The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal

The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal February 18, 2012

In 1979, McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal.

Sometime after that, it was decided that the Bible teaches that human life begins at conception.

Ask any American evangelical, today, what the Bible says about abortion and they will insist that this is what it says. (Many don’t actually believe this, but they know it is the only answer that won’t get them in trouble.) They’ll be a little fuzzy on where, exactly, the Bible says this, but they’ll insist that it does.

That’s new. If you had asked American evangelicals that same question the year I was born you would not have gotten the same answer.

That year, Christianity Today — edited by Harold Lindsell, champion of “inerrancy” and author of The Battle for the Bible — published a special issue devoted to the topics of contraception and abortion. That issue included many articles that today would get their authors, editors — probably even their readers — fired from almost any evangelical institution. For example, one article by a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary criticized the Roman Catholic position on abortion as unbiblical. Jonathan Dudley quotes from the article in his book Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics. Keep in mind that this is from a conservative evangelical seminary professor, writing in Billy Graham’s magazine for editor Harold Lindsell:

God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: “If a man kills any human life he will be put to death” (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22-24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.

Christianity Today would not publish that article in 2012. They might not even let you write that in comments on their website. If you applied for a job in 2012 with Christianity Today or Dallas Theological Seminary and they found out that you had written something like that, ever, you would not be hired.

At some point between 1968 and 2012, the Bible began to say something different. That’s interesting.

Even more interesting is how thoroughly the record has been rewritten. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

Click over to Dr. Norman L. Geisler’s website and you’ll find all the hallmarks of a respected figure in the evangelical establishment. You’ll see that Geisler has taught at Trinity Evangelical Seminary, Dallas Seminary and Southern Evangelical Seminary. You’ll see a promotion for his newest book, Defending Inerrancy, with recommendations from such evangelical stalwarts as Al Mohler and J.I. Packer, as well as a link to an online store offering some of the other dozens of books written by Geisler. And you’ll see a big promo for the anti-abortion movie October Baby, because Geisler is, of course, anti-abortion, just like Mohler and Packer and every other respected figure in the evangelical establishment is and, of course, must be.

But back in the day, Dudley notes, Geisler “argued for the permissibility of abortion in a 1971 book, stating ‘The embryo is not fully human — it is an undeveloped person.'” That was in Ethics: Alternatives and Issues, published by Zondervan. It’s still in print, kind of, as Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options. And now it says something different. Now it’s unambiguously anti-abortion.

I don’t mean to pick on Geisler. He’s no different from Packer or Graham or any other leading evangelical figure who’s been around as long as those guys have. They all now believe that the Bible teaches that life begins at conception. They believe this absolutely, unambiguously, firmly, resolutely and loudly. That’s what they believed 10 years ago, and that’s what they believed 20 years ago.

But it wasn’t what they believed 30 years ago. Thirty years ago they all believed quite the opposite.

Again, that’s interesting.

I heartily recommend Dudley’s book for his discussion of this switch and the main figures who brought it about — Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, Richard Viguerie, etc. But here I just want to quote one section about the strangeness of this 180-degree turn, and how it caught many evangelicals off-guard:

By the mid-1980s, the evangelical right was so successful with this strategy that the popular evangelical community would no longer tolerate any alternative position. Hence, the outrage over a book titled Brave New People published by InterVarsity Press in 1984. In addition to discussing a number of new biotechnologies, including genetic engineering and in vitro fertilization, the author, an evangelical professor living in New Zealand, also devoted a chapter to abortion. His position was similar to that of most evangelicals 15 years prior. Although he did not believe the fetus was a full-fledged person from conception, he did believe that because it was a potential person, it should be treated with respect. Abortion was only permissible to protect the health and well-being of the mother, to preclude a severely deformed child, and in a few other hard cases, such as rape and incest.

Although this would have been an unremarkable book in 1970, the popular evangelical community was outraged. Evangelical magazines and popular leaders across the country decried the book and its author, and evangelicals picketed outside the publisher’s office and urged booksellers to boycott the publisher. One writer called it a “monstrous book.” … The popular response to the book — despite its endorsements from Carl F.H. Henry, the first editor of Christianity Today, and Lew Smedes, an evangelical professor of ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary — was so overwhelmingly hostile that the book became the first ever withdrawn by InterVarsity Press over the course of nearly half a century in business.

