Abortion: about justice – not biology, not god

Abortion: I know the topic raises emotional responses – including, obviously, my own. So I want to use the emotional appeal of my rhetoric to cut short appeal to personal emotion, by indicating that appeal to some theory of universal self-interest or universal sympathy concerning the fetus, is doomed to cancellation by confrontation with personal experience and differently directed sympathies.

The weight of justice seems to me to favor the interests of the living women who make this choice, not ‘possible persons’ the present ontological status of which remains in doubt.

It may indeed be the case that the legalization of abortion contributed to a coarsening of our culture, a loss of a certain sensitivity – but there are important legal reasons why this cannot be undone, and my position is that justice weighs in favor of accepting this, and considering the whole issue in a manner that allows us to live with it.

To begin with, I don’t believe human life begins at conception. “Homo Sapien” is a biological category, “human” is an ontological category. I deny the two are identical. There is no (and for theoretical reasons, cannot be) evidence to the contrary.

Thomas Aquinas argued that no human life came into being until an infant demonstrated personality, demonstrating that the soul had been implanted in the body, which he reckoned to be about four months. The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion doesn’t hinge on the existence of ‘human’ life in the fetus, but on the life in pontentia, pre-determined by god. But I don’t believe in god. So let us recognize the strength of the one claim, concerning the development of personality, while recognizing that the second claim, reliance on god, is unpersuasive to unbelievers. The point being that the matter turns on the definition of ‘human being,’ and this point cannot be decided scientifically, because it is an ontological category, that can only be decided ideologically or philosophically. But in this culture, it cannot be decided religiously. Thus, the point is so open and filled with possibility that only small groups and individuals can realize which definition of ‘human being’ they wish to pursue.

This problem can be somewhat mitigated by law, but the Supreme Court has decided that the Constitution has limited jurisdiction over the matter, and that individuals must wrestle with their choices by themselves.  That’s as it should be.  If we were talking about real, existent persons the matter would be otherwise.  But we are talking about an infinite number of ‘possible persons,’ which would individually fall out into a hard reality that is frequently poorly prepared, impoverished, punishing.  Abortion may be the greatest act of mercy in certain circumstances.

Anti-choice proselytizers squall about the ending of life in the womb. Then they should develop a system of incubation, whereby the excised fetus can be brought to maturation outside the womb. They should also find funding for the raising of these children afterward, rather than condemning them to the ‘care’ of women who do not want them, cannot afford them.

And they should explain why they so willingly send these children off to die in war, or send them to the gallows when the pressure of their unfortunate births may lead them to transgress. *


But: ‘What if your mother had chosen abortion?’ I wish she had, putting an end to years of manipulation and abuse.

My mother had a different idea: she believed that if she had enough children, perhaps her drunkard husband would stay married to her. Reproduction was then her only strategy for control over an abusive man she should never have married in the first place – except that, at the time unmarried women approaching 30 were considered disreputable failures. (When that strategy failed, then she seemed to have decided that she could manipulate her children to die before her, thus assuring herself a kind of ersatz immortality. It worked with my two sisters, who both died at age 50 – thoroughly scrambled psychologically by the many mixed messages from their mother, especially concerning sexuality and procreation.)

There are some women who should not have children; and all women should have the right to an informed choice with real options for living their lives well. Denial of this corrupts them, corrupts the men involved with them, corrupts the very fabric of society.

The whole anti-choice argument stands on the assumption that the ‘nuclear family’ is natural and inevitable, shored up with instinctual caring, which the surrounding community re-enforces. That’s untrue. The ‘nuclear family’ is an ideal, and ‘instinctual caring’ is a religious belief. Humans are too variant in their motivations and behaviors to provide the kind of generic surety the anti-choice arguments seem to take for granted.

Nothing of this yet addresses the problem of the right of a woman to her own body. Until a fetus reaches a maturation towards birth – sustainable life outside the womb – it is little more than a parasite. It is homo sapien; it is not yet human. It doesn’t enter that process of becoming until it is born. No excuse for causing it suffering – but no reason to keep it alive.

The woman involved is a living human, she is an already ontologically becoming human being. She should not be denied the opportunity to choose the path of her own becoming.

My mother didn’t know any better. Now women know that some parasite in their body is no reason to devote their entire lives to the result of rape, brutality, oppression and enslavement.

Shall we deny them this? enforce religious belief through state strictures punishable by imprisonment? That won’t stop women seeking the relief they need from impossibly difficult situations. So, should we return to coat-hanger abortions in unsanitary backrooms? Hundreds of thousands of women suffered injury or death in those days – already existent persons suffering because of religious hypocrisy pretending to be law. No thanks.

I wish the whole world vegetarian. But that’s not so. Wishing a world where abortion is not a reasonable choice is unrealistic. I must accept women’s claim to controlling their reproductive destiny. The choice must be theirs. Denying this is profoundly unjust.

I care for the living, not the dead and the unborn. The former no longer suffer, the latter need not ever suffer. The suffering that exits now is what we must help to lessen.


* I here must laud the Catholic Church’s opposition to capital punishment and unjust wars; at least in their opposition to abortion, they can claim consistency, which is much more than can be said of the American Religious Right that terrorizes us with fake videos and inflammatory rhetoric.


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