21 March 2010

Not One of Us

Friends, I'd like to take an opportunity to talk a bit about something difficult. The subject is abortion—the elective termination of pregnancy. I'd like to do this here for two reasons. First, members of the Society of Friends have a long-standing united front in the areas of human life: personal violence, peace, capital punishment, euthanasia, and so on. Second, on abortion, we don’t.

I want to share some thoughts on the subject that I don't recall anybody paying much attention to. And I want to be clear that I’m not talking to the dominant culture, and advising them what they should be thinking or doing. They march to a different drummer, and they maintain a different profession than we say we do. I am talking to Friends. If that’s what you are, then I am talking to you.


You see, unity on an issue like abortion can only come about when we listen to our Guide together. As Friends, it doesn’t matter what you think of it, or what I think of it; the issue is what our Guide thinks of it. We claim to be attentive to the Light. We claim to be following our Guide. Yet when abortion comes up, the arguments I hear have very little to do with following our Guide. To me we look more like an old-time circus performer, cantering around and around the ring in our costume, one foot each on the backs of two very different horses, smiling at the crowd while we perform an impossible feat, one founded in intrinsic contradiction.

Where do Friends disagree on this subject? Most of us don’t believe in killing people, and we often cite the influence of our Guide as the source of our belief. Look at our record against warfare, violence, capital punishment, euthanasia, and so on. But I think we can all agree that aborting an embryo makes a member of the human biological species die. It's not a hamster, a tapeworm, a toe, or a fingernail clipping, after all. Yes, it’s uniquely related physically to its mother, more so than any other living creature can ever be. But equally, it’s not part of her—the placenta is a physical and philosophical barrier that is also unique and critically significant.


I'm not trying to solve issues of social justice, economics, gender politics, or the sad history of treating girls or women as second-class citizens (or non-citizens), or any of the usual historical positions. These are profoundly important topics, but they're secondary. I want to explore why that developing member of the species Homo sapiens is somehow something different from you and me, why for some Friends it is somehow not one of us.


Let me start by listing some of the traditional arguments supporting elective abortion:


Poor people are penalized by unwanted or unaffordable children. I agree. Economics do penalize poor people who can't afford to raise children, for reasons not of their choosing and not under their control. But we don't let people kill their children because they discover later they can't afford to raise them. The argument is the same, so something else must be going on.


Underage parents aren’t equipped to raise children and forgo opportunities in later life, especially single mothers. I agree. Young people do make inexperienced parents, and young single mothers give up a lot of opportunity by trying to raise children too young. But we don't kill their children at the age of ten if the parent’s inexperience or opportunity cost only becomes clear when the parents are older.


Some pregnancies are the result of rape or incest, and are not voluntary. I agree. I can think of no experience more undeserved and painful than being forced to carry and give birth to a child that was the outcome of a brutal and exploitive experience, whether one-time or the result of long-term abuse. But we don’t kill a teenager because we discover later that she was the product of a rape.


Sometimes the embryo is diagnosed as deformed or mentally subnormal. I agree. But should being born crippled deserve a pre-emptive death sentence? My Aunt Alma was born with spina bifida, and couldn’t walk, live alone, or support herself for the 94 years she lived. But she gave my own mother her first bath the day she was born, and held both me as an infant and my own infant children in her arms decades and decades later. Her life was always a burden to others, but was it worthless? Did she deserve death? Are the lives of the smiling, hardworking people with Down’s Syndrome equally worthless burdens? If so, then we should be able to gather them all up and dispose of them right now, no matter how old they are. But we don’t, because something else is important.


It’s my body and my life. The private decisions I make about my body are nobody else’s business. I’m afraid this one has holes in it too, although it’s the one that makes the most sense to me. First, we all acknowledge that society can interfere with our bodies when what we do with them poses a danger to someone else. And as a culture we acknowledge that other people can make decisions that affect our bodies, even overruling our own. We deny people the right to kill or hurt themselves, to use certain kinds of drugs, we make motorcyclists wear helmets and auto drivers fasten their seatbelts. If society has a right to overrule decisions about my body for the benefit of someone living outside it, then it has the right to overrule my decisions about my body with respect to someone living inside it, if that entity living inside me is truly a someone. The nature of that embryo is very important to this question, because if it is one of us, then an abortion affects more people than just the mother. If it is one of us.


That seems to be the key. All the arguments I have heard from Friends justifying abortion seem to hinge on the assumption that somehow, the embryo is not one of us, and can therefore be treated differently without disobedience to what the Light tells us is our duty with respect to other people. But what makes it not one of us?


Is it that the embryo isn’t a human being? Ask any zoologist what it is and you will get a simple answer: the embryo is a developing individual of the species Homo sapiens. It's a genetically complete, diploid chordate, being carried and nurtured during ontogeny across a placenta in the uterus of another member of the same species. Biologically it can’t be anything but human. Killing it kills a biological member of our species, but somehow, the embryo is not considered one of us, even so. And the existence of that placenta unarguably defines a physical boundary between the mother and the embryo that marks a distinction between two organisms. Yes, the boundary is internal to the mother, and yes, all nutrition is transferred from the mother to the embryo across it, and yes, the embryo’s life is utterly dependent upon her. But they are different creatures: blood types, skin colors, body features, half of the time even different genders. If the embryo is just a piece of tissue within the mother, then that definition must logically extend to the moment the umbilical cord is cut after birth. Having personally held five wet, squirming, and hollering newborns still definitely attached to their mother through a living, pulsing umbilicus, I find it hard to extend it that far. But that would be the necessary logical conclusion.


Is it that the embryo is still dependent on its parent, and can’t survive on its own? That can’t be it, either. Children are dependent on their parents for years, and very young ones can’t survive on their own at all, either. The difference between a very late-term foetus and a very premature newborn infant is a moment-in-time, a philosophical distinction, not a natural one. This is clearly shown by the earlier and earlier ages at which a premature baby can now be born and be expected to live as medical techniques improve. But in some circles it is acceptable to abort a late term foetus, but not to kill a premature newborn. Somehow, merely by virtue of being unborn, that organism is still not one of us.


Is it that it’s undeveloped, incomplete, and doesn’t even look very much like a human being? I’ve already addressed how underdeveloped premature infants are still treated as human beings. Does it have to already look like us to be human? Maybe it has to be pretty, as well, or have the correct number of legs and arms. If that was the case, then the adult mainframe computer operator at a university I attended wasn’t one of us either, as somehow he had been born without any arms at all. Still, he was a very knowledgeable and helpful computer operator, in spite of his status.


Is it that it's not a person that makes it okay to kill it? It’s not someone who grew up, and has a life story, and matters to someone somewhere? After all, the embryo has no connections to society that we need to honor and maintain. It has no family stories known to anybody, and is a stranger. But when an elderly stranger dies in my town, the coroner takes the body and performs certain legal procedures, spends taxpayer money making sure that the body is treated honorably, and ensures that all due process is followed that is required by the natural death of a human being. We assume he was a person, although we know nothing of his story or history. We treat him as one of us anyway.


Is it that the embryo isn’t a citizen, something with legal rights and standing administered by the government, and so it doesn’t merit equal legal status or protection? This is the usual pragmatic legal approach, where laws arbitrarily allow elective abortions in the first trimester but not later in the term. This is a distasteful compromise, what the dominant culture does. But it isn’t what Friends do, or at least, it isn’t what we are supposed to do, as I see it. I want to achieve that unity that we claim is how we make decisions. Besides, even if it isn’t a citizen, and has no legal rights in society, it still is not treated as one of us the way other non-citizens are treated. The apple pickers in my town on work visas from other countries aren't citizens, either, but I can't kill them without legal penalties. We treat them as one of us in spite of their lack of legal equality.


And as a Friend, I don’t grant my local government the right to make moral definitions for me anyway. I don’t want to hear legal definitions or arguments. I want to hear the moral ones.


And now that we’ve come to this point, I would like to hear them from members of the Religious Society of Friends. Respectfully, Friends, I would like to know what it is that makes that little blob of cells that we call an embryo something different from the Mohandas Gandhi or the George Fox that it might be destined to become. It must be different in some way, because our Society has no unity on how to treat it. But I can’t figure out what it is.


And to answer this question, I would like to hear us practicing what we preach, that we listen to our Guide, that we follow a leader larger than ourselves, that we rely on the Light, on immediate revelation to show us the Way. I want to hear the debate shift from secondary pragmatic discussions of social justice, economics, and gender politics to a primary discussion of conscience, morality, right and wrong, and the leadings from the Guide.


If the embryo is one of us, then it deserves the same consideration from the Society that we extend to condemned criminals, victims of warfare, those helpless individuals abused by social injustice, and the terminally ill woman given a secret overdose of barbiturates to put her out of her misery. If the embryo is not one of us, and doesn’t deserve that consideration, then I would like to understand why, and I would like to hear it explained in terms that we as the Religious Society of Friends can unite on.


I think we need to decide what it is we stand for, and reconcile our position on abortion with our positions on violence, peace, capital punishment, and involuntary euthanasia. I would like to achieve unity with our Guide and with each other, and begin to labor openly and charitably on this topic until we come to that unity. I want us as a Society, as a community under a Guide, as a people who claim to follow a special Light, to choose which horse we will ride, and to let the other one go.


I think it’s time.


83 comments:

michaeldavidjay said...

You call for clearness on a difficult issue -- not because of religious views, but because of political views.

Friends, seeing "that of God in everyone" are, as you point out, deeply pro-life... and are against the destruction of life. This pro-life position puts Friends deeply into so called "liberal" politics.

What seems strange to me is why do people consider it consistent to oppose war (as broadly as possible), the death penalty, et c... for pro-life reasons -- yet would be angry that I apply that term to them... for political reasons.

Hystery said...
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Hystery said...

I messed up my first response. My brain left out important verbs!

Your gentleness and genuine concern for life shine through here and it is clear to me that you respect women deeply. You bring up matters of concern that are well-worth deep consideration.

I note that you are speaking as a Friend to other Friends. For clarity in this conversation and to help me focus my thoughts, I wonder if you could provide me with a little more information about your position. Do you differentiate between your spiritual and moral beliefs as a Friend in this matter and your beliefs about the legality of medical abortion for both Friends and those who are not Quakers? Do you feel that medical abortion should be illegal in all cases, some cases, or no cases? I ask because it seems that we must lay that aside to speak of our ideals as Friends with greater depth and care.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Oddly enough, Kevin, it was pregnancy--and a pregnancy with a very much desired, healthy baby--that made me most certain that there should be no externally-imposed rules on this one. My deep sense during my pregnancy was that this was too personal a matter for another to decide on my behalf: not the state, not a husband, and not the Religious Society of Friends. It felt (and feels) more akin to a decision to share my body with another person, through sex, or to give away a portion of my body, as in organ donation, than to anything else.

I know--you are saying, we make decisions every day over one another's bodies, especially when the well-being of another or of society is involved. But, to look at one of your examples: the RSoF does not have a united witness in favor of wearing helmets on a motorcycle, yes? At the same time, if we saw a member of their meeting biking with careless disregard to their own safety, we might attempt to elder them, or to work with them around clearness... We would acknowledge, perhaps, that though there might be a general common-sense rule or even a moral rule about safety on a motorcycle, it would not be helpful to lay down such a rule as a fiat.

I know: one is a threat to one's own life, and, in the case of abortion, the other is a threat to the life of another, one who has no voice of their own in the decision-making. Well, this is true.

