The National Catholic Review
'The sad reality is that extremists on both sides are alienating citizens from one another.'
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If there is any hope for change in national abortion politics, it will rest on more honest and open discussion. The sad reality is that extremists on both sides are alienating citizens (as well as people of faith) from one another. The common ground that unites the majority of Americans who want to limit abortions is eroded by people who insist on an absolute position.

The extremist poles on abortion are these: 1) nothing short of criminalizing the termination of any pregnancy from fertilization or conception is acceptable; 2) nothing short of total reproductive choice until birth is acceptable. These extremes have determined the debate in the public square; and as long as this continues, we will never reach consensus to protect unborn human life. They are also polar positions that have never been closely examined by their proponents.

Absolutists for “choice” should answer the following questions. Is there no constraint on “reproductive freedom”? Do you want a woman to be free to choose only male births? Why or why not? Do you support abortion in the second or third trimester for the sake of harvesting organs? Would you support a woman’s right to sell her aborted fetuses? Are you in favor of infanticide for newborns resulting from a botched abortion? And speaking of neonates, what do you think are the significant differences between a one-day-old baby and a 30-week fetus? Are you willing to face the moral chaos of absolutizing the “right to choose”?

Absolutists for “life” should answer questions too. Since you hold, as I do, that a human being’s life begins at fertilization or conception, do you think that Senator John McCain, Senator Orrin Hatch and John Danforth are accomplices to homicide in their support of embryonic stem cell research? Do you know why they hold their position? Can you offer evidence that might change their minds? Do you wish to criminalize those who sell or buy contraceptive pills that are likely abortifacients? Do you think there might be people of good faith and conscience who think a human life does not begin until implantation? If there are, are you proposing that we impose our position on them?

The politicizing of extreme positions that have never been seriously questioned has prevented any serious discussion of the facts. Facts are the enemy of both poles. And facts are what we should look at, if we are to address the topic of abortion in the public square.

The evidence supporting fertilization as the beginning of a human life is largely genetic. If you ask yourself when you began as an individual being, conception is the strongest candidate. Prior to that moment, there were two germ cells or gametes, each with 23 chromosomes and each a dead end. At fertilization you have a new being with 46 chromosomes programmed or informed to develop into the entire organism that is you, sporting the same genome of that initial zygote in almost all your cells. If another sperm had united with the ovum, the result would not have been you, with your unique genetic endowments, but a brother or a sister.

There is other evidence, however, to suggest that an individual human being does not begin until the process of implantation in the uterus begins. This is largely a cellular argument. In the judgment of some scientists and scholars, the cells of an early-stage embryo seem not to function as an integrated unitary individual. They are undifferentiated, uncommitted to function as parts of an organism. Moreover, twinning can take place (as well as recombination), which suggests to some that it is not an integrated individual. Finally, the phenomenon of early-stage loss of embryos (from 40 percent to 60 percent) leads many to believe that an individual has not yet come to be. (All of these points, by the way, are countered by proponents of fertilization who argue that differentiation of a kind starts at day one, that twinning is genetically programmed and that the loss of embryos is only an indication that individuation has not occurred.)

There is a third-stage argument that focuses on organ formation. Some hold that you cannot speak of an organism until you have the formation of organs. Thus, they point to the 6- to 10-week period after fertilization as significant in determining the start of a human organism with an incipient heartbeat, a central nervous system and neural firings in the brain. There are honorable people who hold this, although I fail to see the cogency of their position.

What I do see is that most people open to the facts recognize that a human life has begun by the end of the first trimester of a pregnancy. It is at this point that some common ground may be reached to protect unborn human life. There is political will at hand to ensure such protection; but as long as the extreme positions hold sway, no action will be taken. People know that a human life is being terminated after the first trimester. What compounds the tragedy of abortion is our helpless acceptance of the ugly reality.

Abortion reform will occur only if the extreme positions are unmasked as intransigent, unwilling to suffer tough questions or accept the basic facts of life. Those of us who hold that human life begins at conception will continue to argue our case. We will celebrate adult stem cell therapies as strongly as we resist embryonic stem cell research. And we may convince many. But if we are unwilling to make even the slightest move to protect some of the unborn because we cannot protect all humans conceived, the shameful history of abortion in the United States will go unchanged.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

Dong Er Chen | 4/12/2010 - 3:45pm

   In this article, John K. Kavanaugh discussed some extremer opinion about abortion. With the development of society, people lose their faith to life and love. Abortion is abuse and there is short of way and law to protect these unborn lives. For pregnancy from fertilization, nothing short of criminalizing and nothing short of total reproduction choice until birth is acceptable. People argued the formation of life and they think only after three month, the cellular became baby and life. However, the formation of life began from the first day it appeared. To this extent, most people kill their so-called “cellular” in its early times. In fact, these “cellular” is not only group of organ but a part of life. Thurs, to those who are absolutist, they should get new concepts of formation of life and the beginning of life. If they cannot get the right concepts of life and give a right definition of the time of formation of cellular, abortion will never stop in the United State.

