Abortion

Why Abortion Still Matters--and Why I Am Pro-Choice

Yesterday the Oklahoma Legislature passed another anti-abortion bill. This one attempts to end abortions by allowing felony charges to be brought against doctors who perform them and revocation of their licenses.

For more than forty years, America has wrestled with this issue. For more than thirty of those years I have been a Catholic priest committed to my church’s teachings in the abstract, while engaging a pastoral response for specific circumstances. I was satisfied with my position, comfortable in my conviction. Certain that no one wantonly desires an abortion, I was pro-life (in all its stages)
and pro-choice. But I have grown increasingly troubled with that balance as unforeseen consequences of the anti-abortion movement have taken hold.

Oklahoma State Senator Nathan Dahm, who authored the bill, attempted to present himself as a defender of rights and stated, “Those rights begin at conception.” That is a philosophical position that cannot be proved and one that is patently contrary to U.S. law as determined in Roe v Wade.

As I look backward, I observe that in typical American fashion we, as a society, have skirted honest debate regarding abortion—at least anything meaningful. There have been no discussions to explain to Senator Dahm why his position is philosophically (and religiously) untenable. For most of us our minds are made up and there is nothing to discuss. We prefer to sequester our thoughts and marshal our forces as if we are at war with one another.

During the 1990s, it was difficult to drive more than ten miles without seeing a bumper sticker righteously screaming “Abortion is Murder” (Forgive the mixed metaphor). The sticker was simple, if not simplistic, for if ever a slogan skewed the truth, that was the one. On one end of the reality spectrum it played into popular imagination. One could visualize the termination of a living fetus suddenly rendered dead by another’s hands. But it clouded vision on the other end of the spectrum—the birth of a child into poverty, disease and destitution with no societal attention or concern for its plight. That, too, is murder, though it is not so easy to envision. And it carries with it even greater social ills.

The myopically obsessive focus on abortion, including actions by the U.S. Catholic bishops, turned millions of people into one-issue voters, enabling many an otherwise incompetent person to be propelled to public office. For two generations one needed only state his or her opposition to abortion and election was all but assured. I guess as a priest I can’t help but call to mind the biblical adage “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity” (Proverbs 22:8). As a result of these elections we are now reaping a whirlwind of calamity.

In many state legislatures, and even within Congress, Americans have elected representatives with no concept of a common good; legislators with no compassion for the poor or empathy for the infirm; no concern for the displaced or mercy for the alien. These are issues of great import in both the Old and New Testaments. “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien; since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). When the arrogant and self-righteous challenged Jesus about his association with sinners he responded, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.” Then he concluded with the stinging indictment, “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:12 &13).

This is the same Bible that right-wing elected officials claim is so dear to them and upon which most of them take their oaths. These legislators do not call out the best in us for there seems little that is Godly or biblical in them. They are driven by something else and in the process turn each of us into
someone else. We are increasingly becoming a self-centered and self-serving people, unconcerned about the burdens we place on others, whether pregnant women, immigrants or the poor. America has become a country misled not by the left, but by the right. Not by those who defend personal freedoms, but by those who take them away. But there may be hope.

After forty-plus years the truth about abortion might just be emerging into focus. The facts speak something very different from what we hear in state legislatures and the halls of congress. Abortion in the United States has actually been on the decline since 1997. In 2012 there were 486,837 less abortions than in 1997. At least part of that downturn can be attributed to easier access to contraceptives. Why, then, would anti-abortion legislators want to restrict that, too? There are a number of answers.

The first is that this is really about sex. In the 1960 film “Inherit the Wind,” modestly based on the 1925 Scopes trial, the prosecuting attorney is asked about the Biblical evaluation of sex. His response? “It is considered original sin.” That is a level of ignorance that can only be found in right wing circles, and it seems as though they have not come very far in ninety years.

There is also a second conclusion. Opposition to abortion, whether genuine or merely perceived, has been but an instrument for many to obtain power. And history has repeatedly demonstrated how difficult it is to relinquish that. From one state to the next, elected officials are not content merely to force women to bring their pregnancies to term. They also want to restrict access to contraceptives, forcing women to get pregnant in the first place. And knowing full well that the wealthy will always be able either to obtain abortions or avoid the need, these elected officials target minorities and the poor and they have quite successfully managed to malign and denigrate them—the very people God chose as his own; the people Jesus frequently chose to spend time with. There is a pattern here. The same legislatures that assiduously pass burdensome anti-abortion laws also seek to exclude millions from medical coverage and food subsidies. As has been noted by others, the anti-abortion movement is not pro-life. It is, at best, pro-birth.