The book was republished a year later by Eerdmans Press. In a preface, the author noted, “The heresy of which I appear to be guilty is that I cannot state categorically that human/personal life commences at day one of gestation. This, it seems, is being made a basic affirmation of evangelicalism, from which there can be no deviation. … No longer is it sufficient to hold classic evangelical affirmations on the nature of biblical revelation, the person and work of Christ, or justification by faith alone. In order to be labeled an evangelical, it is now essential to hold a particular view of the status of the embryo and fetus.”

The poor folks at InterVarsity Press, Carl Henry, Lewis Smedes and everyone else who was surprised by the totality of this reversal, by its suddenness and the vehemence with which it came to be an “essential” and “basic affirmation of evangelicalism” quickly got on board with the new rules.

By the time of the 1988 elections, no one any longer spoke sarcastically of “the heresy” of failing to “state categorically that human/personal life commences at day one of gestation.” By that time, it was simply viewed as an actual heresy. By the time of the 1988 elections, no one was aghast that a strict anti-abortion position was viewed as of equal — or greater — importance than one’s views of biblical revelation or the work of Christ. That was just a given.

By the time of the 1988 elections, everyone in American evangelicalism was wholly opposed to legal abortion and everyone in American evangelicalism was pretending that this had always been the case.

We have always been at war with Eastasia. Everyone knows that.


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  • kathy bryan

    Here’s the thing, God is the creator.  He alone gets to choose when a person is created and when that person dies.  It matters not whether a certain amount of pregnancies end in miscarriage, so long as they were not intended by choice.
    Exodus 21:22 was used as a reference from the book, ” Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics” to support the author’s premise that “God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed.”  
    However, if you read the scripture and it says no such thing.  Here it is:  “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth
    prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished
    accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as
    the judges [determine].” 
    The words “no harm” in the original language mean to receive harm, mischief from which anyone suffers.  A miscarriage of a child is most definitely harm. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Has it occurred to you that there might be some people (if fetuses are people, which I am not conceding) for whom God’s intended end is that the person pregnant with them have an abortion?


    It matters not whether a certain amount of pregnancies end in miscarriage, so long as they were not intended by choice.

    (nods) Exactly. It’s not a matter of wanting to preserve life; it’s a matter of wanting to restrict choice.

    It’s just rare to hear people admit that.

  • kathy bryan

    Another random thought…..assuming one is a Christian and believe Christ left God and came to earth to be born, this argument is saying that He didn’t arrive on earth until the moment of His birth.  Those months before Mary was just carrying around a shell awaiting a soul?  If that were the case, why then when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, greeted Elizabeth, pregnant with John, did John leap in her womb for joy and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit?  (ref Luke 1:39-47)  

  • EllieMurasaki

    Fascinating theological question. Take it up with whoever wrote Genesis to emphasize that Adam was so much mud until his first breath.

  • Lori


    The words “no harm” in the original language mean to receive harm,
    mischief from which anyone suffers.  A miscarriage of a child is most
    definitely harm.  

    Considering that the “no harm” part clearly refers to a child who is born alive, albeit prematurely, it has nothing to do with miscarriage. So, what in the world is your point?

  • kathy bryan

     No, it hadn’t.  But thinking on it now, I would have to say that while God may know a person will choose abortion, I don’t believe He would intend for them to have one because He creates life and has said murder is sinful.  And yes, I realize the entire crux of the argument is when does life begin. 
    Adam was the first creation, and his life came from the ‘breath of life’ being breathed into him (Gen 2:7).  However, after that we can see that the blood is where life is held.  Embryos, and fetuses have life from in their blood.  Blood develops initially within the core of “blood islands” in the mesoderm.  
    The mesoderm is one of the three prmiary germ cell layers in the very early embryo.   As early as week 4-5, rudimentary blood is present and moving through the embryo.  (ref
    When Cain killed Adam his blood was spilled on the ground.  (Gen 4:10  And He said, “What have you done?  The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.”)  Leviticus chapter 17 references several times that the life is in the blood. 
    Just more thoughts……….

  • EllieMurasaki

    Life is in the blood? That’s a new one.

    So if abortion is murder, what penalty should apply to the woman who either commits the murder or pays to have it done? What investigation should be done of the woman who has a miscarriage–what should it take to prove that it truly was a miscarriage, not an abortion? If a baby is born with fetal alcohol syndrome, thus proving that the person who gave birth was negligent enough to consume alcohol while pregnant, with what should she be charged?