But I think your question, on what makes an unborn child "one of us" or "not one of us" is a good one... only you have not taken it far enough. Why should I draw that line, that magic circle, around humanity alone? After all, chimpanzees share 99% of our DNA. Most animals, in fact, share a very high percentage of our DNA.

Now, I'm not arguing that this means that fetuses don't merit protection. But I do think that other living beings deserve protection, too. I do not see a blastosphere, with 100% human DNA, as inherently more worthy of life than a chimpanzee or a gorilla, with 98 or 99% DNA, and some things that blastosphere does not yet have, like a working brain, emotions like fear and hope, and nerve endings that signal pain.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

(continued)

Please do not think I'm either sentimentalizing animals or trivializing human life in my comparison, here. But I know, when I look in the eyes of my dog, there is another soul looking back out at me. And I know that when I look at a clam, there is not... or not as much of a one; not as well-formed a one.

Somewhere on that gradual continuum between blastosphere and baby there comes a point where I feel the need to protect that child... somewhere on the continuum between fish (which I eat with a good conscience) and cow (which I will not knowingly eat or cause to die) there is another line.

I find these questions difficult questions. (It's interesting, isn't it, that until after the flood, Adam and his descendants were denied the right to eat animals? Have you ever thought about that?)

Now, I'm not a "combat vegetarian" as we say around here: one of those animal rights activists who preaches veganism like a gospel. And I know there are climates in the world where humans could not survive without animal-based diets. (Places like Tibet and the Arctic, for instance.) I don't feel comfortable with one-size-fits-all rule making here.

I believe the answer is discernment: careful, thoughtful disernment, in which we stay low to the truth and listen very deeply for God _and_ to one another and one another's perceptions of what God is saying to us.

My sense is that the Holy Spirit was not absent from me, when I formed my sense that carrying a baby to term was too personal a decision for another to make for me; nor from my problems of conscience with meat-eating.

Nor, had I had a different set of circumstances, from whatever decision I might have had to make regarding abortion. I can say that it would have taken some overwhelming set of conditions for me, personally, to have felt that it was right to have terminated my own pregnancy. Yes, it was wanted. But when my doctor offered one of the slew of genetic tests just then coming into vogue, my husband and I decided not to undergo it--so clear were we that, regardless of the result, we would NOT choose to terminate that pregnancy.

I don't know what conditions might have led me to a different sense. But I am not convinced they would be impossible, nor that I would be justified in predetermining that answer for another woman. This sense I have is very deep in me, and I believe, at least, it is something that has come to me from the Light of God.

What I can say is that Friends need to speak to one another and to hear one another, in love, on this subject or any other. I have heard it said that Friends "just can't talk about abortion." I think that's bullshit; we just have to be tender and courageous, at the same time.

That's something I think we do very well.

Thank you for raising the question, Kevin. I've had my say, shared my little glimmerings. Others may have different Lights to bring to bear.

Blessings.

Hystery said...

Cat has reminded me of the time that I first confronted this issue as a teenager. We were given a school assignment to explain our own position on abortion. I asked my father about it and rather than answering me, he handed me a book on ethics. I continue to try to treat this as an issue of intellectual and emotional complexity deserving care and discernment.

What I decided was that I would personally do all I could to preserve the life of an embryo just as I will do all I can to protect life in general-- without infringing on the human rights of others. I considered that I am the kind of person who rescues worms on the street so I am not the kind of person who could disregard other animal lives, including that of humans, embryonic or otherwise. (I am a vegan.) I believe that animals are "persons" with rights. They have feelings and some of them also have thoughts. I cannot say that of an embryo in its earliest stages of development but since I won't kill a gnat, you can see I'm unlikely to kill a human embryo even if it is a hollow ball of undifferentiated cells.

I also decided at that time that my deep and often anthropomorphic feelings of commonality with embryonic and animal life did not give me the right to ask another woman to put herself at risk socially or physically because of my feelings. Just as I cannot force her to be a vegan to suit my deeply held beliefs, I cannot force her to share my spiritual beliefs regarding abortion. I cannot force her to give birth. I do not know in what conditions she was impregnated nor in what conditions she will carry and bear the baby if it and she should live through the experience (and many do not. The maternal death rate in this country has doubled in the past twenty years with a sharper increase for African American women).

It was also my own pregnancy that truly solidified my strong conviction that I cannot agree that it is ethical to legally prevent another woman from aborting her embryo. In pregnancy, even in seemingly healthy, desirable cases, women face death. One is very aware of this when one is pregnant. I cannot think of any experience I have had outside of pregnancy that compares to it. I can think of few things less ethical than forcing a sick, confused, terrified, or dying woman to give birth.

I also feel strongly about this because I have a relative who died because she carried a baby to term. Her family will never recover from that loss.

I do also wish to point out that this belief does not mean that I think of abortion as desirable or even a moral choice and I do wish to emphasize that I believe advisement, support, counsel, and loving discernment in the context of a Friends meeting is not the same thing as legal restrictions. How we discern what is just and and appropriate amongst ourselves is not the same as demanding that our beliefs be followed by all persons regardless of their spiritual beliefs on this matter. Abortion as a legal issue should be informed by science and medicine rather than by religious definitions of personhood and morality.

kevin roberts said...

michaelDJ, you're right to point out the difficult political issues on this topic, but it's exactly those that I don't want to debate. I'm not a politician, and politics isn't what I'm doing in meeting on First Days.

I'd like to tease out the quite difficult moral issues involved in this topic, and see what they might say to us when separated from the political battles that usually dominate the conversation.

kevin roberts said...

Hey Hystery, I know you posted somehing else below, but I'm going right down the line of comments so that I can respond without bias that might come from answering two comments at once. . .

My personal view is that an embryo is a human being from the moment the nuclear membranes separating the ovum and the penetrating spermatozoa dissolve and the two living diploid gametes become a single-cell zygote. That is an extremely difficult position to assert, but my beliefs about the human nature of embryos leave me no choice. I spend a lot of time trying to work that through, because the implications are staggering to me.

Medical abortions, in the sense of ending ectopic pregnancies or other sad situations where a pregancy has become a threat are a different matter to me. They fall into a category of self-defense that other abortions don't, and can't be treated the same way. I would not tell a mother that she had to risk her life to carry a dangerous pregancy to term. I would explain the situation and make case-by-case recommendations to help her in that decision. I would let the decision be hers.

I'm not clear about legal issues, forbidding people to do things, whether they're Friends, non-Friends, or otherwise. As Friends, we agitate all the time to make things other people want to do illegal, including war, wife-beating, and capital punishment. If abortion is wrong, in the same way that capital punishment is wrong, then it seems to me that the Society should take the same approach to both. But I'm not interested in forcing people to obey my Light--I'm interested in showing them that my Light is the same as theirs.

kevin roberts said...

Don't be too quick to sell that clam short, Cat. It's easy to look at an animal and develop empathy. Much too easy, perhaps if that other mammal happens to be a brachiating Pongid that resembles ourselves in our playground memories. The same argument that might condemn the clam as too alien to be considered one of ourselves is what allowed the Japanese to perform surgical vivisections on living, unanesthetized Chinese prisoners during the invasion of China.

I'm a vegetarian-- I eat no animal tissue at all, but I have no problem with milk and yoghurt and such. I do this not for health or economics, but because of a desire to live at as low a trophic level as I can, and because I don't believe in killing things for what I regard as casual purposes. To me, eating meat of any kind is a casual purpose. But that's a decision I make for myself, not for others.

I'm not convinced that shared DNA is what makes something merit protection. There are people all the time who risk their lives for animals, and for plants as well, which is the very next step in your argument about life. Remember the tree-sitters in California?

I don't want to get too metaphysical, but you raise a good point about deciding when this regard for life will end. I want to suggest that you look at it in the other direction, though-- we cut a tree to build a house, and kill a horse to provide insulin. What is there in this sequence (moving towards humans instead of away) that would prevent me from choosing to harvest organs from homeless orphans in the same way that Weyrhauser harvests trees to make paper? It's a tough one.

And of course, with respect to not killing an embryo while allowing a dog to die, the key is not to do anything that we regard as wrong, rather than deciding to hold off on anything until we can do all of it at once.

kevin roberts said...

gotta go shawna's on the warpath

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

"And of course, with respect to not killing an embryo while allowing a dog to die, the key is not to do anything that we regard as wrong, rather than deciding to hold off on anything until we can do all of it at once."

There's the point where I'm sure we agree.

I honestly can't tell you if the part of what I'm sensing that is from God is the need for compassion for women who make difficult moral decisions, the need to be a bit more humble in how I approach such decisions than would be possible while making a firm policy statement that abortion is always wrong, or if, indeed, there's a way in which this one simply has to be parsed out case by case.

I do know that one Quaker alone will have a hard time discerning Truth. And I know that, in my own family, while I am grateful for the decision that led to one child I love being born, it certainly is likely that the decision to carry that pregnancy contributed to his mother's death.

Happily, it was her call: not his, not his father's, and not mine. I miss his Mom, and I'm rather grateful it was clearly not my place to make that decision for her, at the same time I am glad for the child she bore.

Some things, God has made plain to me beyond question; I will always remember the day I was convinced of the peace testimony. That one wasn't about reason or logic--it was about what Spirit demanded I see.

I do not see clearly on this question yet. Nor, obviously, does the RSoF, as yet, as a gathered people.

kevin roberts said...

Hystery, I pick up worms on the street after a rain and toss them into the grass as well. All of them I pass. Even the damaged ones.

I think I addressed most of the questions in your second cpomment in my answer to your first, although I hadn't read Number Two at the time. But you remind me of an important point that bears repeating:

I'm not looking for answers here, or agreement with what I believe to be the right way to look at things. I'm interesting in beginning the conversation from a new direction--not whether it's practical to enact legislation, or advisable to do so, or whether we need to consider the sad state of women's reproductive rights here in the western hemisphere or elsewhere. Or lots more.

I want to strart at an the lower level, and limit the converstion to the morality that concerns that embryo. If it is a human bveing, with all the same expectations and potential of the embryo that gave rise to Isaac Penington was, then do we need to change what we do regarding it, or not?

Before we lose track of the embryo in discussions of social justice and mending broken cultures, I'd like to discuss the gastrula, the blastula, 8-cell, 4-cell, 2-cell, One.

I'd like to hear the Society apply the moral concern and questioning that it currently applies to other life-associated topics to the status of the Little Blob, and make an explicit search for unity there.

And I don't have all the answers, either.

Hystery said...
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kevin roberts said...

You know, folks, there's another thing to think about with this subject, and that's the history of the Society with respect to slavery.

Slavery was an institution that was embedded deeply into the culture of 17th century Friends. It had social and Scriptural justifications. It was legally acceptable, although a vocal minority came out against it. it resulted in terrible tragedy to a set of human beings who had no legal voice, no social advocate, whose life or death hinged on the decisions of others who had no reason to take their welfare into account, and many logical, social, and legal reasons not to.

Quakers first worked to eliminate slavery from their own membership. Then, once the Society united on the testimony, Quakers agitated to make it illegal for everybody to own slaves. Even if those other people were not Quakers, and didn't share the belief. The lives and welfare of the slaves were considered more important than property issues, legal precedent, social justifications, rocking the boat, and on and on.

Today, the Society proudly points to the abolition of slavery as one of its great achievements. Yet we don't see the obvious parallels with the abortion controversy, now in the early stages of the same sort of discussion.

In 100 years, will the Society have two achievements in eliminating injustice to its credit? Slavery and abortion?

Anonymous said...