Steven Barnett | 5/11/2009 - 5:08am
Catholic theology, and consequential ethical obligations, cannot exist outside of, or go beyond, the reality of its time. It cannot be the purpose of theology to expose truth outside of its time, but can only reveal whatever truth is to be found in the reality in which it already exists.----- For us to make claims about absolutes derived from biblical interpretation is mere nonsense--Catholicism is an ever-changing figure that shifts with the reality of the world in which it exists. If history is any sort of teacher, then looking back on Catholic history, one can see drastic changes that were forced upon it because universal moral theology is impossible to predict--most notably comes to mind with Vatican II. But throughout its history, Catholicism has incorporated Aristotelian thought, evolution, enlightenment principles...you name it. I am not implying that Catholics that claim abortion is morally wrong have no basis for their arguments, I am saying their arguments must be grounded in this world, and there are more prevalent ethical dilemmas that lead to high abortion rates. I am inclined to point to the social reality of many people who get abortions for some unfortunate reason just as much as people who get abortions out of reckless narcissism. The former requires more attention, because if abortion is to be eradicated, their position must be addressed. We cannot demonize single moms, welfare recipients and the socially repressed as morally deficient (concerning abortion) while demanding that personal responsibility be at the core of our ethical system. An egalitarian system could provide the ground on which people argue against abortion because the potential for social/economic disaster due to childbirth could potentially be negated. Arguments for abortion would reveal themselves as nothing more than petty arguments about vanity. A community could make a claim to the value of life, but our society does not function that way--in terms of abortion/pregnancy/birth, responsibility is on the individual, so why should the non-supportive society have any say in dictating action? The abortion argument seems secondary to this problem. In return to my argument about Catholicism being unable to dictate anything outside of its time: there could be a day where abortion is considered perfectly okay under Catholic theology. Not too long ago, the Catholic church openly told non-Catholic peoples that they were all going to Hell, regardless of their actual lives, and this was derived from the Gospels. Now we have incorporated into our theology a different message of acceptance, and a view of salvation that does not isolate peoples who lead good lives regardless of their particular faith. What it comes down to is that we should never talk about issues in terms of universals, because truth is never revealed in that way. Doing so separates us from the actual world that our arguments supposedly address. As Catholics we are taught to value human life, and in our futile attempts to vindicate our arguments, we have turned toward science, strict biblical references, rationalism, irrationalism and even vilification of our opponents. But we refuse to actually look at our world, where abortion would be common regardless of its legality. To close, I am a student at St. Louis University where Kavanaugh teaches. This last fall, the Students for Life group (they won group of the year award.) churned out a campaign that treated abortion as a disease that affected people, and specifically black people, so it must be racist. According to them, thousands if not millions of people catch the abortion virus each year, and their goal is to eradicate it completely while writing off socioeconomic situations. I admire this group for their practical work providing a scholarship fund for pregnant students so they would not have to choose between an education and a pregnancy (fantastic idea), but admonish them for their offensive rhetoric that made<
Maureen Kavanaugh | 3/30/2009 - 12:28pm
The difficulty with seeking "common ground" for followers of Jesus Christ in the abortion debate is that Christ did not equivocate with the truth. Nor did he give us leave to do so. In fact the Gospels are filled with Christ's admonitions of our accountability. Jesus Christ was not about negotiation he was about revelation. His teachings are clear, often stark, and challenging in the extreme - arduous, rigorous, Godly. We cannot concede the earliest forms of human life in whom God lives as certainly as God dwells within the most elderly - not for the sake of reasonable argument nor for peace within the community(or the family) nor even to save more lives in later stages of embryonic life. As Catholics we are called to acknowledge and protect the sanctity of human life from conception to death. In the end, it's not a matter of what we can agree upon it's a matter of what is true.
Mrs. Barbara Huet de Guerville | 3/25/2009 - 3:22pm
"...1)nothing short of criminalizing the termination of any pregnancy from fertilization or conception is acceptable;" What an appalling statement from a Roman Catholic priest! Catholic doctrine is explicit: a human being is conceived at fertilization. Terminating that new life is murder. Do you believe that sending a person to prison for life for murdering an adult an extreme position? What would you have us do to discourage murder? As a pro-lifer I know that there are many people in good conscience that are pro-embryonic cell research and pro-abortion. There are people who believe, in good conscience, that they should set bombs in Northern Ireland, participate in genocide in Rwanda, etc. Do you feel that we are imposing our "position" on them when we criminalize their murders? This freedom of conscience and private judgment stuff are Protestant heresies. As a philosopher you are free think that there are three arguments about when human life begins. As a practical matter, unless we know as an abolute scientific truth that human existence does NOT exist at conception, it behooves us to behave as if it does. As a Roman Catholic philosopher, shouldn't you be teaching Catholic doctrine? "Most people open to the facts..." Since when does majority rule? The so-called facts are that you are evidently unaware of the latest research of embryonic/fetal development. At six to eight days cells develop othat feel pain. The baby's heart starts beating at ten days. Who isn't "willing to make the slightest move to protect some of the unborn because we cannot protect all humans conceived..." is utter nonsense. What do you think parental notification laws are all about? There are a host of laws being proposed in state legislatures all over the country attempting to restrict abortions. There is only one extreme position - that of the abortion on demand crowd. Those of us who want to protect life from conception to natural death have accepted the facts of life - probably because we keep up with the latest scientific research. I can only offer my prayers for you, Father, and your publication. Yours in Christ, Barbara Huet de Guerville PS Abolutism is a political theory e.g. FOCA. Absolute truth is what is taught by the Catholic Church in matters of faith and morals
