slyjinks: (Akroma)
[personal profile] slyjinks
Abortion has always been a hotly debated topic, and it would appear to have taken on new life in the last year and a half, with a sudden surge in anti-abortion legislation being proposed and implemented across the country. Among the most extreme of these measures have been the various “Personhood” laws and amendments, and three of the four remaining Republican Presidential candidates have signed Personhood USA's pledge stating, “If elected President, I will work to advance state and federal laws and amendments that recognize the unalienable right to life of all human beings as persons at every stage of development.” All of this begs the question of, “What is the basis for declaring a fertilized egg a Person?”

Brain death is frequently used as the legal indicator of death, but the zygote does not yet have brain life. While fertilization is a very early stage in the development of the human life cycle, at this point the cell does not yet have even the basic requirements for what we normally associate with humanity. That it “will be some day,” is a weak argument, because there are a lot of things that “will be some day,” and are not now. Beyond this, let's face it: the primary justifications for claiming Personhood at conception are based on religious faith. The short form is, the soul enters the egg at the moment it is fertilized, and that's why it's a person. But why make this claim?

While many claim that this argument is based in scripture, the only times the Bible makes mention of when the soul enters a body comes in reference to the “breath of life.” “Then the Lord God Formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7) Here, the Bible is quite specific that Adam is not a living creature until he breathes, and variations of the phrasing “breath of life” as a euphemism for the soul are a recurring theme.

Many point to the first chapter of Jeremiah as evidence instead, where Jeremiah, quoting God, says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5) However, it can also be argued that this is merely a confirmation of God's all-seeing nature, the idea that he sees all, future and past, and has known each of us from the beginning of time. Further, an examination of the context shows that God is asserting Jeremiah's authority as a prophet despite his youth rather than having a discussion of fetal life. Never mind that the “before” in “before I formed you,” is problematic because it suggests we need to start looking out for the Constitutional rights not only of zygotes but of humans not yet even conceived, a proposal that starts sounding more and more like a Monty Python song.

So that verse is certainly up for interpretation, but is there any reason it can't also mean that a zygote has a soul? That is, is there any Biblical basis for treating an unborn fetus by different rules than an infant or living human? As it turns out, there is. In Genesis 38:24, Leviticus 21:9, and Deuteronomy 22:20-21, the Bible prescribes the penalty of death for a woman who has committed adultery. No exceptions are made if the woman is pregnant at the time, nor recommendations made that the sentence be delayed until the fetus has been carried to term. Thus, these verses do not treat the fetus as a separate being, independent of the mother and with a right to life of its own. The laws given by God to Moses in Exodus 21 state the penalty for murder is death, but they demand only a fine for causing a miscarriage. While causing a miscarriage is still treated a crime, the considerably lesser punishment suggests that the fetus itself is less than a person. It is not yet human.

Even if scriptural support can be found to justify assuming a zygote has a soul, the fact that there is contradicting evidence from the scriptures makes such support uncertain at best. Thus, the religious support for assuming Personhood at conception falls to Tradition and personal conscience. Tradition is unreliable, because it is not uncommon for something that is viewed as acceptable in one generation to be considered a moral wrong in later generations, and vice versa, but more than that, even Church thought on the matter has changed over time. Early Catholic thinkers generally condemned abortion because it interfered with the “purpose” of sex (to such thinkers, any sex for any reason but procreation was a sin, including for pleasure with one's wedded partner), but stated clearly and repeatedly that abortion was not homicide. It was not until 1869 that Pope Pius IX declared that abortion is homicide, implying, for the first time, a Church stance that life begins at conception. Thus, the modern Christian belief in ensoulment at fertilization essentially goes back to, “Because Pope Pius IX said so,” and this despite previous Popes' statements to the contrary.

Without Tradition and scripture, we are left with personal conscience. Unfortunately, each person's conscience is different, and makes a poor basis for legislation (if, in fact, Tradition and scripture are even a good basis themselves). While some people have critically examined their consciences and the information available and decided they still believe that a zygote is a person, others who have done similar examination have come to a different conclusion. For myself, I cannot accept the idea that an egg has a soul from the moment of fertilization because I find the implications of this far too horrific.

To accept Personhood at conception is to accept that God is a monster.

It's been estimated that at least 22% of conceptions fail to implant. Out of those that do implant, 31% miscarry on their own, about half of them before the woman even realizes she's pregnant. 31% of the 78% that implant amounts to about 40% of the original whole. Adding that to the 22% that aren't implanting results in 62% of all conceptions never carrying to term. This is before abortion is even added into the equation. This is just a biological fact of our nature. If you are Christian, you believe that God designed us, whether directly, or indirectly through such means as evolution, so 62% of all conceptions fail by design. Now, Christian faiths that subscribe to the idea of original sin believe that a person is damned until they've been saved, either through baptism, accepting Christ, or both. This line of thought suggests that God sends souls to Earth intending that more than half of them should be damned before they've even drawn breath.

Others try to get around this for infants (and, presumably, earlier) by creating Limbo (or something like it) as an alternative for innocent souls, but these souls are still denied Heaven, by design. Finally, there are those who believe that such innocents get an automatic pass into Heaven, but this is hardly an argument against abortion. After all, this puts one's options at a guarantee of Heaven if aborted or miscarried versus a risk of damnation. If a mother wants to damn herself to guarantee her child salvation, why should we stop her? And, of course, both of these “work arounds” rely on the idea of assuming there is a fundamental difference between an unborn fetus and a living human being. We must allow religion to treat them differently, and yet are demanding they receive the same treatment by law.

Workaround or not, assuming ensoulment at conception means assuming that God fully intends that well over half his children shall never live. It bespeaks a cruelty and callousness that is at odds with Jesus' teachings, and to accept that is to accept the idea that “salvation” means spending an eternity in the presence of indifferent, unloving, yet all-powerful being.

If such is Heaven, then let me be damned.


The Elements of Moral Philosphy by James Rachels

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
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