I'm ambivalent about abortion for religious reasons. It seems to me the only religious justification for the practice is that the fetus has no soul. I'm in no position to claim certainty on when soul joins matter, but I do believe that is the essence of our humanity. Not knowing when a fetus becomes a human baby leaves me stranded in evaluating the morality of abortion. That uncertainty makes me unenthusiastic about supporting or opposing abortion.

Chuck Fager said...

Kevin wrote:

<< My personal view is that an embryo is a human being from the moment the nuclear membranes separating the ovum and the penetrating spermatozoa dissolve and the two living diploid gametes become a single-cell zygote. That is an extremely difficult position to assert, but my beliefs about the human nature of embryos leave me no choice. >>

Kevin, you're right to describe the above as a personal view. Other people have different personal views about the meaning of embryology, especially early. Likewise about that mysterious thing called "human nature."

Like me, for instance. I don't think of an early embryo as a "human being." It's human tissue, for sure. And given the right circumstances, it has the capacity to one day become a human being and a human person. But it isn't that yet. And my "thinking" that is as legitimate a view as any other. The idea that there is one true view of "human being" and "human nature" is incorrect, and easily slides into various kids of oppression.

I'm unpersuaded by references to DNA. There is my complete DNA in my fingernails, hair, and saliva too; they're definitely "human," but not "human beings." To me, the embryo is more like a blueprint for a house than the house itself. The analogy is inexact, but close.

I was raised in a religion which argues strongly for this "human-being-from-the-moment-of- conception" view, and I once pretty much accepted it.

But I don't anymore. Why not? Well, one big reason is that embryology also informs us that a substantial majority of these fertilized, DNA specific zygotes are washed out of the woman's body by "natural" processes, often without ever being noticed.

And if Nature, or Nature's Guide, finds that many of them that disposable, I'm not persuaded that I need to make of them some kind of untouchable thing, which amounts to making an idol.

Moreover, the matter of "human nature" is something about which views differ widely as well, and science presents no resolution. There are developmental occurrences in pregnancy which, while unusual, nonetheless leave me, even at a "late" stage, forced to doubt and even deny that what is growing is or could be a "human being." Human tissue, yes; individualized DNA, yes; a "human being"? Not always.

I'm not talking legalities here; indeed, in most cases, if a woman asked my advice about ending a "normal" pregnancy (one not produced with me -- which inquiries have in fact happened once or twice) I would encourage her to carry it to term. Call me "pro-life" in that regard.

That's because, while I have pointed above to exceptions, I am nonetheless biased in favor of life. And not merely "normal" perfectly healthy life.

Life is a mystery and a calling; we are to cherish and nurture it to the greatest extent that we can. This will often involve sacrifice, courage, and walking into the unknown. What parent does not know this? Amen.

But all that is a two-lane road: the mystery and the calling can take us to letting go of life as well as clinging to it. This may entail grief and even a sense of guilt. So be it. And that may mean abortion.

kevin roberts said...

Hi Anonymous-

Thank you for spelling out in about ten words what I failed to do in about a thousand.

If having a soul is what makes something enough like ourselves to merit empathy, then when that happens is a very important question. I take a pragmatic biological approach-- conception-- but I'll also point out that life is never absent from our family history, and goes all the way back to whatever point in our evolution one decides to assert that life came into being. Presumably, a haploid egg would be alive-- but without a soul-- as might any number of other things.

The Hindus simply assert that the soul is more or less eternal, and the egg, sperm, embryo, or adult is merely a temporary vessel that the soul passes through on its way to somewhere else. The life or death of any particular organism has less importance in that system of belief.

You obviously think about this. I encourage you to keep thinking, wherever it leads you. It's an issue that calls for a decision from all of us, sooner or later.

kevin roberts said...

Hi Chuck—
You bring up some useful points for discussion, especially because they illustrate the different views that exist in the Society. Thank you for being willing to join in.

You mention:

I'm unpersuaded by references to DNA. There is my complete DNA in my fingernails, hair, and saliva too; they're definitely "human," but not "human beings." To me, the embryo is more like a blueprint for a house than the house itself. The analogy is inexact, but close.

Actually, the exact analogy would be that the DNA is the blueprint, and the embryo is the house under construction. Tearing up a copy of a blueprint and discarding it is very different from tearing down the actual house under construction. The blueprint is no more than an idea, a plan. The house has an Owner, an Address, and a Future that is in the process of coming into being. Very different, to my way of thinking.

You also bring up this important point:

I was raised in a religion which argues strongly for this "human-being-from-the-moment-of- conception" view, and I once pretty much accepted it.

But I don't anymore. Why not? Well, one big reason is that embryology also informs us that a substantial majority of these fertilized, DNA specific zygotes are washed out of the woman's body by "natural" processes, often without ever being noticed.

And if Nature, or Nature's Guide, finds that many of them that disposable, I'm not persuaded that I need to make of them some kind of untouchable thing, which amounts to making an idol.


If I were to agree with that line of reasoning, then I would also have to say that the lives of the thousands of human beings who die in Indian Ocean tsunamis are unimportant, because completely natural processes resulted in their death. Or smallpox, or Lyme disease, or syphilis, or AIDS. And eventually, since intraspecific violence is also a part of nature, I would have to say that murder, war, and genocide are natural aspects of the natural world, too.

Our Society is founded on testimonies that go against Nature, including peace, justice, and concern for the welfare of unrelated people. I suggest that a concern about abortion needs to be considered by the same yardsticks.

But all that is a two-lane road: the mystery and the calling can take us to letting go of life as well as clinging to it. This may entail grief and even a sense of guilt. So be it. And that may mean abortion.

Letting go of life is something that all of us will do, sooner or later. But it is a very different thing to let go of one’s own life, and to active force someone else to let go of theirs, one who has no choice, and has not been consulted.

And finally, your first point was the very important one, and the subject of my concern:

I don't think of an early embryo as a "human being." It's human tissue, for sure. And given the right circumstances, it has the capacity to one day become a human being and a human person. But it isn't that yet. And my "thinking" that is as legitimate a view as any other.

Chuck, I agree you have the legitimate right to believe anything you want. Whether your beliefs themselves can be legitimately supported or not is a very different question, and the same tests that apply to yours must also be used to test mine. If the embryo is not a human being, and Chuck Fager is a human being, where shall we place that very important change? Until we can agree on an answer, I’m afraid you have no more logical right to existence than the embryo, that other thing whose life you are willing to let go. I would extend you the right to live. To whom would you deny it, and why?

The question I have asked about the embryo is the first one that needs to be addressed: What is it, and why? All the various other discussions are important ones to ask, but only after that one is approached and dealt with head-on.

What is it, and why?

Alice said...

My understanding of the Good News is founded on the *invitation* to participation that I experience.

Every pregnancy is potentially life-threatening for the mother and I want the gift of life to stay like that, a gift.

My understanding of the biology shows me that the brain and emotions of a child are conditioned by the mother through the experiences she has whilst carrying the child. The child's nervous system is built differently if the mother feels hatred, despair, bereavement, and other difficult stresses. I would not condemn a human being to living in a body built from hatred, and I would not condemn a mother to undergo the tortuous life-and-death ordeal of childbirth unless she was a completely willing volunteer of sound mind. To do otherwise, from my perspective, is to disrespect God's offering to us - freedom in Christ, through his offering of his body to liberate us.

Childbirth is a similar endeavour to crucifixion and to force it on another person is an abomination from my perespective. Jesus is for willing volunteers, not for torturing those who have less political and social power - that would be the opposite of his Good News, the way I understand it.

Pregnancy is the process of building a human being, an invitation to co-creation with God. Coercion is not of God - coercing the gift of life is not part of what we are being asked to do, as I understand it at the moment.

I wrote a while ago about a whole list of things that folks might be able to unite around reducing the need for terminations of pregnancy, I don't know if that is of interest to Friends here - http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/what-would-christians-have-to

Chuck Fager said...

Some further thoughts:

Kevin quotes me (accurately)thus:

<< I'm unpersuaded by references to DNA. There is my complete DNA in my fingernails, hair, and saliva too; they're definitely "human," but not "human beings." To me, the embryo is more like a blueprint for a house than the house itself. The analogy is inexact, but close. >>

Kevin comments:

<< Actually, the exact analogy would be that the DNA is the blueprint, and the embryo is the house under construction. Tearing up a copy of a blueprint and discarding it is very different from tearing down the actual house under construction. The blueprint is no more than an idea, a plan. The house has an Owner, an Address, and a Future that is in the process of coming into being. Very different, to my way of thinking. >>

A useful extension of the analogy. One can indeed think of an embryo as a house under construction.

This doesn't alter my inference, though. A foundation hole in the ground is not a house. Nor is the flooring. Both are potentially part of a house.

I've seen both in real life abandoned at these (and other) stages, and they were not considered "houses." They were certainly meant to be houses; they started out to be houses, and had the "DNA" for a house; but that did not come about.

Yet at some point, this object under construction will become enough of a house to be legitimately identified as one.

Press the analogy a bit further: When does this object under construction become a "house"?

When there is enough of a roof so one could sleep there and not get drenched in a rainstorm? When there is a heating system so one would not freeze on a winter night?

When there are windows with latches and doors with locks to keep intruders and predators out?

Interesting questions. To my mind, the answers involve judgment and definitions. One person's judgment and definitions will differ from another.

Kevin quotes me further:

<< I was raised in a religion which argues strongly for this "human-being-from-the-moment-of- conception" view, and I once pretty much accepted it.

But I don't anymore. Why not? Well, one big reason is that embryology also informs us that a substantial majority of these fertilized, DNA specific zygotes are washed out of the woman's body by "natural" processes, often without ever being noticed.

And if Nature, or Nature's Guide, finds that many of them that disposable, I'm not persuaded that I need to make of them some kind of untouchable thing, which amounts to making an idol. >>

Kevin comments:

If I were to agree with that line of reasoning, then I would also have to say that the lives of the thousands of human beings who die in Indian Ocean tsunamis are unimportant, because completely natural processes resulted in their death. Or smallpox, or Lyme disease, or syphilis, or AIDS. And eventually, since intraspecific violence is also a part of nature, I would have to say that murder, war, and genocide are natural aspects of the natural world, too. >>

I'm afraid I don't see that this follows. Indeed, such a statement involves the logical error of "begging the question": it begins with the assumption that such "embryonic wastage" is a disaster or a crime, and then connects it to all those others. But assuming the conclusion is faulty logic, and does not demonstrate anything except that one holds a prior conviction.


(due to space limitations, this reply continued in a subsequent comment)

Chuck Fager said...

Comments, continued:

All the disasters mentioned here involve events that are visible, external, and in some cases (war) involve human agency. Most of the embryonic wastage I cited happens and is never observed or known. Recognition of this fact does not imply indifference to the other sorts of events listed.

Where a pregnancy is confirmed and has problems, people take all sorts of measures to preserve it; same as when we do what we can to help the victims of natural disasters.

And where possible, we work to prevent such calamities. ("Please, Friend, don't build on that earthquake fault." "Brother president, don't start another war.") Such concern and action is not inconsistent with an acceptance of the fact of "embryonic wastage."

Kevin comments:

<< Our Society is founded on testimonies that go against Nature, including peace, justice, and concern for the welfare of unrelated people. I suggest that a concern about abortion needs to be considered by the same yardsticks. >>

There are a couple items here... .

First of all, the idea that our society is "founded" on a testimony of "peace" is overdue for re-examination, because its history is very shaky.