Violete Stevens | 1/31/2009 - 5:11pm
I was very saddened and disturbed by Father Kavanaugh's article. I will go through some of the key points Fr. Kavanaugh made: Father Kavanaugh asked whether I know why Senator John McCain and Senator Orrin Hatch support embryonic stem cell research. From the media reports: McCain: “very frankly those embryos will be either discarded or kept in permanent frozen status”. I would tell McCain: that is like saying: - The Jewish children during the Holocaust would have been sent to the ovens eventually anyways – therefore, it was OK for Josef Mengele to do “research on them” for the advancement of science (why waste good material). Orrin Hatch: “I do believe, very strongly, that it is possible to be both anti-abortion and pro-embryonic stem cell research”. I would tell Hatch: That is like saying: – I am against murder but the murder of the handicapped, of thieves, pedophiles is OK. Fr Kavanaugh wanted to know if I can offer evidence that might change their minds? Both Mc Cain and Hatch are reasonable people of good will and may already have changed their mind in view of the breakthroughs in adult and umbilical cord blood stem cell research. Also, both are better informed now of the exaggerated promises and bloated false hopes of the embryonic stem cell research. Furthermore, there is strong scientific consensus that complex diseases such as Alzheimer’s are unlikely to be treated by any stem cell therapy. Also, autoimmune diseases like juvenile diabetes, lupus, and MS are unlikely to benefit from simple addition of new cells unless the underlying problem is corrected - a faulty immune system that attacks the body’s own cells as though they were foreign invaders. Fr Kavanaugh wanted to know if I wish to criminalize those who sell or buy contraceptive pills that are likely abortifacients? No, it is on their conscience and on the conscience of those who use or abuse it. He asked if I think there might be people of good faith and conscience who think a human life does not begin until implantation and if so, do I impose my position on them? I am sure you know there are such people and I pray that they diligently search their conscience and not choose only what is convenient. May God grant them the courage to believe and the strength to do the right thing even if it will require humility. Towards the end of the article Fr Kavanaugh concluded that what he sees is “that most people open to the facts recognize that a human life has begun by the end of the first trimester of a pregnancy and that it is at this point that some common ground may be reached to protect unborn human life”. Fr Kavanaugh also states that “if we are unwilling to make even the slightest move to protect some of the unborn because we cannot protect all humans conceived, the shameful history of abortion in the United States will go unchanged”. This is where I am most saddened and disturbed that Fr Kavanaugh is willing to sell off the Truth and his own conviction that life begins at conception in order to achieve what you call “some common ground”. Fr. Kavanaugh, if you reject part of the Truth, you create chaos in yourself and you will find your faith eventually shattered and find yourself amidst ruins that once were beautiful. All because you decided to choose from Jesus’ teachings what is convenient and refuse the rest. You know that Jesus does not speak useless words. You should not compromise on matters of faith and morals just as one should not compromise on the foundation of a building and thereby risk its collapse. Rationalism without faith and morals yields poisonous fruits. George Weigel’s “Courage to be Catholic” regarding the crisis in faith in the Catholic Church and the lack of the fullness of the Catholic faith in the priesthood describes this crisis that led more than anything else to the failed pedophile priests. Please don’t choose the convenient and compromise the Truth and thereby trivialize and collapse<
Chris Jackson | 1/19/2009 - 9:53pm
Is Father Kavanaugh suggesting there is a "middle ground" in the abortion debate? In order to stop late trimester abortions are we to allow early abortions? Is this going to be possible from a church that is still opposing birth control? I think not.
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WI Tom Linn | 12/31/1969 - 7:00pm
Slavery Absolutists 'The sad reality is that extremists on both sides are alienating citizens from one another.' By John F. Kavanaugh
Mariann McCormick | 1/6/2009 - 2:16pm
Thank you, Father Kavanaugh, for the wisdom and balance so often lacking in this discussion. The legal solution so loudly sought is not a solution at all. Overturning Roe v. Wade will not outlaw abortion throughout the nation. And worse, after turning a blind eye to the other policies of the pro-life politicians [torture, destruction of the environment, a war the Vatican called immoral, trickle-down economics], the Church was rewarded by John McCain's statement in the second Presidential debate that "abortion is a matter for the states to decide". There went any hope of a national ban! But, if we can enter into reasonable discussions, how about a discussion on reforming health care? If health care were available and the economics of pregnancy shifted, who knows how many women would opt to complete a pregnancy, even if they chose adoption. Women don't make these decisions lightly; most know they will be facing years of regret. Remove the economics and we can affect the outcomes. As long as it costs $10,000 to have a baby and $500 to have an abortion...... This is certainly not THE answer, but it can be one of several. After all, we say that, if God closes a door, He opens a window. Why don't we do the same for Him?
Della Robertson | 12/31/2008 - 10:40pm
John Kavanaugh's article echoes, in part, an article written by Richard O'Brien many years ago. O'Brien quoted Thomas Aquinas. It is more evil to impose a law before consensus is reached than to leave the situation as is. Both scholars call for dialogue. Revoking Roe v. Wade will not stop abortions. I arrived at this realization a few years ago after reading a lengthy article in the Anerica magazine. Prior to that time, I argument with great confidence against abortion and was ineffective and my strident arguments were counterproductive. Now, I feel guilty that I don't enter into discussion about abortion. The question is: Where is the venue for this kind of discourse?
Anne | 12/25/2008 - 1:02pm
We all know that Human Life begins at Conception, some of us simply do not want to believe that every Human Being is a Human Person.
