Friday, April 27, 2007

Is Abortion Strictly A Religious Debate?

I’ll dig up the quote later, but I could swear that in one of the Supreme Court decisions there was language that said that part of the question about abortion is religious in nature, which is where life begins.

But it’s not really “life” so much as “where does the soul begin?” I think some pro-choice speakers have backed themselves into a rhetorical corner when they can’t admit that conception or fetuses represent the beginning of life. I’ll agree they do represent some kind of beginning. But its only the beginning step which shouldn't be conflated with all the steps that have to come afterwards to realize its full potential.

I think the pro-choice line is that conception and pregnancy represent potential life, which is close to how I put it. Meaning that the title of life is withheld until the promise has been fulfilled by a live birth. Because when the sperm hits the egg that doesn’t mean it automatically becomes a baby let alone even a fetus (with or without abortion being the intercedent). For many people the egg has to implant in the uterine wall to really even be called conception. It’s almost the difference between having a seed and planting a seed in fertile ground. All the right ingredients have to be in place before a plant will even sprout.

But if conception and pregnancy do represent life, or potential life, what they don’t easily show is where the threshold of soul possession begins. You can substitute the blander term of "personhood" for the loaded term of "soul." But really soul is a much more apt term to describe the difference between an individual and a non-individual. Or the even more poetic term of “spark of life.”

When do you have a soul and when do you not? Do you have a soul when you are still a zygote? Do you have a soul when you are still in utero? We acknowledge that people who are brain-dead can have their life-support machines turned off by family members. What is a person who is brain-dead? Where has their soul gone? Where will their soul go when you turn off the machine?

So how come no one asks where the souls of aborted fetuses go? I’m surprised neither the pro-choice nor the anti-choice side ever even comes close to discussing this. Maybe it’s because it’s like discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Everyone’s answer is going to be individual in nature with no one clear cut answer. (Hah! Unlike everything else in the abortion debate…)

But here’s my question. Most anti-abortion activists, those who actually get involved in the issue, tend to be fairly religious. I haven’t yet met or heard of an atheist anti-abortion activist. Most, although clearly not all, religious anti-abortion types think a) there’s a heaven and b) children and babies go to heaven. Yes I know, there’s a whole big debate in Catholicism about baptism and babies…but since I’m not an expert in that I’ll refrain from mucking around in that area, but suffice to say it’s not uncommon to hear amongst Protestants that babies go to heaven.

So if the aborted babies’ souls go directly to heaven and do not pass Go (ie live life) is that any different than not being born at all? What’s the difference between the unborn and the pre-born aborted? Do the pre-born aborted get another shot at life? If they do, then what is the problem with abortion in terms of unrealized life? Wouldn’t they just get another go around later? I’m a Buddhist and that’s what I think happens to the soul. If a fetus is aborted the soul neither goes to heaven or hell. That soul will just be born to someone else and the mother’s life path will be the only one effected by her choices. It’s not a person so much as it was a potential person and now that potential will simply go somewhere else.

I guess if you don’t believe the pre-born aborted get another chance at life…well considering life is pain and then you die, I’d much rather go directly to heaven than live life. Then again this gets into a whole weird debate about what is the purpose of life? If its just “to earn the right to get to heaven,” but babies and children get to go directly…well better to die young then, right?

Maybe precisely because this is a religious debate is why no one ever brings up the issue of where the fetuses’ souls go. But it seems to me that so much of the language of anti-abortion rhetoric is steeped in religious overtones that anti-abortion groups should have an answer to this question. Where to the unborn souls go? I know what my answer to that question which informs my beliefs on this issue. How does their answer to the question inform theirs?


Anonymous said...

Upfront: I am a Catholic. There is a strong Catholic position on where the souls of the unborn go, as well as where the souls of the pre-baptized go. To go into that would mean going into Catholic teaching, and that doesn't seem to be the crux of your question.

To answer yours, I will ask you a question: If you do not know when a person has a soul, who are you (rather who is anyone) to play God? If someone can demonstrate to me that life or personhood begins at some specific point, then I would say abortion before that point is fine. However, there is no way to know, is there? A zygote has all the necessary DNA to be a human--if it is not a human, if it does not have a soul, when does it? Certainly, it seems arbitrary to say it is when the "person" makes his or her way through the birth canal. Is it 10 minutes before that? 10 days? 3 or 6 months? If you think it is when the baby is viable, then infanticide should be legal as well, since an infant can no more take care of itself than a zygote.

Your statement that you would rather go right to heaven than experience life assumes the role of God--or of whatever Being you believe in. I'm not an expert in Buddhism, but I know it believes life begins at conception. I would think Buddhism would agree with Christianity on this point--it is beyond the right of a human being to take a life because that is the role of the Higher Power. Even if you believe the soul of a fetus goes right to heaven, sending that fetus to heaven is no more right that if I walked up and shot the most decent philanthropic person in the world. Who are we to make that call? Who are we to play God?

By the way, I think I could go on for pages and pages explaining why abortion is wrong even if you are an atheist.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to sign off on the last post--Jim in Cleveland

NewsCat said...

I figured someone would ask "well just because someone might go to heaven doesn't give you the right to shoot them." True. But the person doing the shooting is the only one who is going to suffer the karmic consequences. I don't have a right to take your life away, but if I did, I am the only one who is sinning. Not you. This path (to have an abortion) might be a karmic choice I have to make. Maybe I am stopping the baby's life path, but again...what is that? Where do they go if they have not yet been?

Basically in terms of an abortion, its not really a life yet lived. It neither experiences anything nor lives. It is less than a five-year-old. Less than a one-month old. It is not yet separate from its parent. It is a symbiote. It cannot survive without the parent. And not just any parent, it needs the one who's body is attached to it. (unlike an infant, which does not require a specific person to keep it alive).

Murder and killing happens all the time in the world. We try to stop it but ultimately there's an acknowledgement that we can't ever stop all murders. I guess I was thinking that basically that while you might believe abortion is a sin, unless you have an abortion, isn't it *not* your sin to fix? Like using birth control or pre-martial sex.

Anonymous said...

Here are some things that I feel are never brought to the abortion debate. First, that the woman’s body ends many pregnancies without any outside help. It can be called a miscarriage or spontaneous abortion, from time of conception up to 20 weeks. It is estimated that “up to 50% of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant.”

Does this mean that the termination of a pregnancy is a completely natural function? Does this mean that the female body that was designed by God, (or evolved) with the ability to know when and how to end a pregnancy? Does this mean that the medical field is only now catching up and being able to do electively what the female body can do naturally?

Second, that being pregnant is dangerous, even in America. When a woman becomes pregnant, her chance of death increases. There is eclampsia, eptopic pregnancy, hemorrhage, pregnancy-induced hypertension, infection, pulmonary embolism, thromboembolism, retained placenta…. pregnancy is about nine times as likely to kill a woman than abortion is.

“For most women, fertility regulation by contraception, sterilization, or legal abortion is substantially safer than childbirth.” (AM J OBSTET GYNECOL 1994;170:1489-94.)

“some complications that can occur during pregnancy cannot be prevented”

Anonymous said...
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