Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dialogue on Whether Personhood Begins at Conception (vs. Sogn Mill-Scout)

By Dave Armstrong (29 March 2004)

Sogn's words will be in blue. He is a Christian.

* * * * * 

The Church opposes killing abortionists and other violence directed against people involved in abortion because it is wrong to murder, and two wrongs don't make a right. The violence is in the abortuary. If we adopt the same measure, then we have become identified with the oppressors.
I was in the rescue movement: that was, I think, the best way to resist (nonviolently). Black people sat at lunch counters so that they could receive equal treatment under the law. We sat at the doors of abortion clinics so that the next child about to be brought in and slaughtered might receive the right to life. 

This was the way to go about it: Christians should have joined together and caused massive social upheaval. That could have shut down the abortion industry in a week. But as usual, we weren't committed enough and it petered out. We had to stick together. I can't go out and block a clinic all by myself because I could get a ten-year jail sentence, and I have four children. But if 100 people go out and do that, and do so every week, and if they go to jail, 200 more come and take their place, then we shut it down. As I see it, that was our chance to end abortion, and we blew it.

The murder is occurring every day (4000+). There should be an uproar among Christians, but we sit and tolerate this. We're no better than the Germans who sat by while the camps did their dirty work. That was perfectly legal according to German law, too, and those who were later tried appealed to that. We look down our noses at them but we are far worse, because we don't even care about the most innocent and defenseless among us. We're all guilty of this. I certainly take my share of the blame.

I'm not a Catholic . . . I am, however, a Christian (Episcopal) who worships and tries to follow Christ. Nevertheless, I disagree with your view on voting vis-a-vis Christian belief. While I disapprove of abortion in the vast majority of cases, I'm also pro-choice in the sense that I don't believe all abortions should be outlawed

Which should be allowed, and why?

(this emphatically does not imply that I subscribe to the views of, say, NARAL or NOW on this subject). There are at least two reasons for my position, which I don't have any problem reconciling with my Christian faith. First, we live in a pluralistic democratic republic, not a Christian theocracy.

So what? What does that have to do with what is right and wrong, pray tell?

Simple. I will conveniently quote from Kurt's recent post:
St Thomas Aquinas provides a useful response to this question: 'Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.' (Summa Theologica, I-II, 96, 2)
So the law of the state need not outlaw every immoral act but should outlaw those immoral acts which cause serious harm to others. ...
Exactly. Abortion causes serious harm to others, because it rips preborn babies from limb to limb, tortures them, and murders them, thus depriving them of ever setting foot on the earth (except maybe a dead foot which falls from the butchers hands as he finishes his ghastly, bloody deed, along with a head, a trunk, arms, and guts). This helps you case not a whit, because you still have to establish that persons are not being slaughtered. Secondly, it is easy to show how abortion seriously harms women, so even if persons weren't being murdered, legal abortion would fail Thomas's test.

A Christian theocracy would outlaw all vices, as they are defined by the Christian moral code (interpreted, of course, by some organized body of Christians, whether the Catholic church, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, Reformed Reconstructionists, or whoever seized power).

I'm not talking about that (nor do I see anyone else here doing so). Go argue that with someone else. The only point I made was that contraception was, in fact, widely illegal as recently as JFK's presidency, and we were not an "Islamic fundamentalist" Republic. We were just barely Christian then, as a society (if at all). I'm talking about systematic, institutionalized murder and slaughter. You need to work through your position as to what constitutes a person and a human being in other than vague terms, with the use of trivial and inapplicable analogies such as balding men.

The constitutional republic of the United States, on the other hand, cannot legally mandate the moral code of Christianity or any other religion. It must instead reflect the (hopefully) reasoned consensus of its citizens.

As I stated, all laws impose themselves on those who disagree. A majority favoring them is not necessary. We elect representatives, and if they pass a law which we don't like, we are bound to it unless it is changed by future representatives.

There is no settled moral consensus that abortion is intrinsically wrong.

So what? What do you do: determine your morality and ethics by counting heads? What if 99.9% of the American populace thought child molestation, rape, and partial-birth "abortion" [i.e., infanticide] were "right"? Would you then adopt those positions?

This is a moot point since no such 'society' could endure (cf. CS Lewis's Abolition of Man and its concept of the Tao, or universal natural law).

That's beside the point. I exaggerated in order to illustrate a moral / philosophical principle, which you need to deal with.

However, I imagine that somewhat higher percentages of people could come to believe some particularly abhorrent practice is morally acceptable. Most Americans accepted slavery for quite a while, and racial prejudice remained rampant for many decades after slaver ended. But all this is irrelevant as I'm not claiming that morality is determined by majority vote.

Then why do you keep arguing that there is no consensus on abortion today, as if that has any relevance to its rightness or wrongness?

I believe in moral principles ordained by our Creator. But I also place a high value on preserving the integrity and stability of our civilization, even if it is not distinctively colored by Christian moral principles.

Killing children legally does this???!!!

As I indicated earlier, I would go even further than pro-lifers in some respects, in that I would like to protect all sentient beings, not just human fetuses.

This is the downfall of your case, as I have already started to argue. You've done all my work of arguing for me, and have made it easy for me to succeed in this dispute. Most abortions occur with sentient preborn babies, depending on definition. The early abortions probably don't inflict pain on the victims (dear God, I sure hope they don't), but they are sentient, if by that you mean brain waves (which are present at six weeks). If you equate brain waves with sentience and sentience with personhood, then you couldn't possibly favor legal abortion in the US, other than those caused by birth control pills (almost all of which are abortifacients -- all those millions of Christians using the Pill are also murdering many thousands of preborn human beings). You yourself admitted sentience for a 12-week-old fetus. This is first trimester, and legal with no limitation whatsoever.

Violence isn't wrong only when its victims are human.

I agree with you there. I am against all cruelty to animals, as you are.

I believe I'm right and the vast majority of humans are wrong on that point. But does that give me the right to dictate my belief in the form of law? No.

Good. Then quit talking about consensus and diversity and simply fight for what you believe, on a philosophical, legal, and legislative level. Everyone else does so: Christian and non-Christian alike. It is only this fake tolerance which amounts to absurd libertarian-compromised positions. One could oppose slavery when it was perfectly constitutional and upheld by the Supreme Court. One can oppose abortion today as well. No difference. "Diversity" of opinion makes not one whit of difference.

And even if I could pass such laws it would do no good since most people hold diametrically opposed beliefs and would defy the laws.

Laws have the effect of discouraging behavior (as well as encouraging it, when it allows something). I strongly disagree with this. laws against racial discrimination have had a positive effect on behavior. Racism is arguably, considerably less than it was -- at least outwardly.

The same is true of abortion. Many abortions occurred during the decades when it was illegal.

That has no bearing on the ethical argument. And the figures were grossly exaggerated. They were saying "thousands" of such abortions occurred. This is not true. People like Bernard Nathanson (former abortionist in the forefront of the "pro-choice" movement) report how the pro-aborts deliberately lied and distorted known facts in order to get their agenda through.

. . . a large segment of our society does not believe that a nonsentient human embryo, much less a zygote, has the right to life inherent in personhood.

That has no bearing on whether a person in fact begins at conception.

I didn't say it did. But unless you can persuade most people to view zygotes as persons, passing your laws will only lead to further social combustion.

Better social combustion than wholesale murder. I think you have your priorities backwards. Murder must be stopped, if it is determined to be murder, no matter what the cost.

. . . Given such a profound division in moral perspective, I don't see how one can justify imposing the view of some (not all) Christians on the rest of society.

All laws impose their views on the rest of society. So what? What do we do: refuse to make law on anything where people disagree? What would become of income tax or 30 mph speed limits on big streets, etc.?

I'm saying you don't have the right to impose this particular law (against all abortions) any more than I have the right to impose a law against exploitation of animals.

You have a "right" to do so (in a legal sense) insofar as you utilize the usual legislative channels and pass the law. Then people would be bound to it. All law compels some against their will. If it is many, in the case of murder or slavery, then so be it.

It doesn't follow simply from the fact of disagreement, but from the fact that ours is a society comprised of diverse and all-encompassing philosophies and religions.

That is ethically irrelevant. Abortion was formerly almost universally-condemned by pagan and Christian alike (as were even divorce and contraception). This is not a specifically Christian issue. It is a human rights issue, and a very fundamental one at that. If the consensus used to be pro-life, it could conceivably be so again. But we don't accomplish that by sitting on our butts and "accepting the status quo that godless abortionists and their victims (both children and women) have given us." If the abolitionists had taken that stance, slavery might still be here today. All great social movements and Christian movements have to buck the trend: whether it was the abolition of child labor, or the establishment of labor unions, or the civil rights movement. This is self-evident. What is so hard to comprehend here? Christians are always idealists. We don't accept things as they are, but work towards things as they should be. That applies to law just as to every other aspect of life.

. . . Your task is to explain to me (and us) why you believe a person does not begin to exist at conception. I've never heard a cogent case for this presented in the 22 years I have been pro-life. If you can't make the case, then your position is groundless and entirely arbitrary, and based on relativism (counting heads).

I don't equate personhood with DNA.

Why? A statement is not an argument. I'm trying to find out and understand why you believe as you do, not just what you believe.

I think there are certain necessary conditions of personhood, most notably sentience, or at least the property of having been sentient at some point in one's existence.


Why would you equate personhood with having 46 human chromosomes?

It's the principle of organic development (explained elsewhere in this discussion).

'Personhood' is roughly synonymous with 'selfhood', as reflected in one of the relevant dictionary definitions: "the personality of a human being: SELF." An organism consisting of a few cells is not in any plausible sense of the word a self, even if it possesses human DNA.

Again, it goes back to development. But your argument falters even if we grant this, based on sentience and deprivation of potential persons, which is practically as evil and unjust as deprivation of actual persons.

. . . If you know, on the other hand, that a person begins at conception, then you must favor laws that protect those persons, just as we have laws against murder of born persons. Birth is not all that significant in the life history of a human being.

I never focused on birth. I specifically rejected partial birth abortion as an abomination, and I identified sentience as the key element in identifying subjects toward which we have duties.

Good. Now you have to explain to us when a person is a person and when they should be protected, or else your position reduces to my analogy of two hunters shooting into the woods and not caring if people are in there or not, because their "right to hunt" overrides potential harm to persons.
. . . All that changes (after birth) is how the baby breathes and receives nutrition. No big deal.

