Moments of Permanence - Questions of Language and Morality: The Abortion Issue

About Questions of Language and Morality: The Abortion Issue

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Because the good lord knows, this is a subject where there's no risk of pissing anyone off, right?

See, here's the thing.

Right-to-lifers, a body of people that no doubt includes good individiuals but is overall pretty loathsome, have a tendency to refer to their opposition in the abortion debate as "pro-abortion". I've seen people who are in that opposition get suckered into doing the same thing - I've done it myself.

My brother-out-law Chas tends to call me on it, because, as he rightly points out, I'm not pro-abortion. I am profoundly, heartfelt anti-abortion in my convictions. Looking at the terms literally, I'd say I'm also pro-life, in that I'm in favour of life, and all that.

However, I am also deeply, profoundly pro-choice in my convictions.

Abortion is bad. An abortion is a sign that something has gone wrong. It's just a matter of where that wrongness happened - whether it was the wrongness that is rape, or the wrongness that is bad sex education, or the wrongness that is a pregnancy that endangers a mother's health, or the wrongness that is a foetus so malformed as to be unviable.

Nobody wants abortions to take place - it's just that abortions can be necessary, which is why they should be safe, legal, and accessible. Including, perhaps especially, late-term abortions, because late-term abortions are not elective, not really - late-term abortions are for pregnancies that were wanted, chosen, intended to be kept, but which have become life-threatening, or which feature children who cannot live.

That's serious stuff. That's the situation where people are hurting, grieving, and perhaps gravely ill - that's a situation where things need to be as easy for them as possible, as safe as possible, as gentle on their grief as can be achieved.

If you disagree on this point, you are wrong, and I will not "respect" your "beliefs".

Second point of language: People are very careless with the word "abortion". When we talk about abortion, we're almost invariably talking about induced abortion - as opposed to spontaneous abortion, which is what you mean when you talk about "miscarriage", and the like - which, by the way, happens kind of a lot. The majority of first pregnancies result in spontaneous abortion. I'll come back to this later.

So let's consider the question of the demonised induced abortions - the ones where the woman is old enough, the foetus is viable, but the woman can't handle pregnancy and wants it terminated. If you remove any religious aspect from it, I'm not that sure what the argument against choice is. An embryo at that stage isn't a person; I'm not sure it's even alive by a sensible definition. It's incapable of anything approaching independent survival. Given that the female body will, in pregnancy, sabotage itself for the benefit of the foetus, if anything an unwelcome foetus is a parasite.

However, people bring religion into it. I'm going to speak only about Christianity here, because they're the most vocal in my cultural context, and because I am myself a Christian, and therefore can speak about Christianity with more authority and knowledge than I can about most religions.

The question depends on the point at which life begins - the point at which the potential baby goes from being "two separate cells, a sperm and an egg" to a living soul. It's the soul that matters - from a religious perspective, that which has no soul cannot be murdered.

The thing is, the question of when the soul is formed/attached/however it works is one that, strictly speaking, only God can answer. It is beyond the scope of we mere mortals.

So what did God say about this question?

Well, let's look at our only real source on the word of the Lord: the Holy Bible.

I admit, I haven't memorised the full text, but the only point I know of where this question is addressed is Genesis 2:7:

then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

If you take the Bible literally, which fundamentalists claim to do, then a living being is formed when the first breath of life is taken. Not breathing yet? Not alive. Not a soul.

I don't know that this is, in fact, the Truth of the beginning of a person's life. I can't know. I'm not God, and I don't speak for God, not really - I can say what I believe to be true about God, but that doesn't have to mean anything to anyone, especially if you don't worship my, or any, god(s). More than that, I don't want to. I have my own beliefs about my God and other gods - I feel less than obligated to explain my faith.

However, I do know that people who say that "life begins at conception" have no valid theological underpinning to this - it's just an excuse for extremism, an excuse to try and deny a woman control of her body.

And it is rooted in misogyny. It can't not be - ultimately, trying to dictate others' abortion rights is saying that you are better-equipped to make the decision than they are. It's saying that women can't be trusted to make the right choice, and should have that choice taken away from them.

Which is why they're not pro-life, they're just anti-choice. If they were pro-life, John McCain would have lost all of his support, all across America, the moment he put "health of the mother" in scare quotes and called it the extreme pro-abortion position.

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From:[personal profile] susanreads
Date: June 5th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)

hear, hear

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This is a great post.

