Abortion – The Great Divide

Abortion is the largest issue dividing America, the world. The US Supreme Court is considering the biggest change since Roe. What to know?

American politics is as divided as it has been since 1856, when, in a premeditated assault, South Carolina Democratic Representative Preston Brooks beat Massachusetts Republican Senator Charles Sumner with his oak walking stick. Brooks was arrested but soon reelected, and after a prolonged recovery, Sumner also made his way back to the Senate. The issue then was slavery, and the issue now is abortion.

Abortion is not like other issues. On the whole, tax policy, environmental change, and foreign challenges will not get an 85-year-old woman to the polling booth in the November snows. Abortion will. Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi considers the right to abortion “sacred ground,” indicating a religious reverence for the right, despite her Catholic faith.[1] Values revered are not values negotiable. Others in the pro-abortion camp are equally worshipful of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. One woman on the stairs of the Colorado Capital shouted on video, “If I want to kill my baby, I will (obscenity) kill my baby!”[2] Advocates claim that women cannot reach their full human potential as women, often meaning independence from men, high paying jobs, and lots of money and power, if they are saddled with a child.[3]

On the other side, pro-life advocates hold that an unborn child is still a child, a person, possessing the full rights of any other person under the US Constitution, including the right to life. Stepping further, pro-lifers hold that life is sacred, given by God alone and deserving of protection in every society. Again, values revered are not values negotiable. Between the pro-lifers and pro-abortionists, there is no common ground.

After Roe v. Wade, the 1973 US Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States, many people expected the issue to die down. Abortion, it was supposed, would fade into the fabric of American life. New issues would take its place. Clearly, this did not happen. Abortion is more controversial today than ever.

Roe v. Wade

In the 1960s and early 1970s, abortion was illegal in Texas. A single woman (Roe) became pregnant but lost the baby to natural miscarriage. Nonetheless, she sued the state of Texas to overturn all laws restricting abortion in the country.

A fundamental question is whether the embryo, or later in gestation the fetus, is a person. If the products of conception were merely a clump of cells, no one would care what happened to them, any more than if a woman’s appendix was being cut out. If human life and personhood begin at conception, however, then abortion is the killing of another person…murder.

Writing the opinion for the majority, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in part IX of Roe:

  1. The appellee and certain amici argue that the fetus is a “person” within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, [410 U.S. 113, 157] for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment. The appellant conceded as much on reargument. 51 On the other hand, the appellee conceded on reargument 52 that no case could be cited that holds that a fetus is a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Constitution does not define “person” in so many words. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment contains three references to “person.” The first, in defining “citizens,” speaks of “persons born or naturalized in the United States.” The word also appears both in the Due Process Clause and in the Equal Protection Clause. “Person” is used in other places in the Constitution: in the listing of qualifications for Representatives and Senators, Art. I, 2, cl. 2, and 3, cl. 3; in the Apportionment Clause, Art. I, 2, cl. 3; 53 in the Migration and Importation provision, Art. I, 9, cl. 1; in the Emolument Clause, Art. I, 9, cl. 8; in the Electors provisions, Art. II, 1, cl. 2, and the superseded cl. 3; in the provision outlining qualifications for the office of President, Art. II, 1, cl. 5; in the Extradition provisions, Art. IV, 2, cl. 2, and the superseded Fugitive Slave Clause 3; and in the Fifth, Twelfth, and Twenty-second Amendments, as well as in 2 and 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. But in nearly all these instances, the use of the word is such that it has application only postnatally. None indicates, with any assurance, that it has any possible pre-natal application. 54 [410 U.S. 113, 158]