John Hamilton | 12/24/2008 - 12:03am
Like many I think Fr. Kavanaugh has done a superb job in posing questions for "extremists" on both sides of the issue. But how is a "moderate" to cope with the issue? And here is where I would love to hear more from Fr. Kavanaugh on the questions concerning the "beginning of life" and all that cells and tissues tell us. I suspect that I myself might still be too much of a "Thomist" (and Aristotelian) who cannot figure out a way to escape notions of "potentiality" & "actuality" in speaking of cells combining and having real potential for life. Is there, for example, some intelligent way to argue that a fetus is not potentially human other than asserting that "potential" is millions of miles away from "actual"? But what of "finality"? I have trouble finding a philosophical basis on which to support an argument that some cellular combinations are not "ordered" to an end (Gad! Am I sounding like a neo-scholastic twit?) Perhaps Fr. Kavanaugh could give us (or me) some help here. I know he is thoroughly grounded in the philosophy (and theology) of St. Thomas of Aquinas (+ all the superb insights by the likes of any number of wonderful Jesuit scholars, many of whom so influenced me at St. Louis University.) I would love to hear more about the issue of abortion informed by the best philosophy has to offer. Too few realize just how many thoughtful, sane and moderate people agonize over the issue. But surely it is an issue worth a bit of "thoughtful" agony. A grand "Merci!" to J.K. for raising the issue so intelligently, and yet not allowing us to sit back and relax. JH
Michael Bindner | 12/22/2008 - 10:43am
The source of absolutism on the left is the perception that this is a women's rights issue, and that any regulation of abortion is an attempt to keep women in their place. This perception is not helped by the leaders of the anti-abortion movement, who also resist the ordination of women - and even women evangelical pastors. If life is the foremost issue in civil politics, should not it also be so on the issue of ordination?
Charles Lewis | 12/20/2008 - 4:41pm
Neither the United States nor Canada is ever going to outlaw abortion. So as long as the aim is to make it illegal nothing will change. Even if it was illegal, what then? It's not as if abortion will vanish. Are we going to throw women and doctors in jail? It seems there has to be moral suasion first. How many Catholics and evangelicals get abortions? If these people can't be convinced, why should it be illegal for everyone else? We need programs that provide financial and moral support to those women who want their babies, but feel they can't handle it for whatever reason. I agree with Fr. Kavanaugh that the entrenchment from both sides will only mean that both lobbying groups will keep busy for decades to come. It is important that abortion ends, but it's going to take a lot more than depending on legislators.
Nancy Danielson | 12/19/2008 - 5:38pm
What about this list of people who claim to want to reduce abortion rather than protect All Children in their mother's Womb? http://www.onenationundergod.org/ftm_catholic_politicians_abortion_money.html
Nancy Danielson | 12/19/2008 - 5:38pm
What about this list of people who claim to want to reduce abortion rather than protect All Children in their mother's Womb? http://www.onenationundergod.org/ftm_catholic_politicians_abortion_money.html
Rev. Peter M. Calabrese, CRSP | 12/18/2008 - 11:42pm
First, Pro-Life activists have been pursuing the gradual approach all along, as we have pursued the ending of legal murder of the unborn. We have sacrificed to help women in crisis rather than wait for a cynical government to help them. To insinuate that Pro-Life people have to "start" caring for mothers or the poor is calumny! It is not the Pro-Life people who have been unwilling to "work things out reasonably". The fact is the only extremists are on the pro-"choice" side. It is the Pro-abortion/"choice" side that has fought tooth and nail every parental notification law, every informed consent bill, every mandatory counseling initiative. On every occasion even the "moderates" have denied protection to the unborn. Even the self-described "Pro-Life" Senator Casey supports federal funding for baby killing. Secondly, it is tragedy when a Catholic priest feels that defending the unborn is an extreme position. There is nothing extreme in saying that the killing of a first trimester or any trimester unborn human being is murder. It is! You have implicitly admitted the logic of the pro-Death faction. The only people to whom this I'm sorry Father, there is no political will to protect any unborn babies because once you say that the state has a right to defend those babies you have to ask why? Then the hypocritical artificiality of first trimester, second trimester or birth becomes apparent. If you remember, Roe V. Wade started with such shenanigans and it took no time for such arbitrary nonsense to fall because in the end you either protect life from the beginning or you kill it whenever you want. Father, I am sorry that you see fit to argue this way. When will you understand that making an arbitrary chronological cutoff cedes 100% of your point and places the lives of a human being in the hands of another. If you were truly pro-life you would realize that the Pro-Lifers have had labor for years for crumbs because the Pro-Deathers, including Senator/President Elect Obama, know that the moment they acknowledge that the state has the right and duty to protect the unborn everything in their whole argument falls. I am sorry, Father, there are no "moderate" pro choicers. Just like there are no moderate racists or slavemongers.
Michael Bindner | 12/16/2008 - 6:15pm
One reason for Abortion Absolutism is the belief by many feminists that any regulation of abortion is part of a conservative agenda to preserve the conservative ideal of the family and control female fertility and sexuality. The Church's opposition to birth control tends to lend credibility to that belief, as does its continued refusal to ordain women to the priesthood and consecrate them to the episcopacy. The fact that the justification for both the protection of life and the continuance of the current ordination practice are both couched in the same absolutist terms only lends credence to their view. Their is of course a way to prove them wrong, however many conservatives in the Church would be as opposed to it as they are to abortion, if not more so. Ordain women to the priesthood and the deaconate and consecrate the leaders of the major women's orders, just as avowed men are consecrated and sometimes created cardinals. Create the leader of the OSF a cardinal and NARAL will not have a leg to stand on. If Life is the most important issue in civil politics, should it not be the most important issue in church politics as well?
