having to say “it’s ok to hurt this woman and kill the 8 month old fetus she carries” and “it’s ok to make a fetus in the lab so we can harvest its organs”. You have to legally classify every embryo as a person, to protect any unborn child. If one is legal, sadly, they all have to be legal. While I am against allowing government to regulate the doctor/patient relationship, and against allowing them to regulate what goes on in my body, I feel like there is NO WAY to make abortion any kind of legal without opening the door to some egregious offenses against life.
    I don’t even see the need to drag G-d into this. The minute you do, people on both sides get up in arms, and since there are so many opinions on the identity and appropriate worshiping practices of deity, it immediately destroys reasoned debate, sadly. The issue has very little to do with religion, and a great deal to do with the morality of life itself. Whether or not you believe that life begins at conception, by allowing abortion to be legal, and thus, denying the *personhood* of the fetus, you destroy the constitutional basis for anything that will protect unborn life, even WANTED unborn life. You can’t define whether or not it counts as a baby merely on the basis of whether or not it is wanted.
    I don’t think anyone on either side of the debate is saying “abortion should be used as birth control” or “a woman should have to die so her 6 month old fetus has a chance at life”. I have spent most of my life as a RADICALLY pro-choice woman, even after personally choosing to go forward with a pregnancy that my doctor begged me to terminate, one that almost killed me. I would not make anyone else make my choice, but I couldn’t deny my son the chance to live, even though it meant that my daughter had to spend a few months in daycare since Mommy was on bedrest. I have a wonderful, handsome, gifted three year old son to show for it, and I am thankful every day that I ignored my doctor, and switched doctors when he wouldn’t leave me alone about terminating. I think that the other problem is that a LOT of doctors are very quick to encourage termination if there is ANY problem, and I don’t think they would be so quick if they had to try to save both or be charged with murder. Even after that, I still remained pro-choice, and I was as mad as anyone when I heard about the PBA ban. I was, however,VERY opposed to human cloning, biotech that involves killing embryos for research, etc etc. I realized that while conceivably you can draw a moral line between the two things, you can’t draw a legal one. If you allow killing embryos for abortion purposes, you have to allow killing embryos, period. If killing them isn’t murder, then it isn’t murder, no matter who does it or why. You have to allow ALL embryos to be people, and thus as protected as other people, or you have to deny personhood to ALL of them.

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    Comment by Teresa | April 30, 2007 | Reply

  27. Well said, Teresa, and thanks for saying it here!

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 30, 2007 | Reply

  28. Food for thought, Teresa; thanks for framing this in a non-deity-centric way that defuses the religious persecution element concern. Blessings on you and your son.

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    Comment by Jehane | April 30, 2007 | Reply

  29. Steve Polson wrote that, for Catholics, the question of when life begins is a biological/scientific question, not a religious question.

    That’s not my understanding. The Catholic deposit of Faith, beginning with Sacred Scripture and endin with the latest Catechism, teaches that human life begins at conception. Science and biology uphold the same truth, of course, but that’s a bonus.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | May 1, 2007 | Reply

  30. Jeff,

    If by “conception” you simply mean “when the baby’s life begins” what you are saying is trivial and a truism. Saying murder is wrong is logically the same thing as saying murder is wrong “from conception.”

    However, the question of when precisely conception occurs is a scientific question. The Catholic Church does not and cannot teach as religious doctrine the biological facts of what happens in the womb and when it happens since that is essentially a biological question, a question for science. At the time of the Apostles and for many centuries afterwards it was a question that was understood by natural philosophy. Of course the Church has always taught that abortion is always a grave sin apart from the question of when life begins. (The Didache condemns it for example).

    For the most part, people who say it is a religious question are pro-choicers who are trying to keep it legal with the false argument “you are imposing your religion on others.” What we are imposing is the rights of human beings and the modern bioligical fact that the life of a child as an individual distinct from its parents begins at fertilization.

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    Comment by Steve Polson | May 4, 2007 | Reply

  31. For example, medieval science at times taught that conception (the beginning of the baby’s life) occured weeks after the sexual act. Many modern pro-choicers believe that conception occurs at “viability” and though they cannot come up with a cogent biological definition of “viability” they say it is roughly in the middle of the pregnancy or towards the end of the second trimester.

    Of course scientifically this is absurd but it would not necessarily be absurd in the absence of what science has taught us about the early stages of human life.

    The Catholic Church never taught as dogma that a life begins X number of days or weeks after the sexual act that produces that conception. Surely you can see that the Church could not teach such a thing as a religous dogma. What the Catholic Church does teach (as part of its moral teachings) is that abortion is always a grave sin and that after conception occurs (the unborn baby’s life begins) it is also murder in the most literal sense of the term. The new catechism is a more specific than that but that is because it was written in the light of modern scientific knowledge.

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    Comment by Steve Polson | May 4, 2007 | Reply

  32. Sorry, I meant “At the time of the Apostles and for many centuries afterwards it was a question that was NOT understood by natural philosophy.”

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    Comment by Steve Polson | May 4, 2007 | Reply

  33. Steve Polson wrote:

    “However, the question of when precisely conception occurs is a scientific question. The Catholic Church does not and cannot teach as religious doctrine the biological facts of what happens in the womb and when it happens since that is essentially a biological question, a question for science.”

    OK, but maybe we need to hash this out a little more. I’ll take your point that the question of when precisely conception occurs is scientific and not religious. I don’t believe I said anything to the contrary. However, the real issue is not when conception occurs, but when personhood occurs: that is a religious and philosophical question. Whether personhood begins at conception, or at “ensoulment” as St. Thomas mused, or at birth, or at the age of reason, is not something the Church has left up to science. The Church – not science – has determined that personhood begins at conception, whenever that takes place.

    I understand why you might want to take one argument away from the pro-aborts by taking religion out of it, but I don’t see how that is possible or even desireable.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | May 5, 2007 | Reply


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