Friday, January 7, 2011

The three big cop-outs

In the comments below this post, I am taken to task for not being concerned about the life of the mother involved in the St. Joseph's Hospital abortion case--the only one the public knows about, anyway. I was similarly chided elsewhere: after all, goes the argument, this woman was going to die if her child wasn't killed! A terrible choice for her to make, sure, but still--surely an acceptable one?

Such a view comes from those who subscribe to the view of abortion you are likely to encounter from pro-life members of the GOP: that is, that abortion is a really bad thing, except in circumstances involving rape, incest, or the life or health of the mother, in which case, it's still a really bad thing, it's just permissible and understandable and maybe, when you come to think of it, not such a bad thing after all.

In that world view, abortion is not something that is fundamentally and intrinsically evil. It is just wrong most of the time, when done for the reasons for which most abortions are done, reasons which primarily involve the mother's sense of autonomy and whether or not the pregnancy is convenient to her. Those who accept this notion are comfortable calling themselves pro-life, because they are opposed to most abortions; but they don't think that abortion is intrinsically morally evil in the same way that, say, the murder of an adult human being, a two-year-old child, or an elderly person might be.

The problem with this can be illustrated if we ask the question, why? Why is abortion wrong most of the time but not all of the time?

As a Catholic I see abortion as wrong because it is the direct and intentional killing of an innocent human being. The fact that this killing takes place while he or she is still in his or her mother's womb does not have the power to change the inherent immorality of the action: directly and intentionally killing an innocent human being is always wrong.

And, since I accept that truth, I can see further that if it is always wrong directly and intentionally to take the life of an innocent human being, then no amount of circumstances related to the mother's pregnancy, however grave, dire, unpleasant, unfortunate, tragic or unjust, can change that fundamental moral truth. If it is wrong directly and intentionally to take the life of an innocent human person, then it is wrong to do so even if a gunman holding a classroom full of students hostage promises he will begin shooting them one at a time if the police do not immediately and publicly kill the gunman's enemy.

The only way you can really believe that abortion is wrong most of the time, but not in cases of rape or of incest or when the life or health of the mother is threatened, is if you believe either a) the unborn human being is not really a human being of intrinsic worth, or b) it is not always wrong directly and intentionally to take the life of an innocent human being, and may sometimes be expedient and even morally correct to do so.

Either one of these views, though, is extremely problematic for a pro-life person. If the first is believed, then how does he oppose abortion at all? If the unborn human being is somehow a lesser human being who can be legitimately killed some of the time for some reasons, how is it anything other than a limited personal view that opposes the notion that an unborn human is a lesser being who can be legitimately killed at any time for any reason? In other words, if the unborn human is a lesser being who is less worthy of life, then who is to say whether it is not just as moral to kill her because she will keep her mother from taking an international ski vacation as it is to kill her because she is unknowingly and unintentionally contributing to her mother's pre-existing condition of bad health?

But if the second is believed, that is, that it is not always wrong directly and intentionally to take the life of an innocent human being, then why should this be limited to the lives of unborn humans? If it is expedient, or even morally good, to kill the child of the rape or incest victim or to kill the child who is causing negative health consequences to her mother, why should it not be expedient to kill other human beings, innocent or not? If killing the innocent is sometimes allowable, what, other than the faint vestiges of religion and custom, keeps it from being allowable in regard to the elderly, the handicapped, the drug addict, the homeless man?

I realize that most who subscribe to the "three exceptions" theory think that doing so is compassionate. But in order to think of these exceptions as compassionate, you have to accept that at least some of the time you think unborn humans are expendable or that human life in general is. There is no other way; when you look at the situation in the Phoenix hospital with approval, you are saying to the dead eleven-week old fetus, "Well, most of the time I would agree that your life was valuable and ought to have been protected, but this time, since your mother was dying, I thought it was perfectly justifiable and acceptable for you to be directly and intentionally killed--not secondarily or unintentionally, as might have happened if your mother's pulmonary hypertension had been treated, but as the main goal. In fact, once they got rid of you, your mother did much better--now, don't you agree that your life was worthless, just this once?"

The sad truth is that the mother in question didn't want an abortion. It is apparently the case that she went weeks from her initial consultation with a doctor, who said, "Abort," and washed his hands of her when she wouldn't comply, to the point of her hospitalization. She chose a Catholic hospital under the belief that they would not ever abort her child. How they went about terrifying her into acquiescing in the evil they planned to do to her and to her baby I can only imagine; but I can say without hesitation that it was gravely evil and seriously unjust of them to betray her trust in that way, in addition to the grave evil of slaughtering her unborn child without apparently making any sustained attempt to treat both patients.

When we accept the three big cop-outs, and say that abortion is fine in the case of rape, or incest, or the life or health of the mother, we are betraying women as much as we are turning our backs on their precious children. Abortion is never fine. It is never good. Circumstances can't ever make it so. It is a monstrous evil crying out to Heaven to be remedied. And anyone who thinks abortion is fine some of the time ought to realize that they're not really against the direct and intentional killing of innocent unborn human beings--just against the more egregiously selfish excuses for this modern enlightened variation on infanticide.

67 comments:

Hector said...

Personally, I don't believe in allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest (at least, not in theory; in practice it may be necessary as a compromise in order to get anti-abortion laws passed).

I do believe that abortion should be legal in case of threat to the life or health of the mother. (I'd include any serious, genuine, and permanent health threats there, not restricting it to 'life threatening' ones, because the sad truth is that there isn't any bright line between conditions that are life threatening and conditions that aren't, there's just a hazy gray area.)

A mother has the general obligation and the duty to protect the life of her child, but I think that when her child is directly threatening her own life or her physical safety, abortion can be the lesser evil: still an evil, but a legally tolerable and necessary evil. I think the Orthodox teaching about 'economia' is very appropriate here.