Michael Bindner | 12/16/2008 - 5:12pm
Joe Kash, That judicial tyranny which you accuse the President-Elect of protects Catholics in Alabama from having the overwhelming Protestant majority zone their churches out of existence. It protects the rights of people like the President-Elect to eat, go to the bathroom and stay in hotels regardless of his race. While removing these protections may not be your intent, it would be the effect of removing judicial oversight over state law under the 14th Amendment. The extent to which the pro-life movement clings to this position is the extent to which it is bound to fail, and also the extent to which that insistence is as responsible for the current abortion rate as NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Michael Bindner | 12/15/2008 - 12:31pm
With the abolition of the Inquisition, the Hierarchy cannot do anything about it when many of us proclaim that the emperor is without clothes. The recent attempts to enforce obedience to the Magisterium among Catholic voters are simply an attempt to reinstitute the Inquisition, which is itself heretical in light of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Such attempts must be condemned at every turn.
Dennis Paul Morony | 12/15/2008 - 12:18pm
I'd say a big problem with the abortion issue here in the USA is the way many bishops insist on linking it to the abolition of the death penalty. For many of us living less than 50 miles from Bishop Alonso Garza Trevino's diocesan headquarters in Piedras Negras, Mexico, it makes no sense at all. Why? Because in a recent Spanish - language article, "Church supports death penalty" (Dec. 1, 2008, El Zocalo)the good bishop is quoted as telling us that "the Catholic Church pronounces in favor of the death penalty for kidnappers, if that's what legislators see as the only way to eradicate this terrible crime." Seems to me that there is more than just one "Catholic response" to the question of linking abortion and capital punishment! Thanks! Dennis Paul Morony
Michael Bindner | 12/15/2008 - 12:09pm
Dr. Kal, Before Evangelicum Vitae and Humanae Vitae, twinning was considered evidence of certainty that ensoulment had not taken place. As an MD, you must surely know what Gastrulation is. I think we can be fairly certain that until the genes of both parents control development, which happens at Gastrulation, there is no individual and no soul. Mr. Alonso, it does not dilute the right to life to examine rationally where it is undoubtedly only potential. Indeed, positing the blastocysts must be protected dilutes the teaching authority of the Church on this issue as well as the right to life. Being technically wrong is never a good thing when you are teaching in the realm of natural law.
Enrique I. Alonso | 12/14/2008 - 7:04pm
In response to John F. Kavanaugh questions to Absolutists for life: 1) "...do you think that Senator John McCain, Senator Orrin Hatch and John Danforth are accomplices to homicide in their support of embryonic stem cell research?" Yes. 2) Do you know why they hold their position? Probably for political reasons...to appear 'reasonable' to opponents and thereby obtain more votes. 3) Can you offer evidence that might change their minds? The burden of proof is on them. They should prove the esistence of human beings that have not begun as cells. 4) Do you wish to criminalize those who sell or buy contraceptive pills that are likely abortifacients? Yes, given that the intent is to destroy human life. 5) Do you think there might be people of good faith and conscience who think a human life does not begin until implantation? Yes, but their reasoning is not 'good' enough. My response to question 3 applies. 6) If there are, are you proposing that we impose our position on them? If we impose our position on them a human life is saved. If they impose their position on us (the status quo), it is not. If we accept the status quo, they have effectively imposed their position. ............ We are obligated to reduce abortions whatever our position. How that may be best accomplished is debatable. However, the right to life of a human being since the moment of conception is not unless another life is equally at risk. If one believes it is debatable, then one does not really recognize said right. If so, then for one, no human can claim a right to life. If so, then, for example, the Declaration of Independence would need to be rewritten. Independence from what and for what purpose?
EDMUND KAL MD | 12/13/2008 - 8:58pm
As to the actual teaching of "Evangelium Vitae": I'm relying on instant memory, so you should look it up, but I seem to recall that it definitely does NOT claim with certainty that the life of an individual person begins at syngamy (the moment of union of the ovum and sperm). In fact it states that neither revelation, nor contemporary science, offers a definitive moment. - What it DOES say is that precisely because of such uncertainty, in the case of such a fundamental value as a human person's life we are obliged to chose the safer alternative: the mere probability that life does begin at syngamy, is enough to oblige us to treat the zygote as a human person. The point is that this is a prudential moral judgment, not an infallible doctrine; something that(as Father Kavanaugh expands on it) needs to be taken with utmost seriousness, yet does not preclude any wiggle room or future modification. Edmund F. Kal, M.D.
LEONARD VILLA | 12/12/2008 - 10:49am
This attempt to establish a false center/middle course obscures rather than enlightens the abortion debate. Extremism on the life side? Come on, Father, that's practically non-existent. The only extremism here (pro-life side) was the decision by some in the name of life to shoot abortionists. The reality is the pro-abortion position is per se extreme and per se final and the abortion-friendly are fighting to win at all costs whereas that same determination cannot be said to be in the pro-life camp. Let's face it are we really threatened by pro-life extremism???? Given the adminisration that's on the horizon such a worry borders on fantasy.
Michael Bindner | 12/12/2008 - 10:07am
Marie, Gastrulation happens a bit more than a week after fertilization (maybe a week and a half), or about a month after the last period. Stopping implantation from occuring is as far as anyone should be willing to go. Abortion is not the indicated to do this. I don't believe that souls are present until gastrulation. Technically a blastocyst is not an embryo (which is why embryonic stem cell research is a misnomer). Anyone that gets past gastrulation must have a soul - since it is behaving as though it has one. It is dangerous to say anyone doesn't have a soul. There are embyrology textbooks about this stage of development and if we are to examine the issue of when life begins, thse books must be studied and the authors interviewed. Of course, some in the Curia won't like the answer they get.
