Texas has enacted a law denying any woman an abortion after six weeks gestation, essentially when a heartbeat can be heard. In addition, anyone aiding the pregnant woman to get the abortion is also violating the law. Other states are predicted to follow suit with similar laws. This law takes the decision making out of the hands of the pregnant woman and puts it in the hands of a governmental body. I do not feel this is right.
Opinions on abortion have been offered by scientists, medical doctors, ethicists and theologians, among others. I am none of these. I am just a reasonably well educated, thoughtful, churchgoing person. I have observed these abortion discussions for years, and have developed my own position on abortion. My wife and I are well past the time of our lives when abortion applies to us personally, but it could apply to my daughters in law, and will someday apply to my granddaughters. I want them, and all women, to have the right to make these decisions without interference from overreaching governments.
So I am not writing to impose my views on anyone regarding the right and wrong of abortion. What I do hope is that people will read this and consider my argument that governments should not impose its views on any pregnant woman.
At its core, the argument on abortion turns on the question of “when is a soul first uniquely associated with a fetus.” A discussion of souls is at its essence a religious discussion. I think most religions agree that after a fetus is born and is now a “baby” it is a human being with a soul. But religions differ on when that fetus becomes uniquely associated with its soul.
To begin, let’s think about where a person’s soul “resides”. Is it in equal measure in each cell of the body? Is it concentrated all in one organ (e.g. heart, brain, spleen, left eye)? Does it encircle the body like an electron circulating around the nucleus of an atom? Is it kept remote from the body, say in a vault in the sky? No one knows.
In fact, no one has ever seen a soul, or spoken to a soul. No one has ever captured it and looked at through a microscope (or a telescope). Humans simply have no idea what a soul is made up of, where it resides, or what it looks like. My conclusion from this is that a discussion about a soul is NOT a scientific discussion. Science deals with observation and measurement. The discussion on abortion is religious.
I argue that the soul does not reside in equal measure of all the cells of a body. If it were, when a surgeon removes a person’s appendix or gall bladder and disposes of it as medical waste, religious leaders would insist we hold funerals for the death of a soul, or a portion of a soul. Likewise, they do not when a person falls, scraping a knee and bleeds. They don’t because the soul is not in these individual cells.
Science tells us that human cells have exactly 46 chromosomes. They’ve mapped many of them over the past decade or so. Does a soul only become associated with tissue that has 46 chromosomes? If so, there is no soul associated with human sperm and human eggs, since they each have only 23 chromosomes (making a cell of 46 chromosomes when they join).
But what about after the sperm and egg join, i.e. conception. Conception is a vague term. After a human egg is fertilized, it does have 46 chromosomes. And this single cell immediately starts to multiply, growing rapidly into a body of many cells. However that body of cells may take up to 2 weeks to attach to the mother’s uterus wall, according to the Mayo Clinic webpage that I viewed. Does that unattached collection of cells have a soul? If so, we should grieve for the lost life of a collection of these cells which fails to attach to the wall of the womb, and is just reabsorbed into the mother’s body or is flushed out of her body with other biological waste. But we don’t. So maybe the soul does not become associated with a collection of cells until it attaches to the mother’s uterus.
In a healthy pregnancy, this collection of cells now attached to a uterus wall starts to develop into human organs. The Texas law and most conversations on this issue argue that the organ that will grow into the heart starts to emit electrical impulses at about six weeks gestation and these can be heard through a stethoscope as a heartbeat. But doctors also tell us that this collection of cells is not yet really acting as a heart that is pumping blood and sustaining life in the fetus. Yet the Texas law argues that at this point the heartbeat tells us that there is a soul present. But what if the soul does not reside in the heart. If it resides in the spleen, or as an electron type satellite, the fact that there is a heartbeat is immaterial. Also, if the soul is uniquely associated with a fetus at conception, abortion prior to six weeks gestation is just as wrong as abortion after six weeks.
At birth, a baby starts to breathe on its own – remember all the pictures of the doctor giving a newborn a “spank” to start the baby crying and start the lungs exchanging air! Maybe this is when the body becomes associated with a soul.
In the Bible, Genesis 7 recounts that God made Adam from the dust of the ground and then breathed the breath of life into his nostrils and at that point Adam became a living being. Also, in Ezekiel the Bible recounts the story of God showing Ezekiel a valley of dried bones, and, again, God breathed life into these dried bones. These Biblical stories might lead credence to Christians believing that the soul becomes associated with a baby when the baby takes a first breath.
But not everyone believes in the Bible. If a person does not, these stories are irrelevant to them. Many atheists believe that there is no such thing as a soul, and the question of when a soul becomes associated with a human life is a meaningless question. They might argue that since no soul exists, abortion at any point during gestation is allowable.
My point is that the question of the timing of when a fetus becomes uniquely associated with a soul is complex, and one that has many possible answers, none of which are scientifically provable.
Consequently, I believe that the choice of having an abortion is solely a religious decision and one that must be left to the mother in consultation with whomever she wants to consult (the father, her physician, other advisors and counselors including religious counselors, or, for that matter, no one). I reject the policy that the Federal or a state government should dictate what choice a mother must make. While a pregnant woman is fully free to consult with others and follow their advice, the final choice is the mother’s, and the mother’s alone.
If religious organizations want to have a position on the abortion question and insist that followers of that religious organization follow this teaching, that is fine. A pregnant woman can follow the teaching or leave that religious organization if she chooses. But governmental bodies have no right to interfere with this decision.
In addition, the first Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. If a woman’s religion (or lack of religion) allows her to have an abortion, don’t governmental rules denying her that abortion violate the First Amendment?
I urge our legislators at both the federal and state levels, to stay away from legislating abortion restrictions.