Should we choose honesty in this discussion, the anti-abortion laws have another intent that is beyond the birth of a baby. It is to keep women poor and disenfranchised, to strip them of their freedom and opportunities for advancement in education, employment, status—essentially all aspects of life. The extreme anti-abortion laws being advocated in various states are misogynistic and ultimately a modern form of slavery. Women become property to be owned and controlled with the result that these laws contribute to the income inequality that is so central in our current election cycle.

Finally, the third conclusion is the most insidious of all. The conservative legislatures that were created by the anti-abortion movement have cannibalistically turned on the very people they are forcing into existence by stripping them of their right to vote. Lest anyone think this is a non-sequitur, it cannot be mere coincidence that the states enacting voter restriction laws are the same ones that elected their officials with the singular qualification that they opposed abortion.

Forty-three years after Roe v Wade I still believe that no one actually
wants an abortion. But I believe it is sometimes necessary and I am convinced that every woman should have the right to choose—informed by her beliefs, unencumbered by either church or state. As a priest I think, sadly, that the Catholic bishops were wrong to focus so narrowly on abortion and to encourage the election of officials whose social policies are so far removed from Gospel values.

Today I am no longer concerned about balance. I now nuance my position on a life continuum. I am pro-choice precisely because I am pro-life.
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The Theology of Rape

This is not just a provocative title. Sadly, it is very real, and was voiced by Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. During a debate this past Tuesday, he stated: “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” No matter the spin, no matter Mourdock’s protestations to the contrary, it still comes across as God’s plan. Is that offensive? Yes. Worse still, it makes God into a monster. It is theological rape.

This is hardly surprising. Mourdock is another member of the ideologically extreme religious right that has taken over the Republican Party. Their position on abortion simply is not tenable. It is built on no scientific, philosophical or even theological foundation. Like all fanatics, when they speak they guarantee absurd and offensive statements.

Let us grant the premise that God is the author of life. Let us grant also that human life begins at conception. This is the teaching of the Catholic Church and some other Christian Churches. Some non-Christians, among them Mormons, believe the same. But what does it mean? God does not author life by the act of conceiving. God’s involvement in the process is to directly create the individual human person, or soul. However, there is no sustainable argument to suggest that happens at conception. In fact, just the opposite is true.

As I previously have reasoned in a
series of blogs, we cannot state with clarity that the individual person is created before day fourteen. In the case of rape, then, use of an emergency contraceptive measure, such as the morning after pill, would not constitute abortion. However, to process these ideas, requires more than faith. It also requires thought.

Unfortunately, the new Republican leadership operates from a combination of laziness and ignorance—a willingness to embrace simplistic concepts about life coupled with an inability to nuance thought. Indeed, there is not much thought present to begin with. That is one reason why Romney and Ryan, McConnell, McCaind and Cornyn continue to support Mourdock.

Paul Ryan gave a good demonstration of laziness when he said: “The method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.” Ryan does not even pretend a willingness to think through the issue.

Romney has an even greater problem. As a Mormon he believes that every person pre-existed prior to conception. Therefore, Romney chooses to remain ignorant about the biological development of the embryo. Why let scientific knowledge interfere with one’s pre-conceived beliefs?

In the movie “Inherit the Wind,” the character of Henry Drummond comments on the human power to think. While questioning the religiously bigoted prosecuting attorney he asks the following: “Mr. Brady, why do you deny the one faculty of man that raises him above the other creatures of the earth, the power of his brain to reason?”

There is more than a touch of irony here, because “Inherit the Wind” is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes trial about the teaching of evolution. Much like the uneducated, religious fanatics of 1925, Mourdock, Romney, Ryan and their ilk seem quite content to shield themselves from a complex world. They prefer hiding in a closet with likeminded simpletons. The real world, however, requires use of God’s gifts. It requires us to think.
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The Democratic Party Platform

It is to be expected that certain religious leaders, specifically certain Catholic bishops, would find fault with the Democratic Party Platform. However, once again, the response is over the top. Bishop Tomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois is the latest culprit in attempts to distort Catholic teaching and manipulate the electorate. His letter in the Bishop’s Column of Catholic Times is a case in point.

