Abortion clash ahead

The Observer is reporting that among the measures pro-abortion MPs are planning for the upcoming Westminster fight, is abortion on demand and its full extension to Northern Ireland. The Roman Catholic Church has already discused opposition to such moves with the DUP and the church spokesperson, Rev Tim Bartlett predicts strong opposition from the nationalist community:

Nationalists and republicans would regard this move as imposition of a deeply unpopular piece of legislation on them by a British parliament.

Meanwhile the MPs and communion row has reached Australia.

  • Dawkins

    Bob,

    “The Catholic Church—please—”

    I’ll call it that from now on, and apologies to those I may have offended by calling it otherwise.

  • snakebrain

    Ok Bob thanks for the clarification; I understand completely.

    Just out of curiosity, what else might you have called it Dawkins?

  • hovetwo

    “The Bill Clinton comment posted on the first page of this thread by joe canuck perhaps more accurately encapsulates the idea I was trying to suggest with my comments on consciousness. It was to the effect that we all know where life begins biologically, the trouble is that nobody knows where humanity begins.” Snakebrain

    Funny, this quote was one I discounted – perhaps unfairly. I admire Clinton, but his ability to manipulate the English language has always made me sceptical – anyone remember his multiple interpretations of the word “is”?

    More fundamentally, the problem with the phrase humanity is that we all nod when we hear it but there is no generally accepted definition of humanity – or consciousness for that matter – that can be tested. The debate descends into metaphysics and grinds to a halt.

    If by consciousness we mean sentience or the ability to feel pain, then it is highly probable that a foetus at the end of the first trimester – roughly ten weeks after conception – can feel pain, since he or she has a functioning brain and central nervous system.

    The benefit of science is precisely the fact that it can give us the biological view of when life begins. We know that many, though not all, unique human beings start life at the point of conception. Certainly within ten days of conception their genetic development has been determined and identical twins have separated. The difference between them and us after that point is only a matter of time.

    I don’t find it surprising that many decent, thoughtful people should struggle with the concept of the foetus as a human being, or that they find it surprising that others can empathise with babies before they are born – as a species we rely on sensory cues and facial recognition to separate friend from foe, and we are tribal by nature. If we can demonise grown humans based on their pronunciation of the letter H, then it’s hardly surprising that we can dismiss the humanity of the foetus regardless of the biological evidence.

    Nevertheless, it’s because of the biological evidence that I am opposed to the vast majority of abortions, since the rights of any individual are constrained by the extent to which exercising those rights would harm others.

    For the same reason, I believe abortion has to be permissible where there is a substantially elevated threat to the life or health of the mother or in cases of rape.

    Although the topic of the thread suggests that pro-choice legislation might be extended to Northern Ireland, I actually think the existing abortion legislation in the UK will be tightened considerably as scientific evidence regarding foetal development becomes more widely known.

    A ban on abortion except in the circumstances outlined above would reduce the number of legal abortions in the UK by more than 95% – eliminating backstreet abortions would be a much harder task, but made a lot easier if society was supportive of women who chose to keep their babies – it’s no accident that the poorest decile of society is no longer propped up by the elderly, but by single mothers.

  • snakebrain

    Not my words, just picked up on Guardian Comment is Free which has just started a thread on the same topic, but fucking hell…..

    “What do you think about the cases in Nicaragua (reported on a Panorama, ‘Sex and the Holy City’, a few years ago) where two nine-year-old girls, who were pregnant as a result of rape, had the bishop of Managua and his cohorts insisting that they should not have an abortion? Indeed, the Catholic church attempted to blackmail the parents of these children, these victims of rape, by threatening to excommunicate them if they allowed their daughters to have an abortion.”

  • susan

    Snakebrain, thank you for your clarity of thought and your earlier post. Not to be flippant on a thread on such a somber topic, but I felt a bit like Harry Potter unexpectedly defended by the arrival of an unknown patronus. Thank you.

    Hovetwo’s contribution is deeply thoughtful and beautifully articulated. When I reluctantly entered this thread my first statement was that I find even the topic of abortion “lacerating”, and I was not exaggerating. As I said earlier it would be much easier to think about abortion if we could discount or ignore the humanity and/or worth of the developing foetus or the pregnant woman, but, as hovetwo demonstrates, we cannot.

