My dearest friends:
As many of you may have noticed, I have undergone an obvious transition from being neutral on the issue of abortion to being actively involved against it. I will attempt to explain and defend that transition in hopes that you might understand why I cannot be silent, that you would challenge anything incorrect, and in doing so or in reading this gain something yourself.
I have been talking with many of you, my friends, about this subject. Some willingly engaged in thoughtful, courteous, and intelligent dialogue, even if diametrically opposed to my current position. I want to thank those of you for that. Some took a very well meaning shot at trying to “talk some sense into” me, but were not really interested in hearing much of what I had to say. I still very sincerely appreciate that because it shows a level of caring enough about me to want to keep me on the same “side” with you, rather than distancing yourself from me for “joining a side” that you feel you cannot associate with. I wish that were not the case and I hope that those of you who read this will reconsider dialogue again.
- The reason for such a drastic change is largely twofold:
- I began studying Anatomy & Physiology in pursuit of an RN/Bio Sciences degree.
- I became a father.
Both of these things occured around the same time about one year ago. I was taking Biology and Developmental Psychology while my wife was in her 2nd trimester. It was during this time that I began to learn about how the Human Person develops. Parenting books encouraged such things as talking to your baby, playing music for your baby, or even shining lights to encourage him or her to respond (Fetal Development).
Though some studies have empirically verified that babies respond to outside sounds by anywhere from 20-24 weeks, the little one we temporarily called “Oswaldo” was responding to music and my voice by week 19 or 20, moving to get his head into better position to hear with his newly developed ears. I looked forward to every night that mom and baby would come home and I loved talking to him and sharing music with him. By 24 weeks he showed a clear preference for Bach over Mozart, for Ray LaMontagne over the Ramones…basically his mom’s genes were dominant at this time!
By 24 weeks, when someone other than my wife or I put a hand on her belly, “Oswaldo” would stop moving. Only if I spoke would he begin moving again. It took us a while to figure this out, partly because we weren’t expecting it!
The ultrasounds were surprisingly emotional moments for me. Long before I could feel him move, of course, his mom could – but I had to depend on her descriptions to know what was going on. Seing him move (especially trying to get away from the probe!) was very intense the first time. It was a way that I could know he was there, and even though he couldn’t see me, I felt far more connected to him. As we developed our birth plan, I discovered that some fathers specifically asked that their voice be the first one that baby hears. I liked that idea and we went with it. We had already chosen his first name, though we were undecided on the middle, but kept calling him “Oswaldo” because we wanted to introduce him once he arrived.
As he developed, I kept talking. Pretty soon he began to respond back! He would actually kick my hand directly or wiggle when I talked to him. I remember particularly the first night he got the hiccups. It took us a while to figure out what was going on, but it was definitely hiccups. Strangely enough, they would come on whenever we had been playing for more than a few minutes, or right after mom got home from work. After he was born it was easier to figure out: he gets hiccups when he gets excited!
For my wife’s sake and for expediency, I’m going to skip most of the details of his birth save one that surprised and touched me the most. When he finally arrived, everyone did go quiet in accordance with our request. The only noises for a few seconds were the frantic shuffling of nurses, the blip of the heart monitor, and my son clearing his lungs with that typical, squeaky newborn cry. In that moment of silence, I just watched him. Finally, I said, “I’m so glad to meet you. I’ve been waiting for you.”
And with that his crying stopped.
Any lingering doubts I had of his personhood all those months before vanished in that moment. He knew me. He recognized me and found comfort in my voice. I realized that I really did know him, had been getting to know him for months.
All that practice taking pictures of myself paid off!Eventually the nurses had to “process” him. Give him his K-shot, take vitals, and what not. As they took him away he began to cry again. I looked up from holding my wife’s hand and said,”Don’t worry. I’m right here, bud.” Again, his cries went silent. I went over to him and put my hand toward him. He immediately grabbed hold and it was then that I took one of my favorite pictures. I kept talking quietly to him while the nurse came over and gave him his shot of vitamin K (so that his blood would be able to clot for all the pokes they would give him later), and he barely squeaked. She said, “I’ve never seen a baby take that so well.” Any time they would take him away, the crying would begin again. As I spoke, he settled, taking comfort in the voice he had come to know and recognize.
I share the emotional side with you because you can easily discover the biological facts for yourself. Fetal development has not only been well documented for decades, our knowledge of the human person has deepened with our better understanding of genetics.