It is not easy to know where to begin a response. One of the problems I have with these kinds of statements/articles, is that they are deceptive and manipulative. In that, they are also dishonest. Although the bishop claims that he is not attempting to tell people who to vote for, that is exactly his purpose. He exposes his true intent when he refers to President Obama as "The Leader". That is not even a remotely subtle reference to the head of North Korea. It is more even shameful than the attacks claiming that President Obama is a Muslim, or not a U.S. citizen. More shameful because of its subterfuge.

In addressing the original exclusion of the word "God" from the Democratic Party Platform, the bishop implies, as did many pundits, that the exclusion was itself apostasy by the Democratic Party. From my personal perspective, God should never have been removed in the first place. Still, the bishop's implication is simply not true. There is a growing number of agnostic/atheist citizens in this country. Belief in God is a personal choice that people should be free to make. So is non-belief. It is one thing for people to reference God in speech (it seems that every candidate running for office must conclude with "God bless the United States of America"). It is quite another for a party to write into its platform a belief system that excludes a significant part of the populace. The conservative media response, as well as that of Bishop Paprocki, was debunked by Shakespeare years ago in the words of Macbeth, "...it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

The bishop then moves to his two real concerns: abortion and same-sex marriage. The reasoning here does more than defy logic. It consigns logic to a world of oblivion. He is also wrong on the facts.

In the case of abortion, he writes that the 1992 platform said that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare". It did not. The first mention of abortion in the 1992 platform occurs in the section titled "Affordable Health Care". There, the platform reads: "...provide for the full range of reproductive choice—education, counseling, access to contraceptives, and the right to a safe, legal abortion." Later, in the section titled "Choice", the document reads "The goal of our nation must be to make abortion less necessary, not more difficult or more dangerous." The 2012 platform reads: "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe V. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay". That language of ability to pay was also used in  the 1992 platform: "Democrats stand behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, regardless of ability to pay, and support a national law to protect that right." Very disingenuously, the bishop suggests that the Democratic Party Platform for 2012 changes its position on abortion from 1992. It does not and he is wrong.

The bishop attempts to link abortion and same sex marriage in the same category, namely, "intrinsic evil". It is almost tedious to have to pick apart the arguments of the bishop. They are presented in a manner that skews truth and defies argument. But argue we must. Again we are confronted with implication. The bishop suggests that abortion is an "intrinsic evil". If so, that would lead to the conclusion that it can never be justified. However, even official Catholic teaching allows for what is called a "therapeutic" abortion. It is rare, and it deals with intentionality, but the very term is an acknowledgement that the Church allows for abortions in extremely rare cases. I do not intend to equivocate. The issue of a woman's right to choose is far more extensive than a therapeutic abortion. Certainly one can approve of the latter while objecting to the former. But honesty would suggest that the argument cannot rest on "intrinsic evil".

As for same sex marriage, there is no legitimate argument for linking it to abortion as an intrinsic evil. The theological arguments favoring same sex marriage clearly prevent it from being considered intrinsically evil. Scriptural scholarship demonstrates that there is no true prohibition against same sex activity. It also lends support to the idea of same sex marriage.

Almost as disconcerting as his deliberately dishonest arguments about abortion and same sex marriage, is the bishop's offhanded dismissal of other issues that are at least as morally significant. In a truly cavalier choice of words, Paprocki writes of the Republican Party Platform: "One might argue for different methods in the platform to address the needs of the poor, to feed the hungry and to solve the challenges of immigration, but these are prudential judgments about the most effective means of achieving morally desirable ends, not intrinsic evils." What a striking lack of vision and failure of leadership!

If addressing the needs of the poor does not constitute a measure of intrinsic good and evil, the bishop might want to revisit his Bible, specifically the 25th chapter of Matthew's Gospel. In the last judgment scene, Jesus identifies a single criterion for admission to the kingdom. It is not how many times one went to church, nor how often one prayed. It is not even who we loved. The only criterion for judging one worthy of the kingdom is how we treat each other. For it is in the hungry, the thirsty, the alien, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned that we find Jesus, himself.