    Snakebrain, back to your important question. I did a random google search after reading your 12:25 pm post, and found this article on a news site from 2003:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/03/23/world/main545560.shtml

    I’m just absorbing it, to be honest, but I’m both shattered and shaken by it. I can’t imagine a nine year old rape victim being physically, emotionally, or mentally able to cope with pregnancy and birth, and I’m stunned at the cruelty of excommunicating her parents from their faith in their time of crisis for doing what they felt they had to do to protect her.

    As I said, I am a Catholic, I attend Mass. I tried leaving the Church, for several years, over deep conflicts with the church’s stance on contraception and poverty, on the ordination of women. I met a lot of wonderful people when I left, but inside a suppressed part of me I still felt bereft and floundering without the sacraments. A friend of mine from Derry who has also been through a great deal one day said to me, look, we are women, the Church is our is our strength, and I realised I was not as strong, nor was I as able to help others, when I stopped attending Mass as when I was observant. God’s grace or the guilt mechanisms of a medieval mind, but I went back, and found both solace and inspiration, as well as irritation.

    But stories like the one you’ve brought to my attention cut my heart out, and I’ve no idea what to do about it. No idea at all.

  • snakebrain

    susan

    Delighted to be of assistance. The guy was really inappropriate, and I though it was particularly unfair that he attacked you and not me, when I’d said much more pointed things. (Though I should warn you that I take the form of a large silver warty toad. Hope that doesn’t put you off..)

    Enough flippancy. That really is a shocking story. I understand your difficulty in absorbing it, particularly in the context of your personal attempts to reconcile yourself with the church. I was raised by devoutly Catholic parents, sent to a convent grammar school, and had similar difficulties to yourself in disengaging myself from the whole machine of Catholicism, though I’ve long since broken off any ties with the church.

    My philosophy these days is, I suppose, Daoist, or Heraclitan. Like Dawkins, I believe life is sacred in all it forms, which is why I’m prepared to defend the right to life and engage with the issue here.

    That doesn’t mean I support the right of any organisation to intervene in the secular workings of our society, particularly when those interventions cause needless suffering. It was always the authoritarian nature of the church that troubled me, the assertion of the right to claim authority and the willingness to act in pretty nasty ways to protect that authority. This story pretty fully displays that tendency, whatever Bob may say about the catechism.

    I think we need to be able to discuss topics like this one freely, and arrive at rational conclusions. The RC Church is pretty well-known for taking hundreds of years to make incremental changes in its position, which is one reason for its durability, but no help at all when real people are suffering due to its unwillingness to change its mind.

    Your comment about the church being the source of strength for women intrigues me, as I’d always felt women got a particularly raw deal from the church. Obviously, I’m a bit of an outsider to this one, but I’m interested nonetheless.

    I also agree with you wholeheartedly that hovetwo has a lot to say, and says it very well. I long for the day when more people can think as wisely as that.

  • grainne

    I for one think all human beings have a right to life. I think this is sacred (in a none religious sense) and I think it should be defended at all costs. I can see a definate starting point for life at conception but think talk about when “humanity” starts is a lot more ambiguous. This is why I think if, as the doctors tell us, that a person is biologicaly unique from conception how can anyone defend abortion, even in cases of rape. As horrible as that circumstance is (and yes I do know about it personaly, the baby didn’t ask to be brought in to existence did it?

  • Dawkins

    Snakebrain,

    “Just out of curiosity, what else might you have called it Dawkins?”

    The Roman Catholic Church. I’m aware that Protestants here have problems with “Catholic Church” but since I’m not a Protestant I’ll call it by its Catholic name.

  • snakebrain & susan:

    Let’s keep some facts straight, please. According to the CBS news report, the Catholic Church did NOT excommunicate the parents but merely pointed out that they had excommunicated themselves.

    Now, as I pointed out above, whether the parents actually committed any sin is a matter between themselves and God, i.e. the “internal forum”. However, if they did, the Cardinal is quite right in saying that they excommunicated themselves, since a person guilty of a mortal sin is not allowed to receive communion, i.e. is excommunicated.

    A problem arises, however, when the “sinful” action is widely publicized. In effect, the Cardinal and Bishop comments apply to the “external forum”, i.e. that facilitating an abortion is mortally sinful under Catholic teaching. So, guys, tell me just what the churchmen should have said.