I would invite you to examine the list of topics and testimonies in the compilation called "The Old Discipline," online at: http://www.qhpress.org/texts/obod/index.html

and point out where in this listing the "Peace testimony" is to be found. Hint: It is not there.

Further, if one examines the Queries in this document, which articulates the standards applied across the Society for nearly 200 years, one does not find such a testimony either.

Rather, in Query #6, one finds a charge to avoid military service & preparations, among a laundry list of items with equal weight such as, avoiding smuggling, lotteries, and prize goods. I have often asked Friends how many committee sessions or protest vigils they have joined which were laboring over lotteries or smuggling as testimonies?

The notion of a "foundational" peace testimony as some kind of strict pacifism is not foundational to Friends at all. It is instead a 20th century invention. I discuss this point in detail here;
http://www.qhpress.org/texts/obod/queries.html

A this analysis shows in detail, the actual formulation of Friends views on war and peace is much more ambivalent and ambiguous than some today would like it to be. Thus to cite this recently-formulated notion as some kind of baseline historic measuring stick is, plainly, inadequate for ethical reasoning.

Second of all, ideas of "justice" and "concern for unrelated people" are all very well, but in Quaker history they have been interpreted in many and varied ways over time, and subject to much debate. In my view this is as it should be, because none of them yields unarguable practical conclusions. The practical ambiguity is a big part of why this current discussion is useful, or at least unavoidable.

(More comments to follow.)

Chuck Fager said...

Alas, there is more to be said here, but evidently Google feels I have said too much, so I am being electronically eldered. When this ban is lifted, I'll see about continuing the conversation . . . .

Chuck Fager said...

Back to the dialogue:

Next, Kevin cites me as writing:

<< But all that is a two-lane road: the mystery and the calling can take us to letting go of life as well as clinging to it. This may entail grief and even a sense of guilt. So be it. And that may mean abortion. >>

He comments:

<< Letting go of life is something that all of us will do, sooner or later. But it is a very different thing to let go of one’s own life, and to active force someone else to let go of theirs, one who has no choice, and has not been consulted. >>

Yes it different; but again, on the matter of abortion, the problem of begging the question recurs: the assumption of this comment is that the difference is applied to something assumed in advance to be a "human being." But to repeat, this is an assumption which is not demonstrated, and can't be by science or neutral reasoning.

I might add here that the allied but distinct question of whether it is always wrong to take a life is not as easy to grapple with as is implied here. As I said in my first post, my strong bias is on the side of life and preserving it. But that is what I believe is called in law a "rebuttable presumption," which can be overridden by circumstances -- circumstances that may be tragic and grief-ridden, but sometimes unavoidable.

Kevin then said:
<< And finally, [Chuck's] first point was the very important one, and the subject of my concern:

Quoting me again:

<< I don't think of an early embryo as a "human being." It's human tissue, for sure. And given the right circumstances, it has the capacity to one day become a human being and a human person. But it isn't that yet. And my "thinking" that is as legitimate a view as any other.>>

Kevin comments:

Chuck, I agree you have the legitimate right to believe anything you want. Whether your beliefs themselves can be legitimately supported or not is a very different question, and the same tests that apply to yours must also be used to test mine. If the embryo is not a human being, and Chuck Fager is a human being, where shall we place that very important change? Until we can agree on an answer, I’m afraid you have no more logical right to existence than the embryo, that other thing whose life you are willing to let go. I would extend you the right to live. To whom would you deny it, and why?>>

Chuck comments: Now we move to a more interesting, and to my mind challenging, question: if a hole in the ground is not yet a house, but could become one, and a dwelling with all but the external siding painted IS a house, when does "potential" become "actual"?

There have been different answers to this question by theologians and ethicists. To hold down this already lengthy post, I will say only here that my summary answer is: "It depends." We can perhaps talk in another post about some of what it depends on.

[One more short bit:

Kevin concludes:

Chuck Fager said...

Kevin concludes:

<< The question I have asked about the embryo is the first one that needs to be addressed: What is it, and why? All the various other discussions are important ones to ask, but only after that one is approached and dealt with head-on.>>

Chuck comments: there are actually two very different questions posed here: the "What?" and the "Why?"

I've spoken at some length about the "what," particularly via the house analogy and won't repeat that here. This may not satisfy some, but it IS an answer.

The "Why?" is more intriguing, but also new to this thread. And it is even more subject to varied understanding that the "What?" since it is, from first to last, a question of metaphysics and values.

Is a nascent embryo an old soul reincarnated in mid-journey back to Brahman-atman? Is it an accident of fertility? Is it a proof of God's love? Or a mocking expression of God's deadly predestinarian capriciousness?

Or . . . (fill in the blank.) This is grist for another post.

[Okay, Google Overseers, this is really the end of this round.]

Chuck Fager said...

OOoops -- PS by way of a correction.

In my response to Kevin, I wrote at one point:

<< The notion of a "foundational" peace testimony as some kind of strict pacifism is not foundational to Friends at all. It is instead a 20th century invention. I discuss this point in detail here: >>

Then there was a link.
The link given was incorrect. The correct link is here:


http://www.quakerhouse.org/pt-reconsider-01.htm


As this analysis shows in detail, the actual formulation of Friends views on war and peace is much more ambivalent and ambiguous than some today would like it to be. Thus to cite this recently-formulated notion as some kind of baseline historic measuring stick is, plainly, inadequate for ethical reasoning. >>

Sorry for the error.

Julie Sunday said...

quoting david: "I think we need to decide what it is we stand for, and reconcile our position on abortion with our positions on violence, peace, capital punishment, and involuntary euthanasia. I would like to achieve unity with our Guide and with each other, and begin to labor openly and charitably on this topic until we come to that unity. I want us as a Society, as a community under a Guide, as a people who claim to follow a special Light, to choose which horse we will ride, and to let the other one go." there is a tremendous amount here which i could respond to but won't because i'd like to keep this civil, but the main point i want to make here is that i don't believe that we should be attempting to be in unity about this issue. i think the comparison to vegetarianism/veganism is a good one--there is a friend in my meeting who very clearly feels called by god to not eat animals and to advocate on behalf of their better treatment. i support his leading and his ministry, but i feel very clearly called to eat meat, because it makes me feel stronger and healthier. this friend and i have eaten together many times and he does not appear pained to see me eat meat and i do not feel pained when he wears tshirts proclaiming that he sees a vision of christianity that is vegetarian. i do not believe that god is giving us all the same message. anyone who takes a poll of the members and attenders in their meeting will quickly find that some people are led to work on behalf of death row inmates, others for illegal immigrants, others for environmental stewardship and still others for the homeless. none of these people, in my mind, are 'not in unity' with god--they are listening to what god has called THEM to do, and they are doing it. my own leading is in sex education (so, obviously, i have more to say on abortion that i'm not including here...look for me in the next friends journal) which, at first glance, doesn't seem spirit-led to some friends. but i assure you that i got a crystal clear leading--and have tested it and worked on it in committee--over the past 5 years and have never felt more certain that i am doing exactly what god has carved out for me to do on this planet. but i'm not going around accusing other friends of not being in unity with god because they don't feel my leading. david, if this is your leading, i hope you'll continue with it. but please don't presume that one friend's leading is indicative of a message from god for the rest of us.

Julie Sunday said...

julie sunday = psuedonym for guli fager. (sorry david...two fagers at once!)

Chuck Fager said...

Yeah, Kevin, we got you surrounded. Just need to get Guli to figure out your correct name . . . .

Ben Schultz said...

I'm sorry Kevin, but for you this has degenerated into notions. There is no discussion needed. We wait on the light here, not talk. The action is for the woman. Not for us. The light is for us.
Sit quietly and wonder about all your pain around this that has led to all these, well again, notions/

Shawna said...

Chuck, Kevin's whole question here was "Why is the unborn child/embryo/fetus not considered one of us?" You answered essentially, "Because it is not one of us..." (your words were that it is not a human being). Kevin asked you to explain when it becomes a human being... and your answer was "It depends." Did you mean to make this answer sound as flippant as it sounds to my ears?

He asked you in all seriousness to tell him when a member of the species homos sapiens can be considered a human being, and what your definition was. It seems to me that at the very least you have a personal working definition that you use. Any honest laboring over this concern ought to begin by sharing our personal working definitions of the terms that we will use....

My personal working definition of a human being is an individual who is a member of the species homo sapiens. Science tells me that the individual is formed at conception, so my working definition of human being includes folks who are too small to see.

Shawna said...

Chuck,

I think that the peace testimony is foundational to Quakerism. George Fox wrote: "I told them that I lived in that light and power that took away the occasion for all wars." He was talking about Shalom, about living in the kingdom of God here and now, about total reconciliation... between us and God and each other.

Quakers throughout history have had various understandings of what it means to live Shalom; sometimes we've done it better, sometimes worse.

If a thing is inconsistent with Shalom, with a world in which justice and mercy kiss, then it is ultimately inconsistent with Quakerism... which has Shalom as its core.

naturalmom said...

A beautiful conversation about an important topic. Can I just say how refreshing it is to read a reasoned, intelligent and civil exchange about abortion? I'm tempted to advertise this so that others can see the example, but I won't because that would undoubtedly bring in the flamers on both sides. :o(

I find that Chuck's position very closely mirrors my own, so I won't repeat the same points here. I will say that I am always willing to take another look and re-question where such grave consequences are involved. (I stopped contributing to pro-choice causes soon after college because I found their complete dismissal of the moral ambiguities of abortion so disturbing.) I'm at heart a moderate on abortion, like much of America -- pro-choice at the embryo stage for sure. (I just can't agree that it is a "person" at that stage.) But somewhere before birth, and probably even before the second trimester, I would draw that line. Where exactly? Probably at the ability to suffer, wherever that is. Science can help us here, but certainly can't get us all to agree!

As several above have mentioned, my own experience with pregnancy and motherhood have colored my views as well. I'm now more pro-fetus in the second half to two-thirds of pregnancy, for one thing. But I'm still just as pro-choice in the early stages for reasons others have already covered.

Thanks for being brave enough to bring this up, Kevin. It should not be a taboo subject among Friends. We are clearly not in unity about it, and we should not assume we *are* in unity, as I find some liberal Friends do. (Perhaps conservative Friends make similar false assumptions, but I can only speak for my own branch!)

Shawna said...

Julie,

When you say that you don't think we should be attempting to be in unity about this issue, do you mean that you would like us to be in unity that it is a personal decision, and not one that concerns others? This seems like a fair opinion and one that would be worth laboring with people about, if this is what you believe.

However, if you mean that you think the status quo is just fine, and that we should continue to disagree with each other about how inportant the topic is, that doesn't seem quite right. To many folks who are anti-abortion, it's important because for them, babies are dying. To tell them that they shouldn't try to convince people of this... that the choice to kill or not kill a baby is simply a matter of personal choice like whether to be a vegetarian... is cruel.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Friend Kevin - I found your blog through a link of Chuck's. I haven't read it before (I've been out of the blogosphere mostly for years)

I believe that you raise a very important, probably unanswerable question, and I sense that you are very earnest about it.

Cat and Hystery voiced what's in my heart as well, very well.

And, I hate to say it, but I sense that you are not open to new light on this issue. I also am aware that that may be my own prejudice about "pro-lifers" in general. I hope I'm wrong.