Nancy Danielson | 12/10/2008 - 7:51am
"But if we are unwilling to make even the slightest move to protect some of the unborn because we cannot protect all humans conceived, the shameful history of abortion will go unchanged." All Humans conceived are Humans. If you can not protect innocent Human Life from the start, the shameful history of abortion will continue.
psyckat | 12/9/2008 - 4:50pm
Sperm are live, animated beings seeking a chance at life. As we discuss the love of human life, we must bring males into the conversation where they stand to make the most difference before sperm ever leaves male possession. The love of human life starts with sperm. Males who learn to love their sperm will act to protect them, then children and females will benefit.Young males require this understanding to shapes their conscienceness to act as sperm protectors. This type of innovation can bring about a shift in the number of abortions. Read the book, I Love My Sperm: A Guide for the Care and Protection of Females and Children. Kathysnyder.net
Nancy Danielson | 12/9/2008 - 12:34pm
There is nothing extreme about this True statement: At conception, the Life of a Human Individual begins. From the Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary: person-1:Human, Individual The definition of a person is not a matter of opinion. A person is still a person wherever they may be which includes inside or outside of their Mother's Womb.
Michael Bindner | 12/9/2008 - 11:01am
Gastrulation occurs justs after implantation at approximately 9 days after fertilization (roughly three weeks after the last period). The identification of the beginning of life at that point is not a justification of abortion, although it does justify, or at least make morally neutral such things as birth control, stem cell research (which might still be opposed if it is done for eugenic rather then therapeutic reasons) and in vitro fertilization. I do not morally justify abortion after gastrulation for any reason. All of my difficulties with the pro-life solutions after that point deal with the practicality (or lack thereof) of abortion regulation in early pregnancy. No human life amendment which does not deal with these issues will, or should, pass.
David Riesbeck | 12/9/2008 - 9:57am
The way that some of the commentators here are discussing 'ensoulment' strikes me as deeply confused and objectionably dualistic. I suppose a Catholic can be a dualist of a sort, but if one follows the Catechism, then one will adopt a more Thomistic view of the soul and its relationship to the body. To put it simply, there is, on this view, simply no sense in talking about the soul as though it were something separate from the living human body, something that gets hooked up to that body at some definite point in time. The soul is, rather, the structured set of capacities that a living body has. Aquinas distinguished three 'kinds' of soul on the basis of the different kinds of capacities that a living being could have, and he believed that children in the womb did not possess the 'rational soul' (roughly, the capacity for intellect and will) at conception. What modern embryology shows us is that we do not pass through stages at which we are first basically plants, then basically animals, then rational animals; we just are the same being, and hence the same kind of being, from conception onward, with all of the radical capacities that we will ever be able to develop. Thinking of the soul as a distinct thing from the body is a mistake, one that we didn't need contemporary neuroscience and cognitive science to show us. You may worry that this makes the soul all too mortal. That would be a mistake. To see why, you might read Patrick Lee and Robert George's Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, the first few chapters of which provide an excellent and accessible defense of a basically Thomistic conception of the soul. If you've got more experience with philosophy, you might read David Braine's superb but somewhat difficult book, The Human Person.
Mark Henderson | 12/8/2008 - 9:45pm
"These extremes have determined the debate in the public square; and as long as this continues, we will never reach consensus to protect unborn human life." How vacuous. Nothing but the complete criminalization of abortion, along with alternatives to abortion will protect human life. There is certainly room for the position that women who have abortions shouldn't be thrown in jail. However, anything in between total criminalization and total license will merely allow the killing of human life in some cases. "They are also polar positions that have never been closely examined by their proponents." It's interesting that he has never closely examined the writings of pro-life thinkers. Read Peter Kreet's The Unaborted Socrates "Do you want a woman to be free to choose only male births? Why or why not?" But if a woman can choose to end pregnancy at all, and we don't admit that ending a pregnancy is murder, why shouldn't she be able to choose only male births? "Are you in favor of infanticide for newborns resulting from a botched abortion? " Again, why the heck not? "Since you hold, as I do, that a human being's life begins at fertilization or conception, do you think that Senator John McCain, Senator Orrin Hatch and John Danforth are accomplices to homicide in their support of embryonic stem cell research?" Why yes, now that you mention it. (Of course with due consideration to their distance from actual act) "Do you wish to criminalize those who sell or buy contraceptive pills that are likely abortifacients? " Yup. As long as we're being consistent... "Do you think there might be people of good faith and conscience who think a human life does not begin until implantation? If there are, are you proposing that we impose our position on them?" Sure. They'd be imposing their belief on the unborn human. Is that ok with you? "They are undifferentiated, uncommitted to function as parts of an organism. " Are you suggesting that the cells could turn into an antelope? There is nothing else that the cells can mature into: an adult human being. Unless we draw the line at conception, where a new life is created which has a completely individual DNA code and which is a being identifiably other than the mother and the father, there is no reason not to allow infanticide. At least, if we are being completely honest with ourselves. Hard cases ---> rights ----> duty to die The cycle of the destruction of society.