  • This memory hole is historical revisionism that would make the Ministry of Truth proud.

  • Religious freedom?

    I agree with h4x354x0r; what the abortion debate really comes down to is policymakers and religious leaders trying to control women’s sexuality.  One would think that if  pro-lifers were really so concerned with preventing murder and preserving the sanctity of life, their cause would be equally as concerned with making capital punishment illegal. Obviously there are far fewer people who are sentenced to death (and have the sentence carried out) than aborted fetuses, but the bible is much more explicit about straight forward murder than abortion.  Surely these pro-life advocates should also be working to protect the lives of convicts who only god has the right to judge and condemn? Why are they so much less vocal about the (government sanctioned) murders of fully developed humans than the murder of unborn fetuses?

    The only explanation I can arrive at is that their true concern is the policing of women’s bodies and sexual freedom. They refuse to accept contraception as a means of preventing abortion, even though it has been shown time and again that contraception, not making abortion illegal, is the only way to reduce abortions. Instead of fighting to create a world with fewer abortions, they are fighting for a world where women are not allowed to have sex before marriage. And clearly they are only concerned with controlling and punishing women, because men suffer no legal prejudice concerning their sexual behaviors. 

    Ultimately the religeous arguments about when life begins are moot, becuase the definition of life should not be coming from religeon, as we do not (supposedly) live in a theocratic  country. Why have religeous leaders been given so much authority to determine something that is not a religeous issue? Contraception and abortion are legal issues, and therefore should be free from the religious tyranny being imposed by pro-life groups. If they want to subjugate, undermine, and control the agency of their women, that’s fine, but my freedoms should not be infringed upon based on religious beliefs that I do not subscribe to.

  • KG

    This is absurd. St Augustine took a “liberal” attitude toward abortion? Just because he did not know that life begins at conception and did not know that it was murder does not mean that he took a liberal attitude toward it. He still thought it was a grave moral evil. 

    The real problem with this piece (and this comment) is that it assumes the extreme sola scriptura position of the fundamentalists. If it’s not clearly spelled out in the Bible, it’s not true, or at least not certain. The opposition to abortion, at least among Catholics, is based on the natural principle that homicide is wrong. You don’t need a Bible to know that, but the Decalogue does spell out that principle just in case anyone is confused.  Neither the Bible, nor even the tradition of the magisterium of the Catholic Church (per a comment below) have much to say about the scientific knowledge about when life begins. The knowledge about when life begins, or when contraception (another moral evil that only requires moral philosophy and not necessarily the Bible to understand) becomes abortion, is a scientific question and not a theological one. Science tells us that life begins at conception. Philosophy (and the Bible reaffirms this natural truth) tells us that we cannot murder other human beings. So, an “evangelical” view that rejects this truth in favor of the scientific knowledge of the 5th century or the criminal sanctions of the Old Law are the real fideistic fundamentalists.

    Similarly, the real mystery is not why evangelicals widely returned to the teachings of moral philosophy in the late 1970s and 80s, but why evangelicals departed from it, starting in small steps at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and culminating in the extremely late rejection of traditional teaching on contraception and abortion in the 1930s and 40s. Even then, the collapse of the earlier evangelical consensus didn’t really follow the mainlines until cultural concerns about overpopulation blossomed into evangelical culture in the 1950s and 60s. So the real abberation that needs an explanation is not the evangelical return to moral, philosophic, and scientific truth, but its departure that occurred a generation earlier in the 20th century.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So how do you propose to ensure that pregnant people is treated as though they are at least as human as embryos and fetuses?

    I draw your attention in particular to Melissa Ann Rowland, who has been charged with murder after she gave birth to twins, one dead, on the grounds that she had killed the dead twin by refusing a C-section.

    Even if we accept the (blatantly false) premise that fetuses are living breathing people, that’s ridiculous. The sensible charge with that premise would be negligent homicide; murder requires premeditation.

    Oh, by the way, had Rowland aborted that fetus in a jurisdiction where abortion is legally murder, what charges and what penalty should she face?

  • Carstonio


    Science tells us that life begins at conception.

    Since when? It’s almost impossible to come up with a precise definition of life, either scientifically or legally.

    The issue should not be abortion’s morality but its legality. One can believe that abortion is wrong and also believe that it’s wrong to force women to carry pregnancies to term.