From my point of view, your premise is irrelevant. The clump (!) is "one of us" - I don't dispute its humanity at all. I don't dispute its right not to be killed. IF there were a way for a woman to terminate a pregnancy and not kill the child/clump I wholeheartedly believe that it should be illegal to kill it (there was a star trek episode once where it was possible to beam the fetus into another woman's womb, pretty cool idea, but not a current option)

The issue, legalistically, for me, is not that the clump doesn't have rights, or merit moral consideration, it's whether those rights override the rights of a woman to control her own body. And the answer is no.

certainly we don't kill ten year old, or one day old, children in situations where we might abort a fetus, but neither do we force their mothers to donate organs or bone marrow if they are ill and need it to live.

The question (for me) is not whether these human beings (I feel funny saying that, but fine) deserve to live, but if they, unlike other human beings, have the right to use the body of another human being against their will in order to survive. the answer is (for me) they don't.

Now, that said, I don't believe that the position of quakers needs to be "pro-abortion" And in all honesty, pretty much no one's position is pro abortion - if we could get rid of them through the most excellent birth control ever or other nonpunitive means, I think most of us would. I, for one, would love to get rid of any due to rape and incest by getting rid of rape an incest, and it's a sad statement that no one ever even talks about that like a possibility.

I have one quaker friend, one, who really doesn't think abortion is any big deal, that it carries pretty much no moral weight whatsoever. For most of us it is a big deal and we'd like to make sure it happens as little as possible.

So, perhaps Friends can unite on that. I doubt that we will ever unite on the legal issue of abortion, as it is not just a question of granting human rights, but granting to some and taking away from others. Bodily sovereignty is an important human right as well, just like the right to life, and no other human situation compares - in no other situation can a person infringe on another's bodily sovereignty in order to prolong their own life, and in no other situation can someone kill another to preserve their bodily sovereignty. In my opinion both sides need to recognize that and actually be willing to deal with how difficult it is if we're even to have a reasonable discussion.

Shawna said...

Ben,

Please don't abdicate all responsibility to women. Men are intimately involved in the creation of all pregnancies, and we have all been in a uterus at one point or another in our lives... so it is an issue about which men should feel some responsibility too.

naturalmom said...

Pam, I'm with you on the bodily sovereignty issue up to a point, but I don't think it holds at every point of the pregnancy in every situation. I'm setting aside legality here, and only talking ethically for the moment. Let's assume a person (Person A) is asked to save Person B's life by being hooked up to Person B -- perhaps A's liver is going to function for both of them for some period of time until a transplant organ is available for B. (I know this isn't a realistic situation, but if it were, it would be analogous to a fetus and a mother.) Certainly no one would argue that Person A has an absolute obligation to say "yes" to that situation. If Person A is *unwittingly* hooked up to Person B, then presented with the situation, perhaps A should give some consideration to B's plight, but they would still not be absolutely obligated to stay hooked up. They would be within their rights to choose to unhook soon after discovering the unwanted use of their body. (One might hope they would be inclined to be generous to B, but I don't see how one could require it.)

Now, however, let's assume Person A agrees and knows in advance the risks and the approximate time-frame of the situation. Person A agrees to be hooked up, or at least agrees to be put in a situation where they might be chosen to be hooked up to Person B. A remains hooked to B, providing life-sustaining service for several months. Under what circumstances can A now ethically decide to unhook? I would submit only if the situation has become life-threatening to Person A, or if Person B has been struck with a mortal illness or wound, such that he will never survive the unhooking process, even when the donor organ becomes available at the end of the agreed period.

There are lots of "ifs" and assumptions here, but my basic point is that the fetus does become invested with rights equal to the mothers at some point, in my opinion.

I feel the need to be more clear, but must get off line now. I hope this is clear enough to give food for thought, anyway.

Chuck Fager said...

Shawna wrote:

<< Chuck, Kevin's whole question here was "Why is the unborn child/embryo/fetus not considered one of us?" You answered essentially, "Because it is not one of us..." (your words were that it is not a human being).>>

That's essentially correct, Shawna. It is a counterpart to Kevin's statement, which is, in sum, that it is.

Both these assertions have equal weight, because neither of them can be "proven" in the way that science proves something. I think Kevin believes one of them (his) can be. That's a mistaken view of what science can do.

<< Kevin asked you to explain when it becomes a human being... and your answer was "It depends." Did you mean to make this answer sound as flippant as it sounds to my ears? >>

I can understand how it sounded "flippant," and regret that impression.

However, it was the best option to making a quite long post a lot longer, in the face of the Google Overseers' insistence that I was running on too long.

I don't feel able to lay this out at full length even now. But here's a slightly expanded version, which returns to the analogy of the house. (Analogies are useful here, because we are not talking about things which can be settled "objectively.")

When does a "house" (the idea in the mind of an architect, the funds of an owner, and the labor of a work crew and the materials of the suppliers, become a "real" HOUSE?

(I have recently been through a very extensive renovation of my dwelling, and am close with an architect who goes through this all the time; so I have a bit of familiarity here.)

For a house, there are in fact quite a long list of requirements to meet before it can "officially" be declared a "HOUSE" and one can move in (or back in, in the renovation case).

[I better jump to another comment window; I feel the Google elders breathing down my neck . . . ]

Chuck Fager said...

For Shawna, continued:

Back to the matter of the house. The checklists for certifications are very long and detailed and usually take lots of "finishing up" and sometimes re-dos to get right.

So it's not a simple thing. or quick. In this light, the idea that a house is "a real house" from Day One just doesn't wash. It comes to pass slowly and developmentally. And can be abandoned at lots of points. It can also collapse.

In addition, since no two houses are the same (even the "cookie-cutter" types vary some), each situation is its own process.

Turning to embryos, though, my sense is that the moving target of "viability" is a useful guideline (not an absolute, tho); then there are intuitive signals which are hard to quantify.

For example, long ago, a female acquaintance came to me about her pregnancy. She and her husband really did not want the baby. And eventually it was stillborn. I don't know more details, but it seemed to me they said a kind of existential NO to it.

Does that amount to some kind of "psychic abortion"? I don't know; maybe. But I was not surprised when I heard what happened.

Thus illustrates part of my sense of when a pregnancy needs to continue: the larger life context into which it's trying to find its place. Yes, this is subjective, even a bit mysterious. But I've already come out as regarding life as a mystery, so that fits.

Then there are "big" things like physical abnormalities -- not minor ones, but the ones that are reliably associated with short and painful "lives."

Here I come out with another conviction of mine: there are "lives," the extension and preservation of which do not honor human dignity, but rather debase it, both for the individual and the community of which it is a part. This usually occurs more among the aged; but at the other end of the age spectrum too.

I have a sister-in-law who is a nurse. She's a dedicated caring professional. But it was after her tour of duty on the children's ward in a top-flight Boston hospital --the ward with the terminal cases -- that she emerged a resolved and definite atheist, a view from which she has not budged in the 35 years since she saw what she saw there. That gives you another angle on what I'm referring to.

[I'm not an atheist, however; but sometimes I'm a pretty pissed off theist.]

Shawna then said:

<< He [Kevin] asked you in all seriousness to tell him when a member of the species homos sapiens can be considered a human being, and what your definition was. It seems to me that at the very least you have a personal working definition that you use. Any honest laboring over this concern ought to begin by sharing our personal working definitions of the terms that we will use....>>

Tho my answer of "It depends," may have been too brief, it was still a serious one. This somewhat expanded one is consistent with that. I would only add to it a repetition of my affirmation of an overall bias in favor of life, even difficult life; that feels to me entirely consistent with what I've said above.

Shawna concluded:

<< My personal working definition of a human being is an individual who is a member of the species homo sapiens. Science tells me that the individual is formed at conception, so my working definition of human being includes folks who are too small to see. >>

Very well. My view is different: what is formed at conception is DNA. The human being comes later, and is dependent on lots of factors, not all measurable in a laboratory. The effort to claim scientific sanction for the "from conception" view is unscientific.

Yet to paraphrase what Fox apocryphally said to Penn, wear thy view as long as thou canst.

Anonymous said...

This is starting to get really upsetting. What is all this snatching at moonbeams.
We foolish quakers are, if nothing else---individualists. Really. Do you think you are going to be talking around that at some point?
Sorry Shawna, but the Mother decides, that's it period.
I must point out, as I have had to so many times in the past that our peace testimony is of course only our tradition not our law.
I believe and follow it as it seems meet to me. However the world I know is full of death. We choose what we kill all the time. Sorry not to use the usual weasel word about that. We are the top killers on this little planet and there is of course no end to that.

Ben Schultz said...

2. the question for us doesn't even include the option of non-killing.
What we wrestle with is our choices in this area.
WE chose freedom.
WE chose body control over our own bodies. By definition we never ever could come to unity on any other course.
Do we want unity, or will we keep up a level of bullshit over issues long past.
This one is long past.
Let us be quiet in the face of how awful this all is.
Sorry but I'm a little faggot who is weary of some quakers idea that they can discuss my body and existence. Not in the cards.
We are the religion of No. Aren't we?
Love Ben ( really)

Anonymous said...

first, i'm not a quaker, so pardon my intrusion. however, i have been curious and perusing a few quaker blogs and forums over the last weeks.

2 points that i don't think i've heard much any any discussion of the issue:

1) i think abortion is intimately tied to other issues such as when to unplug someone from life-support systems. the reasons being, when you define "life", you're implicitely defining "not life"/"death", and vice versa. so if you're defining the qualities that have to exist to consider a fetus "alive", the absence of those qualities in someone on life-support means they are not alive. (eg, the Schiavo case that was so controversial.) seems to me they should both be consistent, however they're defined, either morally or legally.

2) often whether something is justifiable or not depends on the circumstances. for example, if you're driving and there's a wreck and someone dies, the police come out and investigate the scene, and the courts determine what to do. possibly it was an accident, possibly it was manslaughter. depends on whether you're sober, driving safely, road conditions, etc.

yet, is driving really a requirement to function? many amish/mennonites get by without driving cars. why not consider all deaths from auto accidents to be murder? certainly society existed for many years without the use of autos, shouldn't we encourage "abstinence"?


and so far as i know, the purpose of your trip is never taken into account in current law. assume that it was purely an accident in that the driver was safe and sober. but assume in one case the driver was on the way to work doing neurosurgy to save lives, and in a second case the driver was headed to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes. certainly cigarettes are "frivolous" and unnecessary, so shouldn't we charge them with murder, even if they're driving safely otherwise?

tho not a perfect analogy, there is some parallels with abortion. assume you make abortion illegal, and now you have to determine the punishments.

assume: case (1) one aborted pregnancy was wild sorority girl on spring break, getting drunk every night, and having different partners each night, all unprotected. (please pardon any stereotypes, i'm just trying to create 2 extreme examples, not slander any group.)

and assume case (2) an aborted pregnancy was a very young married couple who were using birthcontrol but it failed, and they're early in their lives and tho responsible and stable as a couple, do not yet have the financial stability to support a child too. maybe throw in a sonigram showing a birth defect and no health insurance if you want to complicate it more.

do you charge both with 1st degree murder? do you have some lessor charge, like "involuntary manslaughter"? "reckless recreation"? do you even want the gov't involved in, as it were, "measuring the skid marks" at the scene of the crime? who will be the witnesses to testify in court?

personally, i don't want the gov't involved at that level in investigating people's lives and determining degrees of guilt.

in the death of someone in another automobile you've never met before and hence have no emotional bond to, there is hence potentially less vested interest in being responsible, which the the law tries to equalize by providing punishment for irresponsible behavior.

however, i think there's a level of intimacy between a woman and her body that surpasses a random auto passenger on the highway. while there are certainly exceptions, at some level i have to trust the woman has a vested interest in being as responsible as possible in her situation.

