Then there is “viability, “ when a fetus can live on its own outside the womb, usually reaches around 23 or 24 weeks, or a little earlier or later in individual cases. The United States Supreme Court legalized abortion before this point in its 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, and after viability when there are risks to the health of the mother, in the broad sense.
On December 1, the High Court hears a case from Mississippi, which challenged the Roe deer decision and prohibits abortions after 15 weeks on the grounds that the fetus then experiences pain. A Missouri law, also challenged in court, prohibits eight weeks when “whatever is present in an adult human is now present in your baby,” according to the American Pregnancy Association. The court temporarily left a ban in Texas (similarly in 13 other states) after six weeks, when the heartbeats can be diagnosed at what eventually becomes the fully formed heart.
Many modern Christians believe that life begins to design (the sperm meets the egg first) or implantation (the fertilized egg attaches to the mother’s womb) while some put the line a little later on twinning (after which multiple pregnancies do not occur).
Note the brief filed last month in the Mississippi case by pro-choice religions, including “mainstream” Protestant churches, non-Orthodox Judaism, Unitarian Universalists, and others. He says that “many religious traditions postulate that life begins at some point during pregnancy or even after the birth of a child.“ This perhaps refers to the judgment of some Jewish authorities that the baby does not become a “person” until birth, although this is different from the beginning of “life”.
Supreme Court pro-choice briefs argue that when “life begins” is a matter of religious “belief” and therefore is not for the government to determine. This claim is contested by conservatives such as Catholic author George Weigel, writing for First things magazine.
“When human life begins, it’s not a question of faith, it’s a question of science made“, he writes. People believe in the design line just as they” believe “that” the Earth is spherical, not flat; that Venus is the second planet in the solar system; that a water molecule is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. … ”
Christians like Weigel are right if biological science determines the issue. It is indisputable that at conception, or immediately after implantation or twinning, a genetically unique entity in the human species exists which will automatically generate continued growth unless abortion or natural miscarriage occurs.
If so, then the question is not really “when does life begin”, which is firmly established by science. Rather, the problem that religions, judges, politicians and citizens face is when protectable life begins. Does this small living organism have an inherent value and a right to exist, counterbalanced by the mother’s right to abort? Why or why not, at what stage of pregnancy, under what circumstances, and who decides? This takes us beyond biology to moral decision making.
On this point, the Catholic Church teaches that direct abortion is illegal even if it is performed to save the life of the mother. This is defined in the 1974 “Declaration on Induced Abortion” of the Vatican Doctrinal Office, ratified by Pope Paul VI. Even “a serious matter of health, sometimes life or death, for the mother” can never “confer the right to dispose of the life of another, even when this life has only just begun”. Pope John Paul II affirmed it in his encyclical letter of 1995 Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”).
The 2001 US Bishops’ Medical Directive notes that the church does not prohibit treatments to cure “proportionately serious pathological conditions of a pregnant woman” which cannot be postponed until birth, “even if they do result in death of the unborn child “as a side effect.
Among Protestants, however, even conservatives and evangelicals allow abortion to save the mother’s life. The same goes for all branches of Judaism.
CONTINUE READING: “At the heart of the abortion debate: when does life begin? », By Richard Ostling.
FIRST IMAGE : Photo posted with an article titled “High-Risk Pregnancy: What You Need to Know” on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website.