All this, together with our observation, supra, that throughout the major portion of the 19th century prevailing legal abortion practices were far freer than they are today, persuades us that the word “person,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn. 55 This is in accord with the results reached in those few cases where the issue has been squarely presented. McGarvey v. Magee-Womens Hospital, 340 F. Supp. 751 (WD Pa. 1972); Byrn v. New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., 31 N. Y. 2d 194, 286 N. E. 2d 887 (1972), appeal docketed, No. 72-434; Abele v. Markle, 351 F. Supp. 224 (Conn. 1972), appeal docketed, No. 72-730. Cf. Cheaney v. State, ___ Ind., at ___, 285 N. E. 2d, at 270; Montana v. Rogers, 278 F.2d 68, 72 (CA7 1960), aff’d sub nom. Montana v. Kennedy, 366 U.S. 308 (1961); Keeler v. Superior Court, 2 Cal. 3d 619, 470 P.2d 617 (1970); State v. Dickinson, 28 [410 U.S. 113, 159]   Ohio St. 2d 65, 275 N. E. 2d 599 (1971). Indeed, our decision in United States v. Vuitch, 402 U.S. 62 (1971), inferentially is to the same effect, for we there would not have indulged in statutory interpretation favorable to abortion in specified circumstances if the necessary consequence was the termination of life entitled to Fourteenth Amendment protection.[4]

So, the fundamental issue in abortion is “what is being done?” If a person is being killed, abortion is murder. If what is being destroyed is not a person, abortion is not murder, and the mother can do whatever she wants with her own body. The Supreme Court cited historical precedents from Hippocrates, through English Common Law and into American law and the 7-2 majority decided that the embryo or fetus is not a person and therefore has no rights of his or her own. It then decided that the Fourteenth Amendment conferred a right to privacy and that laws restricting abortions violate a woman’s right to privacy and are therefore unconstitutional.

Is the unborn child a person?

In 1973, medicine knew that while the embryo and fetus developed in the mother’s uterus, the unborn child was a different person. He or she was separated from the mother by the placenta and the amniotic sac. The child had his or her own unique genetic composition and own metabolism. The unborn child, obviously, would develop and gain all the recognition as a human being and rights under the US Constitution as soon as he or she was physically separated from the mother.

Medicine was far less advanced in 1973 than it is in 2022. Ultrasound technology provides detailed pictures of a living, breathing human being in the fetal and even embryonic stages. The unborn child resembles a human only a few weeks after conception. Heartbeat is detectable at only five weeks, often before a woman knows that she is pregnant. Unborn babies feel pain, move independently, and have brain activity. They look like a person, show all the activity of a person, came from persons, have the genetic and anatomical structures of persons, and will be acknowledged by society as a person in a short time. Abortion advocates hotly resist such informed consent, including the use of ultrasound in their clinics.[5]

Philosophically and religiously, the opinions of Blackmun and his consenting compatriots was poorly informed. The Hippocratic Oath, the fundamental ethical statement of physicians for twenty-five hundred years states, “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.”[6] Blackmun contrasted Hippocrates’ opinion with that of ancient Greek and Roman thought and practice and concluded that abortion was permissible and sometimes even encouraged.

Exodus 21:22-23 in the Jewish Torah states, “If men who are fighting strike a pregnant woman and her child is born prematurely, but there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband demands and as the court allows. But if a serious injury results, then you must require a life for a life—.” Abortion advocates have argued that “born prematurely” necessarily implies fetal death. Since only a fine is required, the child’s life must be worth less than the mother’s life, and abortion must be acceptable. Abortion opponents suggest that the premature birth does not necessarily imply fetal death, and if “serious injury” (such as maternal or fetal death) does occur, the standard is life for life. By extension, the fetus is as fully a person as the mother.

By contrast, Psalms 139:13-16 in the Jewish Tanakh states,

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book.

This passage, as well as others throughout the Jewish scriptures and the Christian Old and New Testaments, suggest that the unborn child is a human being and is a person in every moral and legal sense of the word.

Abortion advocates may insist that in our increasingly diverse and religiously plural nation, Greek, Roman, English, Christian and Jewish teachings on abortion are insufficient. Nowhere in Roe does Blackmun examine teachings of other major modern religions on abortion. The Hindu Rig Veda notes that the god Vishnu is the “guardian of the future infant.”[7] The Atharvaveda harshly curses those who practice abortion, insisting that nobody is beneath him, a greater sinner does not exist, and the guilt cannot be transferred.[8] The Upanishads similarly condemn abortion. The theory underlying Hinduism’s condemnation is that biological elements, the sperm and ovum, and the spiritual element, the transmigrating soul, unite simultaneously to create the embryo. Personhood begins at conception, and to destroy an unborn child is to break the chain of lives, thus interfering with the possibility of release into eternity. When the mother’s life is threatened, abortion is tolerated.