    And, the question arises as to what the churchmen actually said. From the very brief synopsis reported by CBS, I think there may have been some finer distinctions drawn than were reported, just as I have drawn the distinction between the internal and external fora. But, a comment which says that the commentor does not know the state of their souls is not very newsworthy nor does it generate any headlines, does it?

    It seems to me that both of you are jumping to some conclusions here. Now, the churchmen may have been doing the same and, if they were, they were wrong, in addition to being dumb and insensitive.

    I ask both of you: was the potential damage to the child-mother’s physical and mental health so great as to justify the taking of innocent human life? Or should society marshal its medical and psychological tools to protect both child-mother and child? Could these tools be sufficient to do exactly that so that both may live full and free lives?

    I respectfully suggest that those tools could have greatly minimized the trauma, mental and physical, of the child-mother. In fact, the mental and physical trauma has already been done and the abortion may well only add to it.

    Tough calls, I grant, but it seems to me that neither you nor the churchmen –if the news reports be accurate — seem to have addressed the real issue.

  • snakebrain

    Sorry Bob, I don’t buy that “they excommunicated themselves”. Whatever way you turn it round, they have been excluded from the Church against their will. It’s like saying that an employer who tells an employee that due to their actions they can no longer continue to work for the company hasn’t fired them.

    Nonsense.

    And arguing that they had to do so to protect the “external forum” of the Catholic Church doesn’t mitigate it in the least. This internal/external division sounds like a firewall set up to protect the central authority.

    What precisely is excommunication? A voluntary action, or a punishment?

    Should a 9 yr old girl be forced to carry a child that is the consequence of a rape through to full term, and then take on the responsibility of looking after that child while still a child themselves? I say no. She should not have been forced, or pressured, or nudged in any direction.

    If the threat, and I maintain it is a threat, of excommunication had not been introduced in this case, and the Church had behaved in a compassionate way, I’d have more sympathy. As it is, their actions were entirely in keeping with what I’ve come to expect from an organisation that uses bully-boy tactics, and its claim to hold the keys to the gate of heaven as a means of coercion.

    I judge them on their actions, not their fine words. This was an unacceptable attempt to exercise control over this girl and her family for no other reason than the protection of the dogma of their institution. That is despicable in my eyes.

  • Cruimh

    “daughter of an impoverished Nicaraguan migrant worker in neighboring Costa Rica”

    It could , as with divorce/annullment or living in sin, all have been so different if only the girl had been from a wealthy or politically important family.

  • Bioethicist

    snake,

    I am tired of your patronising arrogance. Despite contradicting yourself many times over, (eg critising me for not declaring a view whilst at the same time sniping that I have a cowardly position) you continue to arrogantly confuse opinion with fact.

    Whether you like it or not, I am free to voice my suspicions regarding the fact that you, susan, cruimh may be trolling on this thread. Furthermore, you really do need read the commenting policy as nowhere does it say that a poster must declare an opinion.

    My argument all along has been to suggest that the issue of abortion boils down to a black and white matter you’re your declared stance has supported this. At no point have I openly disagreed with anything you have posted. My posts have highlighted various questions or issues that I believe have arisen from your posts. Much, if not all, of what I have posted has questioned the reasoning behind a view regarding this issue but it seems you can’t see that. It appears you perceive my posts as being judgmental of the stated positions; well you are wrong.

    You really are only reading what you want to see aren’t you? Nowhere have I defended the “right of the churches to intervene in the democratic process”. It hasn’t happened. You are wrong. You may wish to carp on, snipe and generally bully your opinions on to this thread but in a debating forum, it does nothing to strengthen your argument. You say that I “have been persistently unwilling” to indicate my own views but take a look at the commenting policy, it isn’t mandatory.

    “Bioethicists have dual expertise in biology and ethics” Do they now? All of them?

    If, as you state, you have “just read back over all the relevant posts” you will have seen how susan posted personal and highly inaccurate assumptions about me. It was I who has been “grossly insulted”. You are a hypocrite of the highest order as you feel comfortable saying “You are a coward, since you say you have views, but will not share them.” Yet nowhere is it stated that it is required on Slugger. You might wish it was but the reality is different.