I wish I could look for better leadership among the country's Catholic bishops. Sadly, however, in the last 30 years we have seen a disastrous decline in the intellectual competence and moral integrity of the U.S. Bishops. Their myopic approach to abortion and homosexuality have left them rudderless as an institution and their leadership morally bankrupt. It has also made it possible to unmask their true intent, regardless of what they say.

Bishop Paprocki claims that he is meeting his responsibilities by writing the article. That to do otherwise would be to abdicate his duty. The truth is a touch more sinister. The factual errors and deliberate intent of the article is itself an abdication of his duty. His true goal is to convince people to vote Republican. In truth, whichever candidates a person votes for is truly and irrevocably a personal decision, and it should not be influenced or directed by fanatical religious leaders who threaten one with the loss of eternal salvation. How pathetic!
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Abortion - Part 5 (conclusion!)--The Morning After Pill

In the previous blogs on abortion, I have presented the supporting evidence from science and the argumentation from theology that enable us to use day 14 of embryological development as the time of individuation or ensoulment. These arguments are both rooted in the process of twinning. I have also noted that on extreme occasions, twinning can take place after day 14, but is no longer possible after day 21.

There is a practical concern here that also must be addressed. Most women do not know they are pregnant until after 21 days. So while I have already made the argument in support of stem cell research, how does this information impact the abortion debate? After all, if most women do not know they are pregnant until after 21 days, and by this time we clearly have an individuated human person, are we not in the same place regarding abortion as we are today?

We would be, were it not for the development of the morning after pill. This pill offers us some hope in eliminating the need for abortion in the first place. At this point in the discussion, we need to address the objections both to the morning after pill and to inter-uterine devices. Up until now they have often been referred to as abortifacients. The argument of the Catholic Church, among others, has been that since these options do not prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg, they do not prevent conception, but actually induce an abortion by preventing the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall. It is actually a little more complex than that, and by linking the scientific concept of individuation to the theological belief in ensoulment (God directly creating the human soul), the abortifacient argument collapses.

I would like to begin by taking a more careful look at the morning after pill. The use of inter-uterine devices applies to the third part of this examination, when the fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. However, they also demand more of the woman. Most women would find using a pill preferable to inserting a device. So what exactly does the morning after pill do?

The hormone in the pill has a threefold effect: 1) It prevents ovulation. If the ovaries do not release eggs, then no fertilization or conception can take place; 2) If ovulation has already taken place, the hormone thickens the cervical mucus, thus blocking the sperm and keeping it from joining with the egg; 3) In case an egg has been fertilized, the hormone thins the lining of the uterus, thus making it unlikely that a fertilized egg would be able to implant in the womb. It is at this point that the inter-uterine device and the morning after pill have the same effect. The point is that all of the above processes take place within the first six days, since that is when implantation occurs. Six days are significantly shy of the 14 days required for individuation or ensoulment.

In the case of the morning after pill, it must be taken within five days to still be effective. Obviously, the earlier it is taken, the better. Clearly, the use of the morning after pill does not cause an abortion, and so can no longer be referred to as an abortifacient. More to the point, if the morning after pill is made more readily available to women the world over, we may be able to limit, if not fully eliminate, the need for abortion in the first place.

I stated in part 2 of this series: "Nobody can possibly think that abortion is a good thing, even if some believe it is occasionally necessary." If our ultimate goal is, in fact, the elimination of abortion, should we not establish a policy that makes the morning after pill available to all women? Those who oppose this policy while simultaneously claiming to oppose abortion are, at least in part, responsible for abortion's continued demand.

The purpose of this series was to create a new foundation and context for the abortion debate, and to change the language in order that both sides would actually communicate with each other in pursuit of a common resolution to this issue. I hope I have succeeded.
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Abortion - Part 4--Stem Cell Research

As I continue my series of blogs on abortion, I realize that some people may be startled by the title. I chose this not so much to be provocative, though all my friends know I don't shy away from that designation. I actually chose the title because it is my hope that if enough people read the blogs and discuss the material, then maybe we can have an impact on the debate over abortion. With the use of both modern scientific studies and theological reflection, I have already offered support for altering the foundational terminology used in the abortion debate, specifically changing the language from human life to human person.

I noted in the second part of this series that rights append to an individual human person, not to human life in general. However, prior to day 14 we have human life that has not yet been individuated. We do not have a human person. Simply put, that means interrupting the embryological development prior to day 14 is not equivalent to taking the life of a human being and should not be construed as tantamount to abortion. Of particular note is the observation (also in part 2) that viability is not required for individuation or personhood. Far from silencing the anti-abortion lobby, I believe their voice and argument are augmented by this distinction, but their case cannot be made until day 14.