It should be remembered that not only some thinkers within the Orthodox Church (which has a fair claim to being the most authentic representative of purely traditional Christianity), but also conservative Jews, apparently both accept that abortion is the lesser evil, and should be tolerated, when necessary to save the mother's life. Jesus Christ never overrode this Jewish teaching, let's remember. He did leave to his church a generalised condemnation of abortion, but that doesn't rule out recognizing exceotions.

Erin is free to call me 'pro-choice', or whatever other term she chooses. The fact is still that I think the large majority of abortions in modern America, which are not necessary for any remotely serious medical reason, should be illegal, and the fact that I also recognise exceptions doesn't change that fact.

Red Cardigan said...

Hector, this isn't about calling you or anyone else pro-choice--it's just a way of getting to the roots of what the exceptions involve.

To you, abortion is an evil, and a grave one; but you would permit that grave evil to save a mother's life. Okay--but where does that leave the child? Still a human being with an intrinsic right to live--we're just comfortable violating that right in this one type of situation?

Philosophically, that pretty quickly leads to moral chaos. Either abortion is always evil--or it never is. I understand what you're trying to do here (e.g., it's evil, but we can do evil because of X) but the Church historically has never permitted that formulation. In fact, the Church says one may never do evil so that good may result; once we've identified an act as evil we have a positive moral obligation to avoid it, and circumstances don't remove that obligation.

For the record, in the day to day workings of the pro-life movement I am grateful to work alongside people who don't share my views fully; but I do worry that some may not be considering where those views ultimately may lead.

L. said...

"Either abortion is always evil--or it never is."

That's like saying, either war is evil, or it never is -- and since I'm not a pacifist, I don't agree. I believe there are valid reasons to take another life, and I accept that some people don't agree with what I think.

I know pro-life people whose views are similar to Erin's -- even if carrying a life-threatening pregnancy, they would pray for a miracle and face their own deaths before they aborted their babies. However, I have trouble with the idea that all women should be legally compelled to make the same choice, and I think "health of the mother" is very different from "convenience of the mother."

Karen LH said...

That's like saying, either war is evil, or it never is

L,

You're comparing apples to oranges. Abortion is an intrinsic evil, while war is not. Yes, there are valid reasons to take a life, as in the case of just war. But there are never valid reasons to intentionally kill an innocent human being, which is what abortion always is.

L. said...

Pacifists say, "there are never valid reasons to intentionally kill an innocent human being, which is what war is."

To protect my health -- that is a valid reason to kill my child.

Karen LH said...

Pacifists say, "there are never valid reasons to intentionally kill an innocent human being, which is what war is."

Then pacifists should invest in a dictionary, because that is not what war is. Intentionally killing an innocent human being in the context of war is a violation of just war principles.

Hector said...

Erin,

It's true that _your_ branch of the Church has never allowed the formulation, 'X is evil, but because of circumstances, we can allow some flexibility in this instance' or whatever. But I think it's fair to say that the Eastern churches have allowed that formulation, probably because they aren't as interested, traditionally, in scholastic reasoning as the West. I believe that's why Orthodox Christians traditionally allowed divorce in a few instances, and also to why some Orthodox (I have no idea how widespread this is) also argue for tolerating abortion in one very limited case (when the mother's life is at stake).

There are problems with the concept of 'economia' of course, but this is an area where I think it makes a lot of sense. I don't have a problem with telling a woman, in general, 'you must keep your baby', but I do have a problem when that puts her life or health in serious danger. All of us have the right to physical self-defence, no?

Hector said...

Re: I know pro-life people whose views are similar to Erin's -- even if carrying a life-threatening pregnancy, they would pray for a miracle and face their own deaths before they aborted their babies.

This is very admirable and they have every right to do that, and no hospital, spouse, partner, or government should tell them they shouldn't. However, it's an act of heroic virtue which I don't think, in this case and other 'emergency' cases, should be legally mandated.

L. said...

Hector, I often say exactly what you said above. I admire some acts of heroism, but on one should be legally mandated to be a hero.

Karen LH, show me a "just" war with no noncombatant casualties. War is all about the killing of innocents.

melanie said...

I wonder if someone could not also make a self defense argument regarding the fetus and mother. I know it's difficult to stomach, but as in the case of just war, the church in fact allows for the taking of life as being a lesser evil. I understand that there is no will involved on the part of the fetus, but this could often be the case with individual soldiers made to fight in a war, say such as a Nazi. One who may have been coerced to do so. I honestly think if a mothers life is truly threatened by the child, the Catholic church itself has enough theological argument to back it. St. Thomas has a whole treatise on Just War, I would have to go back and read it again to truly make an argument, but it's too incindiary a topic. I get both sides.

JoAnna said...

"To protect my health -- that is a valid reason to kill my child."

No, it's a selfish reason to kill your child, especially when (as in the case of the Phoenix mom at St. Joe's) there were other morally acceptable alternatives for treating the mother's condition.

Hector said...

Re:I wonder if someone could not also make a self defense argument regarding the fetus and mother. I know it's difficult to stomach, but as in the case of just war, the church in fact allows for the taking of life as being a lesser evil. I understand that there is no will involved on the part of the fetus, but this could often be the case with individual soldiers made to fight in a war, say such as a Nazi.

Yes, indeed, Melanie. I would make exactly such a self-defence exception to the general rule against abortion, for exactly the reason you cite.

L. said...

Gee, JoAnna, somehow, I can live with people thinking I am "selfish" because I would have an abortion to save my life, rather than risk death. Yes, saving one's own life is a "selfish" choice, but it is one I would make, and I don't believe any woman should be legally mandated to be selfless.

JoAnna said...

The problem is, L., without a legal mandate people will choose to do what is easy instead of what is right. In the St. Joe's situation, there were morally acceptable treatments for the mother that did not involve direct killing of innocent human life. However, the medical personnel chose to kill the baby since it was the easiest choice (easy in terms of the cost, medical procedures involved, length of time, etc.).

I'm sorry you feel ending innocent human life is acceptable. I hope you change your mind.

Rebecca in CA said...