I agree. Infanticide is murder. Killing a sentient fetus likewise immoral.

Good. I'm building my argument on your own assumptions (as the good socratic that I am).
People receiving food from IV's are similar to preborn babies. People in lung machines or with ventilators are, too. They breathe in a different way from the normal process. The really important, exponentially more crucial stuff occurred long before: the heart started beating at 18 days; brain waves at about 6 weeks (both of which are how we generally determine where death has occurred).

Assuming you're correct with the six-week figure (I can't recall, but I thought it was later), there is almost certainly no sentience present prior to that point, i.e. prior to the emergence of a functional neurological system.
"Brain waves have been recorded at 40 days on the Electroencephalogram (EEG). H. Hamlin, "Life or Death by EEG," JAMA, Oct. 12, 1964, p. 120
"Brain function, as measured on the Electroencephalogram, "appears to be reliably present in the fetus at about eight weeks gestation," or six weeks after conception. J. Goldenring, "Development of the Fetal Brain," New England Jour. of Med., Aug. 26, 1982, p. 564
In an article cited by a pro-abortion web page, it was stated that pain may be felt by a preborn child as early as 22 weeks after gestation. For anyone interested in this article, "Fetal Awareness," which is not a pro-life source, see:

All the DNA a person will ever need for the rest of their life: literally what makes them the distinct person they are, is present from the moment of conception. If the baby is a male, then he is obviously not a part of his mother's body, for that would mean that she has a penis. Etc., etc. This is all rather self-evident and unarguable. It's medical fact.

What is special about DNA? It's merely information in chemical form. It has no more moral significance than software.

It is the stuff which makes it possible for the fetus to develop into an adult human being. It's the "blueprint," in a sense (but much more than that, as a blueprint doesn't develop into a building, like DNA develops into an adult person). All that is added is time and nutrition. Therefore, the person is present from the beginning, because there is no logical or non-arbitrary way to begin "personhood" at any other time. If I trace myself back in time, I go back continuously to the moment of my conception. Before that, it is nonsensical to talk about me. I didn't yet exist. After that, it is nonsensical to pick some point at which I began as a person. There is no reason why "human" should be distinguished from "person" in the first place.

. . . To use a parallel example, as a vegetarian I'd love to ban the torture and killing of animals,

Thats interesting. So you place animals higher in the scheme of things than human beings.

I can't see anywhere I said or implied that.

Then you will have to be against the killing of preborn babies as soon as they are sentient (since that is your criteria, but you have yet to explain why).

The parallel consists solely in the idea of imposing one particular religious conviction upon huge numbers of fellow citizens who don't share that religious belief.

The fetus at 19 days isn't human even though it has all its DNA in place and has a beating heart?

I didn't say it isn't human; being a specifically human organism is nothing more than having human DNA. My claim is that having human DNA is not a sufficient condition of being a person. Sentience is a minimal necessary condition.

On what grounds and what authority do you make this distinction between a person and a human?
. . . But you would be against the abortion of a preborn dog or porcupine? Is that what you think? Why? Make your case.

I didn't condemn the abortion of animals. I condemn the killing and/or torment of sentient beings in general, human or nonhuman, barring countervailing factors (e.g., self-defense, or perhaps a just war, though I'm not quite decided about whether there is such a thing).

Okay, but I want to know why you select sentience as defining of a person rather than the possession of a soul?

. . . but I don't believe in dictatorship, no matter how it may cloak itself in pretensions to divine infallibility.

It has nothing directly to do with "divine infallibility" -- it is medical and scientific fact and logical consistency applied to ethics. The inalienable right to life is presupposed in our Declaration of Independence. Jefferson didn't even feel he had to argue it. It was "self-evident."

The reality of an inalienable right to life isn't in dispute.

Then why do you advocate abortion at all? As I already argued, even if the slaughter and child-killing (aka abortion) occurs before you think a person is present, you have, nevertheless deprived this "non-person" human of the life it would inevitably come to possess, but for the butcher coming in to tear him or her limb from limb and destroy him or her.

. . . Jefferson felt that the first function of government was to protect life. What does that have to do with "divine infallibility"? Please tell me; I'm dying to know.

You're presuming to impose your concept of personhood (where possession of human DNA is a sufficient condition) upon a society many of whose members reject that concept.

Why do they reject it? It is irrelevant how many people believe what, in terms of moral legislation -- I already discussed that, and you seemed to agree.

Without appeal to God as being on your side, your position would be utterly capricious.

I haven't brought God or the Bible into this at all, except passing mentions of the soul, which I did only because I know you are a Christian and presumably accept that belief. This case doesn't rest on Christianity or even God in a theistic sense, but on elementary ethics (e.g., the Golden Rule -- would you desire that you had been ripped to shreds before you were born so that you couldn't be sitting there reading this at this moment? Of course not. That is the Golden rule; ergo, abortion is evil on that basis, among many others), and logic and philosophy. That's why I have a link to a group of atheists and agnostics who are pro-life. That's why there are people like Nat Hentoff who see abortion for what it is: a barbaric monstrosity. Bernard Nathanson rejected it before he came to believe in God. Etc. So your claim is demonstrably false.

The pagan Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was against abortion. That had nothing to do with revelation. It was simply common moral sense. Even most of the animals know enough to not murder their own offspring (or each other).

There's no analogy here. We're not talking about killing human infants.

I see. So now you wish to argue that a human just-conceived is not the "offspring" of the mother and father?
Animals are not capable of terminating their pregnancies near their beginning.

That wasn't my argument, but rather, that most animals know better, from the time that they are capable of destroying their own offspring. They know that, but we don't. In other words, it is so basic that even a relatively dumb animal instinctively knows not to do it. But we human beings do not have such an exalted moral sense. We murder our own and think little of it, when all is said and done.
. . . In my court case for two of my rescues, I argued (when I was allowed to make my "statement") completely from pagan ethics and moral law. I didn't quote the Bible, and I didn't quote popes (since I was Protestant then, anyway). :-) I was acting like Paul at Mars Hill. He talked to the people according to what they understood already, before he preached the Good News to them.

I'm unaware of any credible basis, pagan or Christian or otherwise, for identifying personhood and the object of our duties with a group of nonsentient cells, merely because they possess human DNA.

It isn't rocket science to know that babies come from intercourse, and that there is "seed" in the semen that produced a new life. This is even pre-scientific knowledge from simple, "uneducated" observation (if only from observing farm animals, if nothing else):
1. Intercourse can make a woman pregnant.
2. That is because semen contains seed that can produce new life.
3. That life had to begin somewhere. The logical point is when the semen comes in contact with whatever it is that women contribute to procreation (i.e., the egg).
4. Failing that, fertile women menstruate every month, as a result of non-conception.
5. Therefore, the new human life and person began at the act of intercourse, in the case of a subsequent pregnancy.
This is simple observation, but nothing in it contradicts what we now know from modern biology. We didn't know about genetics and DNA till a little over a hundred years ago. Now we have less excuse. But one could still argue from common-sense observation and the readily observable chain of causality. They might argue about quickening and ensoulment, but it was still clear when this new life first began.

Germain Grisez, a Catholic moral theologian, makes an argument against abortion based on the developmental model I have been setting forth. Paul M. Cox, writing about his view, states:
Grisez adopts a formalistic strategy to the effect that all unborn human individuals ought to be counted as moral persons, at least on a prima facie basis, because the full moral value of normal adults who are moral persons is implicit in the living genetic mechanism of all members of the human species. Grisez's opponents dispute this conclusion, arguing that the human genetic package is not a sufficiently substantial basis to account for, or to manifest, the full moral value of an adult moral person. Rather, they suggest, its relative value ought to be determined by analogy to the value of a designer's blueprints relative to the full value of the completed structure. Grisez replies that the suggested analogy is not instructive in this instance because the objects being compared are disanalogous in essential features. The blueprint is a dormant sheet and the structure is a dormant artifact which in no analogous sense embodies the design until its completion. On the contrary, according to Grisez, the living human individual bully embodies its design from its conception, as the inherent, living genetic mechanism from which all its adult qualities unfold in due course. However, this reply leads to an additional objection.
It would be theoretically possible to attribute a lesser value and moral status to the unborn on the basis of their immaturity and consequent deficiency in the fully developed qualities and capabilities of adult human persons, such as rational awareness. If the moral value of adults were accounted for on the basis of specific qualities or capabilities, then it would follow that the value of immature, or potential, adults would increase proportionately to their growth and development of the valued qualities and capabilities.
However, Grisez's strategy is not vulnerable to this objection because he argues that moral value is accounted for on the basis of nature, itself, of the individual, rather than on the value of specific characteristics on their own account. Moreover, valuation on the basis of individual qualities and capabilities, on their own account, is vulnerable to criticism as inherently subjective and relative, providing a reasonable basis to exclude not only mature fetuses, but neonates and individuals who are temporarily comatose, or severely senile, as well.
. . . Again, I don't believe abortion is justified in the majority of cases (i.e. unintended pregnancies which result from consensual sexual intercourse), but banning them all (i.e. imposing my moral perspective on others by law) is unwarranted on the democratic grounds I described above.

In what instance is it moral to murder a preborn child?

We are not agreed on the definition of "pre-born child," so I can't answer your exact question. But if you're asking if I believe it's ever moral to have an abortion, even if the fetus is possibly sentient, I would say Yes. One example is a woman impregnated by rape.

I see. So this sentient fetus (human / actual or potential person) ceases to possess the inalienable right to life simply because its father was a moral monster? So now personhood (or personal right to life) depends on how one is conceived? If you answer yes, then you don't really believe in inalienable rights, in the nature of the case; rather, they are dependent upon situations. This is situation ethics or ethical relativism, whether you are aware of it or not. If you answer no, then you must oppose abortion in cases of rape.

Another would be a horribly defective fetus, i.e. one which will develop some hideous disease, such as Tay-Sachs Disease or Progeria, or a fetus that isn't even developing a brain.

Here its rights and personhood depend on how healthy it is. If it is a person and can thus be destroyed, then so can any number of born persons suffering horribly from various maladies. The argument is ultimately indistinguishable from the rationales for euthanasia and infanticide. You may try to separate them but it can't be done: not with moral and logical consistency.

