Abortion and the Failure of Imagination

Abortion and the Failure of Imagination September 24, 2009

A friend of mine recently had a baby who was born with a hearing problem.  She tells the story that someone, after finding out that the young girl was hearing-impaired, said, matter-of-factly, “They can screen for that now, you know.”

That’s right, a hearing problem.  One that is entirely treatable with hearing aids.  They ‘screen’ for that.

I am simply baffled by such statements.  How do you tell a mother holding her beautiful daughter that modern technology could have saved her the hassle?

When I was trying to express my dismay to my wife she said something quite insightful.  It is easy to think of the person who made the comment as simply callous, perhaps even evil, but it is usually much more true that they have simply made a mistake of the imagination (in the very literal sense).  They aren’t imagining that they have suggested killing the poor girl with the hearing problem.  They imagine that they are killing some other abstraction in order that this same little girl could be born a few months later, this time without the attendant medical issue.

I went to a pro-life talk the other night, and the speaker told a story about a law professor who supported abortion but who had adopted a little girl shortly before abortion became legally available in the US.  When she pointed out to him that, had he had his way, his little girl would not have been born, he simply replied that, “Then we would have adopted someone else.”

The follow-up, predictably, was a sarcastic “Now, how would you like having him for a father?

To those of us who know what abortion is, it is easy to go along with such statements and be horrified at the moral degradation of our opponents.  We can gasp and shudder, but I don’t think we’ll get far in the public argument if we don’t realize that this man is probably not cruel and callous; he simply suffers from a failure of imagination.

To him, as well as to the person who suggested screening out babies with hearing disabilities, not-yet-born babies are an abstraction; indeed, as much of an abstraction as not-yet-conceived babies.  To them, aborting an ‘imperfect’ fetus is the same thing as trying not to conceive while on medication that could harm the baby’s development.

I don’t have a lot of ideas off the top of my head for correcting this failure of imagination, but I do think that being aware of the way pro-choicers are thinking can only help our cause.  Demonizing the opposition rallies the troops, but it rallies them on both sides.  Trying to talk to them in language they can understand is much more difficult, but much more useful.

(On the subway in Toronto, there are adds done by PETA that put a puppy next to a chicken and say, “Why love one and eat the other?”  There is significant text on the posters detailing the social and intellectual prowess of chickens.  Maybe we need a full-scale public education campaign about the reality of the life of an unborn child.  If I recall correctly, one of the amazing things about chickens – something that would presumably keep us from killing them – is that they begin bonding with their mother before they hatch!)

During question period at the pro-life talk the other night, someone floated the old pro-choice canard:  “If killing a baby in the womb is the same as killing, say, a 35-year-old,” she was asked, “aren’t you also against condoms and the pill?”

Now there is a straightforward answer here, as far as I can tell: preventing a life is not the same thing taking one that exists.

But the waters got muddied.  Why?  Because the speaker took the opportunity to explain all the problems with condoms and the pill.  Their lack of effectiveness.  Their link with an abortion mentality.  The abortifacient qualities of some contraceptives.

Now all of these are legitimate topics of discussion.  I think it is essential that we speak clearly in the public square about the problems of contraception.  But this was not the best place to do it.  It gave the impression that preventing a life and taking a life were the same kind of moral act.

Worse, it perpetuated the failure of imagination at the root of the question. It is fine to decry the evils of contraception, but in order to deal clearly with the problem at hand, that issue needed to be bracketed so as to address the question in a way that spoke to the mindset of the questioner.  That questioner, like the law professor and the screening promoter above, was already viewing abortion as preventing a life (rather than taking one) and therefore morally different than killing a 35-year-old.  Telling him about the evils of contraception just reinforced this confusion.

I attempted to shed some light on the topic by suggesting that the question about contraception could be rephrased.  If preventing a baby was to be compared with abortion, one way to look at it without having to deal with the various problems of condoms and the pill would be to ask, “If you are against killing 35-year-olds and unborn babies, are you also against people not having sex?”