    Do us all a favour and learn to debate and you’ll find that sometimes you come across people with whom you agree, disagree or neither!

    Just a reminder, snake, you are free to ignore any of my future posts and I for one wish you’d start with this one!

  • snakebrain

    If you have a problem with the conduct of myself, susan or cruimh on the thread I suggest you take it up with the site management.

    Otherwise, be a good chap and push off, since you’re not contributing anything and merely wasting Mick’s valuable server space.

    And if you could find it in yourself to apologise to susan on the way out, it would be much appreciated.

  • Bioethicist

    Oh dear!

    For the record, let’s recap at how susan directed both personal and insulting remarks at me…

    “Bioethicist” is apparently completely ignorant of ectopic pregnancy. “
    Wrong.

    ”Bioethicist tells us every case is “black and white” from conception forward.”
    Wrong.

    ”Bioethicist has apparently never encountered the anguish of pregnant women…”
    Wrong.

    ”Bioethicist has also been spared the suffering of cancer patients…”
    Wrong.

    Instead of jumping at the chance to defend “susan”, you need to get off you condescending high horse for the good of this thread. You didn’t really get that bit about ignoring any of my future posts either did you snake? Lets try again eh? Ignore this one, “there’s a good chap” 😉

  • snakebrain

    “many claim to work in bioethics, and indeed can feel free to do so, in just the same way that self-help book authors claim to work in philosophy. However, those not working in and trained in bioethics in the now fairly well established range of ways typical of bioethicists, demonstrated by, e.g., publishing in AJOB, Hastings Center Report, Journal of Medical Ethics, etc., will be perceived as amateurs by those in the field”

    End of conversation

  • [i]”What precisely is excommunication? A voluntary action, or a punishment?”[/i]

    Suppose YOU tell me what it is. You’re the one making all the fuss about it. So, snake, what exactly does excommunication mean to you?

    [i]”Should a 9 yr old girl be forced to carry a child that is the consequence of a rape through to full term, and then take on the responsibility of looking after that child while still a child themselves? I say no. She should not have been forced, or pressured, or nudged in any direction.”[/i]

    Where did the Church or the Cardinal say all that? The news report says nothing about that. All the news report seems to do is report the Cardinal’s answer to a question which, if you look at it calmly instead of jumping to unsupported conclusions, merely restates that the Cardinal doesn’t know whether they sinned or not and really expressed no judgement.

    As far as the physical and psychological damage to the child-mother, I suggest that the rape did far more damage than carrying the baby to term will cause the youngster. And, I have to wonder what additional pschological damage will be done to the child-mother in the future when she realizes that she killed her baby.

    [i]”If the threat, and I maintain it is a threat, of excommunication had not been introduced in this case, and the Church had behaved in a compassionate way, I’d have more sympathy. As it is, their actions were entirely in keeping with what I’ve come to expect from an organisation that uses bully-boy tactics, and its claim to hold the keys to the gate of heaven as a means of coercion.”[/i]

    What threat did the Cardinal make according to the report? Please point it out.

    [i]”I judge them on their actions, not their fine words. This was an unacceptable attempt to exercise control over this girl and her family for no other reason than the protection of the dogma of their institution. That is despicable in my eyes.”[/i]

    Again, yoou carry on about theats and intimidation. Please point out what threats the Cardinal made.

    All in all, snakebrain, I see more of your prejudice in your comments than of any reasoned analysis.

    Oh, BTW, the idea behind the internal and external fora is key to Catholic moral teaching. That old “sufficient reflection” gets in the way every time. I respectfully suggest that you do some sufficiant reflection BEFORE posting such rants as the above.

  • susan

    Snakebrain, I’m afraid am not accustomed to quite so much gallantry. If I trip and hit my head on something, perhaps a trained, experienced bioethicist with published writings in the field will determine your degree of guilt, if any.
    :o)

    Bioethicist, you have cut and pasted extremely truncated and out of context excerpts from my post to you in an effort to make your accusations against me appear reasoned. I have more than enough confidence in the calibre of both this site’s administrators and my fellow participants in this thread that I do not feel the need to sacrifice yonks of time defending myself. Your posts and mine are in the thread to stand and fall on their own merits.

