Another anti-abortion law is about to go into effect in Missouri. Once again, a state legislature thinks it can settle a question that no philosopher, lawyer scientist or other expert has ever been able to figure out. “The life of each human being begins at conception,” according to Senate Bill 793, which will add new regulations to the state’s 24-hour informed consent law for abortions. “Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
Those words will be displayed “prominently” on brochures that abortion providers will be required to hand out to every woman seeking the procedure, reports StLouisToday.com
The site adds that providers will need to display that information even if they don’t agree with the “Christian position.” In that brief phrase the most common misunderstanding about abortion is presented as fact. Of course, they meant to say the “Catholic” position and even that is wrong. The best kept secret about Catholicism and abortion is that the Catholic view of when the fetus becomes a person is precisely the same as that asserted in Roe v. Wade. Whatever definition one wants to posit about fetal personhood, the fact is nobody knows. To paraphrase Roe, the justices declared that science, law, philosophy and theology had not been able to answer this question and neither could the Supreme Court. If you read various Catholic documents, the same opinion emerges. Over the centuries theologians and popes have suggested when they think God might confer personhood on the fetus, and they have come up with different answers. When the fetus first moves, when it is 40 days old if it is a boy or 80 days old if it is a girl, when it is viable, when it can no longer split in two and become twins. But in the end the church says what the court says “We don’t know.” Of course the similarity stops there. The court says we do know that women are persons and therefore we will leave it to each of them to decide what they think about the fetus and what they think about giving their body over to its development. The church says, even if we don’t know, women are required to treat the fetus from the moment of conception as if it were a person and make whatever sacrifices, including their life, to enable it to become a person.
No other human being is required to risk their life for another. To do so is considered crazy or heroic. A parent need not give a kidney to a dying child. A potential soldier can object conscientiously to risking her or his life in war. But, we are told, a pregnant woman has no say in defending her life in pregnancy.
In large part, legislators and priests, in fact most of us, never think about what we consider “natural” or “normal” in terms of women and gestation. For most of history, pregnancy and death were very closely related. Even today, every pregnancy carries the risk of dying for the woman. In the developing world, between 350,000 and 500,000 women die each year giving birth or dring pregnancy.
Even normal pregnancy involve, fatigue, excessively high heart stress, changes in hormones and blood supply, the risk of temporary diabetes, and a long list of other “normal” changes.
Is it not time to focus at least to the same extent on what pregnancy means for the person whose body is occupied by the fetus as on the fetus? Is it not time to recognize that the woman gets to consent to this visitation and that coercing her into providing her body for another “being” is not a routine event, but an heroic gift. A gift that must be freely offered?