As far as I can tell, that is a slam-dunk.  Clearly people aren’t required to have all the sex necessary to make every potential baby.  Surely, I thought, this highlights the difference between preventing a life and taking a life.

The speaker didn’t see it this way.  Because I was revisiting the question of the pro-choice questioner, I was immediately seen as the enemy.  What followed were some confused and, frankly, angry questions directed at me that seemed to have my admission that abortion is murder as their goal.  When I gladly acknowledged that abortion was murder, the speaker seemed a bit lost.  Why would someone who thinks abortion is murder be supporting the pro-choice position?  Was I one of those evil people who knows that abortion is murder but is too blind to see that this requires our legislating against it?

If the pro-choice imagination has failed to grasp the reality of abortion, and replaced it instead with abstractions, here was an example of the pro-life imagination doing the same.

The reality was that I was on the speaker’s side, that I was trying to help the pro-life cause by giving a more coherent answer to the pro-choice questioner.  As far as I could tell, getting to a more coherent answer required rephrasing the question so that what was really at issue (the moral difference between killing a baby and not conceiving one) could be seen clearly despite the presence of another serious moral issue (that of contraception).

The abstraction was that anyone who asks questions that imply some lack in the pro-life response is pro-abortion.

If we are to succeed in making abortion illegal, we must first succeed in altering the discourse that surrounds the issue.  Firmly entrenched in that discourse is a failure of imagination.  We need to figure out a way to help pro-choicers imagine reality as it is.  Babies with hearing problems are still babies.  And they are the same babies before and after their birthdays.

We also need to figure out a way to help pro-lifers imagine that their fellow pro-lifers who want to help the movement by clarifying its objectives and refining its practices are not the enemy.

I am not saying that these failures are morally equivalent.  Surely not seeing murder as murder is the greater evil.  Nevertheless, if both of them are contributing to the perpetuation of the status quo on abortion, and I think they are, they both need to be eliminated, root and branch.

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto.  He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one.

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  • Congenital hearing problems can be helped by hearing aids. They don’t alleviate the need for special training and usually life long government subsidies.

    The majority of children born differently abled end up away from their families in group homes, halfway houses and State run warehousing facilities after the family is overwhelmed by the responsibilities involved in their care. Even those special needs clients that remain at home receive substantial State aid.

    Comparatively speaking, abortion is dirt cheap and saves the prospective parents a lifetime of grueling effort and expense that too often ends up with the child failing to thrive and being institutionalized.

    If Catholics crave defective offspring, no one is stopping them. If they feel abortion is against natural law, no one is forcing them. Do your own thing. You are truly a superior breed, though perhaps with slightly less sensual acuity than the rest of us.

  • Matt Talbot

    Great post, Brett – still absorbing it…

  • Matt Talbot

    Great post, Brett – still absorbing it…

  • Mark Gordon

    Good post. Even better link. Thank you.

  • brettsalkeld

    Thank you for sharing your view. It seems to me, at least, that you arguments are just as effective for promoting infanticide as abortion. Catholics wonder “What is the moral difference between killing our ‘defective’ children a few months before their birth or a few months after?”

    I wonder, do you support infanticide in cases where the child is somehow determined to be ‘defective’ and therefore likely to be involved in the kinds of social problems you describe above? If not, what is the moral difference that stops you from endorsing that position?

    I also wonder what this logic means for treating people with things like drug addictions, post-war trauma, or serious injuries due to accident. Surely in such cases euthanizing is the cheapest and least ‘grueling’ option.

    Is there any chance that there are values at stake which outweigh efficiency and ease of effort? Is it possible that even the ‘defects’ in our society teach us something about our common humanity and make us better people if we engage them with compassion?


  • Pinky

    This article makes an important point.

