Mike the Mad Biologist

The ‘Pro-Life’ War on Judaism Continues

By way of Digby, we learn that the anti-abortion movement has decided on a new tactic–declaring that a fertilized egg is a person:

It is one of the enduring questions of religion and science, and lately of American politics: When does a fertilized egg become a person?

Abortion foes, tired of a profusion of laws that limit but do not abolish abortion, are trying to answer the question in a way that they hope could put an end to legalized abortion.

Across the country, they have revived efforts to amend state constitutions to declare that personhood — and all rights accorded human beings — begins at conception.

From Florida to California, abortion foes are gathering signatures, pressing state legislators and raising money to put personhood measures on ballots next year. In Louisiana, a class at a Catholic high school is lobbying state legislators as part of a civics exercise.

About the title of the post, well…:

Regarding abortion, there is no debate in Jewish law whatsoever on one point: if carrying a pregnancy to term would harm the physical welfare–not the life, the welfare–of the mother, or her ability to bear future children, the fetus is termed a “pursuer” (rodef). In other words, if a pregnancy were carried to term and would cause long-term damage to the woman, the fetus is the moral equivalent of a criminal chasing after her with the intent to do harm. It is not a blessed little ‘snowflake.’ Under these circumstances, the moral option is to terminate the pregnancy.

I suppose the Judeo-Christian tradition is only Judeo when theologically convenient–fetal “personhood” would make a Jewish life incompatible with the law of the land. But there is a larger question here: what happens if the ‘fetal person’s ‘right to life’ conflicts with the mother? Who dies? Well, if the South Dakota effort is any indication, the anti-abortionist activists will remain very quiet about this, but if you push, it gets really interesting. A fair number of them will choose (for other people, of course) the fetus. For this Judeo, that is monstrous. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the range of circumstances in which a woman should or may have an abortion are not agreed upon, but there is no debate in Jewish religious law about who takes precedence in health situations–the mother. None. Simply put, the infant is not ‘ensouled’ until it draws breath.

Of course, this assumes that the anti-abortionists care about Jews as anything other than as a fig leaf for their theopolitical agenda. They don’t.

Comments

  1. #1 whaaaa?
    October 5, 2009

    New Tactic? That has been the stance of one of the standard bearers of the Pro life campaign (The Catholic Church) since before the evangelicals signed up for the cause.

    And the anti-jewish angle. Really? Really?

    1) taking a different stance as another religion is not a war on that religion.

    2) You’ve given no indication that the two stances are incompatible. Declaring that a fertilized egg has full rights does not negate the claim that the competing rights of the mother may trump those rights. In fact, it would fit in perfectly with the reasoning you’ve just posted.

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    October 5, 2009

    You’ve given no indication that the two stances are incompatible.

    Nope. The Church, as explicated by the Pope, is quite clear on this in a recent Brazilian case. When an 8-year-old girl was pregnant with twins [1] and all medical sources agreed that carrying them to term would be extremely hazardous, the doctors aborted the pregnancy. They were excommunicated, and only Brazil’s separation of Church and State saved them from prosecution for a capital offense.

    [1] By her (step?) father, as it happens.

  3. #3 Pierce R. Butler
    October 5, 2009

    This “new tactic” seems in direct conflict with the Catholic doctrine that nobody is a “person” (recognized member of the community) until after baptism. An unbaptized baby is not even allowed burial in a Catholic cemetery, last I heard.

    Of course, there is probably a lot of fudge factor available in that definitions of “personhood” are quite flexible.

    Note also that the doctrine of “personhood” at conception directly contradicts many centuries of Catholic teaching, going back at least as far as Aquinas cribbing from Aristotle to the effect that fetal ensoulment occurs at 40 days after conception for males and 80 days for females.

  4. #4 whaaaa?
    October 5, 2009

    D. C.: compatibility in interpretation does not equal agreement amongst all who attempt to apply the interpretation.

    Pierce: The date at which “personhood” occurs is not an official doctrine of the church, nor is it reasonable to equate baptism with “person”. The burial issue was traditionally tied to whether the deceased was likely to go to heaven, not whether the deceased was a person. Whether an unbaptized baby is allowed to be buried varies greatly from place to place, and the official position of the church is essentially “we don’t know what happens to unbaptized babies when they die” with some rationalization in one direction or the other depending on who you talk to, hence the whole Limbo thing. Furthermore, those who die in a known state of mortal sin were, and in some places still are, excluded from burial. However, this does not mean that the unrepentant sinner is considered “not a person”.

    The position of “personhood” at conception did arise relatively recently based on a desire to reconcile the position with more recent scientific knowledge (the previous stances being based on rather non-scientific and innacurate ideas of human development). The official stance is really more along the lines of, “we don’t know exactly when it occurs, and don’t feel like muddling through some nuanced reasoning to draw an arbitrary line in a gradual development cycle, which will probably be wrong, so we’ll default to this arbitrary point where some well defined observable thing occurs”.

  5. #5 Pierce R. Butler
    October 5, 2009

    D. C. Sessions @ # 2 – c’mon now, the girl was *9* years old.

    That changes everything, right? :-P

    Quoth José Cardoso Sobrinho, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife:

    The law of God is above all human law. Therefore, when a human law, meaning a law promulgated by human legislators, is contrary to the law of God, this human law has no value. … I’m not sorry. What I did was to declare the excommunication. It is my obligation to alert the people, so that they may fear the laws of God.

  6. #6 Pierce R. Butler
    October 5, 2009

    whaaaa? @ # 4: The official stance is really more along the lines of, “we don’t know exactly when it occurs, and don’t feel like muddling through some nuanced reasoning to draw an arbitrary line in a gradual development cycle, which will probably be wrong, so we’ll default to this arbitrary point where some well defined observable thing occurs”.

    But just in case, we want the most restrictive definition we can think of enforced by the police at taxpayers’ expense, even on people who completely reject our superstitions.

    Thanks for illustrating my point – definitions of “personhood” are quite flexible. By mine, it’s questionable whether dogmatic automatons (dogmatons?) such as Ratzinger and his twisted minions qualify.

  7. #7 JoeBuddha
    October 7, 2009

    Still haven’t heard whether they want a pregnancy registry, autopsy for all miscarriages and analysis of all periods for fertilized ova to allow for proper burial. Are we even going to allow pregnant women to be roaming the streets? Should we monitor their eating habits, exercise, or anything that might impinge on the “person” inside them? Child abuse prosecutions for having a glass of wine or McDonalds? The whole “life begins at conception” idea is a much larger can of worms that these idiots can even imagine. Not to mention, who is going to pay for all this.