Struggling to Get an Abortion? Thank St. Augustine.

Struggling to Get an Abortion? Thank St. Augustine. May 24, 2018
abortion St. Augustine
Detail from “Scenes From The Life of Saint Augustine of Hippo,” ca. 1490, New York Metropolitan Museum. St. Auguistine is at left. (Cognito ergo imago, Flikr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The continuing and mean-spirited U.S. abortion debate is less about political and cultural divides than pre-medieval religion.

Columnist Linda Greenhouse writes in her New York Times column today that “the noose is tightening around women’s access to abortion.” Although politics is the matrix within which this issue is fought, it is age-old religion — ancient Catholicism, in this context — now being aggressively imposed on the unbelieving in just another scriptural battleground.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), a very influential Catholic priest in a hugely influential period in church evolution as the Roman Empire was circling the drain, insisted — as the church grew to accept as dogma — that,

The ‘unborn are born’

“The one about to be born should always be considered as one already born.”

Other early Christian writings (Didach 2.2 and 5.2 and the Letter of Barnabss 19:5) state,

“Do not take the life of the fetus by abortion: it is the work of God.”

This sounds like an unqualified rejection, but, in fact, Augustine was smart enough to know that a key element of the doctrine he espoused was a known unknown: when does the soul emerge in the body and make it a fully sanctified human being? He experimented with guesses and divining and ended up with an arbitrary number of days preceding soulfulness, after which abortion was deemed a mortal sin.

However, neither Augustine nor any other church fathers stopped to consider whether the concept of a soul itself was equally unknowable and unconfirmable.

Women’s place

Still, the die was cast with the sin-tormented Augustine, who in an impious, debauched, womanizing youth, abortion, likely was not even a fleeting thought. Augustine’s writing reveal him to be an ancient Rev. Pat Robertson-style evangelical male supremacist:

“Woman was merely man’s helpmate, a function which pertains to her alone,” Augustine wrote. “She is not the image of God but as far as man is concerned, he is by himself the image of God.”

Other church fathers in antiquity were even more misanthropic. Like famed 13th century Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinus:

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence.”

‘Wives or prostitutes’

Reformation igniter Martin Luther was even more vile:

“The word and works of God is quite clear,” wrote Luther, “that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.”

So, today, after millennia of biased male edicts, the church and much of the Western world is paying the continuing dues of this invented rule, even though the U.S. and Ireland tend to be the most doctrinaire and unyielding to modern reassessments of the issue.

Although speaking uncharacteristically softly, the hierarchy of the Irish Catholic Church is opposing repeal in the country’s referendum this week to consider repealing Ireland’s constitutional abortion ban. An emotional national debate has led up to the vote. Meanwhile, Catholic clergy, mainly at weekly Mass but not otherwise publicly, have quietly appealed to the faithful to not repeal.

But the Irish church is conflicted, considering the priest pedophilia scandal that has rocked Catholic congregations worldwide, including in Ireland.

“The church has to pay the price for the failures of priests and religious and bishops in the past,” said Bishop Kevin Doran, chairman of an influential Irish bishops conference on bioethics in a May 23 Wall Street Journal article. “But we still have to continue calling for justice for the unborn.”

Pro-lifers chip away

Back in America, true Christian believers continue to chip away at constitutional abortion protections first codified in the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. In her article, Greenhouse noted Iowa’s new “flagrantly unconstitutional” law banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, at about the six-week mark in gestation, meaning pre-viability. She also mentioned Mississippi’s recent prohibition of abortions after 15 weeks, and a similar Louisiana bill that has been green-stamped by state lawmakers and passed to the governor for signature. Also, President Trump’s administration plans to forbid medical professionals from federally funded clinics from giving their patients with even truthful information about abortion. The Supreme Court upheld such an abortion “gag rule” 27 years ago.

Nothing has changed since with the “pro-life” crowd, certainly not it’s religiously motivated dismissal of the constitutionality of abortion under Roe v Wage. They intend to overturn it.

None of this Christianity-addled activism focuses on the biological facts of abortion, except the life part. Activists ignore that a fetus is not viable before 15 weeks and cannot feel pain before 20 weeks, if then. So, arguing a pre-20-week fetus is an independent person entitled to full legal protection is fundamentally moot.

And none of this factors in the enormous misery and sometimes death suffered by desperate women, often forced into a difficult position by soulless men, who then have no accountability.

Anti-abortion laws simply make abortions far more difficult to obtain, saddle often underprivileged, undereducated women with a rueful lack of knowledge about available legal options, and greatly complicate and exacerbate wrenching emotional experiences and choices they face.

Which, of course, will not stop them from having abortions. It will just make the choice harder and exponentially more dangerous.

So, as women struggle more and more to obtain legal abortions, they can thank Saint Augustine and his fellow women-loathing priests of old.

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