. . . I do agree with you that partial birth abortion is a "brutal, savage slaughter of a full-term baby about to be born," and I too "can't even comprehend this level of moral lunacy" that permits this procedure to be legal. But that is morally a far cry from aborting an embryo or very early-term fetus.

Why? That fetus has an eternal soul.

I don't even know what an "eternal soul" is supposed to be, let alone that a fetus possesses one.

So you deny the existence of the soul. Does this mean you don't believe in an afterlife with souls and spirits, before the resurrection?

I don't even know that you and I have such an entity - since it's never been defined in a way I could understand - so I certainly can't ascribe such a mysterious property to a fetus.

You have to understand everything before you can believe it? Of course, you don't do this consistently. We all believe in things we don't understand. Who can understand eternity or omnipresence or omniscience or how black holes work or how an eye can evolve, or how DNA evolved or came into being, for that matter? But Christians believe those things about God and people who respect science believe all kinds of things. The soul is a philosophical concept of long standing and also a tenet of orthodox Christianity. But that's not enough for you, as a Christian? You have to absolutely understand everything?

To me, 'soul' is a poetic term more or less functionally equivalent to sentience - as in Genesis where God created animals as living souls, and humans became living souls when God breathed into them. It's a poetic term, but you seem to mean in it an ontological sense that I find quite mysterious.

. . . It has a heartbeat (before the mother barely knows -- if at all -- that she is even pregnant). It has brain waves at six weeks: before virtually all abortions take place. They feel pain fairly early on (oddly and weirdly enough, you oppose that in the case of animals but not in human beings).

I oppose criminalizing all abortions, but I do not morally approve of the abortions you are describing. I morally disapprove of adultery, but I do not believe it should be a criminal act.

So tell me exactly what legal abortion limitations you would propose?

. . . Unlike you, however, I believe it's necessary in many cases "to separate public and private morality; personal and civic virtue."

I haven't made any argument about any other immoral practices besides abortion. I was making the point that Christians are often acting more in a libertarian manner than applying their Christian values to the public sphere, including law and politics.

. . . More people believe in eating meat than not. So that would mean that you have no warrant to press your case for not killing animals for food.

I have a perfect right to press my case (i.e. to try to persuade people to view nonhumans with compassion as I do); I just don't have the right to make killing animals illegal.

You certainly do. If you can get enough legislators to agree with you, you could make meat-eating illegal, just as they made alcohol drinks illegal for 14 years. It failed, of course, but if you speak of "rights," you can try to accomplish that goal, theoretically.

By the same token, you have a perfect right to make your case - to persuade people, if you can - that all abortions are immoral. You don't have the right to impose your view by law. I don't see any inconsistency.

Every law imposes someone's view on someone else who disagrees with it. Why can't you see this simple fact? What part of "law coerces many people against their will" don't you understand?
. . . So you say animals are treated cruelly? I completely agree. I oppose that as you do. But you don't oppose cruelty to human beings and torture before they are born.

On the contrary, I oppose BOTH. Moral opposition is not equivalent to criminalizing one's opponents.

Where murder is concerned, it seems to me that you ought to take a stand against it, no matter how many disagree. If you want to permit abortion, and on the basis that no persons are being killed because of lack of sentience or whatever, than it also seems clear that you should have the soundest, most irrefutable grounds for doing so, because if you are wrong, you are participating in the sanction of a holocaust.

. . . You are the one with the radical inconsistency here that you can scarcely defend at all, as far as I am concerned. You disagree? Okay, prove it. Be my guest.

I don't really see the sense in your position, though. If you have the right to outlaw behavior you believe immoral, why should you tolerate speech that promotes what you deem immoral? Where's your consistency on that point?
You assume that to outlaw one immoral act (in my supposed position on this) is to automatically be required to outlaw all immoral acts. This doesn't follow. Nor do I hold it. I believe abortion should be illegal because I believe it to be a species of murder, and moral, reasonable folk agree almost unanimously that murder ought to be illegal (or do you think it should be legal?). In other words, murder is much more important than spitting on the sidewalk or jaywalking (and there are many laws against those), or driving 70 mph in a 55 mph zone. This is utterly obvious, which makes me wonder how you arrive at some of your conclusions if you can't instantly see such obvious distinctions. Perhaps you've been arguing with the atheists so long that you are starting to lose your common sense? C'mon . . . you can do much better than this, surely.

. . . This is because we live in a Republic, not a Christian theocracy.

That's rather obvious, is it not?

To me, yes, to some Christians, no.

Neither I nor anyone here that I know of, is arguing for such a thing, yet you absurdly accuse us of it. Forgive me if I see that as a symptom of desperation in your own argument, to have to argue than those in favor of pro-life legislation are advocates of theocracy or that countries with laws against contraception are akin to "Islamic fundamentalism." This is very poor argumentation, indeed; in fact, outright factually incorrect, and easily shown to be so.

. . . Society's moral consensus, such as it is, must take into account the non-Christians who comprise a large proportion of the population.

That's not how law works. Law has all sorts of things that are unpopular. Law was based originally in this country on Christian principles. They were presupposed. In fact, republicanism itself was thought to have presupposed Christianity or at least a morally-informed and educated voting populace. Many of the statements of the Framers support this (e.g., John Adams and George Washington).

That strikes me as irrelevant. If society changes over time, the laws should not remain mired in an extinct consensus of bygone times.

Okay, so if we go back to a widespread belief in slavery, we will, of course, change our laws back to that status quo. If we think child labor is underestimated and should be re-introduced, we'll change our laws to keep up to speed. How about women not being able to vote, or prohibition, or senatorial appointments rather than elections? It sounds like you accept the ridiculous notion that society exhibits an inexorable moral progress. What is an "extinct consensus" may return. But right and wrong do not depend on the rise and fall of civilizations, and the periods of decadence and moral decay. Good laws are based on good philosophy and morality.

Should we still have blue laws, laws against doing business on Sunday, and that sort of thing?

According to you, if enough people want that, then we should, because we have to be sufficiently tolerant of those who differ from us. Actually, though, these were good laws, because they fostered respect for the notion of a day of rest, or a Sabbath. That was excellent, because it is a thoroughly biblical concept. But somehow you look down your nose at that. Why? Do you deny that God suggested that we should have a day of rest?

. . . This is why, contrary to your assertion, it is not "schizophrenic nonsense" to be "'personally opposed' to abortion, but willing to allow it to continue legally."

It absolutely is, because you are not allowing your Christianity to affect all of life. Jesus is not Lord of civil law, in this case, because you want to separate out the aspect of right to life from Christian moral teaching, on the inadequate grounds that "well, a lot of folks have a different opinion, so we have no right to impose our views on them." That is a bastard hybrid of libertarian pagan relativism and legal positivism and biblical Christianity. And you yield ground to the pagan precisely at the very spot where Christianity demands you to speak up for the innocent being led to slaughter. You compromise your Christian ethics in the very worst place: where it involves the butchery of the most innocent and defenseless among us. That being the case, I think it is a MILD term to describe it as schizophrenic nonsense. I was being overly-charitable.

Where would you draw the line in terms of "speak[ing] up for the innocent being led to slaughter"? I assume you oppose bombing abortion clinics because of the risk of killing people.

Yes, but if they were closed, late at night, it is much harder to condemn such a bombing.

However, I think some anti-abortionists would say even that is permissible, likening it, perhaps, to killing in a just war. What about vandalism, which only destroys the value and usefulness of property? Is that something you support?

On the assumption that property is far less valuable than human beings, that could conceivably be defended. I have laid out my case (above, near the top) that nonviolent rescue is the way to go about it. I participated in that myself. But it was too radical for the Christian community, so it failed. I think it was a tremendous lost opportunity, and I have grieved over that ever since.

My wife and I wrestled with this issue many years ago when we became animal rights activists: should we join or support groups like ALF (Animal Liberation Front), which vandalize vivisectionist facilities or slaughterhouses?

There is certainly some logic in their position. The main reason that doesn't work, however, is from a public-relations standpoint. If you're trying to effect societal-wide change, things like that will never move the progress forward because they create such a backlash. I was hoping that rescues would conjure up in the public mind images of the civil rights movement. But it didn't, because sexual license is now too entrenched in society. It wasn't perceived as rescuing human beings, but as harassment of women.

But if property is regarded as equal to human beings, then you couldn't do it. Black people were once regarded as property. Corporations are regarded as persons in some legal senses. So it is easy to see how a preborn child is now regarded as merely the property of the mother, to be disposed of as she wishes. I don't believe that. I believe that every human being has infinite value and is made in the image of God.

I would think most abortion abolitionists must face a similar conundrum: break the laws on behalf of defenseless victims and risk imprisonment (where they can be no further use for the cause), or place the preservation of civic order above their passion for the cause and do what they can, within the law, to change enough people's moral convictions to result in social and legislative progress.

I think we should do both. But rescues (like the civil rights movement) could only have worked on a massive scale. And it had to operate against almost universal hostility from the media.

In a case where the moral consensus is still so remote from the truth (as in the case of animal liberation), the lawbreaking path seemed too great a risk of throwing away our liberty while accomplishing virtually nothing in the process.

Yes. That would be the case if I blocked a clinic by myself. I could get 5-10 years in prison and possibly not even save one baby. But if I had saved one, arguably it would be worth it, and my wife would support me, because she is morally consistent.

The situation is less extreme in the case of abortion since there is less than a yawning chasm between society's consensus and the convictions of pro-life Christians and other abolitionists, but the same reasoning, in principle, still applies.

Yes it does. That is an interesting discussion. Ultimately, abortion will not die out short of revival and/or literal persecution, just as human sacrifice in Mexico didn't end till there was a huge revival. This is what changes cultures and societies. Something this hideously evil will not quietly go away. Whole industries and lifestyles have been built around it.

I do believe Jesus is Lord over all of life, but (a) I'm not convinced that He condemns every case of killing a sentient being, fetus or otherwise (as in mercy-killing), much less that (b) He condemns every case of killing a human zygote


(as in a rape victim taking RU-486 - the "morning after pill" - to preclude pregnancy.

That is just as much a murder, though everyone understands the horrible context in which such an act occurs. That would lessen the woman's culpability somewhat, but not the grave sinfulness of the action.

And (c), even though Jesus probably disapproves of the majority of abortions, I'm not convinced that He wants us to act violently or disrupt the civic order to accomplish our purposes.