I'd like to know, from those who think abortion should be a valid option in the case of the mother's life being threatened--If you were in the middle of the ocean on a raft with a kid, and the raft could only hold the weight of one of you, would it be okay for you to push the kid off the raft to save your life? Would you consider that self-defense? If a ship were sinking and there were not enough life boats for all, would you find it excusable, understandable, for the men to shove in front of the women and children and take the rafts?

Hector said...

Rebecca in CA,

The difference is that in the case of the baby and the mother, the baby is the direct cause of the danger to the mother's life. To save the life of the mother is, necessarily, to end the life of the baby who is (involuntarily) putting her in danger.

In this particular case, of course, the baby was going to die anyway, since they could not have survived without the mother. I think the pro-life solution would be to save one life at the expense of the other, rather than standing by while they both died.

L. said...

Rebecca, you can come up with all the hypothetical situations you want, but NOTHING is perfectly analagous to a pregnancy: a human life gestating inside the body of another.

I have never had an abortion, but I have used abortificiant contracepotion, because I believe it is my right to kill any unwanted life forms growing inside my body. I understand that this bothers some people, that I chose not to give my children life, but I think killing them while them were inside my body made it justifiable (that is, if any embryos were actually harmed by my contraception). As soon as a baby is big enough to survive outside me, it's a different story -- although I believe I still would have a late-term abortion to save my own life, were it ever necessary.

Red Cardigan said...

See, Rebecca, they either think that the unborn baby isn't really an innocent human being of intrinsic and infinite value, or they think it's sometimes okay to kill innocent human beings which makes human beings of less than infinite and less than intrinsic value.

Either way, it horrifies me.

L. said...

It is sometimes okay to kill other human beings. This I do believe. It is undesirable, and the circumstances for it are worth avoiding -- this I also believe.

The life boat example above -- much as I generally dislike children, I am still appalled at the thought of pushing one out of a lifeboat. I do not have this same feeling about children who happen to be inside my body, but I understand that others do.

Either you are pro-life, and believe that every woman should be compelled -- by force of law -- to gestate every single embryo, no matter what the circumstances, no exceptions, ever -- or you believe in exceptions, to be determined by the mother (the host body). I believe the latter.

This is why I can never be in full communion with the Catholic Church, and I realized this when I was 15.

melanie said...

I don't want to get to deep into this discussion given that I essentially agree with the principle that the fetus has intrinsic human value from conception. However I do see a problem with rebeccas analogy and that is that it in fact itself presupposes under such extreme circumstances levels of value to human life. Why else be appalled if the men run to get on the life boat first? Under your analogy why not the men first, why not all exactly equally precious?
I may have misunderstood the analogy but I think in fact it makes the argument rather than breaking it because in fact, under extreme conditions, we do tend to put "values"
On persons whether consciously or not. And whether or not "good" or "heroic", It still might be justified for a person to save themselves.

bathilda said...

I have more respect for those of you pro-lifers who say it's ALWAYS WRONG than for those who say it's wrong except for rape, incest, etc. If you belive the latter, you are pro-choice. own it.

I am with L and Melanie here...no surprise. I know a woman who has five children and when she was about to deliver #5 I heard her say that if anything went wrong, she would rahter they save the baby. I said, what if they knew that the baby was going to die, and working on you first would save you? She was adament that they would do everything for the baby first. What the? Work on a dying baby, and let the mother die and leave four other children motherless. hmmmm... that actually sounds pretty selfish. "Sorry kids, I'll just run off to heaven with the new baby, and you guys can just flounder through life with no mother and all of the psycological baggage!!!" Not selfless to my vantage.

Red, I think that you need to realize that you have valid points and opinions,and you can shout them from the rooftops, but they MUST be tempered within the government system in which you choose to live. The government, within the confines of it's own laws and constitution cannot limit a woman's freedom in this way. Looking at your views in what should and shouldn't be legal in a reproductive sense, and your rant about government forms and the use of the word parent over mother, I think that you would like to live under a Catholic Taliban rather than a Republic.

c matt said...

The government, within the confines of it's own laws and constitution cannot limit a woman's freedom in this way

You don't get it. There is no such thing as "confines of it's [sic] own laws and constitution" when it comes to government. The government simply changes its laws and constitution until it achieves the power it wants. If 5 of 4 justices on the SCOTUS say abortion in all cases is illegal, then it is; if they say it's not, then it's not.

This, however, has nothing to do with whether abortion is moral, which is the topic being discussed.

c matt said...

That's like saying, either war is evil, or it never is

Not really. It is recognizing a difference between those things that are intrinsically evil vs. those that are evil because of the circumstances or intentions.

War can be evil if, among other things, one is directly and intentionally killing innocent human beings (eg, nuking or firebombing civilian population centers). But by necessity, you do not have to conduct a war that way - you can (theoretically) limit the activity to combatants only (rules of engagement). In an abortion, by definition, one is directly and intentionally killing an innocent human being, there is no way around that theoretically or otherwise.

c matt said...

Sorry, that should be "5 vs. 4", not "of" 4.

L. said...

" It is recognizing a difference between those things that are intrinsically evil vs. those that are evil because of the circumstances or intentions." -->

I known very few abortive woman who hated their babies, who aborted simply to make the babies dead and do them as much harm as possible. I have known abortive woman who aborted because they didn't want to bring babies into bad situations, or they truly felt their own health and well-being was at stake.

The legal/illegal distinction is what makes me unable to ever be pro-life. I believe abortion should be legal, but I would not make the argument that it is ALWAYS moral, or that it is the best choice in every situation. Similarly, I believe adultery is frequently immoral, and yet I would never support criminalizing it.

When I "converted" from the pro-life side, at the age of 15, all of my pro-life friends assured me I would someday change my mind, and realize that every pregnancy is a precious gift from God -- but my life experiences have convinced me otherwise! One woman's blessing is another woman's curse, and abortion is far from a black and white issue, and is best left up to the particular woman involved.

c matt said...