'If they were pro-life, John McCain would have lost all of his support, all across America, the moment he put "health of the mother" in scare quotes and called it the extreme pro-abortion position.'
That is so true. Their attitudes are so illogical, I just can't talk about them coherently (without swearing at least).

In the cases you're referring to it's not even a matter of putting the foetus's life before the mother's, because it's not going to survive anyway. Does not compute aaaaargh! Thank you for laying out the argument so clearly.
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 6th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)

Re: hear, hear

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Thank you.

And, seriously, yeah. The obsession over late-term abortions is ridiculous, considering that those are the ones which are all about the medically necessary.
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From:[personal profile] piranha
Date: June 6th, 2009 07:18 am (UTC)

Re: Questions of Language and Morality: The Abortion Issue

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no argument with your position in general. i, too, am pro-life (which means all life, not just fetuses), and pro-choice.

except that i can perfectly understand "life begins at conception" from a christian PoV. for one, scientifically conception is the point at which a unique new human life is created; there is no argument about that (we really are all unique and special snowflakes :). and the quote you have isn't the only one that talks about god's involvement with the fetus.

*pulls out ancient post*
Did not He who made me in the womb make him?
And did not one fashion us in the womb?"
Job 31:15

You formed my inmost being;
You knit me in my mother's womb.
Psalms 139:13

Yahweh called me when I was in the womb,
before my birth he had pronounced my name.
Isaiah 49:1

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Jeremiah 1:5

But when he who had set me apart before I was born,
and had called me through his grace
Paul to the Galatians 1:15

now, those don't speak specifically to a soul, but i find it hard to believe god would call somebody soulless to his service.

i'm no longer christian, but a true pro-life position to me is a principled stance, and has biblical backing. that means not just railing against abortion, but working for pre- and post-natal healthcare of baby and mother, parenting education, sex education (and not just about abstinence), equal pay for women, as well as against poverty, and against war.

but as you said, most right-to-lifers are for none of those things, except anti-abortion. i pretty much refuse to call anyone pro-life these days who is nothing more than anti-choice. it's long past time to refuse them to set the terms of the debate with misleading terminology.
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 6th, 2009 07:28 am (UTC)

Re: Questions of Language and Morality: The Abortion Issue

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I have to leave in, like, one minute, but:

Job/Psalms: God knitting in the womb doesn't really say anything about souls etc - it's just saying that, you know, we were formed in the womb, which: undoubted.

Isaiah: Only says that God called for him (which, as a foretold prophet, not saying a lot), the NIV says that God made mention of his name FROM Isaiah's birth. Iffy.

Ditto Jeremiah, re: foretold prophet. Not quite the same as regular people.

Galatians: I cheerfully ignore anything Paul said. About anything.
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From:[personal profile] piranha
Date: June 6th, 2009 08:54 am (UTC)

Re: Questions of Language and Morality: The Abortion Issue

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the reason those all speak for souls IMO is that they all mention god's direct involvement via "knitting", "forming", "calling". i think that argues for more than biology, because well, i don't actually think god is personally involved in gestation.

i also don't think prophets get their souls ahead of time; i don't see any particular evidence for that. and how can you hear a call from god without a soul?

yeah, i dislike paul a LOT, but i can't really help that he's in the bible. oh, don't get me started on paul. *gnarg*. ok, let's ignore that one; i think it was self-serving anyway.
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 6th, 2009 11:57 am (UTC)

Re: Questions of Language and Morality: The Abortion Issue

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In a biological sense, no; however, in a metaphorical sense, from the perspective of men writing this down thousands of years ago? God forms babies in the womb.

Seriously. The writers of the Bible used metaphor, it wasn't invented by literature professors. When a prophet felt called, and how? Not really the same thing as the question of when *an ordinary baby* acquires a soul. The prophets were foretold; there's mystical things happening there.

As for Paul: Yes, he's in the Bible. However, since the question of what gospels and books and so on would be included in the canonical list was a matter of great debate, I have trouble believing the selection was particularly divinely-inspired; Paul had Issues, and Paul, in my view, rather twisted the message of Jesus. Paul's opinions on God are, to me, just that, and I will take them as such. As a Christian, I believe in the teachings of Jesus... and, notwithstanding the new post-Jesus covenant, take the Torah as something to be considered, as Jesus did not reject Judaism outright.

Judaism's tradition does, in fact, include thinking about your religion, and about your faith.