So you would oppose the abolitionists of the 1840s and 1850s on the same grounds? And you would oppose the Civil War insofar as it was a vehicle to free the slaves?

Finally, (d) while I agree with you that the abortion law status quo is surely abhorrent in the sight of God, it still seems too extreme and draconian a 'solution' to make ALL abortions illegal.

I'm still awaiting your proposal, and the grounds for it.

By the way, do you think RU-486 should be illegal, too?

Of course. Why wouldn't I? Even standard birth control pills are mostly abortifacients today. Do you oppose handgun ownership because it might kill someone? Then why wouldn't you oppose RU-486, which actually kills someone?

. . . I also dispute your claim that "one can vote for Bush without violating any Catholic precept." For one thing, Bush is emphatically (one might say enthusiastically) pro-death penalty, whereas the Pope has condemned capital punishment as incompatible with a consistent pro-life philosophy.

But not as an absolute. No Catholic is required to be a pacifist. Jesus doesn't require it, so why should the pope?

Does this mean it isn't dictated by the Catechism?


Is the Catechism identical with what a Catholic is "required" to believe?

Not always. It states what the Church teaches, but the Church teaches some things that aren't absolutely binding in all times and places.

At any rate, I'm not personally convinced on the issue of pacifism (i.e. I'm not sure that Jesus and the apostles were not pacifists),

Then I'll look forward to your reply to my other posting on that. You must be very fond of uphill battles . . . :-)

but I understand that Catholicism does not enjoin pacifism.

Nor does the Bible or historical Christianity (excepting relatively tiny groups such as Mennonites and Amish).

. . . On this issue I agree with the Holy Father, not George "let 'em fry" Bush.

So do I. But that doesn't make it intrinsically immoral to vote for someone who advocates the death penalty. It is impermissible, however, to vote for advocates of abortion, because that is absolutely condemned by Catholic moral teaching (and virtually all Protestants till this century opposed abortion just as they opposed contraception).

If you agree with the Pope on the death penalty, then I don't see why it isn't immoral to vote for a death penalty advocate.

Because the death penalty is not intrinsically immoral. The Bible (Romans 13) gives the power of the sword to the state. Abortion is intrinsically immoral, so to vote for a person who advocates abortion-on-demand is also immoral.

Why is it OK to violate your conscience on this issue but not on abortion?

Who is violating their conscience? Capital punishment is permitted. It was part of the OT law, and Jesus said He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. One may believe that it is not required in today's climate, and is unjustly applied (poor people -- some even innocent -- get killed because of having lousy lawyers, etc.). That is the pope's argument and I accept it, though I am not averse to exceptions in the most heinous cases, such as Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.

. . . Do you mean to say that not only abortion, but also contraception and fornication should be against the law??

I didn't say that. I was talking about adherence to Catholic moral teaching (or lack thereof) by professed Catholics. But of course, contraception was against the law in most states until 1965. Removing those laws was crucial in the process to legalize abortion. American law was not always libertarian and pagan, as it is today.

Are you advocating the criminalization of contraception?

No, but if I did it wouldn't be some wide-eyed extremist "fundamentalist" or "puritanistic" position. It would be merely the mainstream legal position before 1965, and the universal Protestant teaching before 1930. It makes perfect sense on many grounds.

. . . In fact, sodomy was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in the 1980s and they only recently reversed that.

Are you advocating the criminalization of homosexual relationships?

Since the Supreme Court itself did that up till a few years ago (including several liberals and pro-aborts on the Court), that would also be a quite acceptable position. I didn't see homosexuals being carted to jail before, so it is a rather moot point. I believe it is demonstrably unnatural and abnormal lifestyle, on medical, natural law, and common sense grounds, before we even get to the Bible, which leaves no doubt whatsoever. But let's not get off on that right now. We have enough on our plate.
. . . We have all sorts of laws against private behavior. It is illegal to commit suicide in private.

Which is absurd! It's none of the state's business if someone decides to commit suicide.

Okay, so you favor legal suicide.

. . . It is illegal to rape a woman or molest a child in private.

Privacy is irrelevant since these are cases of violence to sentient, and in fact sapient, beings.

And suicide isn't? Why should self-inflicted pain and death be any more acceptable to a society than the same inflicted on others?

. . . All sorts of things go on "in the bedroom" that we have laws against.

What goes on between consenting adults is not the business of anyone else, much less the government.

Okay; you have just justified polygamy, orgies, Satanic rituals, and bestiality. Hey, if a dog agrees to sex with a person, they both consent, and the animal has rights, so, who am I to disagree? You can't argue against it, with your presuppositions.

. . . It is not inconceivable (no pun intended) to have a law against contraception. We used to do exactly that.

I thank God we don't still have such absurd laws.

Why are they absurd? Are you for legal heroin too?

. . . why should anyone think today's laws are inherently superior to former laws simply because they exist today?

I have no idea, since I neither said nor implied nor thought such a ridiculous thing.

I've shown in several instances how your assertions amount to that, usually very subtly. You seem to view law and society as this inexorably progressive thing, so that when we change our views on things, it is almost always for the better. Now we outlaw abortion and contraception and are on the verge of recognizing homosexual "marriages," and this is all good and progressive and far better than before.

. . . What does the particular time a law is in effect have to do with its rightness or wrongness or constructiveness for the public welfare? Nothing that I can see. That's simply an instance of what C.S. Lewis calls "chronological snobbery."

Nothing whatsoever.

Good. It is on the record. And I will refer back to this if necessary to show the weakness of your reasoning.

Of course, but I don't know why you're saying this to me.

. . . That kind of thinking would seem more at home in a fundamentalist Islamic regime than in our democratic republic.

I guess America during JFK's presidency, then, was fundamentalist Islamic. That's news to me.

Insofar as intrusive, privacy-violating, essentially sectarian laws were on the books, yes, it was closer on that continuum.

Thanks for the qualification.

. . . Again, I'm not Catholic, but I take a back seat to no one in my love of our Lord Jesus Christ,

No one's talking about your love of Jesus. I am critiquing what I believe to be a radical inconsistency of your application of Christianity and Jesus as Lord of all of life, regarding the political sphere. You have separated certain aspects of cultural life from the Lordship of Christ, and you do this on pagan grounds: that we can't "impose" etc. Everyone ELSE seeks to impose THEIR views on the public. The homosexuals want to impose THEIR view on "marriage" upon Christians who vehemently disagree with it based on the principles of time immemorial. I don't see you complaining about that.

Of course I don't complain about that since no such thing is happening. Nothing is being forced on you by virtue of allowing gay couples to have the same legal status as you and I enjoy.

It certainly is, because I would have to recognize as valid in law a state of affairs that is abominable from a Christian perspective: something which the Bible repeatedly says will land one in hell if it is not repented of. It also perverts the very definition of marriage, which is a sacred and holy thing and a sacrament in Catholic theology. Therefore, if its meaning includes that which is considered immoral and evil, then the very concept of marriage has been distorted beyond recognition. That harms society because it is a basic confusion of category and morality.

It doesn't impair your or my marriage in any way.

It is an attempt to re-define fundamental institutions of society. That harms society and indirectly all of us, just as abortion or free divorce, or any number of other societal ills do.

Nor are you being forced thereby to commit an illegal or immoral act. Of course, aside from that point, I'm in favor of gay marriage, as you may recall from previous discussions on the AE list.

Why am I not surprised? How about marriage between a man and a dog? Is that next? After all, if a dog is man's best friend, then that surely has profound sexual implications for those sexually-attracted to a dog, does it not? The clincher would be the discovery of a gene which predisposes one to sex with dogs and a revulsion against sex with other humans, be they male or female. And this is behind closed doors, so it doesn't affect society in the least. You don't even have to use a condom . . .
. . . Catholic social services are now being forced to distribute contraceptives against their express will and religious beliefs, etc.

I totally disapprove of such a violation of religious freedom, as I indicated when I notified you last week of a New York Times article on this subject.

Yet you don't disapprove of a scenario where Catholics have to accept as "marriage" a situation that they regard as mortal sin, or that traditional Protestants also regard as a serious, potentially soul-destroying sin?

. . . and I heartily dissent from your seemingly theocratic viewpoint on politics.

I want you to defend your principles. I have shown how our view is not theocratic at all. That's just the usual caricature of the relativist ethicist for all viewpoints (from the right) which are not relativist. But of course, the "left-ocracy" is fine: all those views can be imposed and no one dare disagree, under pain of severe social ostracism and charges that we are "turning back the clock," blah blah blah.

Now you're talking to someone else, not me, as I'm neither a relativist nor a member of the "leftocracy."

. . . With all due respect, your old friend - Sogn

Same here. Let's show people how we can both be very passionate about our views and remain friends.

I've become pretty good at that over several years of internet discussions!

. . . I am not saying the "secular materialist position is the default position"; I'm simply saying that the moral code of any particular religion cannot, under our constitutional system, be the law of the land. If we are to outlaw all abortions, as dictated by the Catholic and conservative Protestant moral codes, then why should we not also outlaw extra-marital and pre-marital sex, homosexual relationships, and so on throughout the traditional Christian code of ethics?

As for the Supreme Court's alleged secular humanist tyranny, I don't think secular humanism could become - or at least remain - the de facto philosophy of America if the majority of citizens did not acquiesce.

. . . it is nevertheless the "separat[ion of] public and private morality; personal and civic virtue" which was decried by Dave in his original blog entry. In my opinion human civilization demands this Thomistic distinction; it is merely practical wisdom. So the one important question, given the legitimacy of said distinction, is where to draw the line. I'm only reluctant to impute the inalienable right to life to the human zygote at the moment of conception. By the way, I completely agree with you about the USA's founders getting it right on inalienable rights endowed by our Creator.

. . . I'm only reluctant to impute the inalienable right to life to the human zygote at the moment of conception.

Why? Would you grant this "inalienable" right to skunk or a water buffalo or a worm just lately conceived? Is murder only wrong when the murdered feels it? There are plenty of ways to murder someone without them feeling it. It doesn't make it, therefore, moral. So the argument that it is fine and dandy till the preborn child can feel the torture and the pain (if indeed you would argue that way -- as I suspect you would) falls flat. There is no way to morally justify abortion according to Christian ethics. You have to appeal to arbitrariness or relativism or situational ethics. This is not Christian moral reasoning. Let's call it what it is. And this is the contradiction I see in your thinking, and indeed, on the "liberal" Christian socio-political stance in general. The far right, of course, is subject to equally wrongheaded and inconsistent positions.