Today, I would like to examine the implication of this argument for embryonic stem cell research. No one questions the overall goals of scientists who pursue such studies. While the outcome of all investigative science is uncertain, the use of embryonic stem cells holds out significant hope for medical breakthrough on a whole host of diseases. This is due in part to the fact that embryonic stem cells are unspecialized and, through a process known as cell division, can renew themselves even after long periods of inactivity. Also, precisely because they are unspecialized, they can be coaxed to develop into a number of different cells--a process known as differentiation. For example, a stem cell could be made to develop into a brain cell or a red blood cell.

It is true that scientists can also avail themselves of adult stem cell research that does not result in the destruction of an embryo. Clearly, scientists should not ignore of this area of study. However, adult stem cells do not possess all the same capacities of embryonic stem cells. Although adult stem cells are thought to be undifferentiated, when removed from the body, their ability to divide is limited. This makes it difficult for scientists to generate large quantities of cells, thereby limiting their research. Both embryonic and adult stem cells offer hope for medical treatment and possible cures, and both should be part of the research process.

The primary opposition to embryonic stem cell research is that it necessitates the destruction of the embryo. I acknowledge that reality. However, what emerges from the discussion in this series of blogs, is that the real issue should be when the stem cells are removed and the embryo destroyed. In order to have stem cells with the highest potential research value, scientists seek to acquire them between 5 and 7 days following fertilization. This is long before individuation and the creation of the human soul. That being the case, stem cell research cannot be equated with abortion. This mutes any moral objection, since a human being is not sacrificed in the pursuit of scientific research.

If one grants the argumentation so far regarding individuation and ensoulment, it is still possible that one more objection might be made raised against embryonic stem cell research. That objection would arise from a modified contraceptive perspective. Since the contraceptive issue is even more intimately connected with the primary subject of the next blog, I will reserve my argument until then.
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Abortion - Part 3

My last blog examined the science behind twinning and the principle of individuation. In sum, a fertilized egg can split into identical twins until day 14 (in very rare circumstances, day 21). Even though the absolute cut off date for twinning is the 21st day, I restricted the discussion to day 14, because it is the more normal cut off time. As a matter of practical reality, either date will serve the same purpose since most women do not know they are pregnant until after 21 days. Still, after the cut off date twinning is no longer possible and we now have individuation--an individually constituted human person. Because of the scientific information regarding individuation, I have suggested, as a matter of precision, using the term human person instead of human life in the abortion discussion. We now turn our attention to the theological issue involved in abortion.

For people of faith, at least the Christian faith, God directly creates each individual human soul. The question is when, and the somewhat easy answer so far has been at the moment of conception. This claim, however, does not square with the biological information. It has long been a contention of mine that where theology and the empirical sciences intersect, they must engage in full and open dialogue in order to arrive at the truth. In the area of abortion, that truth turns on the science of individuation.

The first theological step is to acknowledge that, like all elements of faith, the existence of the human soul cannot be proved. It is accepted as an article of faith in part because we believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and the existence of the soul is that image within each one of us. Precisely because the soul is our identification with God, it is the source of our immortality or promise of resurrection. However, it is not incumbent upon theology to prove the existence of the soul. In fact, were it possible to do so it would no longer be a matter of faith. Since it is also true that no one can disprove the existence of the soul, there remains a need to try to determine when the soul is created. This is known by the theological term "ensoulment". I believe that the convergence of science and religion ultimately leads to consensus on this point.

This is the second theological step: to ascertain, acknowledge and then integrate what the empirical sciences are able to determine about the process of individuation with the theological belief in the human soul. Although many people remain comfortable with suggesting that the soul is created when human life begins, namely, at the moment of conception, that simply does not square with the biological information available to us today. To be specific, individuation cannot be determined with any certainty until after the twinning process is no longer possible. Until that point, we may end up with one embryo becoming two or three. At issue is the fact that two souls cannot simultaneously reside in one body. Once the possibility of twinning has concluded, however, the theological principle of ensoulment takes a compelling turn. It clearly links the human soul (a matter of faith) with individuation (a matter of science).