    Anyone who opposes abortion should favor sensible strategies to change the circumstances that lead some women to choose abortion –  improvements to sex education, contraception access, economic opportunities and support for mothers. Trying to ban abortions simply doesn’t work and causes needless harm to women and doctors. Trying to sway women using mandatory ultrasounds is cruelly paternalistic, wrongly assuming that women who seek abortions are repressing maternal impulses. Criminalization of abortion benefits no one.

  •  > contraception (another moral evil that only requires moral philosophy and not necessarily the Bible to understand)

    Can you lay out in broad strokes the non-Biblical moral philosophical grounds for considering contraception evil?

    > Science tells us that life begins at conception.

    Can you lay out in broad strokes the non-Biblical scientific grounds for considering life to begin at conception? 

  • P J Evans

    Just because he did not know that life begins at conception and did not
    know that it was murder does not mean that he took a liberal attitude
    toward it.

    You don’t know what he thought or knew. You’re making assumptions. (Also, I remind you,Aquinas believed that life began at quickening.)

  • Lori

    The opposition to abortion, at least among Catholics, is based on the natural principle that homicide is wrong.  

    Unless the death occurs through malpractice, in which case Catholics will argue the only those born alive are persons in order to avoid paying out on a malpractice suit when the neglect of one of their doctors causes the death of viable fetuses.

    So let’s review. The notion that life begins at conception is a deeply held moral principle that should be enshrined in law when it means controlling women’s bodies and sexuality, but when it comes to the Church’s pocketbook a fetus is just so much worthless tissue until it’s born alive.

    You’ve got to love that “consistent ethic of life”.


    Science tells us that life begins at conception.

    No. It doesn’t. Not “maybe doesn’t”, not “arguably doesn’t”, not “it’s a matter of opinion doesn’t”

    It doesn’t, as a matter of absolute fact.

    Science tells us that life is a process.  It began once, about three and a half billion years ago.  It tells us that two gametes are no less alive the second before conception as the second after.

  • KG

    I think the question of criminal sanctions is secondary, and I don’t understand your example well enough to have an opinion. My personal preference in general,  given our time and place and circumstances general would be for potential criminal sanctions to be directed toward doctors who perform abortions.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So your personal preference regarding murder for hire would be to punish the hitman and not the one who hired the hitman? Because if abortion is murder, it’s murder for hire.

  • KG

     Since the development of human embryology. Our individual lives began when a sperm cell fertilized an ovum.

    I suppose it’s literally possible to believe that abortion is wrong and also believe that it’s wrong to “force women to carry pregnancies to term,” but I also think it is incoherent. If one believes abortion is the unjust taking of another human life, while at the same time he believes that it is wrong to stop someone from the unjust taking of another human life, one must believe that someone has a real “right” to unjustly take another human life, which contradicts the fact that it is always wrong to unjustly take another human life.

    I’m familiar with the literature on policies that reduce abortion rates. I have not found a peer-reviewed study (at least as of a year and a half ago) across states that shows a significant correlation between, say, sex education spending or “quality” and abortion rates, or “contraception access” or contraception funding and abortion rates. Waiting periods, counseling, no partial birth abortions, parental consent/notification laws do help. Obviously the intent of the ultrasound idea is that once a woman sees her baby’s heart beating, its arms/legs, etc., she would be less likely to abort the baby.

    The contraception point is interesting for another reason. Alan Carlson’s study of the issue of evangelicals’ views on abortion/contraception in the 1950s and 60s indicates that anti-Catholic bigotry had a lot to do with the movement of evangelicals away from what they began to regard as “Catholic issues.” I fear that contraception as a “solution” to the abortion problem will be used as a wedge issue to try to rebuild the old bigotry and re-enforce the evangelical views of the 1960s.

    But since this article is, I think, mostly aimed at the morality of abortion in the evangelical world, I think it’s fair to focus on the moral issues at stake.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Maybe your individual life began when sperm met egg. Mine began when the doctor cut my umbilical cord and I took my first breath.
    You know, like the Bible says.

    What the hell do you call requiring someone to keep being pregnant till the baby’s born when given the opportunity to stop being pregnant they’d take it, if “force them to carry the pregnancy to term” isn’t it?