. . . And another thing, while I'm thinking of hypocrisy: It's always bothered me that all the proposals I've seen to recriminalize abortion would prosecute only the doctor, not the mother. If a mother chooses to kill the fetus within her, surely she's no less guilty than the abortionist.

. . . I agree, strictly speaking, with your assertion that to mandate, by law, "respect for the right to life is not the same thing as establishing a theocracy." However, the traditional Christian mores which once prevailed, at least nominally and, to a great extent, legally, no longer comprise a social consensus, as many citizens repudiate not only Christian belief, but distinctively Christian morality as well. Secularists are no less American citizens than I am. It might be nice if I could impose my moral convictions upon the nation, but I don't see any way of justifying that.

. . . one of the standard illustrations is the difference between a bald head and a full head of hair. There is no non-arbitrary number of hairs below which we must call a man bald, yet there are many men whom it would be obvious and uncontroversial to classify as bald, regardless of the patches of varying size still clinging to their scalps.

I think whether a creature is a person or a human being or not, and whether he or she ("it" -- according to you?) should be granted the right to live and not be torn limb from limb, is a bit more important than determining how bald someone is. This is the sort of trivial reduction to non sequiturs that the abortion debate often comes down to. Lacking any rational justification (either in science or philosophy) for the commencement of personhood other than at conception, you guys are reduced to comparing the situation with how many hairs can be found on the head of a nearly-bald guy, and when we can say definiteively that he is "bald." Nice try.

There are real and eminently practical differences that can be represented on a spectrum or continuum, despite the lack of a specific, non-arbitrary dividing point clearly separating them. Among such continua I would include the development of a human from conception, which is nothing more than the assembly of a full complement of human DNA,

You act as if this is trivial also. Yet this is what determines the complete later development of a person. If all you need to develop into an adult person is there right at conception, how could that not be you? That would be like denying that one particular acorn grew into an oak tree and that there was a continuous growth, based upon the principle already present in the acorn. If it's all there, you can't somehow deny that the later developed person is not organically the same as what was in the fertilized egg (and if they were; therefore, the person was present from conception). Failing that, you opt for secondary characteristics which are not nearly as important as that which you arbitrarily and irrationally trivialize.

The moral and philosophical absurdity of this was well-explained by Peter Kreeft, writing as Socrates might argue, in his book, The Unaborted Socrates. I wish I had it to quote from just now.

to sentience, which is the capacity to feel and be, to some extent, aware of one's surroundings.

This is absurd, too. Why is sentience central to the identity of a person? All it means is consciousness, feeling, perceiving, and using the senses. I am almost non-sentient every night when I sleep. A person deaf, blind, and totally paralyzed lacks three of the five senses (maybe some people would even lack all five). So does that mean you favor killing such "people" because in fact, they are no longer people?

We don't use this criteria to determine when life ends. As far as I know, the usual criteria are cessation of brain waves and heartbeat. If a person is comatose, they are not particularly "sentient," if at all. So have they ceased to become a person, too? You can have brain waves without sentience or senses. You can be brain dead and still be alive and have a heartbeat, etc.

So why is it that human life and personhood ends when heartbeats and brain waves do, yet someone with your position won't apply the same criteria to the beginning of life? There you want to play intellectual games and talk about baldness, so women can continue to have the legal right to butcher their own children and sacrifice them to the god Moloch, on the altar of sexual and financial convenience. At least if you wish to take such a drastic position and call it "Christian," you could offer us some compelling reasoning. This is barely rational at all, as far as I am concerned. And you don't strike me as an irrational guy (and certainly not one who lacks compassion) . . .

Even if we grant that personhood is gradual in the preborn state, it is still true that this "thing" (which will also have a soul created directly by God, according to Christian theology) is deprived of the personhood that it would inevitably have. I fail to see much of an ethical distinction. It is already alive: all parties agree to that. If you kill it then it has no personhood, either actual or potential. The result is the same. And who are we to go in and kill this developing person? Are we God?

We don't need to know the specific day (if there is one) on which a fetus typically (or any particular fetus, specifically) becomes sentient, in order to know that a zygote is definitely not sentient, whereas a 12-week-old fetus definitely is sentient.

That's correct, but you have simply assumed that sentience is a fundamental criterion of personhood, rather than DNA and everything being present that is needed for the rest of that "thing's" entire development "from womb to tomb." You haven't established this on any compelling grounds. You simply assume it. We use DNA now to positively identify killers and other criminals. It is considered incontrovertible evidence of their identity. We could even determine that Jefferson fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemmings.

Now, this DNA of a criminal would have been exactly the same at the moment of his conception. Yet you would have us believe that a different "person" is being talked about (or, rather, a person exists in one case but not in the other, simply due to the passage of time and further development). In one case, he is who he is, but in the other, he is not yet who he is. This makes no sense. This "asymmetrical" and arbitrary nature of when personhood begins and when it ends is thoroughly irrational.

Secondly, even if you wish to use sentience as your criterion of personhood, you yourself grant that a 12-week old fetus DOES have this characteristic, yet the great majority of abortions occur from 8-12 weeks after conception (all well within the first trimester: another entirely arbitrary distinction). So you would favor killing these sentient creatures? What do suggest is the legal solution? That each woman should be tested to see if the baby responds to a needle, and if it does, then abortion is illegal? See how well that goes over with the feminists and other pro-aborts who regard the butchery as their sacrament and sacred rite (and right).

Your position (and the pro-abortion mentality generally) reduces to moral and logical absurdity. It is the equivalent of two hunters saying:
We don't know if there are people in those woods or not. But to hell with that. We will shoot our rifles into the woods anyway. It may turn out that there are people, indeed, but our right to hunt overrides all those considerations.
Your scenario allows (many many) abortions to be performed which would, in fact (granted by you yourself) murder a sentient person and human being (if sentience is your main defining point), but this doesn't seem to bother you. You're trapped by your own logic (or lack thereof). Why you don't immediately see the outrageousness of such a position, as a Christian, is beyond my own comprehension, I freely confess. I don't get it. I never have gotten it. I was only "pro-choice" when I was utterly ignorant of what abortion was. As soon as I learned some basic facts, I immediately became pro-life (and that was in 1982, five years after I had become an evangelical Christian: I say to my shame).

I don't see how any decent, compassionate person (let alone a Christian and an advocate of animal rights) could continue to favor it, after learning of the facts of both abortion-as-practiced, and human development. Perhaps you can explain to me how you yourself do this. You'll be the first, and I have talked to hundreds of people about this topic.

Thanks for the stimulating discussion.

For the last two weeks, since I last posted in the mode of dispute over abortion, I've been wrestling with profound misgivings and, with considerable pain, trying to reevaluate my beliefs. I've reached some provisional conclusions, which I will now disclose.

I have come to believe that abortion is invariably the destruction of an innocent human person regardless of whether the fetus has developed sentience yet. This means that virtually all abortions are wrongful killings and may legitimately be proscribed by law, with the exception of certain rare cases. I am thus recanting more or less the entirety of my previous contentions on this subject, with further details to be addressed below.

One item I found especially helpful in this reconsideration process was an essay by Peter Kreeft, which I found among Dave's many links on the topic:
'Human Personhood Begins at Conception'.
It is a good analysis of the moral and philosophical crux of the dispute between pro-choice and pro-life partisans: Functionalism, i.e. "defining a person by his or her functioning or behavior." I have realized that, in one context or another, such as this one, I have embraced functionalism for decades - since college, in fact. I have come to realize that there is an irreparable disconnect between my functionalism and my Christian beliefs. It was the growing sense of this conflict that provoked the second thoughts I experienced almost immediately upon initiating this dispute a few weeks ago.
I have also realized that certain powerful prejudices have biased my thinking on this volatile subject for a very long time - again, since college. When I was almost 20 I had a quasi-religious (in terms of emotional intensity) conversion to radical feminism while reading a play on the subject of abortion. This dovetailed with my inherent personality traits in such a way that I became a zealous androgynist, or what has been pejoratively called, by some conservative pundits, unisexist. By that I mean that I despised the very idea of gender-based or -specific roles, and, in particular, I viewed the fact that childbearing was the unique role of women as one of nature's more grotesque injustices. I wanted men and women to be as role-interchangeable as physical reality would permit, and I assumed it would permit a great deal, especially if women could be freed from the encumbrance of unplanned pregnancy. Hence my passionate commitment to the pro-choice perspective.

Along with that ideological development I gravitated naturally to the functionalist view of personhood. I never engaged in dishonest claptrap about what was being aborted - e.g. that it was just "a clump of cells" or just "part of a woman's body." I always acknowledged the humanity of the victims of abortion, though not their personhood (functionalism again), and viewed abortion as a tragic necessity, a lesser evil when the interests of an autonomous woman (and full-fledged person) clashed with the interests of the marginally sentient proto-person within her. The liberty and autonomy of each woman was a non-negotiable, bottom-line imperative in my thinking. I wanted nothing - and no one - to get in the way of a woman - a rather abstract woman! - pursuing her dreams or her vocation.

However, like so many pro-choice ideologues, I don't believe I could ever have endorsed the abortion of my own child. The issue never arose, but neither my wife nor I could have chosen abortion (with a possible exception to be addressed later). Yet I viewed the legality of abortion as a sacrosanct prerequisite for women's autonomy and equality with men. I was edging toward the popular "I'm personally opposed but let's keep it legal" point of view. That was clinched when I embraced the cause of animal liberation. My empathy with the suffering and vulnerability of helpless creatures made it absurd to harden my heart to the plight of preborn humans. I was definitely opposed to abortion - personally - yet I could not take the further step of renouncing legal abortion. I did, however, begin to regret the unlimited abortion right bequeathed to us by the Roe v Wade decision, and I embraced the idea of some restrictions. I was especially aghast at the legality of late-term abortions. Apart from extraordinary circumstances I didn't think abortion should be legal beyond the first trimester.