No doubt very few, if any, really "hated" their babies. That, in fact, is the difficulty. It is a very hard thing to remove the emotional aspects of any close moral decision. The purpose behind these discussions is to discover the true moral aspects of the question, and thereby arrive a the accurate moral conclusion.

Unfortunately, the moral aspects are very black and white; the emotional aspects are not. And many on the pro-choice side appeal to the emotional aspects which cloud the moral judgment (same thing happens in torture debates where the hypothetical of "what if it was YOUR child/spouse/sibling that the bad guy was going to kill").

adultery is frequently immoral

Frequently? When would it not be?

Rebecca in CA said...

Hector: I don't understand why the analogy doesn't stand. You're on the boat with the kid, and the boat is sinking because of the combined weight. Therefore, the kid is "threatening your life" though he doesn't intend to.

L: I don't understand your point. Of course an analogy is only an analogy, and no situation is in every respect exactly the same as another situation, but the point of my analogy is to ask what is the essential difference between pushing the kid out of the boat, or aborting a child to save your own life? You seem to be saying: "I would find pushing a kid out of the boat abhorrent, so I wouldn't do it. I don't find killing my unborn embryos abhorrent, so I do it." My question for you is, do you not think that pushing the child out of the boat is an act of murder? If it is, what makes it essentially different from the act of aborting a child to save your own life?

Melanie, placing different values on human lives is exactly what I am *not* doing, and what people who approve of abortion seem to be doing. If a society determines who is to live or die in each situation, depending on whose life is more "valuable", I say that society is at its end. In the example of the situation with too few lifeboats, I chose the scenario of men pushing women and children out of the way, because they would precisely be the ones most likely to do so, being the stronger. A healthy society, on the other hand , not only condemns an act of direct murder, but insists that *the stronger protect the weaker*. It is a scary and sad thing to think of children who cannot be certain that their parents would lay down their lives for them if necessary--not because they consider their children "more valuable" than they, but because the strong have an obligation to protect the weak. Abortion happens in my opinion to be the most unnatural and egregious violation of that very basic instinct in us and when we do it, it turns us cold, and it takes away our humanity.

Bathilda, would you be okay with pushing a kid out of the lifeboat if you were the mother of six? Sorry kid, I have lives I'm responsible for and you don't, so you go? What hubris it would be to consider oneself so tremendously indispensible. If the choice was for those children to be motherless, or to be raised by a mother who would kill her own child, I don't have any doubt that the former is a better situation for those children, and that their mother's goodness and protection would stick with them and form them even long after her death.

L. said...

What is the essential difference between pushing the kid out of the boat, or aborting a child to save my own life?

I see a huge difference there -- my body is not a boat. It is living tissue, a self that I preserve. Also, I never said I wouldn't push a child out of a boat to save my own life -- only that I think it would bother me to do it. But never say never!

I've never had an abortion, but I once had a miscarriage, and it didn't bother me at all -- and yet some pro-life people I know said at the time that I was an selfish person for not failing to love and mourn my dead baby, and sinful for actually being quite happy that he/she died. Like C Matt, they saw the moral aspects as being very black and white, and the feelings themselves as being sinful. But I guess it really means that my gut feeling is that not every embryo has an inalienable right to be born, and that every woman has an obligation to gestate them in every situation.

As for adultery, since I don't believe in the sanctity of marriage, I probably have a different view of it than most people -- I don't believe in laws criminalizing ANY sexual behavior between consenting adults. But adultery frequently involves dishonestly, which I admit goes against my grain.

When would adultery NOT be immoral? I know a woman whose husband was severely brain-damaged in an accident. She has taken care of him for decades. She also had a boyfriend, with whom I assume she commits adultery....and I am very happy for her, that she has love and companionship, and if it does include physical love, I just cann't think that's a bad thing.

bathilda said...

okay, the lifeboat situation simply doesn't fit. a living, breathing child whom I love is different than an embryo. SHHHHH, I know not to some of you so don't bother with your retorts. but to me and at least a couple of others posting here. the situation that I illustrated was trying to save a baby who was already going to die vs. working to save the mother first. Translated into lifeboat situation...I think that yes, if we were sinking due to weight, I would shove out a person of whatever age who was imminently dying, as I would gladly jump out if my jugular was slashed...etc.

C.Matt...the supreme court can and should only decide if a law is CONSTITUTIONAL, and it has decided that denying abortions is unconstitutional as it was interpreted at the time. It may be modified, but I cannot see our country going to no abortions ever.

L. said...

"If the choice was for those children to be motherless, or to be raised by a mother who would kill her own child.." Hmmmm.....

Question here. Do you think women who would kill their own children (i.e., those women who choose abortion, or those of us who have used abortificiant contraception) should be prevented from raising any living offspring we produce? I mean, if a woman strangles her baby in his bassinet and is unrepentent, surely the state would take custody of any subsequent offspring of hers. If abortion and some contraception really are forms of murder ("modern enlightened variation on infanticide"), then should we murderers be allowed to raise other kids?

Or is it different someone from murder, and if so, why?

Rebecca in CA said...

Okay, thanks L. and Bathilda. I appreciate your clarifying your positions. L. is consistent and very well might shove the kid out, and Bathilda says the unborn child simply has not the standing of a born child. Not sure about the "love" part--I mean, what if the kid happened to be an orphan no one really loved--but anyway, I get the sense that in your mind the unborn baby is just not a person in the way a kid is. Okay. I was confused, because I thought you guys were all kind of saying that *the* reason it's fine for the mother to kill the child is *because* the baby's existence is threatening her life. Apparently L. does stick to that, (and I'll be sure not to go on a cruise with her), but Bathilda pairs that argument with holding that the baby is not actually a real person. Thank you for clarifying that, both of you. I don't normally debate these things with people and it is helpful for me to understand what people are actually thinking when they hold these positions.

L. said...

Actually, Bathilda doesn't use the words "real person" -- she just says a living, breathing child is different than an embryo, which is true, though it might imply it.

