By Nick Gier
“It is absurd to call a fertilized ovum a baby.” —Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain
Only just recently pro-lifers have argued that abortions should be allowed up to the point when the fetus feels pain, or when a heart beat can be detected. Most have also allowed exceptions in cases of rape or incest. But now, for the men in the Alabama Legislature, this is neither “logical” nor “scientific.”
The argument goes like this: If the fetus is a person from conception on (a premise I believe is false), then no exceptions may be allowed. At any point after this moment, abortion is murder, and any doctor who performs this procedure should be prosecuted and imprisoned for 99 years.
The Alabama bill states that the woman seeking an abortion would not be held “criminally culpable or civilly liable,” but this does not follow because she has conspired to take her fetus’ life. Former Idaho state senator Dan Foreman was brutally “logical” on this point.
Foreman is joined by GOP Rep. Ron Wright from Texas who said that such women should be jailed because they have committed murder. Texas state legislator Tony Tinderholt (he is a Republican, of course) recently introduced a bill that would have banned abortion and subjected women and their doctors to the death penalty.
Foreman, Wright and Tinderholt would have American women join those already in jail in Egypt, Iraq, the Phillipines, El Salvador and other “pro-life” countries. Some of these hapless souls have been imprisoned after being accused of causing their own miscarriages.
Further adhering to “logic” of their extreme position, Alabama legislators will not allow exceptions in the case of rape or incest. The fetus is a person, so women must, in every case, complete their pregnancies.
Every conception, after all, is God’s will, so these traumatized women must give birth and raise their rapists’ children. Incredible and as outrageous as it seems, Alabama law allows these moral reprobates to file for custody rights!
Poor Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock agonized and prayed over his decision: “I struggled with myself for a long time but I came to realize that life is a gift from God, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape. It is something that God intended to happen.”
Following Mourdock’s logic, miscarriages are also God’s will, and this means that God is the greatest abortionist. It is estimated that upwards of one third of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and some women face life-threatening hemorrhaging as a result.
In response to the charge that they base their position on religion, anti-abortionists counter that no one can deny that the fertilized ovum has a unique genetic identity. Twinning, however, is possible within the first two weeks, so in this case there are two persons rather than one. This proves that genetic identity is not the same a personal identity. Some other moral and/or legal criterion must be used instead.
Christians who use the genetic argument need to be reminded that, for them, personal identity is not a biological determination. Rather, it is a spiritual gift from God. As Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas states: “Human persons are created by God at the completion of their coming into being.”
English Common Law defined this “completion” as “quickening” (animation) in the womb — sometime during the second trimester. Our founding thinkers would have learned about this in their law books, so those Supreme Court justices who believe in “original intent” should then support Roe v. Wade.
Many animal fetuses have beating hearts, brain waves and unique genetic identity. Some of them, such as whales, dolphins, apes and parrots, develop into self-conscious, cognitively sophisticated beings, so we should honor their right to life as well.
We recognize that animals feel pain, and we give them legal protection against unnecessary harm. This gives us a moral and legal foundation for a consistent pro-life position. Medical experts agree that human fetuses do not feel pain until late in the second trimester. This is the point in pregnancy where Roe v. Wade protects the life of the fetus.
Right after the Alabama abortion ban was approved, State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison proposed a bill that “would require the state to provide free prenatal and medical care for mothers who had been denied an abortion by the new law.” It went down to defeat by a vote of 23-6.
There is a pithy saying that goes something like this: “The last time Republicans cared for you was when you were a fetus.”
Nick Gier of Moscow taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read his article on abortion at webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/abortion.htm. Email him at [email protected]
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