    Define ‘unjustly take a human life’. Is it permissible to kill an intruder in your home? What about someone who is an active threat to your life?
    You haven’t found any studies that indicate that there are fewer abortions per hundred people who don’t conceive because they’re on contraception than there are abortions per hundred people having the same amount of penis-in-vagina sex only without contraception? What the fuck journals have you been reading? More unwanted pregnancies equals more abortions; less contraception equals more unwanted pregnancies. This is math on the order of 1 + 4 = 5 = 2 + 3.

    The intent of the transvaginal ultrasound idea is government-mandated rape. Abdominal ultrasounds are less invasive and thus less problematic, but they remain problematic, quite similar to how an uninvited breast grope is sexual assault that falls short of rape.

  • KG

     I’ll give it a shot. We are embodied souls (this is Aristotle). What we do with our bodies affects our souls, and vice versa. The purpose of sexuality is linked to procreation and the unity of the spouses. Thwarting, or actively contracepting, the sexual act is a rejection of one of the purposes of sexuality, but also affects the unitive aspect of sex since our bodies communicate things to each other. By “protecting” ourselves from our spouses, we may be intending to communicate love when we have sex, but our bodies are saying quite the opposite. Rather than the full giving of oneself to the one who one loves, contraception communicates that we in fact hold back and don’t really want to give oneself to one’s spouse completely.

    Another way to look at it, that helped convince me, was that if sexual ethics are disconnected from the conjugal act, there can’t really be any sexual ethics (other than the widespread convention one about consent plus some taboos like incest being forbidden). If contracepted sex is, well, real sex, what about similarly simulated acts across the room from one another, across a phone, the internet, etc? None of this would depend on special divine revelation. The connection of something’s telos to its function goes all the way back to Aristotle too.

    As for why life begins when we become a new organism, I’ll point you to this white paper published a few years back that is mostly a survey of the literature:

  • KG

     I’m sorry, I don’t understand this comment. I know when St. Augustine thought life began (quickening). I also know that he opposed abortion anyway, presumably because he opposed contraception too (which I also know). Are you asking for me to send quotes or something or do you actually doubt any of these three statements?

    Or perhaps you simply think that if we were to transport St. Augustine to the 21st century that he would insist on the ancient understanding of when life began in the face of all the contradictory evidence, and that I’m wrong to suggest otherwise?

    Ditto on St. Thomas.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I really don’t feel like banging my head against the immovable fucking object that is Catholic sexual ethics–and I’ll believe Catholic sexual ethics are ethical when Catholics en masse and/or the Catholic hierarchy rise up in protest of child rape by priests, evict the priests in question from the church, report them to the police and fully cooperate in the investigation, and compensate the survivors, including but not limited to a profound apology on the Church’s behalf for both the initial assault(s) and the way the Church has been covering for the rapists and silencing the survivors–so I’ll just say this:

    Masturbating together, phone sex, and chatroom sex ARE real sex. Hard to get STIs or pregnancy from them, since the partners engage in no physical contact with one another, but they’re definitely having sex.

  • KG

     What’s your point? That a Catholic hospital in Colorado isn’t committed to the truth? It’s a scandal indeed. But sometimes Catholics sin. Sometimes Catholics even have abortions, or perform them. This doesn’t change the truth of the matter. But I’m not sure what your point is, beyond that Catholics can sin like everyone else.

  • KG

     Yes, “life” in general as an abstract process began billions of years ago. But our individual lives began when the two gametes became an organism, when it started the process of development that was produced by the organism itself.

    When do you think your life began? What is the alternative?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yes, which is why it’s such a problem when people who proclaim themselves the arbiters of all that is good and just and right and moral are loudly not living up to their own moral code.

  • KG

     Fair enough, but are you saying that this has any bearing on knowing what the true “moral code” is? Or even that hypocrisy has any bearing on who the Catholic Church says she is? Obviously neither of these follow, though it is a scandal and shame.

  • KG

     Ok, well, I guess I’d just suggest that holding out to consider the claims of a higher moral standard for when everyone who accepts the higher standard lives up to it is perhaps not the best way to ascertain the truth of things.

    Another thing I thought of is that the notion of gift is fundamental to what it means to be a human person, and perhaps with the more extreme examples with respect to sexual ethics we can at least see how the notion of gift can become twisted the more, err, solitary these acts become.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m not sure there is such a thing as ‘true moral code’. But then I’m a utilitarian.