From the moment of conception, your unique genetic code stamps out who you are. Not who you will become – but who you are. Everything that you are now started in that single moment when your Father and Mother “became one flesh” That one flesh is you. Every cell in that giant clump you call your body has the same DeoxyriboNucleic Acid sequence as that one cell that was your beginning.
Realizing all of this forces me to take action or to deny my conscience.
I cannot advocate or tolerate the direct, intentional taking of innocent human life for any reason, and I think most of you would agree with that statement, at least.
Because I realize that our Personhood and our Humanity are inextricably linked, I cannot, in good conscience, remain silent while our nation kills over 1 million of its most vulnerable human persons each year.
Most (save Peter Singer) would not accept the killing of a toddler as a parent’s perogative. Why do we treat those human beings not yet born differently? I would like to use the following quadrilema posed by J. Budziszewski in Revenge of Conscience. If we agree that killing of defenseless innocents is wrong (and if we don’t then I shan’t be turning my back to you!), we are left with only four justifications to embrace Abortion. Either:
We must deny that the act is deliberate
We must deny that the act kills
We must deny that the victims are human
Or, We must deny that wrong must not be done
- The last one is easy to tackle first because it is literally nonsense
Rephrased it sounds like, “What is wrong must be, or may be done” which is what we would usually call sociopathic disorder.
- The first option isn’t very handy, either.
Even though none of my friends who have shared their abortion experiences with me have said they felt like they had any support or ability to mother their child, it was, as pro-aborts are fond of pointing out, still the result of their deliberate Choice.
Fathers (especially and particularly) those who coerce a woman (example here and here) to have an abortion are just as responsible. Those who remain silent about abortion and fail to offer material assistance to those struggling with pregnancies also share a measure of responsibility. Nonetheless, there really are exeedingly few “accidental” abortions, and those that do occur do not justify making the deliberate ones legal.
The second option may have been somewhat believable before the advent of ultrasounds,
but now that you can see (soon in real time!) pictures of babies sucking thumbs, turning, kicking, and responding to pain. Whatever else you call the thing with human DNA inside his mother’s womb, he is busily alive.
Only the most stubborn and scientifically uninformed supporters still call the baby a “blood clot” or “part of the mother – like pulling a tooth”.
- Which brings us to the last option available: deny the humanity of the victims.
This is what is dividing the nation (though now more Americans are pro-Life)
The last time the nation failed to settle the humanity of certain persons with human DNA through dialogue we had a Civil War. (there are other similarities)
This is where the debate truly lies, this is where the misunderstanding lies:
WHEN DOES THE BASIC HUMAN RIGHT TO LIFE BEGIN?
All other arguments about the legitimacy of Abortion can be settled by answering that single question.
“Yeah, but what about…?”
If you determine that a 2 week old pre-born child is just as valuable as a 2 week old born child, all of those questions answer themselves.
I would like to share with you just a few reasons why there is no other time to recognize Personhood outside of the moment of Conception.
The beginning of Life is the only time to recognize Personhood because attempting to do so at any other time is simply arbitrary, open to multiple interpretations, and potentially jeapordizes the Personhood of all Humans. Once the dangerous step of separating “Person” and “Human” has been taken, it takes far less power to nudge the definitions farther apart. Granting Personhood any time after Conception turns a natural connection to a matter of degree. By separating these two inseperable aspects, one then becomes a Person not simply because one is Human, but because one is more able to act or think in mature, thoughtful, or “valuable” ways.
“Unborn babies turn out to be killable because they cannot act maturely; they are less than fully persons, and so less than fully human. In fact, they must be killed when the interests of those who are more fully human require it. Therefore, not only may their mothers abort, but it would be wrong to stop the mothers from doing so.” (Revenge of Conscience)
This is why even among the Pro-Choice there is no agreement, no single criterion for defining “Personhood”; it becomes an ephemeral matter of degree, and thus, endless debate.
- Set requirements of Personhood based on Level of Development (or Maturity).
Using a sliding scale such as this is inherently problematic. Stating that the yet born child is less worthy of life because she is less developed means that the 13 year old is more worthy than the fetus, but less worthy than the adult. A 3 month old, 7 year old, 23 year old, 53 year old, or 67 year old human person all have equal protection under Statutory and Natural Law. Why? Because their Personhood is not dependent on how much more developed the adult is than the child: all are equally worthy of life.