One comment on Roe v Wade: From the moment I read that ruling in its entirely, I never affirmed it as constitutionally legitimate. It was transparent hocus-pocus, inventing an ad hoc "right" that has no basis in the constitution. (IMO, any time a jurist invokes a word like "penumbra" should be enough to set off the klaxons in our minds!) I had always believed that abortion should have been legalized through legislative due process, as had already happened in several states prior to the 1973 judicial fiat.

Earlier I mentioned "prejudices" - plural - that biased my thinking on abortion. One was the androgynist feminist ideology I've already mentioned (which hinged on a quasi-utilitarian functionalist view of personhood). The other, particularly ignoble, factor was my loathing of the religious right and all its self-appointed spokespersons (e.g. Phyllis Schlafly above all, for her anti-ERA stridency, as well as people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and all the usual suspects on that side what later came to be called the culture war). I also held the Catholic Church in very low esteem as one of the preeminently retrograde forces retarding the march of human progress, but evangelical Protestantism (from which I was apostate) was no better in my eyes. I was a militant atheist for most of the years I was most zealously pro-choice, and I yearned for the thorough secularization of human civilization.

Then along came God, who, in His typically unscrupulous manner, began to undermine my atheism. The first blow came when my conscience was convicted concerning animals, culminating in my embrace of vegetarianism and the broader philosophy of panzoism. A sufficiently compartmentalized mind might have been able to sustain atheistic panzoism indefinitely, but I've never been that good at isolating some parts of my mind from other parts. My emphatic rejection of ethical relativism followed closely upon my embrace of panzoism, and an ensuing chain of cogitative events culminated a few years later in my re-experience of God and renunciation of atheism. Yet I retained my repugnance of traditional, conservative religion, and my concept of God lay within the metaphysical ballpark known as process theology. I called myself a deist.

I was quite content as a deist, but God was apparently not satisfied with that status quo in which He was loving and benign but fairly safe and domesticated. Deism proved to be a kind of halfway house for me. God is always up to something, and in due course He impertinently maneuvered me into confronting the claims of Christ, whom I had thought safely dispatched to the realm of inspiring but inert myth. I had embarked upon a process of study intended to solidify my case against Christianity, but something went awry and I eventually saw the error of my apostasy. I humbly returned to faith in Christ seven years ago on March 27th (which fell on Thursday of Holy Week that year). As I noted previously (I think in the panzoism discussion) I did not convert to a church, as some Christians do; mine was a quintessentially Protestant conversion, in the sense that I was going one-on-one with Christ. As far as I was concerned, the subject of the "One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed was a wide open field awaiting investigation.

Conversion may begin in a definite moment, but it's also a painstakingly gradual process that never ends, at least in this life. When I returned to faith in Christ I carried some shoddy baggage. I retained some of the faulty philosophy (e.g. functionalism) and prejudice (e.g. against some of the more conservative elements of Christian tradition) from before. Dealing with these issues has been a very slow and sometimes unpleasant process. I'm only now getting around to the practical business of baptism, and I'm only now piecing together a more sound position on the moral status of abortion. I've been persuaded that functionalism is incompatible with fundamental principles inherent in Christian faith and discipleship. For that and other reasons, the thesis I defended only a few weeks ago is untenable.

I hope I will be pardoned for this lengthy autobiographical introduction to the resumption of our earlier dialogue, but I deemed it worthwhile to provide some background to what I have to say. It might also be interesting for some people who have never been anywhere near the pro-choice side to have a glimpse into how one fellow Christian, starting from a distant point, has been led on a long journey to the other side.

Of course, I am ecstatic over your change of mind and heart on this issue, and I express my deep admiration for your willingness to not only admit you were wrong but to write so candidly and openly about it. Way to go, brother! You have gained my respect in a profound way. I also agree with you that it is a great opportunity for those of us who have never interacted much with a "pro-choice" position to see how it is self-understood, and how it relates to Christian faith -- where that is also present. I appreciate, as always, your amiable, yet substantive writings, and I always welcome your feedback.

. . . By the way, speaking of Kreeft, I was also helped by rereading The Unaborted Socrates, though I found the first dialogue to be sufficiently cogent. I found the additional dialogues almost superfluous.
. . . I mean that I find it imaginatively odd and counterintuitive to CALL a zygote a person, and I guess that's simply because there's "no one there," so to speak, i.e. no subjectivity (yet).

Sure; it feels weird because we are accustomed to picturing "persons" in our minds as adults or at least functioning children. That doesn't touch the philosophy; it is more of a merely "associative" or psychological "argument" (insofar as it is properly deemed an argument at all). So I agree on an intuitive plane and continue to disagree on the philosophical. I think Kreeft, talking through his theoretical "Socrates response," dealt with this (and I remember thinking that was the most interesting part of the book).

So for me it FEELS like calling an acorn an oak tree. What we have in mind when we say "acorn" is radically different from what we imagine when we say "oak tree." Functionalism is a weed not easily uprooted!

It's not simply functionalism, but association and experience. We can't even meet a very young fetus. That was why it was so easy to dehumanize these very small persons in the first place. Bernard Nathanson remarked that if the womb had a window, there would be far fewer abortions. But what we can't see, we can easily deny and rationalize away.

I recall the analogy I made (thought up by my wife, actually) with DNA research in solving crimes and identifying people. Say we find a poor serviceman's remains in Vietnam. He can be identified by means of DNA analysis. That mess of rotting, smelly flesh and bone that by no means resembles a "person" is thus identified as "Private So-and-So." It (he) is treated with dignity, brought back home, cherished by family members (who can now fully grieve and reach some emotional closure), and buried properly.

So on one level, this is not how we think in our minds of what a "person" is, but on another, this is every bit as much that particular person as his body was when he was alive, eating a Thanksgiving dinner or playing baseball. Try to tell his family this "thing" (clump of tissue?) is not their son or brother or cousin or husband or father. They know this, despite the outward differences.
Therefore, by the same reasoning, the very young preborn child is also fully a person: the DNA is already in place, just as it would be when that child is 85 years old (and a heartbeat at 18-21 days and primitive brainwaves at six weeks). That person is identifiable, and has all he or she needs to develop into adulthood.

I wonder, though, whether your concept of the soul as a supernatural entity (which I still don't quite understand, but that's another theological topic) accounts, at least in part, for the ease with which you think of the zygote as a person.

Indeed, but that would involve theological and supernatural criterion that I prefer to leave out of the argument when trying to convince someone of the wrongness of abortion on a secular basis. It is not necessary for the case to succeed, because DNA serves as the crucial "blueprint" of personhood and we can decisively say that "I was once that fertilized egg one second after fertilization; that was me." And we cannot achieve any non-arbitrary grounds for denying this incontrovertible fact. A developing thing is not a changing or evolving thing. I once was that and I am now a 45-year-old man. I didn't change from something I no longer am into something I never was before. Outward traits and characteristics may have, but not me as a person.

This is not germane to the discussion proper, I'm just wondering about individual psychology now.

Understood. I assume you know that "psychology" comes for the Greek word psuche ("soul"). :-) But anyway, for a Christian, the mainstream view that God creates a soul at conception should certainly be a prime consideration of their position on the matter. What possesses a soul is a person, and this person will live eternally, no matter what is done to his or her body.
Oh, you mentioned the "problem of overpopulation." What problem? That is merely another liberal myth, which has been exploded.
. . . so women can continue to have the legal right to butcher their own children and sacrifice them to the god Moloch, on the altar of sexual and financial convenience.
Now here is a classic illustration of what fueled my hostility toward the religious right for so long. It is deeply insulting to most women who have had abortions to cavalierly describe their motives as "sexual and financial convenience."

Oftentimes it is. I don't take that back. It's a general, proverbial statement, which admits of exceptions. It applies only to those to whom it applies! If you look at the reasons for abortions you'll often find that they had to do with improper sexuality (pre-marital or sometimes extra-marital resulting in an unwanted child). That is sexual convenience, because the proper behavior is to avoid sinful sex so as to avoid the possibility of having to kill a child produced as a result of a situation which was not a proper environment or time for child-raising in the first place. It's irresponsible sex.
And that is in turn encouraged by the very presence of legal abortion. Before that, there was great pressure to avoid it so as not to have a child produced which would be severely embarrassing. Now we can kill them, so "free sex" is promoted. But, ethically, that is putting convenience and sexual drives before the worth of a human being, which is gravely sinful and disordered.

The other big reason is careers and so forth. If a child has to be "sacrificed" to the god of wealth (because having a child would lessen one's financial potential or capacity to make money), then it is being sacrificed on that altar. My language was exactly correct. Of course people wouldn't like it, because I am describing it as it is, and not mincing words. People get convicted by that. But what better time to speak out forcefully than where a child's very life is at stake? There is no better or appropriate place to use biblical prophetic language than with regard to this debate. It doesn't follow by use of such language that I am callous and hard and cruel and have no inkling of particular difficult situations. That simply doesn't follow. But it is a helpful stereotype for the pro-aborts to maintain: the usual "heartless conservative" hogwash that works for them (and also fosters much prejudice and sometimes outright hatred).

I used to believe that pro-lifers generally had no heart, no compassion for women caught, abandoned, in a crisis of unexpected pregnancy.

Exactly. But that was a bald-faced lie. The same people who were involved in rescues (as I was) were at the forefront of the crisis pregnancy center movement. We put our money (as well as our bodies) where our mouth is.

Allow me to quote a pro-lifer who clearly does have such empathy,

There are millions of people like that . . .

Frederica Mathewes-Greene, one of my favorite Christian writers, from her excellent book on abortion, Real Choices: Listening to Women, Looking for Alternatives to Abortion: . . . She recognizes that much more needs to be done for vulnerable women than just passing laws against abortion.

Of course. Not one pro-lifer in a hundred would disagree with that.

After all, however exaggerated the "back-alley" abortion statistics may have been, such things did happen to panicked women in crisis mode due to the lack of an interpersonal support system, and FMG appreciates that.


She also was never inclined to disparage women's decisions to abort as matters of "convenience." Undergoing an abortion, after all, is a violent, invasive and traumatic experience.

I wasn't necessarily describing the woman's felt reason and motivation. I always apply a complex, multi-level psychology in such matters. I was speaking proverbially, as I noted (and ethically and "societally"), but also of the bottom line of what is occurring, when deeply analyzed. That doesn't mean that I think the person is consciously thinking to themselves, "I'm gonna sacrifice my baby to Moloch," etc.