Jim Belna | 12/8/2008 - 7:45pm
I really don't know how Father Kavanugh imagines that "more honest and open discussion" will make any difference. There could be (in fact there probably already is) virtually unanimous agreement on significant restrictions on abortion rights, but the only vote that matters is among the nine justices on the Supreme Court. The Court has simply declared that any attempt to limit abortion on demand is invalid. President-elect Obama has made it clear that he will perpetuate this judicial tyranny at all costs. With due respect to Fr Kavanaugh, abortion reform will occur only if we elect presidents who can be counted on to appoint supreme court justices who reject the phony abortion-rights jurisprudence of the past 35 years. Unfortunately, that would mean voting for a Republican, which I imagine is a bridge too far even for a pro-life Jesuit.
Marie Rehbein | 12/8/2008 - 3:06pm
Michael Binder and I are probably on the same side of the legal vs illegal abortion debate, but we likely are not on the same side of the moral vs immoral abortion debate. I disagree with his approach of trying to advocate for a scientific/theological position that would make abortion in the early months a non-issue morally. Not enough is known--nor is it likely ever to be known--about the interaction between the scientifically observable world and the rest of what we percieve but cannot scientifically isolate--and sometimes cannot even articulate. Scenarios such as the short-cut to cloning are merely conjecture. One is just as free to assert that once the original genetic material in an embryo has been replaced by genetic material from a living adult, then it will not be possible for it to develop into anything resembling a human being, because it no longer has a soul. I assert that, in fact. The issue of compromising on abortion can only be debated with regard to practical issues such as legal enforceability. Surely, we could come to some agreement with regard to prohibiting abortion of healthy fetuses in the last month of pregnancy, a point at which a prematurely born baby is likely to survive without significant medical intervention. At this point in most pregnancies, when there is a concern for the health or life of the mother, the baby is delivered, not aborted. There simply is no justification for an abortion of a healthy baby at this point.
voiceofonecryinginthedesert | 12/8/2008 - 2:54pm
One other comment. Suppose twinning would occur six days after implantation. Would that honestly justify the killing the human life that will become the twins? It is still human life as opposed to vegetable life or animal life.
voiceofonecryinginthedesert | 12/8/2008 - 2:34pm
"These extremes have determined the debate in the public square; and as long as this continues, we will never reach consensus to protect unborn human life." How vacuous. Nothing but the complete criminalization of abortion, along with alternatives to abortion will protect human life. There is certainly room for the position that women who have abortions shouldn't be thrown in jail. However, anything in between total criminalization and total license will merely allow the killing of human life in some cases. "They are also polar positions that have never been closely examined by their proponents." It's interesting that he has never closely examined the writings of pro-life thinkers. Read Peter Kreet's The Unaborted Socrates "Do you want a woman to be free to choose only male births? Why or why not?" But if a woman can choose to end pregnancy at all, and we don't admit that ending a pregnancy is murder, why shouldn't she be able to choose only male births? "Are you in favor of infanticide for newborns resulting from a botched abortion? " Again, why the heck not? "Since you hold, as I do, that a human being’s life begins at fertilization or conception, do you think that Senator John McCain, Senator Orrin Hatch and John Danforth are accomplices to homicide in their support of embryonic stem cell research?" Why yes, now that you mention it. (Of course with due consideration to their distance from actual act) "Do you wish to criminalize those who sell or buy contraceptive pills that are likely abortifacients? " Yup. As long as we're being consistent... "Do you think there might be people of good faith and conscience who think a human life does not begin until implantation? If there are, are you proposing that we impose our position on them?" Sure. They'd be imposing their belief on the unborn human. Is that ok with you? "They are undifferentiated, uncommitted to function as parts of an organism. " Are you suggesting that the cells could turn into an antelope? There is nothing else that the cells can mature into: an adult human being. Unless we draw the line at conception, where a new life is created which has a completely individual DNA code and which is a being identifiably other than the mother and the father, there is no reason not to allow infanticide. At least, if we are being completely honest with ourselves. Hard cases ---> rights ----> duty to die The cycle of the destruction of society.
Nancy Danielson | 12/8/2008 - 8:50am
"Render on to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar and to God what belongs to God."-Christ It is God, not Ceasar, who is the Creator of Life. We are called to nurture God's Gift of Life, not destroy it.
Michael Bindner | 12/8/2008 - 8:41am
Private revelation may support the view that individuation happens at implantation. This relates to the feast celebrated this day. According to "City of God" - not by Augustine but by a cloistered sister, Mary's soul went before the throne of God at some point before being placed in her body. According to the story this occurred about a week after fertilization. I am not sure of the specifics, but you can find it in the first of four volumes. Some think of these books as pure fantasy, but if they are not - don't argue with your mother.
Michael Bindner | 12/7/2008 - 7:57pm
In reference to the Britannica citation above, is there any ontological difference between the soul of a hybrid blastocyst and one from a single species? If not, what does that imply?
Michael Bindner | 12/6/2008 - 6:18pm
A final comment. I have twice offered what I consider a slam dunk proof that ensoulment cannot occur at fertilization. It has not been published. Given the stakes I have cited previously, I can see why it would not be. However, if the Church were to acknowledge error on this issue it would only enhance, not damage, its teaching authority. Call it a show of good faith and a willingness to go beyond Abortion Absolutism. If the Church is really serious about moving the debate, it will make such a move. Given the number of abortion performed each year, waiting is not an option.