    I’m also not big on doing as somebody says, not as they do. Especially when the somebody has hurt me. Other things I am: bisexual, genderqueer, ex-Catholic. As far as the Church is concerned, the last two are things it is not possible to be and my thinking I’m either makes me a very confused person, and the first is a thing that God made me in order that I might–well, the ‘celibate for his glory’ thing makes less sense for a bisexual person than a gay or lesbian person, as unlike a gay or lesbian person I’m capable of having Church-approved sex with someone I’m sexually attracted to (I just have to make sure the person in question has a penis and marries me before the sex occurs), so I suppose he just wanted me to be extra tempted. Also extra shat on by life.

  • EllieMurasaki

    No, no. I’ll believe your moral standard is better than mine when I see that you are, one, living up to your moral standard, and two, your standard being stricter than mine increases the happiness of you and those around you more than it hurts you and those around you. And I’ll believe your moral standard is better for me than mine is if you give me reason to believe I and those around me will have more happiness and less hurt in our lives if I stick to your strictures. Meanwhile I will go on living up to my ethical standard to the best of my ability, and kicking myself when I fuck up, and not attempting to say that I am a better person than you on the grounds that my ethical standard is better than yours.

    (‘You’ mostly means ‘the Catholic Church’ here.)

  • KG

     I hope you would have objected if someone tried to abort a baby just before cutting the umbilical cord. I think that it’s self evident that this is a human life. I think everyone would admit that. Perhaps the question would be whether human lives have the right to the protection of government before they can, say, reason/walk/talk or whatever.

    In terms of the studies, your model only tells us about individual behavior and not about public policies. I could make a similar point by saying that 100 couples who abstain before marriage are even less likely to have an abortion than a couple who contracepts.

    And I don’t know how to respond to the intent of the ultrasound comment. Are you familiar with any actual human being who favors this policy who says that he or she wants “government-mandated rape?”

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh, speaking of gifts? We who create artworks in various media based on artworks in various media loooove gifts. Currently running, Porn Battle XIV, wherein people suggest character pairings they want to see have sex, plus a list of one-word prompts, and then other people write (or draw, or whatever) porn based on those prompts. It is the best thing ever. Or it will be till the next shiny comes along, but Porn Battle is a consistently good thing.

  • KG

     I think your #2 and #3 are very fair, and perhaps #1 would be fair if it said something like, you had evidence that someone actually believed it (by not flaggrantly and carelessly casting the moral standard aside). I also think the natural law tradition and Christianity in particular lead to more real happiness than utilitarianism, which after all can’t escape the problem of recognizing the things that are real goods.

  • Probably the best thing to do about KG is to pledge a set amount of money to Planned Parenthood for every post he or she makes.  I figured I’d suggest it now, before KG’s posts go past 20.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Ending a pregnancy when the fetus is healthy and full-term is called ‘birth’, jackass. Late-term abortion is only a thing when the pregnancy has gone wrong such that a healthy full-term fetus is no longer in the cards.
    No, you really couldn’t. You could look up teen pregnancy rates in abstinence-only sex ed states compared to comprehensive sex ed states, though. Hint: teens are having about the same amount of sex per capita regardless of what they know about sex, but the ones who know about condoms and the Pill and that douching with Coke doesn’t prevent pregnancy are the ones who get pregnant less.

    I know of many lawmakers who say they want to require doctors to insert an object into a vagina against the vagina owner’s wishes. They would not characterize this as rape; that is because they are not clear on what the word means. Like the college men willing to admit to committing rape when the people conducting the survey asked about it in ways that didn’t involve the word ‘rape’.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, okay. Hypothetical: I fall in love with another vagina person and she with me. She and I will be happier if we are having sex than if we are not; that is a premise and any answer to the following that contradicts it is not a useful answer. How does ‘the natural law tradition and Christianity in particular’ make us happier by requiring us not to have sex than by permitting us to have sex?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Hey, wait, back up, I don’t think I saw you answer a very important question.

    Is it all murder for hire where you favor punishing the person who pulled the trigger and not the person who paid to have the trigger pulled, or is abortion a special case? If the latter, what is your reasoning?

  • KG

     I guess it depends on what we mean by happiness. If it’s connected to the development of the virtues, rather than to something like the maximization of pleasure. “The servant is not greater than his master” and all of that. With Christianity, suffering is redeemed and has great meaning, so even the absence of pleasure is unable (ultimately, at least) to interfere with Christian joy.

