Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Alabama Declares Humans to be People

What makes us human
Hating the sin of abortion is one thing, loving the people who are driven to it is quite another. I find it easy to get carried away when I talk about abortion and forget the second of the two most basic tenants of Christianity. I hope that I can get over this and become more like The Holy Family Sisters of the Needy in this respect. A congregation of these sisters live out this crucial call to love with a particular passion and joy in Willesden Green, London, working in such a complex and difficult situation as unwanted pregnancy. I'm also very aware that people that are pro-choice are so from the same motives as I am pro-life, the desire to promote the dignity of people.

I approach abortion from three angles.

Firstly that all humans, being made in the image and likeness of God and sanctified by the incarnation have innate value since each is loved infinitely by our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. There's that beautiful passage in Jeremiah too
I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother’s womb; before ever thou camest to the birth, I set thee apart for myself.
But actually, that's not the most relevant bit of what I think about abortion because that belief, which I hold dear to my heart and firmly in my mind, is only a belief held by Christians. I wouldn't impose that on people who chose to believe a teaching that relies, when it comes down to it on a belief in the Resurrection of Christ even if I could. If this were the only belief I had about abortion and I had the ability to do so, I would not pass a law forbidding it. I would be pro-choice with my own choice always being not to abort what I believed to be a child.

However, it is not my only belief on abortion. It is my second belief is the one that means that if I could I would outlaw all abortion except those to which the principle of double effect applies. I believe this in the same way that I believe logic and science simply because it is a logical application of scientific fact. That is my belief in human rights, most importantly the right to life. There is one feature that marks an organism out as human and that is not its ability to think, sense or the degree to which it is conscious or able to live independently. All these things change to varying degrees in humans that have been born already and if the last century taught us anything I hope it's never to say that a variation in someone's personal characteristics changes the extent to which they are people. If you say a foetus has no human rights for one of those reasons, it logically follows that you strip some humans who have been born of their rights. The only thing scientifically speaking that marks us out definitively as human in the scientific method is our genome, our DNA. If an organism has human DNA it is human. The process of growing is a continuum from conception to adulthood but there must be a point at which there is a discontinuity at which one can say "before this it is not a person and after this it is a person". There is only one point of continuity, the very start, the moment of conception. Before that, the DNA is incomplete: the sperm and ovum are not humans. After that they are humans. At the point at which they are human they must acquire the rights of personhood since otherwise you say is that not all humans are people or that some humans are more entitled to the rights of personhood than others.

Thirdly, I'm a feminist. A woman has a right to chose what happens to her body that exists within a hierarchy of rights. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights and without it all others are annulled. This is manifest with abortion by the idea which I have heard promoted more than once amongst men: that their baby, when born, is not their problem because if the mother didn't want it she could always have had an abortion. She made the choice to keep it and so she bares the responsibility for it in every way. This in itself is not entirely illogical, only callous and wicked since it neglects both the mother and her child's right to a secure family life whilst also neglecting the father's responsibilities, the abrogation of which is the driving force of these men's argument. As an RE teacher I had when I was little was fond of saying: "it takes two to tango".

The hierarchy of rights in which all rights exist means that the unborn human's right to life, since it concerns its literal life must come before the mother's right to chose what happens within that life, this latter being the concept referred to when people ask in these situations "what about the mother's life?" The concepts in play may both be called 'life', but that is only because of lax use of the term: in reference to the foetus it is literal and in reference to the mother, figurative. The woman has the right to chose what happens in her life, but that right must bow to the unborn child's greater right to life. Once a child is alive, something which the scientific method informs us occurs at the point of conception, it has the right, being human, to stay alive.*

The Catholic News Agency is reporting that the state of Alabama has started to recognise the truth of my second belief on abortion into law: that foetuses are humans. Specifically they say "that unborn children are persons with rights that should be protected by law" and that as such they ought to be subject to the constitutional imperative that "all men are equally free", including that most basic freedom, the right to life.
Give audience to my prayer, O God; do not spurn this plea of mine (Ps 54:2)
Whilst this is not the repeal of Roe vs Wade (and our own Abortion Act 1967) that I'm praying for, it is a start of the recognition of this fact. Abortion is only a religious matter for me in part but it seems obvious to me that my denomination should be involved in what is a largely secular issue because it ought to be there to protect the weakest in society and who weaker than the unborn? It is as obvious to me in this instance as in its work against segregation in the USA and as obvious as the fact it should have held to its principles on slavery in the events surrounding the Treaty of Madrid in the 18th century.

In the UK, the government and most of society have got to the point where a human's human rights are not considered till the now arbitrary cut off point of twenty four weeks after conception and if there is so called 'foetal abnormality' there is no regard for them until birth. Physical abnormality, in British law, is now grounds for the removal of one's human rights. Whilst obviously causality isn't always implied by correlation, it is a sobering fact that in Ireland the proportion of babies born with Down's Syndrome is a lot higher than the proportion in the UK. In Ireland abortion is illegal. Is this what is meant by foetal abnormality in British law?
Bénédict Morel

*Some of this paragraph reads like a bad translation from German, but it was the clearest I could get it to be.

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