This dialogue between science and religion is neither artificial nor capricious. It enables us to connect the best scientific information with the deepest of faith. Science allows us to peer into the embryological process to understand what actually happens after fertilization. As such, science issues a caution to theology on the question of ensoulment. At the same time, science does not contradict faith. Rather it strengthens and supports the argumentation for the existence of the soul, while leaving that argument itself firmly within the realm of theology. This dialogue also retains God as an active agent in the creation process, since theology tells us that at some point God must directly create the individual soul. It seems clear to me that science and theology are not competing disciplines, and that people of faith need no longer fear the knowledge garnered from scientific investigation.

More importantly the dialogue between science and religion provides a mutually acceptable foundation for grounding legal arguments and public policy decisions.

The next blog in this series will further examine the importance of shifting our concept from human life to human person in the legal arena and support for further scientific studies.
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Abortion - Part 2

In our society at large, most of the "discussion" about abortion takes place without any genuine dialogue or respect. One reason is that both sides of the debate have taken such extreme positions, that people talk past each other, rather than to each other. The end result, is that the only practical point of compromise has been to allow for abortion, (at least as far as federal funding), in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother.

I believe that there are truly good people in both camps, and that they are motivated by the best of intentions, desires and beliefs. Nobody can possibly think that abortion is a good thing, even if some believe it is occasionally necessary. Hopefully, we all share a common desire to eliminate the need (perceived or real) for abortion. Toward that end we need to engage a dialogue that is accepting of differing opinions, and tolerant of the people who hold them. We also need minds that are open to change and agreement.

In my last blog, I suggested that "human life" and "human person" are different terms, and I ended with the following question: At what point does the human life that began at conception become a human person with the dignity and rights afforded every other human person? Let us first take a look at the contribution of the biological sciences.

At this stage in the abortion debate, all reasonable people should agree that immediately upon an egg being fertilized by sperm, a life process begins that, if uninterrupted (either artificially or naturally), will result in the birth of a human being. Embryological studies demonstrate that from the moment of fertilization, there is in the zygote a new biological identity that is neither that of the father nor of the mother. We have human life. But is this human life also a human person?

Many of us have met identical (monozygotic) twins at one time or another, perhaps even triplets. Ever wonder where they come from, other than the obvious? They are the result of a process known as twinning, whereby a fertilized egg can split into identical twins or triplets. Although this twinning frequently happens early in the development of the embryo, it can take place up to 14 days after fertilization. It is not commonly known, but the physical similarities between identical twins depends on when the zygote splits. When the split occurs early on, the twins appear less identical, although they still are. The later the split, the more alike the twins appear.

At the same time, gastrulation (the point at which the embryo attaches to the uterine wall and establishes the basic body plan) does not occur until day 21. As a result there are rare circumstances when twinning takes place even after day 14. This usually results in conjoined, or Siamese twins. For the purposes of understanding how twinning contributes to the abortion debate, it is sufficient to use the 14 day period. At that point we have what scientists refer to as individuation. That means that each embryo is a single person.

Of course, identical twins are not an everyday occurrence, with the worldwide estimate being 10 million. Some people might wonder, therefore, why such concern over something as rare as twinning. I would like to suggest that it is more accurate to say that identical twins are an "uncommon" occurrence, and to consider conjoined twins as "rare". After all, it would be disingenuous to dismiss 10 million people from this discussion. Although most zygotes will not separate, we cannot state with any degree of scientific accuracy that we have a unique, individual human person until day 14, since any one of those zygotes may, in fact, become two or three human beings.

Note that, from this scientific approach, viability is not needed to determine individuation and personhood. This, then, sets a firm foundation for a legal position. Since all rights append to individuated persons, not to human life in general, I suggest that the term "human life" in the abortion discussion be replaced with the more accurate and substantial term "human person".

Most of the momentum for opposing abortion arises from religious tradition. These beliefs are profound, often emotional, and grounded in a deep faith in God and what is believed to be God's most precious gift, life. The arguments as I have so far presented them hold up well in the domain of science, but how do they fare with religion? Neither religion nor science can dismiss the other if we are to arrive at understanding and achieve a national consensus on abortion. How can we bring these two differing, but not opposing or competing, disciplines into harmony?

As the old phrase goes, "Stay tuned".
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Abortion - Part 1

Recently, I was informed by some friends that my blogs are long. And I thought they knew me! Although I understand a blog to be shorter, in principle, than an article, I still like to make it comprehensive and complete. BUT, I have heard, so I will divide the topic of this blog into parts.