--sgl

Hystery said...

Alice,

You speak my mind.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I'm hopeful that this already lengthy comment thread will continue, because I know from experience within my own meeting that abortion is a charged and painful issue for Friends, and we don't resolve those issues in isolation and through censoring our speech.

However, as Kevin has remarked, it's not so much what we think that matters here as what That Spirit is trying to teach us that matters. And I'm hoping we can remember to stay low to the truth as we continue to talk to one another: mostly I think we are, but there's a certain temptation to cavil and slip into eldering one another, perhaps without being led to that by anything but our own internal sense of how right we are.

If I were a clerk, and this was a meeting of Friends we were participating in together, I'd ask Friends to center into listening silence for a time. I'm not a clerk, and this is not a meeting, but perhaps this discussion is precious enough and important enough that we can all take a moment or two to center down and check in with the Guide before we hit the button marked, "Publish Your Comment"?

Just a suggestion.
***************
OK. I'm back. I took my own suggestion.

Having taken the time to re-read the comment thread--hard to do, as my own opinions kept rising up and wanting me to hurryhurryhurry and speak MY piece--and then re-centered myself, I am posting in a spirit of tenderness.

I am asking everyone here to contemplate doing something similar: if not taking the time to center into prayer or reflection before posting, at least to take time to pause and ask ourselves, "Am I being tender? Am I speaking plainly, but in love?"

Ron Mock said...

Chuck -- Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I hope Friends can commit to discerning with one another a way to reach unity about abortion. There are not many communities in the world with a better chance of doing this.

Your question -- what makes the fetus count (or not) as "one of us" -- is crucial. For me, the question turns on whether the fetus is a person. We don't treat everything with human DNA as human -- body parts, dead people, etc. I am not sure I can put my finger on everything we look for in a person, but the minima seem to be an independent subjective existence (consciousness?) in a functioning body (not necessarily a whole one).

The conceptus does not have these things. It has no internal processing that we can detect, and that would be needed to support consciousness. Nor does it have anything like a "body", with specialized parts interacting as a whole.

But the late term fetus DOES have both its own subjective experience and a functioning body. So it clearly is a person.

Where does the conceptus cross the line into independent subjective existence in a functioning body? As early as the 6th week, when the nervous system begins its detectable functions?

Finding a point of personhood does not finish our discussion of abortion. To the degree the pregnacny is like an assault on the mother, we still have to balance the welfare of two people. But the discussion changes, it seems to me, when the line to personhood is crossed.

Ken Maher said...

The argument that abortion should be legal because of the maternal death rate in this country, which one respondent says “has doubled in the past twenty years with a sharper increase for African American women” makes no sense. First of all, abortion has been legal for more than the last twenty years, making Roe v Wade of apparently no effect on this tragedy. Secondly, anyone not in thrall to the major medical associations will tell you that maternal death rates increase, both in time and in place, in direct proportion to the medicalization of childbirth. Pregnancy is not a disease, and fewer women (and infants) die from it in countries where midwives flourish and doctors stand by for emergencies only.

Remarks about a woman’s owning her body support my general sense that reproductive choice is a direct byproduct of capitalism. Although both concepts have some value, we know that both can easily lead to violent extremes. In ethical issues, at least, I am no rugged individualist. From each, according to one’s ability; to each, according to one’s needs.

It may be easy for us to see more “life” in a chimpanzee or a cow or a dog than in a clam or a fish or a human blastosphere, but from whence does one derive the right or the authority to decide where to draw the life-and-death line in the world of these living things? Cat says, “Somewhere on that gradual continuum between blastosphere and baby there comes a point where I feel the need to protect that child…” If it is a continuum, then what is it a continuum of—if not of life? Why does the mother get to release the surgeon’s knife any more than the rancher the butcher’s knife?

For my dear old friend, Chuck Fager: You write that, “given the right circumstances, (an early embryo) has the capacity to one day become a human being and a human person.” Actually, an early embryo is in exactly the right circumstances, when in utero, to fulfill its inevitable capacity to become a human being, unless that capacity is removed—either by nature or by human hands and minds. You add that you were “raised in a religion which argues strongly for this ‘human-being-from-the-moment-of- conception’ view.” I was raised in that same religion, which has a lot of other pronouncements of self-authority over unprovable statements like that one. No one has proven when life begins—no church and no science. My skepticism on this is the same that leads me to oppose capital punishment, since I do not trust human judgment to determine either guilt or repentance and reconciliation.

And is this the Ben Schultz from Rochester Meeting? (If so, howdy!) But let me add that we aren’t “the religion of No,” and please be assured that many (myself included) who are prolife are also progay. Only those who are married to the scriptures are prolife and antigay.

Chuck Fager said...

Ron--

For the sake of truth, it was Kevin who posed the questions here; I merely rambled on about them.

And Ken, I am wary of seeing "life" conflated with the "human being" life that is at issue. We've been over the point that there is "life" from conception (and before, actually); and my thesis that "living" DNA as such does not amount to a "human being" in the disputed sense here remains.

I know that some reject the distinction; but others, including me, retain it. (See the detailed analogy of the house, above.)

As for the "circumstances" of the blastocyst: in a normal womb it is indeed in the best "setting" for successful growth. But for me, setting does not equal "circumstances"; those can be affected by many factors, internal and external, to dictate an uncertain or unsuccessful outcome.

A note to both: I have not addressed the issues relating to legality here thus far. That was both for sake of brevity -- my posting was long enough already! -- but also for simplicity, because for me that matter raises a number of important points not part of the discussion so far.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Small point, but important: though I myself most certainly do not take the Bible as *ahem* "scripture"...

There are those for whom the Bible is an important tool, perhaps the primary tool, for discerning the will of God for whom that book does not say that it is wrong to be gay.

(And, of course, although the Bible has much to say about human life, it says nothing directly about abortion, per se.)

I'm pointing this out only because it seems to me important to note that the only sure generalization, when it comes to Friends and the Bible, is that it is hard to generalize about Friends and the Bible.

And because, as a Liberal and non-Christian Friend, I am pained that Christ-centered and Bible-centered Friends are often mischaracterized by Liberal Quakers like me, as uniformly socially conservative--in the political sense.

Hystery said...

Just for clarification, I am not saying that maternal death rate is linked to abortion rates. Maternal death rates, as I understand the phenomenon, are linked to lack of access to prenatal care and to an increase in risky medical interventions. I would agree that greater emphasis on midwifery rather than the medical model would help. More important still would be greater emphasis on women's physical, social, and psychological health generally which would very likely also diminish the demand for abortion. I included the information parenthetically as a means of saying just this: Women die in pregnancy. We often forget this because we are so far removed from the time when every woman knew too well just how vulnerable to death pregnancy made her. We are fortunate to live in a time when so few people expect to die in giving life. However, the reality, though diminished by better health, nutrition, sanitation and medical technologies has not eliminated this concern. Stuff happens. People still die in childbirth and often quite unexpectedly.

I am not speaking of numbers but of ethics. Is it ethical to demand that a woman carry a pregnancy to term if she is unwilling? Pregnancy is not a disease, but it does increase a woman's vulnerability to certain pregnancy-related dangers. I was joyfully willing to accept those risks in my pregnancies but what if I was not? Would you force me to give birth? Giving birth was among the most terrifying experiences of my life and by far the most painful. I cried, begged, passed out, and developed a dangerous fever. I was willing. What if I was not?

Another wrinkle to this is new information that sexually and physically abusive male partners often coerce their female partners into pregnancy and/or sabotage birth control methods. We can add that to rape, incest, and poor access to birth control as reasons why women get pregnant despite their wishes to the contrary. Lack of health care and health insurance, poverty, hunger, medical necessity and complications, etc. complicate pregnancy and may lead to demand for abortion.

If Friends are to eliminate abortion (as far as possible) what would we do? Would a change in the law increase or decrease injustice, pain, and death? Would women go underground? Can we return to pre-Roe v. Wade legal status for women after nearly forty years? Have our social attitudes regarding sex and sexuality altered the landscape irrevocably? What would be the social, medical, and legal repercussions of such a decision?

But I would prefer to respond to Kevin's question in a different manner. What are we called to do as people of Love and servants of Justice? There are medical conditions, realities of physical life that will likely always result in the need for medical abortion to preserve a woman's life and health. Maybe there is not much we can do about that as a religious society. But what of the conditions of injustice and violence in which women conceive and give birth? Certainly Friends have something to say about that.

Susan Jeffers said...

Thanks to naturalmom for the "person A - person B" analogy. Certainly most pregnant women (except for women who were coerced/raped) fit into the category of "Person A agrees to be hooked up, or at least agrees to be put in a situation where they might be chosen to be hooked up to Person B."

And thanks to Cat for your reminders about centering into listening silence.

Grace and peace to you all ---

Chuck Fager said...

For the Record: Two persons -- one on the blog, and one off -- have written to thank me for the original post which started this thread.

Alas, this does Kevin an injustice: he deserves the credit.

One of these persons, however, reading Kevin's post and erroneously thinking it mine, said, "wow! Chuck's really come a long way! this is great!"

But even correcting for the Kevin-Chuck confusion, this person was right: I have come a long way on this issue.

If anyone is interested in a sketch of this pilgrimage, here's a link to an essay about it:
http://afriendlyletter.com/abortion-01.html

And if anyone doubts some of what is reported there, let me refer them also to the book "Wrath of Angels" by James Risen & Judy Thomas (Risen is the NY Times reporter who blew the lid off the Bush domestic spying & illegal wiretapping crimes).

In "Wrath," which is a detailed account of the evolution of the anti-abortion movement up through the heyday of "Operation Rescue" in the '90s, you will find a report on the first person to introduce nonviolent direct action to anti-abortion groups; and indeed, it was your humble servant.

Yes, Friends, a long way.

Shawna said...

Thank you to Cat and others, including Hystery, for reminding us to respond here in Love. It's a tough issue, and it's important, and that means we need to be extra careful as we navigate the terrain.

Thank you, Chuck for clarifying your position a little bit. My childbirth books tell me that the individual is formed at conception. Yes, that means that the individual DNA is formed that makes an organism a member of the species homo sapiens, independent of both its mother and father. It is more than merely DNA even at this point, since it is also an organism that is rapidly creating an independently functioning body(in a way very different from a piece of skin, for example, which also contains DNA but will never create an independently functioning body on its own).

When the Supreme Court ruled on Roe vs. Wade, they relied in part on the old legal precedent that children are essentially the property of their parents, and they arbitrarily chose to give the mother the right to terminate the pregnancy as long as the fetus was entirely dependent on her for its own life. This actually seems like a reasonable legal expedient to me (although not a moral one), in the face of very difficult current realities like the ones that Hystery brought up. Keep in mind, Hystery, that women have also been coerced into having abortions by their employers, and their significant others, and by the government (in the case of China).

Currently, the fetus is considered viable (no longer completely dependent on the mother for life) at about 24 weeks. If I go into labor at 24 weeks, the hospital considers my baby a preemie, not a miscarriage, and they attempt to save the baby's life. Here is where the argument that it is entirely the mother's decision begins to make me extremely uneasy, not just from a moral standpoint but from a legal standpoint as well. The way current abortion law is in the U.S., one could theoretically have a mother give birth to a 24-week preemie and have the hospital staff fight for the baby's life, and down the hall in the same hospital, a mother could have a 24-week abortion and have the baby killed. Frankly, I think this is insane. If one is a person with a life worth trying to save, then the other one should be too.

