A long letter to the editor of, or submission for a short column in, The Ventura County Star, in a continuing debate on abortion:
Re: Noel D’Angelo’s May 22 letter (part of a "thread")
By recent definitions of life, a fertilized egg is alive with a specific individual life, as is the ball of cells that it forms and on through the stages of embryological development to a fetus and newborn. However don’t say, "All life is sacred" and we can’t destroy such life if you’re eating a bacon burger or a carrot or just used a hand-sanitizer. Unless you’re a very strict Jain* or vegan, you routinely kill various forms of life or have them killed for you (and often eat them); and even the most life-respecting among us usually wants a robust immune response to invading bacteria, which will kill those bacteria.
If you want to go back to old ideas of life, one idea would be whether or not an embryo or fetus is nephesh for the Hebrew word or the Greek equivalents: So is a fetus a "living being" in a Biblical or more generally ancient sense? Well, one answer is that "living beings" have the breath of life — note Adam’s story in Genesis — and one interpretation there is that a fetus takes on that sort of life with the first breath.**
Necessarily if perhaps arrogantly, we humans usually declare human life is special, and the question with abortion on one side is when and if a human zygote, embryo, or fetus is or becomes human: a person under the law with rights that can be balanced against those of the fully-human mother.
A consistent, coherent, and logical argument can be made if you go from "life-breath" to soul and have humans special because we are "ensouled" and place the moment of ensoulment early in fetal development or perhaps at the moment of conception. Doing so, you have unborn babies in the womb and, to push the argument, unbaptized unborn babies, possibly damned to hell if not allowed to be born and baptized.*** Q.E.D.
A consistent, coherent, logical, historical, and powerful argument can also be made on how abortion laws have become a fairly recent twist in the millennium-long patriarchal efforts to control and oppress women, and must be opposed if societies are to recognize the full humanity of women. Also Q.E.D.
And people can argue that the United States Constitution sets up a secular Republic and that serious efforts to inflict upon it the rules of a Christian nation is an attack upon that Republic, to be opposed by all who’ve sworn or affirmed to defend the Constitution and our Republic "against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
All of which is why abortion is a highly divisive and dangerous conflict. And it is why we need America to move into the mushy middle and continue to accept the Roe vs. Wade compromise. That position is not logically consistent and elegant and historically informed, but it is tolerable to most Americans.
First trimester of so: We don’t feel that there’s a person yet.
Approaching the time of birth: Not yet with the rights of a full human if weighed against the mother, but getting there, and not to be killed unless that death is really, really necessary.
In between: Some reasonable regulation, which respects the rights of that fully-human mother.
And meanwhile we need a major campaign for effective contraception so that abortion is legal, safe, and indeed rare.
We are dealing here with definitions of "human being" and the nature of our country. These are issues about which people feel very strongly and over which they have killed one another: killing fully-developed, obviously human, human people, and in large numbers (this is part of what World War II was about, and the US Civil War).
Roe v. Wade isn’t intellectually neat and pretty, but it has worked. Most Americans can support it, even against our more logically rigorous fellow citizens. It’s something we can live with.
** Ward, Roy Bowen. "The Use of the Bible in the Abortion Debate," Saint Louis University Public Law Review 13.1 (1993); 391-408, here III.A.1, "Person" in the Bible, "Nephesh and Breath."
*** https://www.bartleby.com/96/10.html — On those unbaptized babies:
|The Day of Doom|
|By Michael Wigglesworth (1631–1705)|
[answered at length by "the judge most dread, ending"]
|"A crime it is, therefore in bliss|
|You may not hope to dwell|
|But unto you I shall allow||355|
|The easiest room in hell.”|