Say there's a fire in a combination IVF lab/daycare center (wow, what an unholy alliance!), and you have a choice of saving terrified, screaming toddlers or the trays full of fertilized eggs, but not both?

Rebecca in CA said...

"...should we murderers be allowed to raise other kids"?

Fair question, L. And I think there are two levels on which to consider it--first on the moral level, and then on the practical level of what the state should do. To the first, I think that the moral responsibility differs depending upon the situation. I think that there are many women of whom it is more true to say that they were subjected to the violence of abortion than that they committed murder knowingly. First, because of ignorance and lies, which are much more possible when the victim is invisible, in this case the growing child. A woman who strangles a baby in its bassinet must either be evil or insane, because no saneperson could wonder whether that's really a person in there--but a lot of sane people are fed garbage about an embryo just being a blob of cells which happen to have invaded their bodies. Then also, there can be extreme pressure put on women in desperate situations, by parents, boyfriends, and not least, the fact that the procedure is legal, which is crazymaking because it makes a woman feel as though there must be something wrong with her if she feels in her gut that somehow this is terribly wrong, and it gives teeth to the pressure from the folks who are telling her that she would be *selfish* to continue the pregnancy. It's in my mind often a situation of extreme abuse, compounded bad law. On the other hand, though, there are some women who know exactly what they are doing, do not suffer from confusion or any kind of extreme pressure, are cold and calculating about it, and are unlikely to repent. Those women are culpable for murder as surely as the woman who strangles her baby in its bassinet.

On a practical level, I don't have much to say to that except that it would probably be too difficult for the state to attempt such a project as determining which women were completely culpable, which women were ignorant but culpable for their ignorance, and which women were simply victims. My opinion at this moment is that it would be simply impracticable. That is why I agree with you that the law should not attempt to address adultery as a crime--and St. Thomas thought that often it is not practical for the state to attempt to outlaw all prostitution, for example. If the law cannot be enforced without impinging on basic rights, it will become useless and a laughingstock. Those are my thoughts, but I welcome others' views on this.

Rebecca in CA said...

L, as to the fire scenario, I pray I am never in a situation like that. I actually have nightmares sometimes about being in the water with all of my young children and not being able to save all of them from drowning. Even though your scenario is not really relevant to our discussion because it does not involve the option of direct and intentional killing, I'll answer you frankly, that I would take the toddlers, not because their lives are of more intrinsic worth, but because their deaths would involve the additional evils of their terror and pain, and horrible trauma to their parents and all who love them.

But you see, in the cases we have been discussing, the choice is clear, between directly taking the life of an innocent human being, or not, and because both the natural law and the divine law are clear on that point, I simply would not kill somebody, not even to save a million lives, and I would entrust those lives to God, who does not contradict Himself. He simply asks us to obey and trust Him, and rather than putting the terrible burden of calculating the value of various human lives or all the myriad of consequences, He simply asks us to do good and avoid evil, and leave the rest to Him.

L. said...

Haha, I might grab the tray, just because it's easier to carry. No, just kidding -- I would take the toddlers, too.

The practical problem, Rebecca, is that if abortion is re-criminalized, then it strikes me as inevitable that mothers -- not just doctors -- are going to face charges for killing their children. And people like me, who publicly express total indifference to the killing of embryonic children, are going to face some kinds of legal sanctions, for expressing what we believe, based on our instincts -- perhaps we would come under special monotoring, to make sure we don't create any tiny "victims," or perhaps our born children will be monitored or even taken away from us.

Adultery is not murder. If abortion and contraception really are "murder," as many pro-life people claim, then I don't see how society can afford to make laws based on practicality or convenience. I don't see how society would get around dealing with the "murderers."

And I am naturally curious what such a society would look like, which is why I ask.

Bathilda said...

The deal is that an embryo does not hold full rights under the law. Many states are trying and some are succeeding in attempting to go through the back door and enacting laws punishing those who would hurt or kill a pregnant woman. They are double charged. This can only happen after a certain week of gestation, generally. So fetuses have some rights....but that's a real slippery slope. L states some of the conundrums with this. Do we need prisons full of "murdering women"? You can have moral guidelines for yourself, but in this country, at least for now, you can't always force those morals on others. Not to mention that abortions have been happening since at least ancient Egypt, legal or not.

Elizabeth, I was also talking about saving the life of a baby instead of saving the mother, not necessarily abortion. in that case, someone may die as the result of not getting care in preference of another. whom would you save, if you say that you would NEVER kill someone...? Isn't that saying that one life is more important than another? If that's the case, I ask, why is it the baby instead of a woman who is needed by her family? I'm just asking. I happen to have a strong life preservation instinct. While I would die to save my children, I would not willingly die to leave them for a baby I don't know. I'm just being honest. I would rather live.

I don't see this issue in black and white at all. I am a "shades of grey" person in most everything. I am still forming my opinions, and I don't claim to know how I would act in many situations. It's interesting to think about though.

For the record, I have never had an abortion, I had a miscarriage in my first pregnancy, which devistated me (and my husband). We have two children who were planned, and we actively prevent having any more children. (and guess what? We use NFP! * pause for collective gasp *) But don't worry, L., we can still be friends! I don't claim to use NFP because I am Catholic, it's just that I don't like messing with hormones with Pills, and they happen to give me debilitating morning sickness, and I don't trust any other way.... :)

c matt said...

I see a huge difference there -- my body is not a boat. It is living tissue, a self that I preserve.

But what meaningful difference does that distinction make? Your body is not a boat, but it is still living tissue you wish to preserve, whether the threat is from a child in your womb or a fellow traveler in an overburdened lifeboat.

the supreme court can and should only decide if a law is CONSTITUTIONAL, and it has decided that denying abortions is unconstitutional as it was interpreted at the time.