Buddhism shares Hinduism’s condemnation of and repugnance at abortion. According to traditional teaching, conception requires intercourse, the woman being in the fertile period, and the presence of a spirit (or deity). The absence of any one element prevents conception, but the presence of all results in conception. At that moment, human life (and personhood) begins. Humans may be near the end of the long chain of lives leading to Nirvana, and abortion impairs the progression. The fetus is a completely different person from the mother, the latest in a long series of lives. Abortion implies that the mother is afflicted by greed, desiring her own interests and comfort, hatred of the fetus, and delusion, “denying that the fetus is a living being and to the idea that ‘I’ own the fetus and ‘I’ can do what I want to.”[9] Finally, Buddhism prohibits the taking of life. Even in the case of severe fetal malformations, such handicaps are considered the kharma of the parents and abortion is unacceptable. Only in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger is abortion tolerated.

Islam, the second biggest religion in the world after Christianity, provides details of the creation of man in the Quran:

“We created Man from a quintessence (of clay); then We placed him as (a drop of sperm) in a place of rest, firmly fixed; then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of the clot we made a (fetus) lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed it out of another creature. So blessed be Allah, the Best to create.”[10]

This account demonstrates intimate involvement of the Almighty in the formation of each person, communicating supreme importance to each hand-crafted life. It comes as no surprise, then, that Islam has historically forbidden abortions in most cases. K M Hedayat, et al, write:

“Traditionally, abortion was not deemed permissible by Muslim scholars. Shiite scholars considered it forbidden after implantation of the fertilised ovum. However, Sunni scholars have held various opinions on the matter, but all agreed that after 4 months gestation abortion was not permitted. In addition, classical Islamic scholarship had only considered threats to maternal health as a reason for therapeutic abortion.”[11]

Modern theorists adopt a more liberal, secular interpretation of Islamic teachings in the Quran and the Hadiths and as a result, follow a more permissive view of abortion. As a result, at least one in ten pregnancies in the Middle East and North Africa end in abortion.[12]

No major religion condones abortion on demand. Rather, they oppose abortion on all but carefully delineated circumstances, typically danger to the mother’s life. “Sacred” implies religion, and it is not clear from which religion Pelosi found her “sacred right.”

Is abortion a positive good?

Despite Justice Blackmun’s superficial analysis, it is illogical to believe that the embryo and fetus are not persons. Therefore, abortion advocates ignore (and conceal) the truth of fetal personhood and argue instead that abortion is a positive good. They contend that women’s careers and well being are more important than any fetal rights. They suggest that unborn children with birth defects should never be born because of the misery of their lives, and those of their parents. Some people in my experience have even contended that severely handicapped people should be aborted because they place too much expense on society at large. There is no compelling or even convincing data to support these opinions.

These arguments of abortion as a “positive good” echo John C. Calhoun’s contention that slavery was a positive good in 1837. Abortion rights advocates used to be “pro-choice,” which meant that each woman should be allowed to choose whether to have an abortion. They also stated that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.”[13] Now, pro-abortionists celebrate their abortions as opportunities to do “what is best for me!” Just as Abraham Lincoln noted that “although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself!”[14] In like manner, President Reagan observed that “everybody who is for abortion has already been born.”[15]

Healing after abortion

Contrary to the protestations of many, abortion scars women. Physical scars include cervical or uterine damage, infection, and hemorrhage. Mental health damage includes depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and additional forms of mental illness. Not every woman has every side effect, but rates of harm are higher in women with a history of abortion than in those without such a history.[16]

Abortion is a tragedy, and it is also a sin. God is clear that one man (or woman) must not shed the blood of another. The Creator of the Universe protects the vulnerable, and no one is more vulnerable than the unborn child. Still, while people are depraved by nature, the Son of Man is forgiving by nature. There is no evil which He cannot heal, no sorrow He cannot sooth, and no fear He cannot allay, for those who will come to Him. Because He personally paid the price, Jesus speaks to the post-abortive women as He spoke to the adulteress, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more (John 8:11).”