    An example: I recall hearing that Governor Palin said that the US troops are on God’s side. So I found the video and watched it. Now, I can “speak” evangelical and liberal, although I’m not fluent in either. I could kind of see how a liberal could think her statement was militant. But in an evangelical context, her statement (something about praying that the troops were doing God’s will) would have been straightforward, maybe even a little cautious.

    You can’t persuade anyone with words if you don’t speak his language. It sounds like the author of this article tried to translate a pro-life argument into pro-choice vocabulary, and frightened the listeners. That’s bound to happen. There’s always going to be some confusion. But that ability – the article is right to call it a type of imagination – is necessary to even begin some conversations.

  • Reddog, seriously? Your analysis seems needlessly pessimistic, more like 50 years ago. I know quite a few families with kids who have one sort of disability or another. None are in institutions. Most attend regular schools. Many hearing impaired kids have cochlear implants, which enable them to function in a near-normal way. Many kids do need special services, and get some sort of help from the state. To which I say, “So?” We as a society spend much more on things worth a great deal less than helping a fellow human being reach his or her full potential.

  • David Nickol

    Interesting. Because it seems to me what often makes “pro-life” arguments unconvincing is overactive imagination. I think pro-lifers often imagine themselves in the place of babies about to be aborted or already aborted. They imagine the loss they would feel in having their life cut short. They imagine the horror they would feel if they were about to be torn apart by a suction machine. But this is not an act of empathy. It is purely an act of imagination. It is fantasy. It is impossible to empathize with a first-trimester fetus. (Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.)

    The web site of Priests for Life, every time I have looked at it, has always had the statement, “America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion.” Click on it and you will see an adult hand holding a tiny hand of a baby that has been aborted. I don’t see what it proves, and I don’t see what other, more grisly images of abortion prove. I think it is, once again, an effort to get people to have empathy or sympathy for aborted babies. Now, once a fetus has reached a certain stage of development, I think it most definitely is realistic and appropriate to feel sympathy or empathy. But I think almost all but the most die-hard pro-choicers agree that late-term abortions are objectionable.

    What makes the remark of the man saying to the mother that hearing problems can be screened for is not that he fails to think of a fetus as a human being, but rather the fact that he’s saying to a mother holding a baby that she could have gotten rid of it.

    Some in the pro-choice movement clearly place a higher value on unborn life than on living, breathing people. (Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho: “Abortion is much more serious than killing an adult. An adult may or may not be an innocent, but an unborn child is most definitely innocent. Taking that life cannot be ignored.”) It is difficult for me to understand what the moral value of the “innocence” of a fetus is, since a fetus is incapable of doing anything or even thinking anything. If I understand him, this is the kind of thing Eugene McCarraher was talking about when he said, in a passage quoted by Michael Iafrate some time ago, “. . . . I think that a lot of opposition to abortion is sheer moral sentimentality which turns the fetus into a fetish.”

    If abortion is murder, then it seems to me, like any other murder, it is because it is the unjust taking of a human life, which nobody has a right to do, and in which the “innocence” of the victim is largely irrelevant. Murdering a bad person is just as much murder as murdering a good person.

    I think what Brett is proposing is pretty much impossible, because I think he pretty much wants to get those who are pro-choice not to know what he and others who are pro-life “know,” but to get them to feel what he feels. The task is particularly difficult because it requires convincing people not merely that a fetus a few centimeters long is a person, but that a fertilized human egg is a person that can be murdered.

    Also, there is the problem (one of my hobby horses) that it appears to be the case that 60 to 80 percent of the time, fertilized human eggs fail to implant in the uterus. So if life begins at conception, most human beings die within about 10 days of being conceived. If we are to mourn for the victims of abortion, how can we not mourn for the vast majority of humanity that never even made it to the fetus stage?

  • A fine post Brett, and thank you for including a link to my latest post at TAC.

