Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sorry, Anti-Free-Choice Activists, A Fetus Is Not A "Baby"

The release and publicizing of doctored videos of Planned Parenthood people talking about selling and distributing and accesing of organs from aborted fetuses has been turned into a new rampage by the anti-free-choice crowd to both defund Planned Parenthood, which provides many clearly useful health services beyond abortion, and also to energize presidential candidates trying to hustle their way into the hearts of all those Iowa and other evangelicals, who are somehow under the delusion that the Bible calls abortion, "murder," which it most certainly does not.

What is a bit more disturbing is that the general media seems to be not only letting these candidates and politicians get away with calling aborted fetuses, "murdered babies," but that some of them are beginning to repeat this formulation as if it were simply a fact (although usually without the "murdered" in front).  Those awful people at Planned Parenthood are selling organs from aborted "babies."  This is certainly a dangerous trend and would constitute a complete redefining of words.

If the general media falls for this and gets this established, it will be like the succes story the organized right pulled when it got the media to talk about "death taxes" without any irony or explanation or modification, rather than as "estate taxes."  I mean, who can support "death taxes"?

So, let us be clear: a fetus is not a baby.  Go look in any dictionary.  A baby must be born live to become a "baby."  Prior to birth, it is a fetus after 8 weeks, it is a "fetus."  In the first 8 weeks it is an "embryo," although very early on after conception it is a "zygote," not sure what the official cutoff for that one is. But, there are plenty out there who think that aborting them is murder.

So, I am going to go into waters rarely swam in here on Econospeak, and I am not going to provide a bunch of precise quotes.  I am simply going to cite sources, giving the main arguments.  From a theological perspective, what is involved for most who argue about this is the time of "ensoulment."  (If you do not believe in souls, fine, figure out your own argument on this and why you think what you think about the broader issue, keeping in mind, is infanticide OK with you?  Personally am agnostic on all this soul stuff)

So, there is a wide range of views about this issue among both philosophers and theologians, with most starting at Aristotle, who thought it was 40 days for male embryos, and 89 days for female fetuses (sexist pig!) after conception. The range of views on this is simply enormous and wide.  Some Hindus (and some Buddhists) insist on the preexistence of the soul because of reincarnation, but wide differences and debates show up about when it enters, ranging from conception to birth and the taking of the first breath.  Some have argued that enters when the penis enters the woman's body to impregnate (really! although that one is definitely a rare view).  Many think it is at conceoption, with this the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church for most of its history, except during a period in the middle ages when Aristotle's view was accepted. Some say it is 40 or 80 or somewhere between 40 and 120 (a widely held view in Islam) days after conception.  One that had much sway in English common law was when "quickening" happnes, when the fetus first starts moving and can be felt (usually around 18-20 weeks in), with this showing up in Blackstone and in case law regarding when one can execute a convicted pregnant woman (yes before quickening, no afterwards).  Then there is "viability," can it survive outside the womb, with the 50% cutoff on that being more like 24 weeks into pregnancy. Then there are many (and when I believe in souls, this is what I think is most likely), at birth with the taking of the first breath, with many from many traditions taking this view.  Finally, at the furthest extreme have been some Jewish rabbis who have argued that the soul does not enter until a young child first says "amen."

Given that what people who support fully free choice regarding abortion, with the big dividing line being at birth, when a fetus becomes a baby (oh, and of course some of those ancient Greek philosophers thought that infanticide was acceptable under certain circumstances, something that I do not accept), let me make the case for that.  There are many passages in the Bible that support it, including in Genesis, Psalms, Job, and Ezekial, at a minimum.  These all involve God "breathing life" into people and thus providing them with spirit.  I note that the world "spirit" is tied to "inspire," which is also tied to breathing (and in Sansrkit, "atman," which is oversoul is linked to "atmosphere," or air).  There are numerous theologians and philosophers in various traditions who hold to some variant of this remark, and people who insist on saying that abortion before birth is "murder" are violating their religious freedom.

Finally, one further odd item, which is from Exodus, the only passage that arguably comes the closest to dealing specifically about the nature of the fetus as a being.  It discusses the punishment for a man who physically attacks a woman and causes a miscarriage, granted not the same as an intentional abortion, but in my mind at least a lot worse.  The punishment is that he is to pay a fine to the husband's family. Many Protestant fundamentalists have cooked up translationis that try to change this, but most Hebrew scholars insist that this is what it says.  This is in a part of the Bible that is very hard line about all kinds of things, with the famous passage about "an eye for an eye" very nearby this one.  Not all that far away we have people supposedly being needed to be stoned to death for not only murder, which clearly this induced miscarraige is not (thus clearly implying that the fetus is not a fully ensouled human baby), but for such ephemera as being a disobedient child, being a women getting married who is not a virgin, and being a married couple who have sex during the wife's period, not to mention homosexuality, of course.  All of those are worse than inducing a miscarriage in a pregnant woman by physically attacking her.  Really.

Additional Remarks:

For those who do not  believe in souls, or really do not know what to think, of course we can note that  indeed there is this gradual increase in development as various body parts, organs, activities within the fetus, and so forth increase as pregnancy proceeds, with public opinion, whatever is driving the various parts of it gradually shifting from a more solidly pro-free-choice position in the early stages to much less of such a position, especially one gets to the third trimester.  I certainly recognize this moral gradient that  things get more and more questionable the later one proceeds into pregnancy, and I must grant that most nations do put at least some sorts of restrictions on late term abortions, even if they do not outright outlaw them.  I do happen to support free choice in that final trimester, while recognizing that it is a hard choice.  I simply note that because it is, and would-be mothers themselves are aware of all this, that the number of late term abortions is very low, and most of them involve very unusual circumstances that should be decided upon by the pregnant woman and her doctor. So, I still support free choice, even in that morally more difficult time.

I also certainly grant that the videos look awful.  But so then do all those posters of aborted fetuses that show up on roadside posters here and there.  It is important to remember that these organs are being used for scientific research that can potentially help living people who have been actually born, and that this use of those organs has been approved by the would-have-been mothers, or so I understand anyway.  That the actual process is ugly, well, so are many other things that we live with and accept, or at least most of us, although we do not want to see them directly or even on videos..  

Barkley Rosser 


Myrtle Blackwood said...

Re: "...things get more and more questionable the later one proceeds into pregnancy...That the actual process is ugly, well, so are many other things that we live with and accept..."

That about sums it up.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

I'm reminded of this psalm every time a wallaby comes rushing out from the side of the unpaved rural road at night and is trampled under my vehicles wheels. Even a 40 kilometre speed doesn't stop this from happening. said...


My bottom line view remains that stated by Bill Clinton some time ago, given that indeed there are certainly moral questions and doubts about abortion, especially as it occurs later and later in a pregnancy. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Yes, I agree. Abortion, like stealing food when you have no other means of sustenance, should be a rarity. To make such possible this limited world creates a strong prerogative to raise our ability to defer gratification so that others may simply live.