Ben, my concern for the dignity of human beings includes everyone, including both unborn babies and their mothers and LGBT folks. We're all God's children. We should all be treated like it.

Bill Samuel said...

1. Chuck said that the Old Discipline didn't contain the peace testimony. It didn't use that term, which is more recent, but if you look at the section on War, most Friends will think of what it says as the Peace Testimony.

2. Some Friends might be interested in the Quaker consistent life ethic group, Friends Witness for a Pro-life Peace Testimony.

kevin roberts said...

Folks, I haven't been ignoring this, but I move freight for a living and am usually a long way from any internet access. Can I please thank you all for your comments and ideas so far, and echo Cat's suggestion that we sit a bit and wait on our Guide? Especially when we decide that we have all the answers and the problem lies with people who don't see it as clearly as we do.

Whatever it is we believe.

My own view of Quakerism is that unity is important on important matters, and I want to find it here.

Daniel said...

God bless!
I can clearly see that the Light has been keeping you in the presence of it's great thoughtful force. If you're looking for someone to give you a counter argument, I'm afraid you will never find one. For Quakers politics and religion have never been seperate and looking for Guidance to help you understand both is something I deeply admire. I have to admit I teared a little when I read your part about people who are disabled because it made me scared to think our society copying the Nazist belief of an "perfect race". As people of God we should accept ourselves and each other as no more perfect than any other creations of God.

Chuck Fager said...

Shawna, I can agree with much of your description of the zygote:

<< the individual DNA is formed >>

Yes

<< that makes an organism a member of the species homo sapiens,>>

Yes

<< independent of both its mother and father.>>

Yes. Yet none of this alters my own sense of the meaning or moral weight of these data. Some take them and say, therefore this is a "human being" and abortion is murder. To me that a value and definitional conclusion that does not follow from the data.

You continue:

<< It is more than merely DNA even at this point, since it is also an organism that is rapidly creating an independently functioning body >>

Yes, but -- even with its dynamic potential for growth, its progress is completely dependent for many more weeks on continuous interaction with many other systems, located in the mother's body, and in many cases, injected from outside that. This dependency is not morally irrelevant in my view.

This growth, you say, proceeds

<< (in a way very different from a piece of skin, for example,>>

It does now. Cloning and related technology is rapidly undermining that distinction. (I'm no advocate of cloning; but it's happening, and developing fast.)

You then speak of Roe v. Wade, . I have not dealt with that legal case; it's a whole different sector of this discussion; and I don't want to get sidetracked into that here.

Your next statement is

<< Currently, the fetus is considered viable (no longer completely dependent on the mother for life) at about 24 weeks. >>

The key phrase for me here is "about 24 weeks."

I agree that at some point, a fetus becomes a "human being" (as a hole in the ground plus a good blueprint, a pile of proper materials, lots of labor and funds, and favorable conditions eventually become a house).

That point will vary not only in general, but from one pregnancy to another. And this is where actual decisionmaking by those involved (and the state) gets more tricky, and agonizing. I repeat again that my bias is for life; but I also repeat that life leads us into mystery and pain and grief as well as joy.

You refer to divergent decisions being made in the same hospital. I recently talked with an experienced Quaker nurse who has served on many, many bioethics committees in hospitals (what some have derisively called "death panels," tho these were not set up by government). He stated unequivocally that such things happen all the time in life-and-death medical situations, and that lay persons have little idea of the moral ambiguities and "judgment calls" that are made every day there.

I believe that, and I believe it apples at all points in the spectrum of living.

Chuck Fager said...

Now one final point for Kevin. You state that:

<< My own view of Quakerism is that unity is important on important matters, and I want to find it here. >>

Unity is good when it comes. But as I survey Quaker history, and matters of testimony, I find it more the exception than the rule. And this condition includes issues of life and death.

Take the matter of war taxes: disagreements over whether it was acceptable to pay any, or some, or all go back well over 200 years. I don't know of any yearly meetings facing schism over this, but the divergence of view continues even today.

Or what is now called the "Peace Testimony." I was not joking about it not being in the Old Disciplines; it wasn't. The testimony of avoiding military activities is a very different thing from what is now found in books of faith & Practice. It changed.

And that is not to mention the fact that there have been Friends in almost all the generations which were faced with war who chose to bear arms. Some were disowned for this; but many were not. I have written about this, as have some of our best scholars.

Even on the matter of refusing oaths. London Yearly Meeting was divided (but did not divide)for decades about how to deal with an offer by the government of a limited affirmation.

Then there is slavery; it took Philadelphia Friends 75 years to find unity that they should be clear of it. And even after US Friends were unanimous that slavery was evil, they differed sharply, sometimes to the point of schism, over how to eradicate it.

This list could be much longer. And from it I draw an inference that I want to offer as a query:

Which is more realistic (and "edifying") for the life of our Religious Society: "unity" on an issue like abortion, or the ability to follow the counsel of Paul in Galatians 6:2, to "bear one another's burdens"?

Among these "burdens, I would suggest, are divergent views and convictions about many matters such as the one you raised. "Bearing" them, or bearing with them as we labor together, we are told, will "thereby fulfill the law of Christ."

I suggest this is both the more realistic course, and the more Christian one.

To be sure, we all also draw boundaries: "Thus far I can go, but no farther." Some have drawn that line on this issue.

I have not. I can respect others who do, but hope they would reconsider.

kevin roberts said...

Thank you for your "final point," Chuck. With all due respect, the conversation is beginning, not ending, and I have a suggestion to help it be more meaningful, certainly to me.

I have no way of contacting you privately, which was my first preference, but in the absence of that, I would like to invite you to put your thoughts on this topic in order, write a blog post about them, and send them to me. I will post them verbatim here, with a short bio for those of us who don't know who you are, and invite comments.

I have had a turn here to make some points about what I see as the moral difficulty of taking sides on the abortion issue without first thinking very hard and very clearly about what it is that is being destroyed. There are many moral ambiguities in my own views on this matter, which I left out in order to make the piece short enough to hold together here. I am well aware of them, and will bring them up myself if nobody else does first.

I suggest a blog post here for you, rather than continuing in the comments section, because first, then Google can't keep interrupting you, and second, because I would like to listen to what you have to say about this matter on your own, rather than listen to lots more of why people should disagree with me.

The only stipulation that I would impose is that the subject matter stay the same: what is the nature of that which is being destroyed-- human, person, citizen, blood spot, or blob, and how do we distinguish between what that item is, and other things that we automatically decide merit protective consideration. Many very important and excrutiatingly painful secondary topics have been brought up in this comment section so far, and they all have a place in the conversation. But as I pointed out in the original post, how we deal with them changes depending upon how we deal with the first question, which is still, what is it?

As I have said many times, I am interested in unity within the Society of Friends on this issue. That will never happen when the conversation consists of talking past each other when the word ab***ion comes up. The only way that we can do it-- whatever the outcome will be-- is by laboring with each other in the presence of our Guide. For me that clearly means listening to people who see things differenty and exchanging our discoveries of what we see as the Light we have been given.

My email address is k.d.roberts at hotmail.com. Please let me know.

kevin roberts said...

Pam, thank you for your comment. I don't know much about the pro-life movement. I'm a truck driver with lots of open road time to ask God questions, and to try to hear the answers.

How we weigh the right to one's bodily integrity when it seems to be sacrificed to the needs of another is an important point. Are you aware of the occasional practice here in America in which the parents of a child born with a need for tissue or organ donation will have another immediately, specifically to serve as an involuntary donor to help the first child live? There seems to be a parallel there, in which this rare moral dilemma has been decided in favor of involuntarily invading the bodily integrity of another in order to assist a second party.

There are also troubling moral developments (troubling to me) in the field of life and death in the published work of philosophers like Peter Singer. Singer skips the common first step of denying the aborted foetus to be human, and in fact re-asserts it. He then goes on to tackle the issue you brought up squarely on the head-- can we kill it, or not-- and concludes that abortion is acceptable because there is no moral need to be concerned about killing a human being. Singer has no trouble with the subject because imposing death on another does not present a moral problem to him.

And you know, whether I am open to new Light on this matter depends on many factors, but chiefly on the Light itself. I do not believe in continuing revelation, but in its more accurate description, cumulative revelation. I believe the Light is singular, and I am looking for a clearer perception of what it is.

Thanks again.

Sherry Goff said...

Ivan Illich and Barbara Duden raise some pretty important questions about the language we use to think about these things, and the phenomenology of pregnancy.

They show that this idea of something called "life" is a fairly recent invention, where for most of time we called a thing living or not... now we have a need to abstract and universalize it. It's a problem, especially for a church that proclaims a greater sovereign than the state, to think of ourselves as "citizens," a nationalist construct. Thinking of the contents of the pregnant woman's womb as what Illich called "an embryonic citizen" seems, then, very problematic.

The criminalization of sin has not worked very well so far.

-Stan Goff

kevin roberts said...

Natural, you can bring in the flamers. They have to be included sooner or later, because this is a concern that ultimately affects everybody, although I am directing it right now at the Society of Friends, which still seems to me to be trying to balance two horses at once.

I don't tolerate rudeness, and I have a delete button that speaks volumes for me.

Karen said...

I can't say how many times I've begun to write something in response to this discussion and deleted it because it rambled, became too long or too dogged or tangled up.

My thinking right now is that there are a lot of hard issues surrounding access to reproduction and abortion that seem to fit more like a complex Venn diagram than a comfy jigsaw puzzle.

Right now, I am valuing this discussion, and sitting with the thought that perhaps the unity that can be reached on this issue is the unity in listening to each other as individuals and to the Light as a group. And I find myself wondering whether that unity is not far more important than any other.

Karen

kevin roberts said...

Hi Karen.

Yes.

That's what it's all about.

Please stick around.

Chuck Fager said...

Kevin wrote:

<< I have no way of contacting you privately, which was my first preference, but in the absence of that, I would like to invite you to put your thoughts on this topic in order, write a blog post about them, and send them to me. I will post them verbatim here, with a short bio for those of us who don't know who you are, and invite comments.

The only stipulation that I would impose is that the subject matter stay the same: what is the nature of that which is being destroyed-- human, person, citizen, blood spot, or blob, and how do we distinguish between what that item is, and other things that we automatically decide merit protective consideration. Many very important and excrutiatingly painful secondary topics have been brought up in this comment section so far, and they all have a place in the conversation. But as I pointed out in the original post, how we deal with them changes depending upon how we deal with the first question, which is still, what is it?
>>

Kevin, my email is chuckfager at aol dot com, and I have a blog at www.afriendlyletter.com .

I'm not sure when I can get to the task you've proposed; my schedule is pretty full too, and the comments I added took a good bit of time. I also included a link to my longer writing on the topic. Thanks for the invitation, and we'll see.

Meantime, I think if you review my comments, you'll see that I have tried to stick pretty close to the specific topic you identified.

I've avoided Roe and other legal stuff, the issues about women's rights, "wantedness" and many other things, not because they don't deserve attention, but to be responsive to the main concern you posed.

kevin roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
naturalmom said...

Wow, Kevin, I have to say that your last comment feels to me to be quite unfair to Chuck. It seems to me that he has some well-reasoned arguments that he took the time to lay out here in a very civil and respectful tone. He certainly gave it more time and deliberation than most others commenting, including myself. I don't see how his inability to take you up on your offer immediately constitutes having "more important conflicts to adjudicate now that you've rendered judgment on this one".