    This is a collaborative project, and I’m at a point where I think a whole group of us ought to combine our efforts and draft something like a “New Approach to Abortion/Life Issues” document.

    In the past I have voiced my unequivocal support for the display of graphic images of abortion, and I stand by that. What does bother me, however, is the verbal and physical harassment that some are subjected to on their way into these clinics. The images are truth and should not be hidden; but personal behavior and the words we use are a different matter.

    In other words, some discipline in the movement seems to be in order.

  • Nice post, I too will ponder this for a while. Thanks!

  • brettsalkeld

    I can’t deal with everything in your post, but I’d like to mention just two things. First of all, you are exactly right that innocence has very little to do with the question. Did you see Mickey’s post of awhile ago?


    That’s one reason why most of us here at Vox Nova are seamless-garment types. The only justification for killing anyone has to be that they pose a direct threat to the lives of others.

    Secondly, I will return hobby horse with hobby horse. 100% of the time human beings die. It is hard for me to understand how any number of natural deaths can justify violent deaths. That argument seems based on the same kind of fuzzy thinking that leads some to treat unborn life as more sacred than post-born life. It relies more on shock value than any kind of morally relevant content.

    We mourn for victims of abortion not for the reason we normally mourn, i.e., that we have lost someone with whom we had a relationship, but for the reason we mourn, say, those killed under an oppressive regime. We mourn them as victims of violence, not as passing friends.

  • phosphorious

    reddog said:

    Even those special needs clients that remain at home receive substantial State aid.

    Comparatively speaking, abortion is dirt cheap. . .

    Question of the day: is reddog a liberal or a conservative?

  • brettsalkeld

    Indeed! And what is someone who disagrees with the sentiments behind both those statements?

  • David Nickol

    It is hard for me to understand how any number of natural deaths can justify violent deaths.


    If you argue that abortion is the taking of a life, and humans are never permitted to take a life, then of course the massive loss of early embryos has little relevance. However, if you attempt to make an emotional argument, from the viewpoint of aborted fetuses, then I think it has relevance. Take the argument of Archbishop Chaput, who said the following:

    What is a “proportionate” reason [to justify voting for Obama] when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life–which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.

    This is an argument which is not based so much on the taking of a human life being against God’s law as it is based on the fantasy that the victims of abortion in the next life will be angry with Obama voters, also in the next life, because they (the aborted babies) suffered at the hands of pro-choicers. It is difficult to imagine that the fate of aborted babies is different from other babies who died of natural causes before being born.

    100% of the time human beings die.

    True, but if massive numbers die before living a life on earth, what is life on earth all about? What do we make of the whole theory of original sin and the necessity of baptism if the majority of the human race can never be baptized?

    If true personhood begins at conception, then to nature, life is just as cheap for humans as it is for, say, turtles, who lay a hundred eggs, from which only two or three adults will be the result.

    I would say we mourn for the dead because of our loss, their loss, and their suffering. It is difficult for me to mourn the loss of the unborn because I don’t believe they experience suffering or loss. The obvious answer is that they lose their life, but how does it make sense to speak of an entity losing something it cannot value?

  • brettsalkeld

    I am actually quite fine with the results of evolution, theologically speaking. I don’t know that ‘cheap’ is exactly the adjective I would use to describe the life of those species who have to reproduce a lot in order to ensure survival into adulthood. My basic argument stands applied to turtles or humans. The fact that many die young, does not justify killing any. In order to justify killing either you need a much better reason than their naturally high mortality rate, and a better reason for humans than for turtles.

    As for mourning, I think you have given a perfect reason to mourn the victims of abortion and not those embryos who never implant. I grant that the third category, their suffering, is quantitatively different at different stages of pregnancy, but I suspect it is also quantitatively different at different stages of post-born life. Some of us die horrible deaths, others quite peaceful ones. Some of us are vividly aware, others hardly at all.

  • dpt

    “Question of the day: is reddog a liberal or a conservative?”