    Bob McG, re: the nine year old pregant survivor of rape — you write “In fact, the mental and physical trauma has already been done .” With respect, how are you so confident that the mental and physical trauma of the rape would not be compounded by the mental and physical trauma of pregnancy and childbirth?

    The traumatised girl’s mental and emotional trauma are perhaps beyond the scope of this discussion, so perhaps it is helpful to limit ourselves to a brief consideration of the physical trauma, which is easier to quantify. Obviously, a nine year old child — even a prematurely developed child — is at a heightened risk for catastrophic uterine rupture if her womb is insufficiently mature to safely carry a full-term pregnancy. On the internet, I was able to find two instances of nine year olds surviving childbirth via Caesarian delivery — again, a nine year old is not physically capable of delivering vaginally — but Bob, if you are wrong and she is physically unable to carry the pregnancy to term, it will be at the sacrifice of her innocent life, or at the cost of her future fertility, costing her children (and happiness) she might long for if she matures and recovers emotionally and physically from the trauma of the rape and the pregnancy.

    It’s obvious how much you love your grandaughters, Bob, so I know you can empathise with the terrible anguish of this nine year old child’s parents. They love their innocent girl as much as you love yours, and knowing her emotional and physical makeup, knowing the circumstances of her attack, her injuries, and her life situation, they made the decision they felt was best for her survival.

  • susan:

    [i]”Bob McG, re: the nine year old pregant survivor of rape—you write “In fact, the mental and physical trauma has already been done .” With respect, how are you so confident that the mental and physical trauma of the rape would not be compounded by the mental and physical trauma of pregnancy and childbirth?”[/i]

    Interesting, susan, but hardly what I said. Here’s exactly what I did say:
    [i]”As far as the physical and psychological damage to the child-mother, I suggest that the rape did far more damage than carrying the baby to term will cause the youngster. And, I have to wonder what additional pschological damage will be done to the child-mother in the future when she realizes that she killed her baby.”[/i]
    Now that is NOT what you claim I said. IN point of fact, it is very different, isn’t it?

    [i]”The traumatised girl’s mental and emotional trauma are perhaps beyond the scope of this discussion, so perhaps it is helpful to limit ourselves to a brief consideration of the physical trauma, which is easier to quantify. Obviously, a nine year old child—even a prematurely developed child—is at a heightened risk for catastrophic uterine rupture if her womb is insufficiently mature to safely carry a full-term pregnancy. On the internet, I was able to find two instances of nine year olds surviving childbirth via Caesarian delivery—again, a nine year old is not physically capable of delivering vaginally—but Bob, if you are wrong and she is physically unable to carry the pregnancy to term, it will be at the sacrifice of her innocent life, or at the cost of her future fertility, costing her children (and happiness) she might long for if she matures and recovers emotionally and physically from the trauma of the rape and the pregnancy.”[/i]

    Now, there’s a lot of assumption and maybes and whatever in all of that. And, all of them are real possibilities. But, are they any more real than the possible emotional and physical damage that would be done by an abortion at this time? There is nothing in what I said that rules out an abortion when it is clear that the continued life of the child/baby/foetus poses a real threat to the child-mother’s well being.

    You are assuming a danger that may well not exist AT THIS TIME and which may never eventuate and calling for the death of the child/baby/foetus at this time because his/her continued existence MAY at some future time pose a real threat to the life of the child-mother, I say that that is wrong.

    Love is wonderful but it does NOT justify killing another human being until and unless the continued existence of that human being really and seriously threatens the life of the beloved. Until such time as that is clear, I say the killing is murder.

  • I wonder…

    Bob
    A thoughtful contribution, but as the earlier-described dichotomy goes – you’re (crassly) “pro-abortion.”

    The images associated with that description (which also unfairly describes this writer) is psychologically difficult to bear. I note, with honorable exceptions that this area of morality, wholly concerned with women and the unqie ability of their bodies to carry life, has been dominated by contributors that I perceive to be men. Twas ever the way. I read once, that if it was men that got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. I see nothing here to dissuade me from agreeing with that.

  • snakebrain

    Susan

    Have you no faith in my boundless gallantry? I’d catch you long before you hit the ground, thereby saving you from any further ravages from the bioethical community.

    Bob, why don’t you tell me what excommunication is? You’re the one armed with the Baltimore Catechism.