It's hard to have a conversation about a tough topic when someone's sincerely and respectfully offered opinions are so harshly and insultingly dismissed. I know I am feeling much more wary now about engaging further in this conversation.

Ben Schultz said...

Wow Kevin,
So this was all bullshit. You, as usual with this kind of concern trolling are simply pushing your (yawn) feelings. Thank the goddess it's so easy to see through this kind of what? thuggishness. One more time. This is not ours or your business. Sit quietly and let yourself go to the reality of this. There is a world outside your dang haid. Listen, listen, listen.
Last of old,
Ben

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Oh, hush, y'all.

Kevin... you snarked. Hate to say it, buddy, but you went all snarky on Chuck. It's OK for him to post lengthy comments here, even if their logic seems flawed to you, and then not have time to pursue a more formal writing project on the subject.

Ben... so he snarked. That's not the same as bullshitting somebody.

Nine-tenths of the time, when somebody offends us, their intentions are not the naughty ones we impute to them.

The thing is, this business of listening across our preconceptions, intellectual hangups, preferred modes of thought, and so forth, is really HARD.

It is not made easier by trying to do it on a subject we have idealistic and loving reasons for caring passionately about--on opposite sides of an ideological divide. However, to the best of my ability to discern, everyone here is at least trying to listen openly and honestly. (Yes, everyone, including that person whose comment just offended you so much! Yes, I mean you, you over there by the computer!)

If loving our neighbor was easy, everyone would be doing it. As always, it only looks easy in theory. In practice... well, the devil really is in the details. It is so hard not to lose patience and mouth off!

Try to be open to the new thing, though. Seriously.

I think, Kevin, if I'm understanding him, Chuck is not so much saying that Unity is unimportant among Friends as that taking the time it really takes to actually reach that Unity--75 years in the case of slavery, as he pointed out--and being honest about the differences among us in the meantime, is more important than faux Unity. (Chuck, I'm sorry if that's inaccurate; I will say, however, that your words suggested that idea to me.)

And I'll agree. Some of the most profoundly important spiritual experiences in my life have been wrenched from painful meetings for business where we have wrestled with angels and with each other, seeking hard to stay present with how difficult it can be to hear each other, and to be both passionate defenders of Truth, and yet stay low to it.

Along those lines, I have heard a new thing to me in this discussion, as a pro-choice Friend, around the distinction between what is right and what is legal. I'm going to sit with it for a while, and season it before perhaps sharing it; I need to see if it has Light.

But I want everyone here to know, I at least am wrestling to stay connected with you and with Spirit in this discussion. And while I don't think we will find Unity for the entire RSoF in a comments thread on a blog, I do think we may find ourselves a little closer to being able to hear God speaking to us, and maybe to being able to allow God to gather us and lead us in the future on this subject or another.

So let's try to stay faithful, OK? Intellectually honest, yeah, but that's not enough; let's try to keep on listening in love, especially when our own exasperation and impatience on behalf of the Truth we love tempts us to forget the Other loves it, too.

(And PLEASE forgive me if this comes across as smarmy; I really don't mean it to be.)

Chuck Fager said...

Thanks, first, to Cat for her comments. In particular:

<< . . . If I'm understanding him, Chuck is not so much saying that Unity is unimportant among Friends as that taking the time it really takes to actually reach that Unity--75 years in the case of slavery, as he pointed out--and being honest about the differences among us in the meantime, is more important than faux Unity. (Chuck, I'm sorry if that's inaccurate; I will say, however, that your words suggested that idea to me.)>>

Close enough. I would say that in many situations, and on many issues, disunity (or diversity of views) has been our condition, like it or not.

In some cases (slavery) unity finally came, after a fashion. In others (war), the truth is that unity has been elusive for 300-plus years.

So as a practical matter -- certainly in the remainder of my lifetime -- I either figure out how to live within the condition of disunity about war (which is a life-and-death matter, let's remember), or walk. Unity won't come because I demand it. And the alternative -- unity by purging all those "out of unity" (i.e., disagreeing with me)is one I would avoid at almost all costs. Paul had it right: "bear one another's burdens."


You added:

And I'll agree. Some of the most profoundly important spiritual experiences in my life have been wrenched from painful meetings for business where we have wrestled with angels and with each other, seeking hard to stay present with how difficult it can be to hear each other, and to be both passionate defenders of Truth, and yet stay low to it.

Yep. One such experience for me came when a CIA employee applied for membership in my meeting. It took us 18 months to work through it all; in the end we lost two members, one who said "Never!" and one who said "Absolutely!" Which brings me to Rule #1 in Dealing With Quakers, which is: Thee Can't Please them All. But it was still a very profound experience of striving together.

Will something like that happen here? Jury's still out, I think . . .

Chuck Fager said...

Kevin wrote:

Dropping in on a public conversation, dumping out a gunny sack of logical fallacies and poorly supported opinions, and then moving on to new challenges is not how Friends traditionally seek reconciliation on difficult issues.

I'll take that as an indication that you disagree with the views I expressed. There's an explanation that rightfully goes with that indication, pointing up the alleged fallacies; perhaps we'll hear it.

Kevin continued:

If you feel you have more important conflicts to adjudicate now that you've rendered judgment on this one, I understand.

I don't think I "rendered judgment" here more than anyone else did. I tried to describe my convictions on the matter at hand, and, in a summary fashion, the basis for them. I don't consider that the end of the matter.

But yes, I have a lot going on; the posts here took much time, usually late at night, from a pretty full schedule. However, I'm not adjudicating anything; nobody appointed me"a judge over Israel."

kevin roberts said...

Okay, listen, please. I have been out and away from net access in the Carolinas for three days moving telecommunications cable, and I haven't had net access to come back here and apologize to Chuck, although I wanted to almost immediately.

I haven't read anything in this apparently active comment string yet, so I may have to apologize all over again to everybody.

Chuck Fager, I was rude to you and my remarks were thoughtless, inappropriate, unkind, unfriendly, and untrue. You deserved nothing of what I said and I sincerely regret saying it. I apologize and ask your forgiveness for my lapse of both common sense and common decency.

I try very hard to keep that kind of poor practice out of this conversational community, and the fact that I introduced it myself is quite humbling. I am truly sorry.

I am indeed a worm.

kevin roberts said...

Chuck, I would like to apologize again, and point out that you have exhibited a great deal more grace in this matter than I did.

I don't offer this as an excuse, for which I don't have any, but the past week I've worked 65 hours and driven 2000 miles across 12 states. I'm worn out, and my brain short-circuits and makes faulty connections when I do this. I made a number of very obvious and very incorrect connections, and you were the innocent target.

Again, I am sorry, and you did nothing to deserve being treated badly by a jerk.

kevin roberts said...

Now, all you other folks, including those who were kind enough to elder me-- NaturalMom, Ben, and Cat-- but not limited to them, I apologize to you folks, too.

The commonly hard-edged cut-and-thrust of internet debate is something that can be fun when the subject matter is a game, or when ideas are being tested against each other in an intellectual sparring contest where there are no stakes and the exchange is specifically a proving or tempering process

That isn't the atmosphere that I try to encourage here, and I regret being the poster boy for human frailty and egotism issues. It will not happen again, and is serving as a lesson to me that my measure has been sufficiently increased so that this behavior is no longer tolerable anywhere, much less in a public conversation where people are wary of being treated poorly in the first place.

I am going to do better, and I don't ask you to bear with me, because you won't have to.

kevin roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kevin roberts said...

Those last two comments were after I read the ones here from other people. I'm obviously still bushed. I've steered this trailer486 miles since two this morning, and have 505 more to do tomorrow.

I've modified this last comment to say that I have deleted the comments I made about Chuck that were untrue and rude to him, because there is no reason to have them up and it merely continues the injustice. I have left the discussion of them in place, because that is necessary to the integrity of the conversation.

naturalmom said...

Kevin, I appreciate your gracious retraction of your comments. It's so easy to fire off ill-considered words on the internet, especially when one is feeling grumpy to begin with. I know I've done it myself a time or two. Hope you get some rest and make it home safely.

Karen said...

Kevin, that took guts and integrity.

I admit that I was really put off the conversation, but I've read your stuff before and it seemed way out of character for you to react as you did, so I came back to see how it had panned out. It makes my heart glad to see such good examples of kind eldering and ownership of responsibility.

It's much more valuable to me to see people have uncharacteristic blips and how they're dealt with with honesty and kindness than to see people being invariably on the right track - it reminds me that I don't have to be perfect, and gives me tools to deal with the times I find difficult. Classic exercise in how to respond to momentary lapses gratefully received :)

kevin roberts said...

That's the nature of the corporate witness, which is why I consider unity so important'

Unity isn't the same as unanimity.

Chuck Fager said...

Kevin:

Three quick things, one minor, two major.

The minor thing: My response to your (now deleted) comments relating to me, which is: "No sweat"; not a problem.

The first major thing: For pete's sake, get some rest, then drive safely. May I recommend listening to something mellowing on the road, at least now and then?

After all, you showed perfect timing in your plea for forgiveness. How could one refuse on this Sabbath morning, of all mornings, which is the eve of that most brightening dawn, when all things true and pure and uplifting begin again??

That's the second major thing: Not that paganized festival the world calls Easter. I'm talking about Opening Day, which is also tomorrow.

"Behold, I make all things new." Surely that was a prophecy of the fresh-minted major league season.

Baseball on XM radio; that's the ticket. Sunday night, Red Sox & Yankees, Fenway Park.

kevin roberts said...

Chuck, I have to admit I didn't have a clue what "Opening Day" was. Around where we live "Opening Day" mostly means that we listen to shotguns all day as the deer get thinned out.

Is "Alice in Chains" mellow enough? I usually don't need to listen to anything, as after a week or two of driving I find I'm talking to myself more or less continuously

Chuck Fager said...

Yeah, I wondered if the "Opening Day" reference might be too arcane, but figured it was worth a shot. It's no-military anyway.

Chuck Fager said...

PS. But thinning out the deer is worthwhile too. I remember that from when I lived in central PA, where cutesy Bambi had become a major environmental & highway threat.

They're headed our way in SE Carolina, but not quite here yet . . .

Rachel MacNair said...

I'd like to offer a different angle on Kevin's question about whether the embryo or fetus is one of us. In several places in this discussion, when people were discussing the person within whom the fetus resides, even while setting up this person as someone with conflicting rights, they nevertheless used the word "mother." This is common.

The word "mother" implies a relationship to somebody, as a matter of definition. The use of the word implies that somebody is there. So we are not only discussing the fate of that somebody, but the tearing apart of a relationship.

That relationship may be the only one where bodies are so intertwined that one of them can't survive without being attached to the other for the time being, but this isn't just any old Person A and Person B. These are mother and child. As soon as the word "mother" is used, then I think we need to devote some serious thought to what we've just said about what is going on. Can asserting a conflict in rights be a gentle approach? How often is the actual conflict between the mother and a callous society?

I'll stop there, but re-iterate what Bill said about the prolifequakers.org web-site having a lot more discussion and links. I manage that site, so if anyone sees things missing there or wants to contribute any writing, please let me know at admin@prolifequakers.org.

Ember said...

What a wonderful blog post, Kevin.

I like the thing Rainer Maria Rilke said in "Letters To A Young Poet":
"Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

What I find about moral issues and decisionmaking is that life is shaped by the exceptions as well as the rules; so that if we always remain open to it questioning us we have a hope of remaining sensitive to what is required of us in the moment.