    That’s a political question, though the post transcends it ultimately by asking us all if we are a people of Life, as in the Gospel of Life…Gospel=love…

    The fundamental question is “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

  • Katharine B.

    [If you can express the point you are trying to make without the sarcasm, I will gladly allow it. Brett]

  • David Nickol

    The fact that many die young, does not justify killing any.

    I absolutely agree. It has never been my contention that the massive loss of human life in the brief period after conception justifies abortion.

    It is my contention that those who try to convince us that abortion is a great tragedy from the viewpoint of the alleged persons aborted have no facts to base their arguments on. The ultimate fate of aborted babies is as much an unknown as the fate of the far larger numbers of embryos who die of natural causes. There are no scientific reasons to suspect that fetuses in first-trimester abortions suffer any physical pain at all. Plus, as you say, everybody dies, and many of the “post-born” die with considerable suffering.

    What concerns and moves me most is suffering, and that is why I am more concerned about starving children, or people displaced by wars, or lack of health care than abortion.

  • brettsalkeld

    I would simply add that the suffering caused to women by abortion is well-documented and too often ignored in this discussion.

  • Jenny

    I believe there is a failure of imagination in connecting a born child to a specific embryo. You even hear the disconnect when parents discuss a child conceived and born a little sooner than desired. They will say, “We love Suzie, but we wish she had been born six months later.” But if that had come to pass, that baby six months later would not be Suzie.

  • David Nickol


    I think the pro-choice side would focus on the suffering of the woman resulting from having an unwanted child and would also say that a woman’s “right to choose” puts on each individual woman the responsibility to decide whether the consequences of having an abortion will entail more suffering than the consequences of having the baby. Pro-choicers would no doubt view attempts to outlaw abortion to protect women as patronizing. One of the fundamental tenets of the pro-choice position is that no one is in a better position to make the decision about abortion than the pregnant woman, her doctor, and any others the woman may choose to consult.

    I don’t much like the idea of the government passing laws to protect people from themselves.

    I suspect that there are underlying psychological reasons why some people tend to be pro-choice and others tend to be pro-life. I think many people rely on a gut reaction, and for some reason, the gut reactions of the two groups are quite different. There is some evidence that a lot of moral positions are decided by visceral reactions, with reason stepping in after the position is taken to justify it and come up with rational arguments to support it. It is no coincidence that being pro-choice is associated frequently with being liberal and being pro-life is associated frequently with being conservative. I don’t think either side has much chance of converting the other without knowing what causes the gut reactions that the two positions are based on.

    What is very appealing about the seamless garment approach is that if sincerely applied, it forces people to move beyond either a stereotypical liberal or conservative stance. But that is a very difficult thing to do, and it seems to me people’s political positions wind up determining their religious positions far more frequently than the other way around.

  • brettsalkeld

    If the woman was the only person harmed, the pro-choicers might have a point. However, that hasn’t stopped a campaign of misinformation minimizing the harm done to women by abortion. (I wonder why?) Adoption does very little harm. Any harm from the process of childbirth is almost always easier to deal with than the harm caused by an abortion. Furthermore, most women don’t choose abortion, but have that ‘choice’ foisted on them by husbands, fathers, boyfriends and doctors, so there is a lot of ambiguity in the pro-choice arguments about protecting women and giving them choice even if one was to accept these arguments at face value and ignore the child.

    I wrote a paper once about the basic theological and moral presuppositions of left and right and what draws certain concerns into the orbit of one or the other, so I do have some sympathy for your bit about ‘gut reactions’ and the necessity of understanding what leads to them. (It is published in the Globethics.net volume Overcoming Fundamentalism, a rather obscure place. I am a little harsh on Mr. Weigel in it, I am afraid.)

    As to your last paragraph, I am doing my best to be an example of having my religious positions determine my politics. The attacks I get from right and left have me feeling a bit confirmed in that, but I am not, perhaps, the best judge of such things.