The SCOTUS has certainly assumed that power, and the other branches have ceded it to them. But just because they can, does not mean they are actually correct. And on many occasions, they have been incorrect, reversing themselves and back and forth. If only they would limit themselves to deciding whether something is or isn't constitutional, as opposed to deciding whether they like or dislike a particular law, and then using some pretextual constitutional analysis to uphold or strike it down, RvW being the prime example, which even legal scholars who support abortion agree was an overreach and a horrible decision from a consitutional analysis perspective. Your own comment recognizes the arbitrariness of the decision - it was unconstitutional as determined at that time. Nothing has changed about the nature of abortion or the constitution, yet you recognize at any given time, the "interpretation" can change. But really, this discussion is not so much about the legality of abortion, but the morality of it.

The Cottage Child said...

"The SCOTUS has certainly assumed that power, and the other branches have ceded it to them. But just because they can, does not mean they are actually correct."

Thank you, c matt, for that critical bit of oft disregarded truth.

Hector said...

Re: Hector: I don't understand why the analogy doesn't stand. You're on the boat with the kid, and the boat is sinking because of the combined weight. Therefore, the kid is "threatening your life" though he doesn't intend to.

I'm having a hard time explaining why it's different, but it seems intuitively different to me. In the case of a pregnant woman with serious health risks, the baby is the direct cause of her health problems, and the baby is directly affecting her body in ways that place her life or health at risk. In the case of the lifeboat, the 'threat' is much more indirect: the child isn't directly harming the mother, and the danger that they pose to the mother is mediated through a third factor (the weight of the boat). Not to mention, the mother is endangering the child in that case as much as the child is endangering the mother.

So no, I don't think the two situations are comparable. I wouldn't say the mother has the right to push the child out of the boat, but she does have the right to seek an abortion if there are genuine and severe threats to her physical well-being.

Rebecca in CA said...

L, about the legal situation--I thought I made myself clear, that I would think that trying to sift out the guilty from the victims would simply be impracticable, as would any program of trying to prosecute women who use abortifacients. Again, if the law is in a situation where either it has to impinge on people's basic privacy, or it is simply too difficult to enforce, then that law is not practical though it does not excuse the immorality of such acts. What the law *could* do is to prevent the sale or promotion of abortifacients or contraceptives and it could prosecute those who sell or promote those things.

Rebecca in CA said...

Hector, but it is not the child who is killing the mother; it is a condition of her body, such as hypertension, which is threatening her life. The baby is not the direct cause of her health problems but the indirect cause. The body is not handling both tasks of providing for the life of the mother while also providing for the growing baby, just as the lifeboat can't take the weight of both. You could make the analogy more like by having the kid come in the lifeboat after you, but still, I think most people would consider throwing the kid out to be a murderous act.

Bathilda, it seems to hinge for you on whether you know the baby or not. Frankly, I know my baby at birth about as well as I knew the baby when it was moving around inside of me. That is, I really don't know it. It takes me a week or two to really get to know, feel deep affection for, bond strongly with the baby. I would hope that my moral decisions about life and death are not based on my affection for a person, though. You are right that abortion has been practiced from time immemorial, *as has infanticide*. The Greeks and Romans hardly blinked at exposing defective infants, and I expect the same is true in the whole history of the world.

L. said...

Bathilda, believe it or not, I have nothing against NFP, and I know people who have used it quite effectively for years. In fact, I have studied it myself, to understand my fertility -- and then use it contraceptively, of course, to help me avoid unwanted pregnancies with my "closed to life" mentality. And I also don't trust hormonal birth control, for a long list of reasons.

Funny, some people have told me that it was just as sinful to the babies, to abstain them out of existence when using NFP contraceptively, as all of those I prevented with my contraception. Food for thought!

Rebecca, in a world in which contraception were criminalized, I would be a felon, and my kids would be in foster care. So naturally I would oppose such laws, but if they were passed, I would commit civil disobedience to get contraception for myself and for any other woman who sought it. Abortion is nasy, bloody business and best avoided in the first place, but I actually do believe that contraception is a moral good.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

The various perspectives offered here clearly establish that it would be disastrous as well as wrong to determine whether a woman can abort by a standardized criminal law. We don't know enough, we don't agree enough on the fundamental premises.

That is why Roe v. Wade was not only a sound, conservative application of well established constitutional law to a set of facts never previously presented to the court, but also a very wise adjudication of the limits of government authority.

I am perfectly comfortable with current law, banning abortion only in the third trimester, or perhaps the line should be pushed back to the 20th week or so. In the case of a woman's life being at risk, any woman who chooses to take that risk has the right to do so. For those of us not at risk, it is none of our business.

If I cut off my arm, I would generally be confined in a psychiatric facility, but if my arm is pinned under a rock, and I am in danger of dying by starvation or dehydration, it can be a justifiable act. If another person is killing me, involuntarily or voluntarily, and I cannot by any other means stop her or him from doing so, then killing them can indeed be justifiable homicide.

Rebecca in CA said...

L., the people who said that to you about your use of NFP to avoid conception, were wrong, and were misrepresenting the Church's teaching. Contraception is always wrong because it is a perverse means. The end, of trying to avoid a child now, may be justified or not, and is a totally separate issue, and is not usually something one person can accurately judge about another person's situation.

Again, I did not propose a society in which contraception is "criminalized". I proposed a society in which the sale and promotion of contraception is criminalized; I do not think it would be practicable without despotism to criminalize the use of it.

L. said...

But Rebecca, if it couldn't be legally sold, how ever could it be distributed?

Contraception, when used correctly and consistently (and those are both key) prevents a lot of unwanted babies, and saves costs for everyone.

Rebecca in CA said...

L, the point of making the sale of it illegal would be to make the distribution very difficult. Contraception is perverse, it hurts the people who use it, and leads to further evils such as the objectification of women, increase in extramarital sex and abortion. It has wrecked society in just a few decades, in exactly the ways Pope Paul VI predicted it would.

c matt said...

evils such as the objectification of women, increase in extramarital sex and abortion

The problem in our relativist society is that many do not see these things as evil. And even if they personally see them as evil, many do not believe others are required to see them as evil. Which leaves probably a minority who both see them as evil, and believe that others are required to see them as evil (or at least should treat them as evils in public, even if in their heart of hearts, they may not agree).