    And anyway, I’ve just finished reading the Memoirs of Jacques Casanova and my head’s still spinning with the way the Inquisition used to put you on the excommunicated list posted on the chapel doors if you didn’t turn up for Easter services, thereby exposing you to social ignimony, unemployability and, most likely, exile.

    And I should tell you that when somebody gets this defensive over a religious position my fundamentalist alarm starts to ring and I only talk to them once they’ve calmed down a bit.

    I will note though that when susan says,

    “The traumatised girl’s mental and emotional trauma are perhaps beyond the scope of this discussion, so perhaps it is helpful to limit ourselves to a brief consideration of the physical trauma, which is easier to quantify,”

    your response is

    “are they any more real than the possible emotional and physical damage that would be done?”, which rather seems to miss the point of setting aside the mental and emotional trauma.

    I wonder…, Thanks for that rather subtly scathing comment; you’ve got me starting to think maybe I’ve said enough

  • I wonder…

    SnakeB,
    Au contraire, your contributions were thoughtful and sensitive, if untypical of the other male posts.

  • I wonder…

    BTW
    I am long enough in the tooth to have witnessed certain former Catholic bishops refusing divorcees communion in a Belfast church. The humiliation and rank injustice (and given what his priests were doing with children at the same time) rankles me still.

  • snakebrain

    I wonder…

    First of all, thank you for your kind comment.

    And to think I was going to postscript the Casanova comment with “but of course that kind of thing doesn’t happen any more”

  • I wonder…

    SB
    Posting a list on a door and leaving an individual kneeling pathetically at an altar rail after everyone had received the sacrament are not very different ways of excommunicating.

    The woman left, head held high, with more honour than did the (late) Bishop.

  • snakebrain

    I’m glad to hear somebody had a bit of honour in the whole affair…

  • susan

    Snakebrain, I am so glad you specified it was Jacques Casanova’s memoirs you are reading, Seamus Casanova’s were so over-hyped. Seriously, I am beginning to think you really must be a patronus.

    Bob McG, this is the quote of yours to which I responded. If I misinterpreted your meaning, I apologise:

    “I ask both of you: was the potential damage to the child-mother’s physical and mental health so great as to justify the taking of innocent human life? Or should society marshal its medical and psychological tools to protect both child-mother and child? Could these tools be sufficient to do exactly that so that both may live full and free lives?

    I respectfully suggest that those tools could have greatly minimized the trauma, mental and physical, of the child-mother. In fact, the mental and physical trauma has already been done and the abortion may well only add to it.”–posted by Bob McG

    Bob McG, The dangers to her future fertility and life that I discussed are associated with the second or third trimester of pregnancy, depending on the child’s (and by child I mean the pregnant nine year old) size and physical maturity.

    You seem to be saying — correct me if I misunderstand — that an early, first trimester abortion would be unjustifiable “murder” in this instance of the rape of a child, but that if these life-threatening conditions did emerge later in the pregnancy when the foetus is more developed and both he pregnancy and the foetus are infinitely more real to the nine year old mother and abortion carries far more risk of complications — to quote you — “there is nothing in what I said that rules out an abortion when it is clear that the continued life of the child/baby/foetus poses a real threat to the child-mother’s well being.”

    Bob, I do believe your intention is to preserve life and not to cause further pain to a traumatised child, but nonetheless your solution reminds me of a witch trial where if the woman floats she is a witch and if she drowns she is innocent.

  • I wonder…

    SB:
    I think that honour is something few still cherish.
    -Jo

  • susan

    “I’m glad to hear somebody had a bit of honour in the whole affair…”

    That goes for me too, I wonder….

  • I wonder…

    Susan
    I think we think alike in these matters, as does the “patronus” 🙂 Despite the BBC foisting hypocritical “born again” comment on us out of all proportion to its representation in twe wider population, good sense WILL prevails.
    – Jo

  • snakebrain

    Harsh treatment there Susan – it is the title after all. You can go fall in a puddle for all I care after that one.

    Nah, that’s a bit harsh. I wouldn’t be like that.

    <

  • susan

    Snakebrain, I am mortified you thought that was a diss, that was the highest compliment. Now I will never get to sleep.

    Lucky for me, Gerry’s still up.

    Hello, Gerry. How’s tings?

  • snakebrain

    Now I’m mortified you thought I was serious…