  • Marjorie Campbell

    Dear David,

    “It is difficult for me to mourn the loss of the unborn because I don’t believe they experience suffering or loss. The obvious answer is that they lose their life, but how does it make sense to speak of an entity losing something it cannot value?”

    Cogntive value by a human, like you or me, is the measure of someone’s life? If you value me, I’m “in” but if we can’t find someone willing to “value” an unborn, a disabled person, an elder in need, … they have no speak-up, be-heard value of themselves, they become disposable? Really? Is this the social measure you’d adopt?

    It’s not Catholic. Point blank, sorry to offend, but it’s not Catholic. Catholic means we value you, whether you can speak up for yourself or not. Whether are tiny and dependent or aged and dependent … we will speak up for you.

    I think that’s what Catholic is, do you disagree?

  • Mike McG…

    I have a negative ´visceral reaction´ to David´s frequent and consistent commentary on abortion, perhaps because he seems to me to be remarkably sanguine about the practice and because of his insistent focus on prolife inconsistency…as if inconsistency were the unique preserve of prolifers, and as if the charge of inconsistency, if proven, shuts down the argument.

    So I am delighted be proven wrong and to enthustastically endorse his comments of September 25th at 11:05 am. We humans too easily slip into binary, tribal thinking…although we seem to notice this trait only in others, so prone are we to be strangers to ourselves.

    It is often a stretch to even imagine without disdain how a sane, moral person could frame our core moral beliefs in a radically different manner than we do. Even the ´thought´ that our frame of reference might be open to question, a la ´you make a good point/hadn´t thought about it that way´…can be threatening and rarely finds its way into compoxes, for example. Much as it greives my progressive sensibilities to say so, conservatives don´t own this affliction though many would have you believe it exists only on the Right.

    David is spot on regarding the seamless garment, a proposition that finds virtually no support support among the Catholic Right and distressingly little but formalistic support among the Catholic Left.

    Aside: David´s comments are entirely consistent with the research of esteemed University of Virginia social psychology professor Jon Haidt. How I wish I could interest a Vox Nova commentator in diving into his very fruitful work and then offering us a chance to grapple it. Hint, hint.

  • David Nickol

    Cogntive value by a human, like you or me, is the measure of someone’s life? If you value me, I’m “in” but if we can’t find someone willing to “value” an unborn, a disabled person, an elder in need, … they have no speak-up, be-heard value of themselves, they become disposable? Really? Is this the social measure you’d adopt?


    No. I believe you misunderstand my point. Empathy, sympathy, and human decency move us to speak up for those like the sick, the elderly, and the disabled whose circumstances and afflictions prevent them from speaking up for themselves. However, the fertilized egg and the early embryo cannot express their desires and feelings because they do not have any. An argument against stem-cell research, or drugs that may prevent implantation, or abortion early in pregnancy cannot reasonably be made based on sympathy or empathy for the unborn. Suppose I try to argue against stem-cell research by saying, “Imagine how you would feel if you were an embryo created in a fertility lab, and they you didn’t get implanted, and your biological parents donated you to stem-cell research. And then a scientist put you in a test tube, and pulled you apart with sharp instruments to get your stem cells.” It would be nonsense.

    Arguments based on sympathy and empathy for the suffering of the sick, the elderly, and the disabled make perfect sense to me. Arguments based on sympathy and empathy for entities that have no feelings and no capacity to value themselves make no sense to me. This is not to say there are no arguments against abortion. My point is that it is illegitimate to try to get people to “feel the pain” of fertilized eggs or early embryos are fantasies, because fertilized eggs and embryos do not feel physical pain and do not value themselves because they are incapable of even the most rudimentary self-awareness.

    I think that’s what Catholic is, do you disagree?

    I think that what being Catholic should entail is a commitment to truth rather than sentimentality or emotionalism. Arguments against abortion based on the “innocence” of the unborn and their pain and suffering are bogus.