    In terms of the murder for hire question, my reasoning was based purely on circumstances, culture, etc. when it came to a post-Roe legal regime. I’m not suggesting that would be ultimately fair or just to punish the abortion doctor rather than the mother, but is some cloudiness in terms of the question of culpability, and quite frankly the effects of an abortion sound like a great psychological punishment for a mother anyway. The man who hires the hitman wouldn’t be in the same situation, but as I suggested, my suggestions for criminal sanctions are admittedly ad hoc and inconsistent.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If it’s connected to the development of the virtues, rather than to something like the maximization of pleasure.

    Define ‘virtues’, and explain why these are good things and pleasure is not.
    quite frankly the effects of an abortion sound like a great psychological punishment for a mother anyway

    So, what, someone who would if she hadn’t had an abortion be dead, infertile, or struggling to feed more children than she can afford is supposed to guilt-trip herself over being alive, healthy, and not in desperate financial straits?

    Incidentally, should the doctors treating Savita Halappanavar have given her the abortion she asked for while there was a chance that getting her dying fetus out of her would keep her alive? (And, though I suspect you consider this point irrelevant, stop the tortuous pain she was in.)

    my suggestions for criminal sanctions are admittedly ad hoc and inconsistent

    At least you admit it.

  • Carstonio

    If one believes abortion is the unjust taking of another human life,
    while at the same time he believes that it is wrong to stop someone from
    the unjust taking of another human life, one must believe that someone
    has a real “right” to unjustly take another human life, which
    contradicts the fact that it is always wrong to unjustly take another
    human life.

    The flip side of forcing women to carry pregnancies to term is forcing them to have abortions, which does happen, sometimes with government power like in Romania. The right here is not to have abortions but to be free of attempts by others to control what happens to one’s womb. If someone forces a woman to carry a pregnancy to term and she dies as a consequence of the delivery (a common risk in many areas of the world), there’s a good case that the person doing the forcing is complicit in the woman’s death.

    Obviously the intent of the ultrasound idea is that once a woman sees
    her baby’s heart beating, its arms/legs, etc., she would be less likely
    to abort the baby.

    How so? The only basis for that assumption is the sexist belief that all women want to be mothers and that the ones who seek abortions are in denial. The tactic itself is a repulsive attempt at emotional manipulation. This isn’t a Movie of the Week where the woman breaks down in tears, unable to go through with the procedure.

    Stop treating abortion as a matter of women making choices that you don’t agree with. That wrongly implies that the real problem is the lack of desire to be a mother. One doesn’t have to approve of abortion to take seriously the reasons that some women choose them. The best and most humane way of reducing abortions is to examine the circumstances behind those reasons, and look at ways of changing those circumstances so that fewer women are in that position.  Criminalizing abortion treats women’s wombs as property of the state.

  •  Yeah, but you can’t punish the women  — women aren’t people, just baby-incubators. Remember, abortion is about babies and storks and evil doctors, not about silly little women.

  • Carstonio

    There’s no conflict between believing abortion is wrong and believing that women shouldn’t be forced to carry pregnancies to term. The first is about how the woman treats her womb and the second is about how others or how society treats the woman. Two different ethical questions.

  •  My life is a process. It does not have one single discreet moment of beginning, and I find it insulting to treat it like it does. My son didn’t suddenly and magically become a living person just because one day my wife was a little overcome by some bad news about her father and needed something intense and physical to make her feel better; becoming a living person is a process we tracked with scales and sonograms, and later with photographs and charts of cognitive benchmarks. He’s more a person today than he was yesterday, and he’ll be more still tomorrow.

    Of course, the OBGYN considered the pregnancy to begin about two weeks before the afforementioned bad news about my father-in-law.  If that’s when my son’s life began, then someone’s got some splainin’ to do.

    Pregnancy != Baby. A pregnancy has a discreet beginning and ending. And a pregnancy can be aborted. A baby, a child, a human life is a process without discreet beginning. You do not abort a baby. You don’t even abort a fetus.  You abort a pregnancy.  It’s a thing you do to a woman. Will you please fucking stop trying to erase that?


    I hope you would have objected if someone tried to abort a baby just
    before cutting the umbilical cord. I think that it’s self evident that
    this is a human life. I think everyone would admit that. Perhaps the
    question would be whether human lives have the right to the protection
    of government before they can, say, reason/walk/talk or whatever.