Conclusion

Abortion is the great divide in American politics, and will continue to be until, like slavery, abortion fades into the pages of infamy. Over sixty million Americans have perished since 1973, and billions have died from it over time and space. Abortion is currently contributing to falling populations across the world, or soon will be. The truth is crystal clear: life begins at conception, and both embryo and fetuses are persons. All deserve protection of their inherent human rights. Abortion is not a positive good, any more than slavery was, though deluded minds, as the Buddhists might say, think otherwise. The mother does not own her baby and does not have the right to do what she wants with him or her, inside or outside of the womb. No amount of screaming, crying, begging, fighting, wishing, suing, legislating, shouting, hating, and even destroying will change the Truth. It never has.

Evil hurts everyone, but most of all it hurts those who are fighting the hardest for it.

 

 

[1] Pelosi says abortion issue is ‘sacred ground’, Catholic World News, 13 June 2013, https://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=18154. Notably, “sacred” is connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration,” or “regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, group, or individual.” https://www.bing.com/search?q=sacred+definition&qs=LS&pq=sacred+defin&sc=6-12&cvid=A1DBF68E90E24429A12C27E97ADEB59A&FORM=QBRE&sp=1&ghc=1.

[2] Savas, L. (2021). The Pink House Brawl. World Magazine, 40–45.

[3] In truth, men and women depend on each other. That is how we were created.

[4] United States Supreme Court, ROE v. WADE(1973), No. 70-18, Argued: December 13, 1971, Decided: January 22, 1973, https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/410/113.html.

[5] Nancy Flanders, 10 Oct 2021, Montana judge blocks pro-life laws, fears ultrasounds may ‘stigmatize’ or ‘discourage’ abortions, https://www.liveaction.org/news/montana-judge-blocks-ultrasounds-discourage-abortion/.

[6] Michael North (trans), 2002, Greek Medicine, the Hippocratic Oath, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_oath.html.

[7] Rigveda VII, 36.9.

[8] Constantin-Iulian, D. (2010). Abortion From the Perspective of Eastern Religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. Romanian Journal of Bioethics, 8(1). 124-36.

[9] Constantin-Iulian, D. (2010). Abortion From the Perspective of Eastern Religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. Romanian Journal of Bioethics, 8(1). 124-36.

[10] Abdullah Yusuf Ali (trans), The Quran, The Believers, Surah 23:12-14 (Elmhurst NY: Tahrike Tarsile Quran, 1997), 219-220.

[11] Hedayat, K. M., Shooshtarizadeh, P., & Raza, M. (2006). Therapeutic abortion in Islam: contemporary views of Muslim Shiite scholars and effect of recent Iranian legislation. Journal of Medical Ethics, 32(11), 652–657. https://doi.org/10.1136/jme.2005.015289.

[12] Hessini, L. (2007). Abortion and Islam: Policies and Practice in the Middle East and North Africa. Reproductive Health Matters, 15(29), 75–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0968-8080(06)29279-6.

[13] Miles Smith, Abortion as a Positive Good: How the Abortion Movement Echoes Radical Slavery Rhetoric, 3 Aug 2016. https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2016/08/17492/.

[14] Josh Craddock, Abortion as Positive Good: The Democrats’ New Rhetoric Has Vile Precedents, 21 Nov 2019, https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/11/abortion-as-positive-good-the-democrats-new-rhetoric-has-vile-precedents/.

[15] Josh Craddock, Abortion as Positive Good: The Democrats’ New Rhetoric Has Vile Precedents, 21 Nov 2019, https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/11/abortion-as-positive-good-the-democrats-new-rhetoric-has-vile-precedents/.

[16] Reardon, D. C. (2018). The abortion and mental health controversy: A comprehensive literature review of common ground agreements, disagreements, actionable recommendations, and research opportunities. SAGE Open Medicine, 6, 205031211880762. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050312118807624

Author: MD Harris Family Institute

MD, MPH, MBA, MDiv, PhD, ThM Colonel, US Army (ret)

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