Tuesday, 20 May 2008


I was talking with, or rather I was listening to - I wasn't in a talkative mood at the time, someone who, though concerned in a general sense about the issue of abortion, was agnostic as to when abortion would be sinful, being sceptical about the Catholic teaching that life should be defended from conception. Naturally this was in reference to the HFE Bill, and those proposing a change to the time limits based on scientific data about the development of an embryo. They opined that conception seemed to be an arbitrary point at which to draw the line.

I don't recall having an opinion about abortion before I had any faith in the teaching authority of the church, but one of the things that I find most strange about the "debate" is the lack of concern about the potential evil. The Church considers abortion as the murder of an innocent human life. I don't see how uncertainty from other parties as to when life really begins makes it acceptable to proceed. This procedure may be murder; how, when it may be murder, could anyone not shrink from it? You really need a watertight case that an embryo is not human before you could contemplate it's termination with a clear conscience. If you were presented with a locked room, in which there may or may not be a man or a woman, and a lever which released poison gas into the room, would you think it was okay to pull the lever? After all, there's no way of knowing whether or not there's a human life in there.

I think it's quite natural to assume that life does begin at conception, though I don't claim to be able to prove it. At conception, you certainly have a genetically distinct individual with 46 chromosomes, neither the mother nor the father. Give them oxygen, give them nutrients, and they will grow to be an adult. Up to what point would it have been acceptable to abort those cells/that person who was to become Jesus of Nazareth? This is obviously a special case, but that does not make it illegitimate. God had a plan for that birth, he had a plan for Jeremiah (Jer 1:5) - are we sufficiently confident as to think that in any given abortion, we are not directly thwarting the will of God? I think the answer to that is obviously no, at least if you are a theist.

People sometimes assume that abortion is a modern phenomenom as well, and that the Church therefore condemns abortion as an innovation. This is simply not true, which is worth pointing out. There are documents contemporary with the New Testament canon which condemn it outright.

I was also thinking, and forgot to blog it, that viability is a more arbitrary marker than conception. Viability as I understand it, is the stage at which it would be possible to preserve a life outside the womb. I'm not really sure what viability has to do with anything. That would be the stage at which medical care could substitute for the protection of the womb. A child needs the care of their mother from conception, although the form of that protection is quite different from that which is required after birth. A baby abandoned at birth will most likely die, but that's no argument for not caring for them.
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Rosy At Random said...

"Up to what point would it have been acceptable to abort those cells/that person who was to become Jesus of Nazareth?"

General consensus is up to about the 220th trimester. ;)

Mark said...

Hi Rosy, how's life? I guess you've given up on blogging.

Three things:

a) Call me a miserable git, but that is a pretty offhand way of referring to a crucifixion, emoticon notwithstanding. In point of fact it justifies my use of the analogy, so thanks for that.

b) I wouldn't call it a consensus, though you could make a case for calling it that

c) I don't know where you're getting 220 from; I understand that a trimester is approximately 3 months. Wouldn't that make it approximately 33*4+3 i.e. 135?