Making Personhood a matter of degree begs the question, “To what degree?”. ” But people aren’t that coldly logical!” I would agree. That’s why we make it easier by using slightly more restrictive terms for Maturity such as “viability”.
Viability – What does that mean?
I’ve heard it’s when a child can “survive on his own”. This is just as problematic, just as much a matter of degree as Maturity.
“So we define Personhood by the techonology and skill of our NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)?”
Preemie babies’ survival rates have drastically increased over the last 50 years, bringing that “Age of Viability” down from 30 to around 22 weeks. What happens when it drops below that? What if we finally develop an artificial womb? (womb service in the 21st century)
Would we grant that “ball of cells” Personhood then?
Regardless, that criteria is not currently used in determining legislation of Abortion as it is Federally allowed long past that date.
In my experience I can only surmise that non-parents could possibly use that term because by that loose definition my son is less viable than he was a year ago! He used to be so small and compact. My wife could feed him all by herself without even having to try – now he needs both of us and his grandparents to keep him alive! He certainly wouldn’t “survive on his own outside the womb” for more than a couple days without our help. Yes, at birth the mother is released from sole care of the infant, but only because she is rapidly losing the natural capability of handling his survival on her own.
- Attempt to euphemsitically deny the child’s Humanity by calling him something else:
“Fetus”: It’s Latin for “baby”, but medically speaking, is only appropriate when referring to babies from 9 weeks of gestation on. The utility of obfuscating what one is really referring to diminishes as it becomes more commonplace. Pretty much everyone now knows that a fetus refers to “that thing that everyone will call a baby in a few months”. Therefore, more vagueness is needeed to continue convincing folks that there isn’t a baby in there. Hence:”Clump of cells”: It’s not quite as technically accurate, or inhuman sounding as “blastocyst”, but it does the job of not sounding anything like “baby”. Unfortunately, microbiologically speaking you’re just a clump of cells, too, so it’s not very useful in describing anything at all.”But if you say we have to respect the life of a zygote, then you’re a mass murderer every time you use Purell!” Firstly, I recently discovered that alcohol-based “germ killers”, don’t really kill germs, they just move them aside. Secondly, we are still talking about human life and how at any stage, in any form, it still has a different quality and character than bacteria. A single-cell H. Pylori bacteria grows into many single celled bacteria (and gives you an ulcer), but a single-cell Canis Lupus grows up to be a puppy and a single-celled Homo Sapiens grows up to be you and me.
“Parasite”: This one takes a bit more audacity to bust out, and is emotionally moving for some, but does not in any way answer the question of when one ceases to be a “parasite” and begins being a “person”. It simply renames a Human Person at a “lesser” level of development with an incorrect and emotionally distancing label.
Just like “zygote” or “blastula”, “parasite” has a very specific scientific meaning. Be careful when applying a scientific term in an unscientific manner (see Parasite taxonomy), because the move from specific to broad usually goes too far. The redefinitions I’ve heard so far apply to babies about as equally well as they would to an unemployed and lazy man living on his parents couch, most Occupy protesters, and nearly all politicians.
“But a parasite feeds off of its host!” So does a breastfeeding baby. So does, for that matter, your dinner guests. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to kill any of them. “The Violinist” thought experiment comes up quite often with the “baby=parasite” proponents. The Violinist experiment and real parasites do have one thing in common, though: they arrive uninvited. It used to be widely understood that sexual intercourse was an invitation to parenthood and that choices resulted in consequences.
These are some examples. Rather than attempt to dismantle the forever growing supply of rationales for abortion I would like to invite the submission of a clear, unanimous, guideline for how we can determine who qualifies for Personhood if not the unique human created at conception.
I have attempted to find a clear definition, but instead heard many vastly different criteria: Consciousness, Ability to Feel Pain, Possession of Heartbeat, Economic Stability of the Mother…Racial Purity has been tried before and rejected. In fact it has been so soundly rejected that any attempt to compare other arbitrary and incremental definitions for Personhood with Racial Purity tend to meet strong incredulity or revulsion. (see the viral documentary here) In any case, denying Personhood to those whom once obviously posessed it is too irresponsible for me to accept when a single clear criteria for doing so is lacking.
“But why not just let mothers choose what to do? It’s her private decision!”
Yes. It is. However, private decisions are not automatically free from legal or moral guidlines or constraints.
“You don’t have the right to force your beliefs on others!”