    You don’t abort a baby. You abort a pregnancy. If someone’s about to cut the cord, the pregnancy is over.

  • OK, thanks for clarifying your thinking here.
    Just for the record, I disagree with the vast majority of this, but I’ll certainly agree that Aristotle is not a Biblical source.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Ross, I want KG to come to that realization zirself. Dunno if you’re helping or hurting, but that’s why I didn’t say any of that myself.

  • Lori

    But I’m not sure what your point is, beyond that Catholics can sin like everyone else.   

    My point was that the Catholic Church is massively hypocritical. It pushes the idea of personhood from the moment of conception when doing so allows them to control women and then denies pre-birth personhood when it would cost them money. Women being forced to carry their rapist’s offspring or being forced to continue pregnancies that will kill them just can’t be helped because life begins at conception and think of the babies. Too bad, so sad. However, when fetal personhood is going to cost the Church money, of which it has plenty, (although not nearly as much at it would have if it hadn’t had to pay so many victims of Church-enabled child rape), it’s a whole different story and suddenly a fetus isn’t a person until after live birth.

    I could not possibly care less about Catholics committing sin. I mean that literally. I do not care at all about sin, so there is no room for me to care less than I currently do. What I do care about is the way the Church continues to push to have the law enforce its beliefs on people who do not share them. The massive hypocrisy on display in the Colorado case just makes it that much more galling. The Church had a clear opportunity to practice what it not only preaches, but tries to force on people, including non-Catholics. Instead it chose to defend its bottom line. The Church is welcome to shut up on this issue. There is not one reason in the world that I or anyone else should have to listen to moralizing about abortion based on the Church’s supposed “consistent ethic of life”.

  • KG

     I’d define a virtue as the perfection of a power of the soul. Pleasure is a bad substitution for the highest good for a couple reasons (especially when it’s coupled with utilitarianism). First, all of us can imagine good courses of action that involve some amount of pain (even if not physical) and not much pleasure. I think the fact that everyone can imagine this… say, selling all your possessions and spending your life caring for lepers… points to the fact that deep inside we recognize that pleasure can’t in fact substitute for real goods. Second, it’s always temporary or fleeting, and so cannot be transcendent. Also, if pleasure maximization is THE good, or the highest good, we can’t help but make other human persons means to that end, which is a (perhaps unwitting) assault on their human dignity.

    Clearly, I don’t think someone should feel guilty because he/she find him/herself alive, healthy, or financially independent. However, I do believe (and I suspect everyone else on this threat also believes) that certain courses of action can be ruled out absolutely when it comes to preserving life, health, or financial independence. Everyone in the universe would think it wrong to, say, kill one’s brother in order to steal his last kidney for a transplant and to receive his inheritance and become financially stable.

  • KG

     Your point about the flip side would only be a possible conversation/argument if both parties agreed that the intentional killing of a human from conception to natural death were always wrong. In that case, we could have a serious discussion about problems (or advantages, as you might see it) with consequentialism. Since you in fact don’t think there is a problem with the intentional killing of a human organism before birth (or perhaps before viability outside the womb?), obviously you would also not see a problem with the intentional killing of a human organism in order to achieve a greater good. If you want to have that argument, why don’t you pick an example that uses an action that both of us see as wrong, like perhaps, whether it’s OK to torture an enemy combatant in order to find a ticking bomb?

    And, no, I think it’s clear that the point of the ultrasounds is that people are less likely to abort a baby if they realize it’s more than a clump of cells. The “emotion” that is plays upon is not motherhood, but the fact that most human beings would be unwilling to kill another human being. No one suggests forcing women giving their kids up for adoption to have an ultrasound first.

    The real problem is not the lack of desire to be a mother, but the lack of desire to protect human life from conception to natural death. And, no pro-lifer that I know (and certainly not the religious ones) think that abortion laws are the only way to prevent abortions. They spend lots of their time and money on providing care for women in this situation, both pre and post abortion. The laws would have some effect on abortion rates, which is clear when you compare pre and post Roe rates, and when you compare our abortion rates to the rest of the civilized world, which in almost every country except perhaps in Scandanavia has more legal protections for unborn human beings than we do.

    It’s also a silly thing to suggest when we don’t agree on the dignity of the human being before birth. You would be rightly horrified if I suggested to you that the murder of disabled children should be decriminalized because the best way to solve the problem of abuse of the disabled is through caring for them and their parents in other ways.