Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The price of choice

I'm up too late, absolutely in awe of the videos at this site.

The EHD, or Endowment for Human Development, takes a neutral position on bioethics issues (e.g. abortion, etc.). This should make it clear that the materials on the site are not driven by some sort of pro-life agenda and thus, to some people, dismissible--the governing principle here is science.

Consider that according to the information here the embryo by six to eight weeks following conception can move her hands and demonstrate right or left-handed preferences, will show a startle response and can hiccup, and that her ovaries are identifiable by seven weeks; her heart has been beating from 3 weeks, one day after fertilization and some primitive brain activity can be measured by six weeks, two days after fertilization. (I would defer to Dr. Gerard Nadal if any of this information is incorrect.)

When do most women have abortions? Over half of all abortions take place in the first trimester. Aside from so-called "medical abortions" such as those using RU-486, though, most surgical abortions aren't done until the sixth week of pregnancy--for the gruesome reason that performing a surgical abortion earlier might fail to remove all of the tiny embryo, and leaving anything behind increases the woman's risk for a repeat abortion or for infections.

So the vast majority of abortions in America are killing a little girl like the one whose ovaries are visible at seven weeks in the video you can see here, or a little boy the same age, fingers, toes, brain, heartbeat, and all. Our culture has decided that the price of "choice," which requires the brutal tearing apart and destruction of these living beings and the disposal of their tiny bodies as so much garbage, is a perfectly acceptable one to pay.


eulogos said...

I once had to run out of church when a priest (God bless him) conveyed as much as was known of this information at that time, in his sermon.

Let me just say that having done this is something one never forgets or escapes. Supposedly baptism is an entirely fresh start, but despite that, the heart provides its own temporal punishment due to sin!

We are heartily sorry for these our misdoings. The remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father, for thy Son Our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past, and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy name.

(Book of Common Prayer confession of sin in the Holy Communion service.)

Susan Peterson

freddy said...

God bless you, Susan; you're in my prayers.

And thank you for posting that beautiful prayer! I've not seen it before and it's so true and touching!

chimakuni said...

For all those hurting from abortion, please know that you are indeed LOVED.

If you are interested in attending a retreat to be able to grieve, celebrate and memorialize your child/ren, in accordance with the scriptures, we invite you to attend a Rachel's Vineyard, healing abortion one weekend at a time; a wonderful program written by Theresa Burke, PhD.

The phone number is 877 HOPE 4 ME and their website is http://www.rachelsvineyard.org/
This is one of Priests for Life's ministries.

Men and women - all who have experienced an abortion in any way are welcome to contact Rachel's Vineyard.

God Bless

Erin Manning said...

Susan and Chimakuni, God bless you both, and thank you for sharing your experiences here and elsewhere with us.

One of the things I liked about the videos at the site above is that they show living babies in the womb. Pro-lifers argue about the effectiveness of the graphic abortion pictures, but there's nothing at all graphic about showing an amazingly tiny unborn child moving her hands or responding to a stimulus. I think that women are capable of great generosity in the face of these kinds of images, even when they are in a crisis pregnancy.

The lies about "choice" never really show what a desperate thing abortion is for some women. I've heard from some post-abortive women who said the greatest irony of the whole "choice" framing is that abortion is something you do when you don't believe or can't believe you have any other choices.

Gerard Nadal said...


Great post. You need no correction from anyone. You could write the books yourself.

God Bless

Melanie Bettinelli said...

"One of the things I liked about the videos at the site above is that they show living babies in the womb. Pro-lifers argue about the effectiveness of the graphic abortion pictures, but there's nothing at all graphic about showing an amazingly tiny unborn child moving her hands or responding to a stimulus. I think that women are capable of great generosity in the face of these kinds of images, even when they are in a crisis pregnancy."

Thank you, Erin, for articulating that so well. I think you put your finger on exactly what bothers me so much about the graphic images: they don't inspire generosity or love. At best they can only drive people to shame and regret.

Erin Manning said...

Gerry, you're way too kind.

Melanie, thanks! I used to think graphic pictures of the aftermath of abortion were necessary, the way pictures of war or other violence are. But after listening to post-abortive women I realized that showing these pictures without a warning or disclaimer is inflicting pain unnecessarily on those grieving for their lost little ones, and should be avoided whenever possible.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Exactly. Someone very near and dear to me is post-abortive. She doesn't talk about it publicly, so I try to be circumspect when discussing it to protect her privacy. I have seen how it has scarred her and I tend to be very protective. It makes me mad that those who are supposedly pro-life can be so callous. They give fuel to abortion proponents who claim prolifers only care about babies and not women. If we are called to be Christ to others then we must consider the way our words and the images we use will effect everyone who sees them. It should not be acceptable that anyone is traumatized by graphic images. We shouldn't be willing to accept collateral damage in the fight against abortion.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

The only box in the linked page which made much of an impression on me, prior to six months was "highly developed brain," and it didn't give much detail. George and Tollefsen emphasize that what makes human beings special is "a personal life, characterized by reason and will." Thumb sucking and bowel movements are hardly evidence of either one. Heartbeat? Every cow and chicken sent to the slaughter house has a heart beat. What makes human beings special, different, unique, sacred, in ways no other mammal is? A personal life, characterized by reason and will. The notion of "quickening" is indeed obsolete, but the complex system of organs which makes a human being, with reason and will, comes more like week 20, which is not only the point where the complex brain system is really operating, it is also the point of metabolic independence from the mother.