Of course, almost always they don't think like that, because that is the devil's game: we almost always rationalize our sins as a good thing, so that we can commit them in the first place. So I can assert what I did, in a "prophetic voice" while not denying at all the great need for compassion and understanding and a more "pastoral" approach. Both things are true, and they do not conflict. People talk differently in different contexts.

You have, then, improperly understood how there are many different levels of approach to this issue, and different ways of thinking and of method and terminology in each of them. That was an instance of "prophetic talk" which is perfectly acceptable in the biblical worldview. It doesn't prove I am a heartless, uncaring person. And if you formerly concluded that of a whole class of people, then you were far more guilty of prejudice than they were of unconcern and coldness towards women in difficult situations. After all, it is an act of caring to stop a woman from having an abortion, because she is the second victim of it (arguably an even greater victim because of guilt and responsibility).
Did Jeremiah not love the people of Israel, simply because he condemned in no uncertain terms their sins? No one loved them more or suffered more for their sake.

A woman would be something of a dehumanized freak to view such desperate measures as convenient!

That's beside the point, as explained. I've elaborated upon how the ethics of the situation breaks down to convenience or expedience. The woman hardly ever thinks of it in those terms herself. The alcoholic denies he is an alcoholic. Does that mean that he in fact, isn't, just because of the way he thinks of himself and his behavior? If you have an abortion for reasons of wanting to have fee sex or a better career, that is sexual or financial convenience.

OK, I'm off the soapbox now. :-) I will assume that your words were a somewhat careless result of your understandable passion on the subject.

Not at all; I was merely addressing the issue socially or prophetically, rather than personally and pastorally.

I mainly wanted to use your remark as an illustration of a factor in my earlier prejudice against pro-lifers.

I think it is an unfounded, irrational prejudice. Pro-lifers love women in stressful, potentially abortion-producing situations far more than (arguably) bleeding heart liberals love the inner-city poor, since we do far more for the women (food, clothing, financial and medical assistance, lodging) than they do for the poor. They keep trying the same old failed liberal programs that never improve the lot of the inner-city poor. But pro-lifers are tangibly helping women. So if we must blame people in this fashion, I say the liberals lose on the compassion score, hands down. Also, the pro-aborts offer women only one choice: abortion (and the abortuaries have a profit motive for doing so, and self-interest. This is why "choice" is such a misnomer when applied to hard-core pro-aborts. They're not interested in the woman's choice of having the child when she is in the death mill. That's not compassion or concern: it is a lust for blood and blood money (there's my "prophetic mode" again).

I wish I could understand what it means for a one-celled organism to have a supernatural soul. Be that as it may, I concede your point.

What's so hard to understand? A soul is a non-material entity, so why is it more weird for one cell to possess it than a grown person? We believe that Mary possessed a soul immediately upon her conception, because if she didn't, original sin couldn't have been removed from her by a special act of grace (there's another specifically Catholic argument for personhood from conception).

. . . this was a hugely troubling matter for me. I was loath to tolerate the killing of a sentient being, which is almost invariably the case in abortions, yet I did not want to close the door to women who felt a desperate need to escape pregnancy. I definitely wanted to ban abortions after the first trimester at least. But this is now moot.

It was clear to me that this was a big weakness in your position that I could pursue (and "exploit") in trying to persuade you (knowing that you are a compassionate person, as evidenced by your concern for animals). My instincts were apparently correct.
. . . feminists and other pro-aborts who regard the butchery as their sacrament and sacred rite (and right).
This is insulting to feminists. I know that there are a very few extreme feminist ideologues who do view abortion along those lines (in fact I was once shocked to see a book, in a feminist bookstore, which actually called abortion a sacrament!).

How is it insulting then, if you saw it yourself in a feminist bookstore? Thanks for strongly supporting my argument.

But the majority of pro-choicers are of the (admittedly contradictory) "it's wrongful killing but we must still permit it" mentality, and find abortion personally disturbing to say the least.

That's even worse, because now they are committing a wrong that they know is wrong, and trying to justify it (which is impossible to do). It would be better to simply deny it is wrong, than to adopt this position.

. . . Given that in unplanned and unwanted pregnancy there is a conflict of interest between the life of the incipient person and the autonomy of the adult woman, my paramount concern, as an androgynist feminist (something you were probably never close to being),

That's not true. I was pro-choice until early 1982 (almost five years as a committed evangelical Christian), and quite liberal in my political views (including feminism, and a robust sexual liberalism, throughout the 70s). Of course now I would say I held these positions like a sheep, in ignorance, but I still held them, and it is important for people to know that I have changed my mind on many of my major opinions -- not only just in religious matters.

. . . was for the autonomy of the woman. That trumped everything else in my original pro-choice ideology. I was not a Christian then, however. My recent defense, to which you're responding, was just flat-out inconsistent, and there's really nothing to be said for it.

It is interesting to think back and analyze how and why we used to think as we did in the past.

As you know, the right to life is not absolute, trumping all other conceivable duties. For instance, many Catholics disagree with the Holy Father and believe premeditated murder warrants the ultimate punishment, overriding the murderer's inalienable right to life. Very few Christians are absolute pacifists, thus innumerable Christians believe in circumstances (e.g. right now in Iraq) where we have the right to kill enemy soldiers, snuffing out their inalienable right to life.

Yes, that's right, but in those cases, there is some harm being done to others which has to be stopped, and cannot be short of lethal force. Virtually no one denies that such situations allow ethical killing. But that is not murder. Killing a preborn child has virtually nothing to do with how that child would supposedly be a harmful threat to individuals or society. It's a cold-blooded, heartless, ruthless murder of a completely innocent and defenseless being. That's why I consider it one of the most hideous and evil sins.

I still don't think it's immoral, sinful, or ought to be criminal, for a rape victim to refuse to carry the rapist's child to birth, the fetus's personhood and right to life notwithstanding.

It remains wrong because the act of murdering that child is intrinsically sinful and indefensible, even in such a terrible situation. A Catholic cannot under any circumstances willfully commit an intrinsically evil act. The end doesn't justify the means. Two wrongs don't make a right. Etc.

Some people, while possessing the inalienable right to life, may nevertheless be justly killed under certain circumstances. That in itself is quite consistent with general Christian and specifically Catholic teaching.

This instance is not in accord with Catholic teaching. Abortion (even of a child conceived by rape) is not analogous to justified war or self-defense or use of lethal force by the police or capital punishment. Those things are not murder. This is. It has no ethical justification.

I concede the zygote's or embryo's right to life, however violent and coercive its conception may be. The question is whether there are considerations which supersede the right to life in this case, as there uncontroversially are in other cases.

The Church has always accepted those things, but never abortion.

. . . neither personhood nor the right to life (both of which I've conceded) depend on how one is conceived. Rather, it is the specific circumstance of conception (rape) which determines whether the preborn person's right to life is inviolable or may instead be countermanded in this particular instance. This is not relativism,

It is, because it is based on an indefensible situational ethics. If indeed the child is a person (and for the Christian, possessed of an eternal soul and the image of God), he or she cannot be murdered. How the conception came about is ethically irrelevant to the ethics.

at least not unless you want to say that capital punishment (guilt for the crime of premeditated murder superseding the killer's right to life) or just war, in which one's enemy combatants' right to life is overruled by the exigencies of justified conflict, are also cases of ethical relativism.

They are not, but they are based on different principles.

An impregnated rape victim has been violently and involuntarily placed in the position of having an incipient and totally dependent human life placed within her. She is in no way responsible for bringing this person into existence.

But you can also argue that a person who contracepts properly according to the instructions is also not responsible for a "mistake" pregnancy. That doesn't mean abortion is allowed in that instance. The difficulty of the situation is irrelevant ethically, because the person now in existence is of infinite value and cannot be murdered in cold blood. The very existence of the child is all that is needed for the right to life to exist.

I grant that the most altruistic and heroic thing for her to do (and let's pray that she has the support group for it!) would be to carry the baby to term and either give it up for adoption

Thus you acknowledge that this really is the right thing to do. You don't want to make it compulsory because it is difficult. Sometimes morality requires heroism. If my wife gets paralyzed tomorrow and I have to take care of her as an invalid the rest of my life, that will require heroism and great sacrifice on my part, but I would be obligated to do it. That's how life is sometimes. There is a purpose to everything in God's Providence, even the bad stuff.

(but would someone adopt a rapist's child??)

Absolutely. Pro-lifers don't care how a child is conceived. Mother Teresa used to say, "if you don't want the child, give her to me; I'll take care of her." There are over one million couples waiting to adopt because so many children are being butchered. Do you think they care how a child they can love was conceived? You show yourself quite naive on this point, I must say. You act as if there is still this stigma of a child being a "bastard" or something. People don't think like that. It's a child! Period!

if she could not get past the inevitable feelings of resentment toward the child, or else, financial and psychological situation being feasible, raise the child herself. All that is glorious, but it's above and beyond the call of moral duty.

Life is sometimes like that, isn't it? Again, I use the example of a spouse. What if your wife went into a coma? Would you abandon her and pull the plug because it was too difficult? Or would you be obligated as her husband to stand by her and even hope and pray for a possible recovery? And Christian ethics would not allow sex with anyone else, either. This is heroic sanctity, only possible by God's grace. There are situations where it is required of us.

Given the involuntary circumstances of the child's conception, I don't think its right to life supersedes the woman's right to choose not to be pregnant, when she is not responsible for being pregnant in the first place.

No one denies that it is a horrible, traumatic thing. But for that woman to consent to murdering the child does not help her at all. Now she has committed a sin, too, and shows that she (ethically speaking again, not "personally") cares no more for the child than the rapist father. After all, he or she is her child too. If she can murder the child just because he or she came from a rape, then arguably parents should be able to kill four-year-olds because their fathers are real bastards who beat and mistreat them every day. The nature of the father has nothing to do with the child's right to life. Once you concede that a person is there from conception, then difficult circumstances are ethically beside the point. Otherwise, you can just as easily defend infanticide and euthanasia, on the same basis. The mother doesn't own that child. We outlawed slavery. The child is a separate individual.

Many years ago a philosopher named Judith Jarvis Thomson wrote a classic article, 'A Defense of Abortion', in which she argued this point with the following imaginary scenario. First she concedes the pro-life thesis that the embryo or fetus is a person with a right to life. Then ...
I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument go from here? ... Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person's right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother's right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed.
I assume you agree with that reasoning. And I do, too, in almost, but not all, cases, i.e. with the exception of rape.