  • Marjorie Campbell

    Dear David, This thread may be dead, but I just got back here.
    “I think that what being Catholic should entail is a commitment to truth rather than sentimentality or emotionalism. Arguments against abortion based on the “innocence” of the unborn and their pain and suffering are bogus.”
    I think I understand your argument. But the Catholic teaching is not based upon whimsical anthropomorphic projection onto “unborn” or “human cells”. It’s not an empathetic argument at all. It’s about the dignity of human life, and … fundamentally … about the empowering of humans, rather than God, to say what is, and is not, “worthy” or “actual” human life. Self-awareness and self-experience is not critical to our theology. Do you think it is? I don’t want to assume too much about you are asserting here. The Catholic objection to abortion or to euthansia is completely unrelated to the self-conscience state of personhood or feelings of the existent life. Do you get what I’m driving at here?

  • Ronald King

    The fertilized egg is directed toward living just as every born child and adult is driven to live by an unseen influence. To end the life of that human being at this stage of that being’s existence is against the natural forces that have given that life everything she needs to survive.
    The question to pose seems to be what is it that prevents one from seeing the value of that developing human being.

  • PDog


    I was interested in getting your take on the classic response to your justification for abortion. It goes a little something like this: although an unborn human is not concious or does not feel, it has the potential for conciousness and feelings much like a sleeping (or comatose) born human. A sleeping person does not have feelings but given time (8 hours or whenever the person wakes up) it would.

    I also don’t understand how an unborn human’s circumstances would not warrant born humans speaking up for them. Being unborn and very young make unborn humans just as vulnerable as the handicap.

    In response to Reddog’s first post I would argue that killing people is most often very convenient for the people doing the killing. If Israeli’s killed all of the Palestinians in their territory they would no longer have a security problem. And visa versa for the Palestinians. It would be a very convenient for the group doing the killing, but it would not be right.

  • brettsalkeld

    Your ‘unseen influence’ looks an awful lot like what theology has historically meant by the term ‘soul.’ Ensoulment is not simply an abstract argument. If the body has a ‘form’ that actually makes it a body (and not a sperm, egg or corpse), you have a person. Though modern science doesn’t cannot determine the presence of a soul per se, it does give us all the information we need to make the judgment for ourselves. (Aquinas’ ignorance about the existence of human eggs, led to some strange ideas. I would love to ask him how extra-vaginal ejaculation can be tantamount to murder AND how ensoulment doesn’t occur until ‘quickening’.)

  • David Nickol

    Self-awareness and self-experience is not critical to our theology. Do you think it is?


    No, I don’t think so. If the Church is correct in strongly implying (but not stating outright) that an immortal soul is created and infused at the moment of conception, then the embryo is a person, and I would have no objections to the prohibitions against abortion and stem-cell research. My argument here has been that I do not find emotional appeals about the suffering of aborted babies to be convincing arguments against abortion (as long as the abortions are performed early in the pregnancy).

  • David Nickol

    I was interested in getting your take on the classic response to your justification for abortion.


    See my response to Marjorie above. I am not justifying abortion. I am saying that the people who argue as if they were empathizing with first-trimester fetuses are fantasizing. An adult, conscious, self-aware person cannot empathize with an entity that has no consciousness or self-consciousness. If an immortal soul exists from the moment of conception, then a person exists, and abortion is the killing of a person.

  • David Nickol

    Though modern science doesn’t cannot determine the presence of a soul per se, it does give us all the information we need to make the judgment for ourselves.

    The existence of the soul is proven in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol by carefully weighing a dying person on an extremely sensitive scale under tightly controlled conditions and finding that shortly after the moment of death, the he loses a tiny amount of weight.

  • brettsalkeld

    Now we just need Dan Brown to weigh a sperm and an egg and a fertilized egg to see if the whole weighs more than the sum of the parts. 😉