Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A philosophical look at abortion

In light of the Supreme Court’s narrow decision to ban executions for juveniles, some of my conservative readers have raised some good points about how the decision doesn’t square with the court’s past rulings on consent laws for juveniles seeking abortions.
If a juvenile is deemed too immature to understand the full implications of committing a capital murder (one that triggers a death sentence in some states), then how can they be deemed mature enough to have an abortion without their parents’ consent.
Perhaps on a philosophical level this is an inconsistency, but as a practical matter they don’t compare. There is no practical reason for putting a juvenile to death. It serves no purpose (other than vengeance) and no harm comes from substituting another form of punishment (i.e. incarceration). I have never said that a juvenile who commits a capital crime should escape punishment because of their immaturity.
But requiring parental consent for an abortion does have practical consequences in that some young girls will seek to end their pregnancies anyway - through illegal means - and may suffer serious injury or death as a result.

The sad fact about abortion is that it will persist no matter what our laws say. Back before Roe vs. Wade, hundreds of thousands of abortions were performed each year, and perhaps many more, under circumstances that were not safe. As a result, hundreds of women died and many more suffered serious health complications.
So what is the answer? Is this loss of life just the price we have to pay to save countless numbers of unborn children? I’m sure that is the stance taken by many well-meaning pro-lifers, but I just can’t accept that.
Does that mean that I place a higher value on the lives of the born as opposed to the lives of the unborn. Yes, it does. I would prefer that no lives were lost. I would prefer a world in which there were no unwanted pregnancies and no desperate young girls seeking the means to terminate them.

I’ve thought long and hard about how this all fits into my personal theology/philosophy. The Bible doesn’t really address abortion in any meaningful sense. I know some people pull passages out and claim this or that interpretation to back up their stance, but it is certainly not like Jesus went around preaching about abortion, gays and guns all the time, even though the religious right would have you believe that.
At the core of my philosophy is the belief that God put us here for some purpose, whatever that may be. (I think it has something to do with Love Thy Neighbor, but that’s a different topic.) So it makes no sense to me that God would allow someone to be created and then never have the opportunity to even be born so that they can fulfill that purpose.
We know when physical life begins - at conception - but is that when spiritual life begins too? Is the soul created at that instance? Is the soul present prior to conception and then somehow joined with the body at that point? I’ve always assumed that the soul must work through the body in order to interact in the physical world - thus a mentally retarded person doesn’t have a retarded soul, but a normal soul forced to work through a body with physical impediments. But what is the soul going to do with a body such as a developing fetus that doesn’t have a brain yet? Perhaps the soul needs to develop along with the body.
So what happens when that development is halted prematurely - either through abortion or miscarriage? What does a just God do with a soul that did not have a chance to fulfill its purpose? I know a lot of people like to believe that these baby souls go up to a special place in heaven to be with God and perhaps become angels or some such thing. That’s fine if they want to believe that, but the thing that makes the most sense to me can be summed up in two words - soul recycling.
I don’t mean to make light of this issue. But it would seem to me that God would give souls in that situation another chance to be born in a different body so that they too can fulfill their purpose.

This doesn’t mean that I think abortion should be no big deal. I still think it is a terrible and sad thing anytime a pregnancy is ended willingly. But neither do I see it in terms of a holocaust or a genocide as characterized by many of the more extreme folks on the far-right.
Perhaps all of the above is a lot of mumbo-jumbo meant to make me feel better about my pro-choice position. But as I have already stated, it is what makes sense to me and that is the only measure I have for coming to an understanding on this issue.