I view Paul as being more-or-less the first Pope; he has plenty to say about Christianity, but as someone of essentially Protestant feelings, I am under no obligation to believe he speaks for God, especially when his words conflict with my understanding of Christ.
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From:[personal profile] mmoa_writes
Date: June 6th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
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I am so glad I have you on my r-list. That was fascinating to read and worthy of a sermon (ironically, I always find the OT to be a major sticking point for Christianists if you take it absolutely literally)!

The only point I'll make is about the foetus as parasite: as far as the mother's body is concerned, it is one. A few months ago there was some research that showed foetuses come with an innate 'tricking' system (whether hormonal or otherwise, I forget) to prevent the mother's immune system from attacking it, similar to other parasites. Fascinating, eh?
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 6th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
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Indeed!

As for the Old Testament - gah, you're not supposed to take it all literally. It's history, but it's also, consciously, myth - if they intended it to be taken as literal truth, there wouldn't be allusions to different creation mythologies partly inherited from Mesopotamian mythology.

Then again, people tend to think a lot of things about Judeo-Christianity that aren't supported by the Bible.

For example, the much-cited "Problem of Evil" is actually open to fairly easy solution once you note that, though doctrine has held it for a very long time, the Bible does not, in fact, say that God is omnipotent; there are other justifications, but dude, seriously. It doesn't.

It does not say that God is the only god in existence. There are references to "household gods" and the like. The Bible only says that we shouldn't have other gods before Him - Christianity doesn't mean that the spirituality and passion of pagan inheritance must be lost.

You even get down to the way people present Jesus as this sombre, gloomy dude, when the characterisation of him in the Gospels is joyful, someone who made everyone around him happy.

And then you get the people who read the Bible and somehow come away from it thinking that Jesus preached hate and the abandonment of the poor and weak, which... not so much.
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From:[personal profile] lauredhel
Date: June 6th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
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I may have more on this tomorrow, on how current day obgyns are talking about abortion provision in the USA . More tomorrow, if you nudge me.
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From:[personal profile] mmoa_writes
Date: June 6th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
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Preach it!

Again on the problem of evil, I find it annoying that people always forget the bit where God says he gives good and evil. The whole point of saying 'God is love' is a way of expressing the benevolence - I suppose a religious way of saying the sheer amazingness/unlikeliness - that allows us to exist (hence 'agape'), not to be some wishy-washy, 'everything will be as you want it to be'.

Then we start complaining when people pick holes with our erroneous ideas (often ones we don't really believe in anyway) when tbh, we kind of started the whole thing to begin with!

And then you get the people who read the Bible and somehow come away from it thinking that Jesus preached hate and the abandonment of the poor and weak, which... not so much. Dude, wat? I hear a lot of that from people who haven't read the Bible (so kind of understandable considering most of it's press comes from Christianists) but wat? I mean, I sometimes disagree with what he says but you can't get mistaken about that much. That's the whole gospel! It doesn't matter if you don't/can't believe 101 impossible things before breakfast, but it does matter that you feed the hungry, heal the sick...

That's what I hate most about fundamentalists. They ruin it for everyone else (seriously. When I was studying the Classics I remember hearing an anti-theistic friend of mine complaining that there was so much good stuff - from a literary and historical angle - in the Bible and it pissed her off she'd never realised because of a bunch of goons. Hear, hear, I said!).
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From:[personal profile] luludi
Date: June 9th, 2009 05:17 am (UTC)
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This is fucking stunning. You should post this in [community profile] pro_choice!
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 9th, 2009 05:31 am (UTC)
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Um, okay?

Although looking at the profile, that comm contains one person I'd hate to have comment on anything I'd written, but... neh, personal biases and all.

Shall do, per request. :)
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From:[personal profile] luludi
Date: June 9th, 2009 05:37 am (UTC)
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Don't feel obligated, really, especially if there's someone there you'd rather not converse with. I just mean that this is one of the best explanations of pro-life=anti-choice I've ever seen.
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 9th, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)
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Oh, I feel no obligation. (Just submitted the post, btw.) And it's not that there's someone I know and hate there, it's that there's someone there with a username that makes me deeply uncomfortable - I have a curious, so far undefeated despite all efforts, aversion to "the c-word". But I'm a big girl and I can handle it.

ETA: Also, thank you, by the way. *g*

Edited 2009-06-09 05:40 am (UTC)
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