The overwhelming majority of abortions are performed in the first twelve weeks, not between 12 and 24. This is something large numbers of sincere people are going to disagree sharply about. As long as we lack an overwhelming consensus, it seems a poor subject for criminal legislation. It is, of course, a matter on which all of us, not just the pro-choice platform, have every right to free speech and legal efforts to persuade others.

freddy said...

I'm a little late to this but I'd like to address a point or two in the above response of Siarlys Jenkins.

You said: "What makes human beings special, different, unique, sacred, in ways no other mammal is? A personal life, characterized by reason and will."

I think what you are reaching for here is the ontological definition of humanity rather than the accidental, yet you do seem to confuse and conflate the two.

The reality is that I am -- and always have been -- a human being rather than a chicken or a cow, in spite of our similarities, because I was created a human being. This can be defined scientifically in terms of my unique human DNA. It cam be most fully understood, however, by the ontological definition that all human beings have the same nature.

Your attempt at a definition of human still divides humans into two groups, one of which will be preferred over the other, because you insist on terms that must be demonstrated: "a personal life" "reason" and "will." I could even argue that a chicken has a personal life: one chicken is not another, after all. A chicken shows limited ability to reason and even demonstrates will, but most assuredly a chicken is not a human being.

Maybe I'm just not terribly clear on your definition of personal life, reason and will, but it seems to me that there are groups of humans -- the aged, the sick -- who may not meet be able to demonstrate these criteria, and yet they are undeniably human. Heck, when I'm asleep I'm not demonstrating any of these criteria, and there are certain times of the month I'm not terribly reasonable! (Though perhaps the extra willfullness makes up for that.)

Wouldn't it be better to err on the side of caution, in determining the humanity of the unborn child? If it has human DNA, a working brain and a beating heart, can we not assume it has a human life worthy of respect?

For my part, of course, the simplest definition suffices: a human life begins at conception. I don't have to understand the quality of that life or subject it to any further criteria.

Sorry for my rambling! And thank you for your patience!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Freddy, that is a very well presented set of thoughts. Thank you. We are both using terminology from George and Tollefsen's book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, although I wouldn't for a moment claim that they would support or agree with my use of their terms.

The heart of their arguments, and a good deal of yours, is that the KIND of life at issue, whether it is human, giraffe, chimpanzee, or salmon, is the salient issue. If it is a HUMAN zygote, then it is entitled to full respect as a human being.

There is a kind of continuity there, but as many times as I have read their presentation, and similar arguments by Gerard Nadal, it seems to me that this reduces itself to genetic identity. If the genes are unique, if there is continuity from formation of a new genetic pattern through all stage of development to the death of an octegenarian adult (or older or younger), then a human being is present.

There is indeed a kind of continuity there, but so long as the life that exists is a chemically-programmed, autonomically functioning, biological process, I don't see a human being. Some of the descendant cells from the zygote will never be part of a human being -- they became the antecedents of the placenta, essentially sacrificing themselves and their daughter cells, so that other cells can develop into a human being. Until we are past that kind of purely biological function, I don't see a human being, albeit there is tissue that is genetically distinct from the mother.

I took the phrase "personal life characterized by reason and will" directly from George and Tollefsen. I think the operative word is "characterized by." The personal life of a chicken is not characterized by reason and will in the same sense that human life is. Biology deals with survival of the species -- individuals are superfluous. Humanity places value on each individual -- and for that, I look to the existence of reason and will, not mere chemical potential.

John Thayer Jensen said...


I took the phrase "personal life characterized by reason and will" directly from George and Tollefsen. I think the operative word is "characterized by."

An important question, I think, is what 'characterised by' means. If it is only existential, then even an unconscious human being has not got them. And certainly there is no way to stop short of involuntary euthanasia for, let us say, extreme Alzheimer's patients.

If, on the other hand, 'characterised by' means 'of the species that, when operating correctly and normally, exercises' - then I don't see where you cut between the fertilised zygote and the 23-year-old who - it is to be hoped - exercises reason and will.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

John, my dear and eloquent friend, I will not cover ground we know we simply cannot agree on, but I share your concern that a 23 year old who is asleep or in a temporary coma might be deemed to lack reason and will. I also recognize that if I simply reached for a convenient word like "capacity," you could logically and legitimately point out that a zygote has the "capacity" to develop reason and will.

The distinction I intuitively make, and will try to justify by reason, is that a 23 year old has all the organs necessary to exercise reason and will, functioning as a well coordinated system, albeit some of those functions have temporarily lapsed. On the other hand, a zygote has the chemical encoding to grow those organs but it does not itself have the capacity. Therefore, I consider it proper to consider the wishes of the woman concerned, while the new organisim is at the zygote and embryo stage, and early stages of fetal development, as to whether she wishes to host this process which WILL, if not terminated, result in an independent life.

As to Alzheimer's, I see many reasons to reject euthenasia, not the least being the fallibility of human judgement, and the many ulterior motives which may come into play. It is my wish, as to my self, that if I am chronically or terminally unable to give informed consent, there shall be no surgery or invasive procedures, only palliative care.

I should add that when engaged in reasonable discussion with individuals like yourself and Freddy, I frequently stop and wonder whether I have this right, or whether God really would have me see things differently, perhaps even your way. I'm not convinced I'm wrong, but I really do think about whether I can be sure I'm right.