Thank you for your thoughtful presentation of your “conversion” to the pro-life perspective and to the view that sex and the creation of human life are sacred acts. I respect your willingness to challenge yourself and others to look at these issues directly. I have gone through a similar process in changing my views on these issues. However, while my religious faith (I am a “reconvert” to Catholicism) has been an important part of that process, it is not, I believe, my sole source of guidance or inspiration. My questions and comments below are directed at drawing out your perspective as someone who has been on both sides of the faith and pro-life divides. I realize that these questions may be too broad, but I would appreciate hearing any responses you might want to provide.

Since your article did not address questions of law, I have tried to leave that perspective out of what I say here. While the question of how the law reflects and shapes our philosophies and moral views is vitally important, it is, by itself, a vast subject. I see your article as a way of developing a discussion on the related issues of philosophy, language and moral obligation.

I believe it is important, particularly for those of us who have been on different sides of these issues, to develop arguments apart from our religious faith so that we can engage the larger culture in a more meaningful discussion. It appears to me that while you express your views and conclusions primarily in the language of faith, particularly Catholic teachings, at least some of them could be expressed from a more “secular” perspective. Have you considered that, and, if so, how would you feel about developing or using arguments on the life issues without utilizing the terminology or concepts of a particular religious faith?

In your article you refer more than once to the question of when human persons receive souls. What do you think of pro-life arguments that set aside the question of the existence or origin of the soul and look just at our biology? I ask this because, as you probably know, various religious apologists for the pro-choice position, such as Catholics for a Free Choice, argue that not only do different faiths disagree on the issue of ensoulment, but that Catholic doctrine had in the past made distinctions regarding ensoulment based on the antiquated notion of “quickening.” On the other hand, the basic facts of human conception and embryology are not now in dispute.

Their growing knowledge of human gestation and development led nineteenth century physicians to increasingly oppose abortion as it became harder to deny the continuity of human development from conception. Our current knowledge of genetics only reinforces this understanding. There are atheists and agnostics who oppose abortion, usually on the grounds of a philosophy based on this basic understanding of human biology. I understand your statements on “the contraceptive mentality” as directed primarily towards your fellow Catholics.

I generally agree with you that our society’s focus on reliance on contraception has distorted our understanding of both sex and children. I believe that Catholics should follow, as best they can, the Church’s teachings on contraception. However, for the purposes of the debates within society at large over human personhood and abortion, can we make a moral distinction between those forms of contraception which serve to prevent the unification of a sperm and egg, such as the barrier methods, and those forms, such as the IUD and the hormonal methods which may prevent an already conceived embryo from implanting in the uterus?

I think your characterization of abortion and “the contraception mentality” as dehumanizing babies as “the enemy” is apt. But, as you know, a typical pro-choice response is to characterize pro-life people as heartless zealots who care about the pre-born, but appear to be otherwise unconcerned about women or about human suffering. This is, of course, a grotesque stereotype. But, there are some individuals in public life who, in my opinion, perpetuate this stereotype. They loudly proclaim their “pro-life” credentials while going out of their way to demonize certain people or groups in order to gain political power. Do you have any views on whether, to what extent and how pro-life people should be “consistent” in working against the many ways we human beings dehumanize one another or abuse our power?

As a woman, and the mother of three children, how would you speak to the worries, physical, emotional, financial and other, that many women have when they learn they are pregnant, especially in less than “ideal” circumstances? What obligations do we have as individuals or as societies to address the needs of pregnant women and of families raising children, apart from those of our own immediate families? How far do our obligations extend? I have tried not to make these “trick” questions. I hope they make at least some sense. I appreciate your willingness to respond to our questions and comments, and I look forward to reading your responses.

Peter from Iowa

Lots of great stuff here! Let’s start with this one: "It appears to me that while you express your views and conclusions primarily in the language of faith, particularly Catholic teachings, at least some of them could be expressed from a more ’secular’ perspective. Have you considered that, and, if so, how would you feel about developing or using arguments on the life issues without utilizing the terminology or concepts of a particular religious faith?"