For some time now I have been trying to develop an approach to the abortion debate that might achieve some civility between the camps and perhaps even lead to an acceptable compromise or national consensus.

In a conversation I had recently with a friend, I raised this issue. His response was something to the effect that the debate over abortion is over. Since we did not pursue it, I'm not sure what he meant. Abortion is certainly established law in terms of Roe v. Wade. Yet the current Supreme Court, while upholding elements of the 1973 ruling, has also continued to chip away at the legal protections to a woman's right to choose. The fact that abortion is not as prominent an issue in this election cycle also does not mean that it is settled as far as the general population is concerned. And it clearly is not settled as far as politicians are concerned. There is a bill proposed in the House of Representatives to make the Hyde amendment permanent U.S. law. Sadly, but predictably, it is supported by the U.S. Catholic Bishops. The Hyde amendment, in force now for over 30 years, requires renewal every year. It bans the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the mother's life. What about the President?

One of the responsibilities of the President of the United States is to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court. For the foreseeable future, abortion will continue to be raised each time a vacancy occurs on the high court, which means the President will seek a nominee who is confirmable, read one who can pass the abortion litmus test--a test administered from both sides of the debate. During the confirmation process, senators will attempt to get the nominee to commit himself or herself to a legal position regarding Roe v. Wade. Correct that. The senators will try to get the nominee to commit to a political position on Roe v. Wade, with the more clever appointees dodging the issue--just like politicians! At the same time various pundits will weigh in on the issue. We will hear the voices of those who support Roe v. Wade and those who oppose it. We will be subjected to the ideologies of those who support a woman's right to choose and those who are adamantly opposed to abortion. In the simplistic dialogue and labeling that characterize so much of our national discourse, we will hear from those who are "pro-choice" and those who are "pro-life".

In an ideal society, abortion should not be part of a litmus test for being confirmed as a Justice of the Supreme Court. The Justices do far more than hear abortion cases, and their decisions have profound impact on nearly every aspect of American life. We, of course, do not live in an ideal society. Nonetheless, to begin a process of moving away from the abortion litmus test, let me suggest the following:

First of all, sound bites and labels. While they might score points and be successful in the short term are ultimately degrading in the long run and contribute to what has now become one of the greatest tragedies of modern U.S. life: the dumbing down of America. Take for example the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life". Of these two, "pro-choice" is the more accurate, since it primarily indicates support for a woman's right to choose. However, there exist many nuances to being pro-choice and a certain amount of complexity exists in trying to define someone who identifies with this label. As for the "pro-life" label, it is even more complex. The only so-called pro-life issue for most of this movement is being anti-abortion. That much is clear. How else to explain their total disregard for all other aspects of life that allow people to actually live, such as feeding food for the hungry, caring for the homeless, providing universal health care? The list goes on. Clearly, complexity defines this group since major church organizations that are anti-abortion also identify as pro-life in many other areas. I must, however, give the political arm of the "pro-life" movement credit. For while they often oppose all legislation that truly advances human life and dignity for the born, they remain steadfast in their opposition to aborting the unborn. Two results? They have hoodwinked good religious people, and the dumbed down American public actually buys the pro-life label!

So, if not sound bites, then what? I deplore the kind of labels that drive people into opposing camps and create walls of separation over which none can speak nor hear. At the same time language, or more precisely terminology, is essential to understanding another's speech and analyzing another's concepts. It is to this task that I suggest we turn our attention in an attempt to move the abortion debate toward a national consensus. It will require a willingness to think, to talk and to listen. The extremes from both sides will probably refuse to engage. We cannot control them. But we should not let their refusal control us. So for the rest of us....

It seems to me that the first hurdle we must get over is the term "human life". Religious groups as diverse as Christians and Mormons have held that human life begins from the moment of conception. In the past some scientists have opposed that notion. But today, even most scientists would agree that the life process that begins at conception is a human one. It is a long process and the majority of fetuses will actually spontaneously abort. But all things being equal, when human beings conceive, what emerges nine months later is another human being. Still, "human life" and "human being" are not co-terminus. We must ask the question: At what point does the human life that began at conception become a human person with the dignity and rights afforded every other human person?

Up next, an attempt to answer that question.
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