Michael Bindner | 12/6/2008 - 6:00pm
The following possible experiment puts the issue of when life begins in perspective. It is not possible now, but it is instructive for the question at hand: Let us assume that it becomes scientifically possible to do cloning on the cheap. Rather than inserting genetic material into an ovum and stimulating growth, the stem cells are removed from a blastocyst and replaced with adult stem cells from a donor. The blastocyst is then implanted into a host mother and develops. The question arises, whose soul is in the organism. Does it have the soul of the donor chorion (which becomes the afterbirth), the soul of stem cell donor (and the responsibility to repent for any of his or her unconfessed sins) or its own soul? The answer is obvious when you think it through. It also removes any doubt as to when the becomes an individual.
Michael Bindner | 12/6/2008 - 5:52pm
Here is what the Encyclopedia Britannica says about gastrulation, which is the stage of fetal development following implantation (fair use claimed): "Gastrulation and the formation of the three gerrminal layers is the beginning of the subdivision of the mass of embryonic cells produced by cleavage. The cells then begin to change and diversify under the direction of the genes. The genes brought in by the sperm exert control for the first time; during cleavage all processes seem to be under control of the maternal genes. In all cases of hybridization, in which indivduals from different species produce offspring, the influence of the sperm is first apparent at gastrulation; paternal characteristics may appear at this stage; or the embryo may stop developing and die if the paternal genes are incompatible with the egg (as is the case in hybridization between species distantly related)." (Encyclopedia Britannica,Macropedia, Growth and Development, Vol 20, page 394, col. 2, paragraph 1.)
Mary Jane Reed Gaudet | 12/6/2008 - 2:30pm
I have had six pregnancies and because of these experiences believe that life starts with conception. I was also taught in the Catholic High School that the soul entered the body around the fourth month, according to Thomas Aquinas. I am very much in favor of life, including fighting against unjustified wars, the death penality, torture, and destruction of the planet while fighting to implement programs supportive of peace and human rights. Recently, in reaction against the "one issue" Pro Life supporters, I began listening to the Pro Choice view more carefully. I never found anyone who favored abortion. All felt it to be a sad and unwanted event. Over and over they say they don't want the government able to arrest someone for preforming or having an abortion. They believe in choice, but not necessarily in abortion. They tell stories that abortion have always been here. I forced my self to think more about my view and have come to the belief the issue is too personal and too subject to religious debate to have the government mandate that abortion can never be allowed. For me personally, I beleive all killing is wrong icluding in war except in self defense. This means that sometimes there is justification for killing. With this in mind, I finally changed my view and accepted that abortion has to be allowed for the mother's health. I admit that this does take a life, but is justified. This must be up to the doctor and the mother. I finally reasoned that rape is not a choice but a violent act and although abortion would kill the resulting baby, the abortion is justified. I feel respect for life will be encouraged more by example and by sharing in compassionate ways our time, our money, and our nonjudgemental support. We must work to help others who feel they have no choice but to turn to abortion, by health care and other other programs, but mainly though our own personal efforts. Our efforts in recognizing the value of all life will convince more to see the value of turning to abortion than having a black and white view on this issue.
Marie Rehbein | 12/6/2008 - 11:16am
Robert McNulty's question is interesting. "If God infuses a soul at conception, what happens if twinning occurs six days later?" My suggestion is to consider that twinning is a sign that God infused two souls at conception.
Michael Bindner | 12/6/2008 - 9:11am
In the question of whether fertilization or implantation is the point of individuation one must consider the question of cross-species products of conception. Fertilization is indeed possible with two species, even two species that have no hope of combining successfully. Ontologically, hybrid blastocysts and fully human blastocysts behave in exactly the same way. Unless you are willing to grant that hybrids have immortal souls, you cannot infer that non-hybrids do as well. Gastrulation is the point at which the hybrids are weeded out, which is strong evidence using both philosophy and the natural sciences that fertilization is not the point of ensoulment.
Michael Bindner | 12/6/2008 - 9:04am
The question of an immortal soul's pressence is another reason this issue is hard fought. Of late, neuroscience has found that there is no "ghost in the machine." There is no point at which the consciousness informs the brain before it acts - they are totally intertwined. Perhaps our soul resides not in our thoughts, but in the energy which drives us forward. If this is the case, life could well begin at fertilization, although given the fact that the genetics provided by the ova are controling until gastrualation (after implantation) it could be argued that until the father's genes are codeterminative in development that the mother's life force is controlling. Again, this is gastrulation. If the immortality of the soul is dependent on our thought life, then perhaps those who believe there is no soul until the brain is developed enough to be sentient - which is the justification by some for allowing second trimester abortion (the fourth view on when life starts). This seems to me like grasping at straws in order to justify abortion. If there is such a thing as a soul, it must be that which directs development, even if it is not conscious of doing so. If there is such a thing as a soul, it must be present when development is directive rather than generative, and again, this is gastrulation.
Michael Bindner | 12/6/2008 - 8:52am
Thank you for your comments on abortion absolutism, including a fair presentation on the reasons many believe that life begins at implanation. One source of this absolutism comes from the forced obedience to the Magisterium, which states in Evangelicum Vitae that life begins at conception. This raises the stakes on the issue, since disagreement not only invites retaliation, but also raises doubts as to the infallibility of the Magisterium itself.
leonard Nugent | 12/5/2008 - 11:18pm
Calling your opponent an extremist and shrill is an age old tactic and quite effective I might add. I capitulate and will just go back to praying about this.
William Marrevee | 12/5/2008 - 7:56pm
I appreciate Father Kavanaugh's observations very much. I wonder whether you are in the position to give more publicity to a fine correspondence on the issue between Ian Brown and Jean Vanier. It appeared in the November 29 issue of the Globe and Mail (a Canadian national newspaper.

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