I do, and I don't make that exception, because it is ethically irrational.

Thomson continues,
It sounds plausible. but now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, 'Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you - we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.' Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says, 'Tough luck, I agree, but you've now got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.' I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.
In this case, of course, you were kidnapped; you didn't volunteer for the operation that plugged the violinist into your kidneys. Can those who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape? Certainly. They can say that persons have a right to life only if they didn't come into existence because of rape; or they can say that all persons have a right to life, but that some have less of a right to life than others, in particular, that those who came into existence because of rape have less. But these statements have a rather unpleasant sound. Surely the question of whether you have a right to life at all, or how much of it you have, shouldn't turn on the question of whether or not you are the product of a rape. And in fact the people who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned do not make this distinction, and hence do not make an exception in case of rape.
Where the mother's life is not at stake, the argument I mentioned at the outset seems to have a much stronger pull. 'Everyone has a right to life, so the unborn person has a right to life.' And isn't the child's right to life weightier than anything other than the mother's own right to life, which she might put forward as ground for an abortion?
This argument treats the right to life as if it were unproblematic. It is not, as this seems to me to be precisely the source of the mistake.
For we should now, at long last, ask what it comes to, to have a right to life. In some views having a right to life includes having a right to be given at least the bare minimum one needs for continued life. But suppose that what in fact is the bare minimum a man needs for continued life is something he has no right at all to be given? If I am sick unto death, and the only thing that will save my life is the touch of Henry Fonda's cool hand on my fevered brow, then all the same, I have no right to be given the touch of Henry Fonda's cool hand on my fevered brow. It would be frightfully nice of him to fly in from the West Coast to provide it. It would be less nice, though no doubt well meant, if my friends flew out to the West Coast and carried Henry Fonda back with them. But I have no right at all against anybody that he should do this for me. Or again, to return to the story I told earlier, the fact that for continued life that violinist needs the continued use of your kidneys does not establish that he has a right to be given the continued use of your kidneys. He certainly has no right against you that you should give him continued use of your kidneys. For nobody has any right to use your kidneys unless you give him such a right; and nobody has the right against you that you shall give him this right - if you do allow him to go on using your kidneys, this is a kindness on your part, and not something he can claim from you as his due. Nor has he any right against anybody else that they should give him continued use of your kidneys. Certainly he had no right against the Society of Music Lovers that they should plug him into you in the first place. And if you now start to unplug yourself, having learned that you will otherwise have to spend nine years in bed with him, there is nobody in the world who must try to prevent you, in order to see that he is given something he has a right to be given.
Well, that conveys the gist of the pertinent idea. The essay is worth reading in its entirety.

This is ingenious, and well worth pondering, but it fails to succeed by Catholic ethics and principles of moral theology. First of all, this is a rather extraordinarily hypothetical. It's very surreal nature makes it less powerful of an argument because it is implausible to use a situation that would virtually never occur as an analogy for a situation that happens thousands of times a year (pregnancy by rape).
Secondly, Catholic moral theology allows the discontinuance of "extraordinary means" to keep someone alive, because they are not ethically required. To be connected to another person (involuntarily at that) is clearly extraordinary. So by Catholic principles, it would not be required. We do forbid removal of routine feeding tubes. The distinction is between a deliberate act where you know it will have a lethal effect (where otherwise they would remain alive), and letting nature take its course. This is because willfulness is ethically decisive in Catholic moral thought.

Thirdly, the child of a rape victim is her child as well, and we normally assume that one has more ethical responsibilities towards their children than towards strangers on the street.

Fourthly, there are many different situations that are tragic and which require heroic sacrifice based on obligations of marriage or parenthood or close friendship. When you allow any of those, you in effect accept the same reasoning that would require a woman to carry a child conceived in rape to term. But in her case, there is a real positive involved: a new child can come into the world, and she has the opportunity to care for him or her should she decide to keep the child. Why not bring good out of evil?

That's four reasons why I reject that reasoning . . .

In sum, I don't see how a rape victim can legitimately be coerced by the state to pursue what is a morally heroic, perhaps saintly, but not obligatory course of action, radically altering her life or at least a significant portion thereof, to subordinate her interests to the right to life of the child for whose existence she bears no responsibility. In other words, abortion may legitimately be outlawed under normal circumstances, but an exception must be made for rape.

I disagree. Let me make a hypothetical scenario of my own (if we're gonna "play philosophy"). Suppose you are living 10 miles from the North Pole in a shack (for some unknown reason I don't have to come up with! Maybe you're a hermit or loner or something). You have a lifetime supply of food and medical stuff and everything else you need. Now, one day, a two-year-old child shows up out of nowhere. You have no idea how or why this happened -- not a clue. But it did, and the child is now here. And you have no contact with the outside world.

You had no "responsibility" for the child appearing. You weren't having sex. You had nothing to do with it. The child has nothing directly to do with you. Except that now, there she is (we'll make the child female, since I have a two-year-old girl myself :-), and she is in your care. According to your reasoning, you have a perfect right to toss this little girl out in the snow to die (well, okay; no suffering, so you instead can give her a sleeping pill and then suffocate her with a pillow). You have conceded that a conceived child is a person from the beginning. So there is no ethical difference whatsoever. If you can kill a child of rape in abortion, you can kill this little girl, and try to justify it. But who would do such a thing? It doesn't mater if you are "responsible" for her existence or not. She is in your care now. And that is enough, because a human being is involved.

Therefore, given your new conviction that personhood and the right to life begin at conception, you must also concede that the exception for rape is equally immoral, even though everyone understands the severe trauma involved with the woman victim. It's very clear-cut. If you think it isn't, then tell me you would suffocate this little girl with a pillow (or advocate the legality of same, so people can make this "choice"), because you are not "required" to care for her. So if you want to create "hard cases" to allow abortion, I can create analogous ones which require infanticide on the same exact basis. And if something is moral, it stands to reason that it should be legal, too, and its violation illegal, at least where human life (or its ending) is concerned.

The other, obvious, exception to criminalizing abortion, which I don't think you'll dispute, is self-defense, i.e. a rare case in which killing the preborn child is the only way of saving the mother's life. I hope we don't need to linger over this point.

This is so exceedingly rare as to be non-existent. I actually had an abortionist tell me that face-to-face. It is essentially (literally) a non-issue. But even Catholic theology would hold that in such a hypothetical situation a doctor can certainly choose to help the mother, if a choice must be made, rather than the child. He simply helps the mother, and if the child dies, that is nature. What he cannot do, however, is deliberately kill the child, because such an act is intrinsically evil.

An analogy would be the famous lifeboat ethics scenario. If you are a doctor in a lifeboat and it is hit by a bomb from an airplane and everyone in it is gravely injured, you can make choices as to who to treat first, and make some judgments. You may treat the younger persons first because they have had less years of life, or a mother with seven children, because her loss would also be a serious loss for seven dependent human beings. You might give priority to treating a brilliant scientist who is maybe a year away from curing cancer, etc. This is perfectly permissible in Catholic theology. What is not permitted is tossing people overboard, because that is a willful act resulting on their near-certain death.

I'm under the impression that you, Dave, appreciate Star Trek and some science fiction (I'm not saying you're a Trekker or visit conventions). If this is true, you may know something about the implacable enemies of the Federation known as the Borg. They are cyborgs who have all been assimilated from various humanoid species, including humans, into a vast hive-mind in which all individuality is suppressed. From a normal human perspective it's an unspeakably horrible fate to fall into the hands of the Borg and be assimilated. In the 8th Star Trek movie, 'First Contact', the Borg had infiltrated Captain Picard's Enterprise and were in process of capturing and assimilating some of his crew. At one point during the fighting on the ship Picard sees a crewman down and already undergoing the hideous transformation caused by nanobots injected into his blood. His case is hopeless. He gestures toward Picard and cries for "help"; it is understood by both Picard and the audience that the crewman prefers death to assimilation, as virtually any person would. So Picard, with only a moment's hesitation, fires his phaser, killing the crewman. Now, isn't this a morally appropriate act under those circumstances? I'd say so, I'm sure most people would say so; I'm not sure what you or the Catholic Magisterium would say, but I'm sure you'll tell me.

We would say you can let nature take its course, if the situation is certain to lead to death. You still can't deliberately murder. But this is another huge discussion, and I am trying to get through this thing . . .

Be that as it may, I still have trouble on this issue, and I don't think it has anything to do with functionalism or any lingering biases. There are some conditions of human existence which are utterly horrific, and which I would hope never to experience, and which, therefore, I would not want to deliberately inflict on an innocent child. But for the sake of brevity I think we should shunt this aside and postpone it for a possible later discussion of euthanasia.

I would say that this is the most arguable of scenarios and requires serious analysis.

Mercy is self-evident as a motive for killing, though I'm still struggling with the subject of euthanasia. I don't pretend to know (unlike you, apparently) that Jesus expects a woman to bear a rapist's child; maybe, maybe not, but that's distinct from the question of criminalizing abortion in such cases.

I don't pretend to know how Jesus expects people to go through a number of horrible situations, but I believe in faith that He gives is the grace and strength to do so and that there are good reasons for it all in the end. Life involves suffering (as you well know), so this flares out into a general (gigantic) discussion on the problem of evil.

I enjoy this. It is a very stimulating discussion, and I have developed some arguments that have never occurred to me before. Good dialogue often has that result, which is why I find it so intellectually exciting. Socrates and Plato were onto something very important.

My reversal of thinking has drastically reduced the degree of disagreement between us, boiling down to the matter of legal exceptions for certain hard cases.

And I am delighted and admire you for thinking through the issue and having the courage and humility to change your mind and describe the whole process publicly. That is so cool . . . I rarely see anyone change their mind in my apologetic endeavors. They often come to me and say they have changed (sometimes because of my writing). But I hardly ever get to observe the process right in front of my eyes. So it's nice.

By the way, the discussion originated with your thesis that a Christian can't consistently be anti-abortion and also vote for a pro-choice candidate - which means any Democratic presidential candidate. I'm going to take a little more time to reflect on that, while you grapple with all this new material I've given you.

Good for you. We'll have you a good Bush supporter in no time! :-)

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