Friday, January 23, 2009

Building a culture of life, part one

Over the next few posts, I'd like to start developing the concept of building a culture of life. I'll start by talking about abortion and its moral impermissibility, using a few different examples to illustrate my points. Then I'd like to discuss how being pro-life means more than being anti-abortion, that negating abortion alone only addresses part of the tangible problems we face, but we need as a culture to be positive and pro-active in our attitudes and actions surrounding the beginning of life. I'd also like to show how this links with genetic testing, eugenics, end-of-life issues and justice for all individuals. Then I intend to discuss the relation of the culture of life to our spiritual responsibility; that our commitment to life bears fruit in and is nourished by our relationship to God as we shift from a means-ends mentality to one of sacrificial love, being obedient and responsive to the will of God in all things.

I recently got into an online discussion with a friend about abortion. Actually, she was praising our new orator-in-chief and I made a comment about his pro-abortion policies. She admitted that his stance on that is unfortunate, but was far from her mind in the reasons she voted for him. I'll come back to that later on, but right now I'd like to take up what she said about abortion. She said that she disagrees with the common practice now that it is used as a means of birth control, but she is "absolutely positive that there are other catholics out there like me who lean mostly pro-life, but there are those "by chance" cases of rape/incest and the mother's health where they believe like i do that it should be available in those cases only."

At first glance, that might sound like an acommodatingly noble stance, but when we look at it deeper, we have to realize that it is not enough. We need to understand why it is that abortion is wrong. Once we see that clearly, we will also see that abortion is, and why it is, wrong in all cases.

From the moment of conception, each person is a unique individual. It is then that a person becomes a person. At that moment, all of the information that his or her body will EVER need to grow into maturity is already encapsulated in every cell. The cells of an embryo divide, multiply and differentiate at a higher rate than will ever occur again in that person's lifetime. Within days, the heart begins to beat, pumping blood (unique from the mother) through the already developing circular system. Limbs develop, eye spots become sensitive to light, ears develop and can hear sounds from within and without the mother. Fingers, toes, reproductive organs, lungs, even hair all form within the first few months of gestation. The baby moves, responds, feels pain and comfort. In short, the baby is alive and growing from day one. Human life does not start at birth; it begins at conception.

Abortion is the intentional and direct killing of a child in the womb. It is not a mistake; it is not accidental. It is a willful action whose purpose is the death of an innocent and defenseless human being. In a word, this is murder.

There are some proponents of abortion who deny the personhood of the baby in the womb. They euphamize their position by using words like "fetus," "blob of tissue," etc. Their stance is not an honest one, nor is it legitimate, as we have seen from studying the development of a baby for even just a few moments, but it is a pervasive idea. Those who gain wealth by killing innocent babies deny the personhood of the baby in order to hurry along a woman's decision to "terminate a pregnancy," like one would throw away an old pair of shoes. Abortionists also find it helpful to deny the baby's personhood in order to bolster their claim of helping women with their health care needs (forgetting, of course, the infant women and men being killed by their trade).

The subtler, and by far more dangerous argument, is the one that pays momentary attention to the personhood of the baby in the womb, but nonetheless concludes that her life is not as important as something else, whether that be a career, security, health or convenience.

No baby in the womb has control over her own life, nor did she have any control over the circumstances of her own conception. Yet abortion is the gravest of injustices, for the baby in the womb is being given a death sentence for crimes she did not commit, unless one considers existence a crime.

In my friend's comment she cited three "exceptions" to a ban on abortion: rape, incest, and the health of the mother, to which I'll add the extreme example of saving the life of the mother.

The rape and incest can both be answered in the same way. Here is a case where a woman becomes pregnant by an action that violated her in which she had no control to resist. Let me say first with as much sensitivity as possible that both rape and incest are terrible crimes against the dignity of women and should never happen. It is not justifiable under any circumstances and perpetrators of these crimes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The damage that those actions inflict on women are brutal and victims need to be shown love, compassion and care.

However, let us point out the glaring contradiction: perpetrators of rape and incest are not subject to the death penalty, unless accompanied by other crimes. The guilty party is not subject to being killed for his crime, and yet we would advocate that we kill the child? Surely, my friend might say that the reason for allowing abortion in such a case is to spare the victim of rape from having to revisit her awful experience while the baby is in her womb. I will say it again: the baby is alive and growing; she is a unique person destined for eternal life to be loved by God. Why should the baby be punished? This is not a cruel and insensitive thing to say regarding the mother, either. As a victim of a cruel and unjust action, she will not find healing by passing along the injustice. Aborting her baby will not make her forget her experience. But an innocent and loving child may bring her healing, whether she decides to keep the child or to give the baby up for adoption to another couple who cannot conceive. Taking the consequences of something terrible and turning it into a life-giving gift is far more healing than abortion.

What about the health or life of the mother? Health is a broad term, and the use of the word in Roe vs. Wade has become a legal boondoggle, used to skirt restrictions on late-term abortions by claiming that completing a pregnancy would cause duress to a woman. (I still can't figure out why partial-birth and live-birth abortions a la Obama were legal at any time since the babies were out of the mother and no one could claim that the mother was any longer in any danger, if she ever was.)

With induced labor, cesarian section deliveries, prenatal care units and the modern health care technology available, rarely can someone say that a woman's life is in danger and the only way to save her is to kill the child. The only possible exception that I am aware of (and I'll show why this is not an exception) is in the case of an ectopic pregnancy where the fallopian tube is certain to burst, causing internal bleeding and death for the mother. Of the various medical interventions, the only one that is morally permissible is a salpingectomy, whereby that section of the tube is removed. Even though the baby does die, this is not an abortion because: a. The direct action is not the killing of the baby, but the therapeutic removal of the tube which, if ruptured, would cause certain death of the mother b. The intention is to save the life of the mother, not to kill the baby. c. The baby will die either way. If an intervention could be developed whereby the life of the mother could be saved without the death of the baby (e.g. somehow detaching the embryo from the fallopian tube and allowing it to implant into the uterine wall), then the salpingectomy would no longer be morally permissible.

For more extensive treatment of the permissibility of fertility and infertility procedures, check out Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life, by William May.


Ben Trovato said...

Have you seen this:
It reviews a book by a rape vicitm who was then subjected to an abortion - which felt the worse violation, as she'd consented to that one...

Mike in CT said...

Thanks for the link Ben. I heard some heart-wrenching stories by the people from Silent No More at the March for Life last week. Abortion does not bring healing, to say the least. I'll check out that book.

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