3 thoughts on “Rethinking your culture war cause: abortion

  1. Thanks for a well-though post addressing the many nuances of this issue that so many people want to pretend is black and white. I agree with you on many levels. I would add that, in addition to the President not having much power to affect abortion, I really don’t think any of them have wanted to affect it. Not a single Republican president who ran as “pro-life” has made any significant move to overturn R v W once he was actually in office. I think this is because they are not personally moved by the issue — it’s merely a tool used to get votes, and then quickly left by the wayside for more focus on military spending and how we can ensure national security by ending lives that are apparently less “precious” than those of the pre-born.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly that most people don’t know what Roe v. Wade said. But while Roe established the “trimester” framework that is mentioned here, it wasn’t the last word on the matter. Roe’s companion case (issued on the same day), Doe V. Bolton, went quite a bit beyond Roe. It said, in effect, that even after the point of fetal viability, states could not restrict abortion unless they also provided a wide exception for the life and health of the mother, defining health so broadly as to include “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the wellbeing of the patient”. It is the robust definition of “health” in Doe that, in practice, has led to abortion being widely available during any stage of pregnancy for (almost) any reason. To this day, any state that has restricted partial-birth abortion has still had to ensure that its legal language contains enough of a health loophole to pass muster with Doe.

    Also, regarding Aquinas’ view on abortion, the link cited here does a meager job of explaining the rationale behind Aquinas’ position. It’s important to remember that Aquinas followed Aristotle’s understanding of the “soul”, which is just the “form” (i.e. structure/idea; it’s not really a “thing” at all) of a living creature. Everything that is made of matter (rocks, trees, animals, etc) has a form that makes it into the kind of thing it is, and the difference between the form of something inanimate and that of something alive is simply that the form of something alive contains within it the capacity for movement and self-growth in a way that inanimate things do not. Given that background understanding, Aquinas accepted Aristotle’s reasoning that the first evidence of human life was seen at “quickening” (the first moment that a pregnant woman can feel the movement of the fetus). Given the lack of knowledge of embryology at that time, this was certainly the first evidence they had for movement and growth. There really is little question however that, had Aquinas access to the data of modern medicine and been able to see the actual operations of an embryo, he would have unhesitatingly concluded that it already contained within it a structure that was undertaking the operations of movement and self-growth, and was thus alive, with the soul/form of a human being.

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