L. said...

Contraception has been nothing but a blessing for me, but as I always say, one person's blessing is another person's curse (except I usually say that about babies).

Hector said...

Re: Contraception has been nothing but a blessing for me,

I'd suspect that contraception, on the whole, has been a blessing for most of the world's people. Women in particular (who can now control their procreation and sexuality to a degree that was very difficult before), but also for men and for children. It's allowed people to have more sexual freedom, it's allowed world birth rates to fall precipitously (in fact, it appears as though the threat of overpopulation just might be avoided), it's allowed women to choose when, and if, they want to become wives and mothers, instead of being locked into that path, and it's allowed couples, married or not, to plan their families and to choose their family size. Not least, widespread and widely available contraception is certainly an important element in suppressing the abortion rate, as the example of Northern Europe shows.

I support criminalising all non-medically-necessary abortions, of course, but I _also_ support making contraception cheap, widely available, and socially accepted. Doing either one without the other is likely to accomplish little, and making contraception more difficult to get would simply make abortion and infanticide much more common.

L, I'd probably join you in civil disobedience if the Pill is ever outlawed; that's one law I'd be very happy to break. No one who wants the Pill should be denied it.

L. said...

Hector, there's a whole world of contraception outside the Pill and other hormonal birth control -- condoms, diaphragms, IUDs, etc.

Abortion is also a form of birth control, but not desirable because it is risky, invasive minor surgery.

Just wondering, if you support criminalizing all abortions outside those that are medically necessary, you presumably believe protection for human life begins at conception. So how do you rationalize forms of contraception, like the Pill and IUDs that MIGHT kill embyros, by preventing implantation? Isn't this exactly like an abortion?

Hector said...

L,

I rationalise it on three grounds.

1) There's no evidence that the Pill prevents implantation. It's meant to prevent conception, and that's all that we know it does. Studies in rodents and monkeys have found no evidence that the Pill (or the morning-after pill, which is just a stronger version) prevents implantation. All that the other side has is some creative speculation- interesting speculation, I'll give them that, but nothing more.

2) Even if the Pill does occasionally prevent implantation, that's certainly not the intended effect, and I would say it can be tolerated on the grounds of double effect- the intended and primary effect, which is a morally good one, is preventing conception.

3) Lactation is known to make implantation more difficult....should we declare lactation immoral, then?

There's all the difference in the world between choosing not to create a new life, and destroying one already created.

L. said...

Hector, there is AMPLE evidence that birth control pills are potential abortificiants -- though, as you say, they primarily work by inhibiting ovulation, so the key word there is "potential."

If you Google the product information for any of the commonly presecribed brands of pills (Yasmin, etc.), all will say that they contain types of two hormones, progestin and estrogen (except the "mini-pills," that contain only the former). They not only prevent ovulation, but also change the lining of uterus and cervical mucus to prevent the implantation of any egg that is produced. This is an abortion, or so I am told -- not a direct "abortion pill," like mifepristone, but the same end result.

Similarly, a copper IUD acts mainly as a spermicide. But it can also cause similar physical changes to prevent implantation. I had one of these for years.

And the thing is, if you believe that a zygote or embryo is as much of a human being as a baby in a stroller, then there is no wiggle room for the "double effect" --taking any action that MIGHT kill those embryos is exactly as homicidally negligent as letting that baby play with a loaded gun.

As for lactation preventing implantation -- I have only seen evidence that it prevents ovulation. But if a woman were to breastfeed soley to avoid pregnancy, then she would be using lactation with a contraceptive mentality, the way I've heard Medieval prostitutes used to hire themselves out as wet nurses.

L. said...

...and sorry if my explanation above is missing anything. I have no moral qualms about killing any life inside my own body, so perhaps someone who does might have explained it better.

Hector said...

L,

'Potential' covers a lot of ground. But there's no evidence that the Pill actually does cause failure of implantation. People have looked, you know, and failed to find any evidence. Check out these two studies (the latter was done by a Catholic university in Chile, for the record).


http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/6/1352.abstract

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12742567


And then there are more references cited here:

http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/MOA.pdf

Like I said, even if the Pill did occasionally cause implantation to fail, I would still consider it an overall good and acceptable thing, on the grounds of double effect. But there's actually no evidence that the Pill does cause failure of implantation. If you have a study saying otherwise, let's see it.

L. said...

I'm not a doctor, Hector, nor am I up on medical studies -- I'm only citing what the producers of the pills say themselves, in the product information.

As for IUDs, my doctor once told me about a study that examined the menstrual waste of lots of women using copper IUDs, and found no products of conception. A control group of women using nothing either produced pregnanies, or evidence of fertilization (i.e., embyos that failed to implant for natural reasons), showing that the main effect of the copper IUDs was indeed spermicidal.

Unfortunately, this was years ago, before the days of the Internet, and I have never been able to find that study online to cite, alas.

I've always been very interested in anything inside my own body, whether it's another person, or something intended to inhibit the creation of other people.

L. said...

And hey, I thought of something that works even better than Rebecca's "lifeboat" example above: Does anyone remember how the Viet Cong used to booby-trap orphans with explosives, and send them to blow up U.S. troops?

Picture this -- a toddler doesn't know that a bomb has been strapped onto her, and was told just to run into the group of men. You can see the bomb, ready to go off, coming toward you and the men in your command. The fuse is almost gone - there is no time to shout for everyone to run away from her, and even if you did that, she will die, anyway, when the bomb goes off. So you have a few seconds to decide: Do you shoot the toddler, to save yourself and your men?
Or do you all die, because you can never, under any circumstances, take an innocent life?

(I think I am going to have nightmares about that scenario now....)

Hector said...

L,

My impression was always that the IUD, unlike the Pill, was indeed an inhibitor of implantation, and so I would have advised anyone who asked not to use it.