I’m going to ride right past the part where that statement assumes it’s okay to force that belief on me and say: Fortunately the definition of Personhood is not my belief. It is something rationally discovered and knowable by Natural Law. Furthermore, all major religions reject abortion.
Once more, with feeling – ALL MAJOR RELIGIONS REJECT ABORTION
While there is no single position amongst Buddhist faiths (which is nearly as multi-faceted as Protestant Christianity) the majority of Buddhist teaching considers Abortion to incur a grave Karmic Debt and violation against the First Precept against taking life. Especially in light of rebirth, killing the child before birth denies the person a chance to work off his/her Karmic Debt from the preceding life(s) before having to be reincarnated again. Most teachers, such as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, believe abortion to be “negative”, but Buddhism does not generally believe in using secular legislation to bring about moral change or enlightenment, and thus, mostly stay out of the argument.
He who does what should not be done and fails to do what should be done, who forgets the true aim of life and sinks into transient pleasures – he will one day envy the man who lives in high contemplation…for against the current of passions and worldly life he is bound for the joy of the Infinite. (the DHAMMAPADA)
(Check out Buddhism and Abortion by Daniel Keown. It’s fascinating but a tad dry http
“It seems to be clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime.” – Ghandi.
In fact he wrote an entire book denouncing birth control and advocating a similar teaching to Natural Family Planning
Some Protestant churches allow for abortion using varying criteria or just remain silent on the issue. However, recorded from AD 50 until around 1930 is unanimous rejection of Abortion. “Yeah, but abortion was different back then!”
Read this description, then look at the date and keep in mind that he describes an already centuries-old process.
Among surgeon’s tools there is a certain instrument formed with a nicely adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, with which the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery. There is also a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: from its infanticide function, they give it the name of embruosphaktes, the slayer of the infant, which was of course alive. Such apparatus was possessed both by Hyppocrates, and Asclepiades…who all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive [Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul 25, (AD 210), fromThe Father’s Know Best by Jimmy Akin]
It is a serious misunderstanding of history to think that we are much more advanced than during the Roman Empire. Abortion has existed for millennia, both surgical and chemical.
The Qur’an does not especially mention abortion, and there is some debate amongst Muslim scholars of differing schools. However,
“Whosoever has spared the life of a soul, it is as though he has spared the life of all people. Whosoever has killed a soul, it is as though he has murdered all of mankind.” (Qur’an 5:32)
“Kill not your offspring for fear of poverty; it is We who provide for them and for you. Surely, killing them is a great sin.” (Qur’an 17:32)
“The abandonment of the function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it. So, as you will see, the breach and turning point in the development of sexual life lies in becoming subordinate to the purpose of reproduction. Everything that happens before this turn of events and equally everything that disregards it and that aims solely at obtaining pleasure is given the uncomplimentary name of “perverse” and as such is proscribed.” – Sigmund Freud
Again, just a few of the major examples.
If you are concerned or puzzled about my behaviour, about my rather strong predilection to discuss abortion and my enthusiastic dive into the Pro-Life culture, please consider this:
“If you were certain that every year in your own country, nearly 1.5 million babies were being needlessly slaughtered in the place where they are supposed to be safest, what would you do about it?”
If you do believe that, but do and say nothing, why not?
- If you support Abortion and have solid, logical, and ethical reasons for doing so – please don’t stop trying to convince me. It is far, far more socially acceptable to support abortion or at least be silent about it. Being convinced as I am demands action, and I’m really a rather lazy person. I would appreciate it if you could help relieve me of this burden and allow me to keep a clear conscience.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I know that I am a rather verbose individual and have attempted not to try your patience too much. I have tried my best to keep this to-the-point while clearly explaining my journey and the things that I have studied.
I do not see Abortion or Morality in general as a “personal” choice. Natural Law has been recognized by all the great thinkers of the world, and in all my wanderings, I attempt to give homage to one of the greatest Philosophers, Socrates, by living the maxim: “Follow the argument wherever it leads.” In order to be able to live that, I need good arguments from all perspectives – I need your help. It is in following the arguments that I have abandoned my prior position and taken up new ones.
In order to gain a better argument, you’ve got to be willing to lose the one your’re holding.
Commenting on the Socratic Club at Oxford, C.S. Lewis stated,
“In any fairly large and talkative community such as a university, there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.”
…And that is precisely what I intend to avoid. I hope that those who disagree will feel comfortable in letting me know why.
A Dog in the Library