I do believe that the pro-life argument can be made from a more secular perspective. However, I’ve run into a couple of problems there: one is that, in the view that human beings and all other animals are nothing more than meaningless chemical reactions, the main way you determine who has value is by ability to display intelligence. In that particular worldview, where humans are only more valuable than, say, rats because they’re more intelligent, it’s hard to defend the dignity of any humans who cannot display intelligence. Also, in this age of increasing moral relativism, it’s hard to make the case that anything is right or wrong. If we truly sweep away all traditional Judeo-Christian notions of "right" and "wrong," it is definitely much harder to defend newly conceived life.

As for this question: "In your article you refer more than once to the question of when human persons receive souls. What do you think of pro-life arguments that set aside the question of the existence or origin of the soul and look just at our biology?"

I think that you did a great job of the pro-life position from biology alone in your next sentences. Also, yesterday I got an email from a reader named John who I thought did a great job of making this point. He writes: "I was trained in biology in college...I saw the one cell, the fertilized egg or the zygote, with its forty-six chromosomes, as just a stage in the continuous development of a human life which began at conception and ended physically at death. Every biologist in the world would have to admit that the fertilized cell is alive -- non-life cannot give rise to life. Granting that, ontologically, what else could it be other than human life? Can a human develop from anything other than that which is human? In a seamless developmental progression from zygote to embryo to fetus to neonate, at what point does this entity cease being a collection of cells and transform into a human being? Can anyone be wise or knowledgeable enough to point to that moment?"

Another good question here: "I believe that Catholics should follow, as best they can, the Church’s teachings on contraception. However, for the purposes of the debates within society at large over human personhood and abortion, can we make a moral distinction between those forms of contraception which serve to prevent the unification of a sperm and egg, such as the barrier methods, and those forms, such as the IUD and the hormonal methods which may prevent an already conceived embryo from implanting in the uterus?"

My short answer? No. Here’s the long answer:

First of all, as I was talking about in this post, even barrier methods alter the nature of the sexual act, destroying a key aspect of something that is inherently good (I went into more detail on that in that previous post). Though I think the case could be made that that is true even from a secular perspective, I think that there’s another argument against it that is definitely true regardless of a person’s religious beliefs: contraception is terrible for women. As I was saying in this post, we put women in horrible, unfair positions when tell them that there is such a thing as "protected," i.e. consequence-free, sex. If we’re serious about building a culture of life, we have to start there. I just can’t see it working to continue to tell women that sex is about pleasure and bonding, to assure them that with the proper protection the sexual act does not need to have life-altering consequences, and then expect them to deal with life-altering consequences when that first premise doesn’t work out like it was supposed to. I think the pressure to dehumanize newly conceived life will be too great.

On this topic: "as you know, a typical pro-choice response is to characterize pro-life people as heartless zealots who care about the pre-born, but appear to be otherwise unconcerned about women or about human suffering. This is, of course, a grotesque stereotype. But, there are some individuals in public life who, in my opinion, perpetuate this stereotype. They loudly proclaim their ’pro-life’ credentials while going out of their way to demonize certain people or groups in order to gain political power. Do you have any views on whether, to what extent and how pro-life people should be ’consistent’ in working against the many ways we human beings dehumanize one another or abuse our power?"

As I said in my response to Fr. Mario, I definitely believe that it’s important that we work for all pro-life causes. Again, the pro-life position is founded on love, and it’s critical that we reflect that in our words and deeds.

And for this final question: "As a woman, and the mother of three children, how would you speak to the worries, physical, emotional, financial and other, that many women have when they learn they are pregnant, especially in less than ’ideal’ circumstances? What obligations do we have as individuals or as societies to address the needs of pregnant women and of families raising children, apart from those of our own immediate families? How far do our obligations extend?"

I believe that it’s absolutely necessary that we support moms in crisis pregnancies. Most maternity homes offer full care for moms and any existing children they have -- everything from clothes and toys for their existing children, diapers, a place to live, help finding jobs, etc. -- all at no cost. There are two of these in my area alone. Currently, 1 in 5 pregnancies worldwide end in abortion. For those of us who would love to see that number a whole lot lower, we need to make sure that our local maternity homes have everything they need to help mothers in these difficult situations.

Jennifer Fulwiler