However, I looked it up last month and was surprised to learn that the modern versions of the IUD, at least, tend to be spermicidal in their mechanism, rather than inhibiting implantation. I'm glad/relieved to hear that your doctor reported never seeing any evidence of early abortions from the IUD.

I'm aware what the manufacturers of the Pill say. Those advisories are put there by the marketers, and it's a CYA thing: they don't want to be held accountable, if, someday, science shows that the Pill can inhibit implantation. There's no evidence that it does, which indicates that if it does happen it's rare, but science is always a provisional enterprise, so the manufacturers have figured it's better to throw the speculative risk in there, so that no one can later claim they weren't warned. That being as it may, no one has succeeded in demonstrating that this is an actual risk (as opposed to a speculative one).

c matt said...

but also for men

Especially for men who want casual sex and no consequences.

Not least, widespread and widely available contraception is certainly an important element in suppressing the abortion rate, as the example of Northern Europe shows.

And the example of New York debunks your claim. You forget to factor in the more restrictive abortion laws of Northern Europe. New York, which has the highest abortion rate and contraceptive availability, is a better test of the connection because it does not have other factors such as restrictive abortion laws. At best, you can only conclude that contraceptives have no effect of lowering the abortion rate.

c matt said...

I've always been very interested in anything inside my own body, whether it's another person, or something intended to inhibit the creation of other people.

I will give you this much - at least you are honest enough to admit it is another person.

Hector said...

Re: You forget to factor in the more restrictive abortion laws of Northern Europe. New York, which has the highest abortion rate and contraceptive availability, is a better test of the connection because it does not have other factors such as restrictive abortion laws. At best, you can only conclude that contraceptives have no effect of lowering the abortion rate

Fair enough, but countries like Brazil, which have very restrictive abortion laws, also have lots of illegal abortions. The lowest abortion rates are found in the European countries which have a combination of restrictive abortion laws, and lots of widely available contraception.

The reasons why New York has a higher abortion rate than Sweden is an interesting question, and probably has a lot to do with American culture- capitalism and individualism haven't done us much good in training us to think of our responsibilities to one another. But it's unlikely to have much to do with contraception, which is, if anything, more widely used in Sweden than in New York.

The plain truth is that if more women were on the Pill, there would be fewer pregnancies, and therefore fewer abortions. I agree with you about the need for more restrictive abortion laws, but as the example of most countries in our hemisphere shows, those _alone_ won't accomplish what you and I both want them to.

L. said...

The mere availability of contraception doesn't help much, if people don't actually use it consistently and correctly.

Rebecca in CA said...

L., though your example is horrifying, it isn't a better example, because it's a different situation morally. You would be morally obliged to stop the bomb from coming closer, and in order to achieve that end the child may be killed in the process, but that is an example of double effect.

c matt said...

The plain truth is that if more women were on the Pill, there would be fewer pregnancies, and therefore fewer abortions

Not necessarily. The availability of contraception also increases the frequency of sex, and in particular, the likelihood of the type of sex that will increase the resort to abortion (out of wedlock). If the consequences (out of wedlock pregnancy) can be reduced, then the behavior is more likely to occur, thus possibly increasing the actual number of occurrences. Even if contraception reduces the likhood of pregnancy by 99%, its availability may increase the amount of activity by 200%, thus offsetting its prophylactic property. Comparing rates of contracpetive use and abortion really cannot factor this in adequately, as seen by the disparate results of the countries you mentioned. So, at best, it seems contraception has no effect, at least according to the data available.

Hector said...

Re: Even if contraception reduces the likhood of pregnancy by 99%, its availability may increase the amount of activity by 200%, thus offsetting its prophylactic property.

Hi CMatt,

That's not mathematically correct.

The likelihood of a couple having unprotected sex becoming pregnant is about 80% per year. The likelihood of a couple on the Pill becoming pregnant (assuming they're using it properly and regularly) is maybe 1%, so we can say that the use of the Pill cuts down the likelihood of pregnancy by a factor of 80. In order to offset the number of unwanted pregnancies, 80 times as many couples (not 2 times as many) would have to be having sex. Which clearly isn't the case.

Now, of course, in reality the effect of the Pill isn't quite that strong: some couples that use the Pill don't use it regularly, properly, or carefully; a lot of people nowadays use condoms, which are much less effective; and even before the Pill, people had some (less effective) ways of preventing pregnancy, it isn't as though they did nothing at all. Still, a 200% increase, or even a 500% increase in the number of couples having sex is not enough to cancel out the 99% effectiveness at preventing pregnancy.

By the way, I don't think that having widely available contraception, alone, is going to suppress the abortion rate. Only a combination of several factors can reduce the abortion rate. More access to contraception is one important factor; stricter anti-abortion laws is another; more support, and less stigma for women who have children outside marriage is a third. Only the combination of all of these will really succeed in suppressing the abortion rate. As far as advocating for stricter abortion laws goes, I generally agree with you there.

L. said...

I don't favor any restrictions on abortion at all, but I do think it's undesirable, and worth preventing. Even if one has no moral qualms about the killing part, it's invasive minor surgerym and it's both expensive and risky, and I don't know anyone who was ever happy to be facing one. I agree there should be less stigma -- in fact, I would say no stigma for out-of-wedlock births, but there also needs to be better systems to track down parents who desert their children.

And I don't think the Pill is the answer, because of all the health risks of chemical birth control.

I also think the government should pay for the sterlization of any person -- of any age -- who wants it. I would have availed myself of that years ago!

bathilda said...

Wait, did I miss something? There's a stigma for out of wedlock births? Since when? Doesn't seem like anyone thinks they need to be married anymore. I think that the stigma we should be targeting is the stigma against women who choose to give up their babies for adoption. That still persists. So these pregnant teens as well as pregnant adults would rather get an abortion to keep it all quiet, rather than be judged for giving up their babies. They can't keep that a secret... People will know that they are pregnant.

L. said...

Bathilda, the stigma for out-of-wedlock births remains alive and well in some families -- and some young women continue to have abortions to "save their families from the shame." (I have known a few of them.)