Life Begins at Conception and Ends at Birth

At least, that appears to be the maxim for the Catholic Church, which conveniently defines fetuses as innocent people and born women as, well, something else.

[Link] Cardinal Alfonso Llopez Trujillo announced Tuesday that the Colombian Catholic Church has excommunicated all persons involved in obtaining an abortion for an 11-year-old girl, who became pregnant after she was raped.

The order includes the judges, politicians and legislators involved in the decision, as well as the doctors, nurses and the girl’s parents, the Manila Bulletin Online reported today.

Under excommunication, all those involved in the abortion are banned from receiving the sacraments, except the sacrament of confession, and may not perform a ministerial role in the Liturgy or other worship ceremony.

Participating in abortion carries the automatic penalty of full excommunication, under the Catholic Code of Canon Law.

Given that this is the organization that prides itself in its making 9-year-old girls carry rape babies to full term, I can’t say I’m really surprised. The Catholic Church has time and time again proved that it’s more interested in controlling people’s bodies – especially but not only women – and in ideological purity than in helping people.

In Colombia the Church couldn’t get the same abortion policy as in El Salvador and Chile on the books, so instead it pretends people give a damn about its excommunications. It sure beats saying, “We were wrong – an embryo isn’t the same as a newborn baby.”

On some level, I should add, this reminds me of ecocentrists who think trees are more important than people (Kian has a good post about the subject)… but I digress.

Once in a while, somebody talks about the Church’s key role in social justice, and about John Paul II’s support for various anti-poverty measures. I presume that by the same token, the Nazis were good because they instituted a few welfare measures to keep Germans hooked while corporatists were plundering their wealth to pay for a gigantic war.

22 Responses to Life Begins at Conception and Ends at Birth

  1. SLC says:

    “Once in a while, somebody talks about the Church’s key role in social justice, and about John Paul II’s support for various anti-poverty measures. I presume that by the same token, the Nazis were good because they instituted a few welfare measures to keep Germans hooked while corporatists were plundering their wealth to pay for a gigantic war.”

    I must say that this paragraph provides much amusement. Mr. Levy and some of his Israel bashing cohorts have criticized me for comparing Hixbollah to the Nazis relative to their good works and crimes. Now he turns around and compares the Catholic Church to the Nazis using the same logic.While I have no brief for the Church (in fact, I am considered very much a Catholic Church basher), it appears that it all depends on whose ox is getting gored.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    I’m not comparing the Church to the Nazis, except in one particular area. It’s legitimate to argue that doing XYZ doesn’t make you morally good because the Nazis did XYZ, too. Likewise, it’s legitimate to argue that policy ABC is bad because it failed to stop the Nazis. As long as you realize that, contrary to what some people say, Ratzinger isn’t Hitler, it’s entirely legitimate.

  3. SLC says:

    Relative to Mr. Ratzinger, it appears that some of the commentary concerning his service in the Wermacht are out of bounds. He was 16 years old at the time and was drafted. As I understand it, both he and his brother deserted before the end of the war. I am not aware of any evidence they he or any member of his immediate family was a member of the Nazi party. The same could also be said of the writer Gunter Grass who recently admitted that he was drafted into an SS unit shortly before the end of the war. Again, I am unaware of he or any member of his family belonging to the Nazi party.

  4. parse says:

    “In Colombia the Church couldn’t get the same abortion policy as in El Salvador and Chile on the books, so instead it pretends people give a damn about its excommunications.”

    You apparently give a damn about the Church’s excommunications, given your decision to write about them.

    I think the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion should be rejected, but given the premise from which its moral reasoning starts, the condemnation of those who aid in abortion seems morally sound. If human life begins at conception, abortion is murder. If you define human life as the presence of a soul, as I believe the church does, science is of no help determining when life begins. I don’t think all those who claim to be acting according to Catholic teaching are sincere about their reasons for opposing abortion, but those who are would be hypocriticla if they made an exception, even for a young victim of rape.

    As an opponent of captial punishment, I don’t belive the execution of the rapist of a nine- or eleven-year-old girl is moral. How would I then justify the execution of the embryo that results from the rape?

    If abortion is wrong for the reason the Church claims it’s wrong–it it is wrong because it is murcer–exception for victims of rape don’t seem to be defensible on moral grounds

  5. Alon Levy says:

    If human life begins at conception, abortion is murder. If you define human life as the presence of a soul, as I believe the church does, science is of no help determining when life begins.

    But why does the Church consider ensoulment to begin at conception? Arbitrarily setting a point is no good, since even when you base your beliefs on a nonexistent deity, you have to have some measure of rationality. In the past, the Church viewed quickening as the beginning of ensoulment, and abortions up to that point were permitted.

    Besides, the Church-influenced law in El Salvador also forbids ending ectopic pregnancies. Every serious moral law should support ending the life of someone who’s about to die anyway if it can save someone else; but when it comes to giving people choice, Catholic morality suddenly ignores this law. Self-defense applies to everyone except when the defender is a pregnant woman and the culprit is a fetus.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Relative to Mr. Ratzinger, it appears that some of the commentary concerning his service in the Wermacht are out of bounds.

    Hey, you’re breaking through open doors. I was one of the few on Pharyngula and Majikthise who kept defending him from accusations of Nazism – ironically, by comparing him to Günter Grass, who I then thought was just a regular artillery troop in World War Two.

  7. GH says:

    ‘since even when you base your beliefs on a nonexistent deity, you have to have some measure of rationality’

    I don’t think this is always true.

  8. Alon Levy says:

    All religious beliefs, however irrational, have to come from somewhere. Those that are central to the functioning of the religion, like dogma and hierarchy and theism, have an obvious origin. But everything else has another origin, usually a cultural one: for example, anthropologists bicker about why Judaism forbids eating pork, but the two main explanations I’ve seen are both very anthropological.

    There’s nothing particularly consistent about deciding that human life begins at conception. There’s the fact that concepti have unique DNAs, but then you enter into the realm of science, and have to acknowledge that what matters is neurology and not genetics. The Church could have just as well said, “Well, it’s impossible for one soul to reside within another, so ensoulment only begins at birth.”

  9. parse says:

    I don’t know why the Church believes human life begins at conception, and I did not defend, even as a religious principal, the notion that it did. I only said if that is your notion, excommunicating individuals who facilitate an abortion is consistent with your moral principles.

    I could be easily convinced that the Church’s stance on the onset of humanity has a cultural origin, and one that reflects poorly on those who participate. It does seem to me that Christian theology is rooted in a hatred of the body in general and sexuality in particular, and I think it’s a pernicious superstition. None of that changes the fact that people who do accept this particular set of beliefs would logically object to an abortion justified by the fact that the human who would be executed during the procedure had been conceived as the result of rape.

    “Every serious moral law should support ending the life of someone who’s about to die anyway if it can save someone else; but when it comes to giving people choice, Catholic morality suddenly ignores this law.” This is nonsense if one truly believes in an eternal afterlife and an omniscient deity who has ordained moral laws that we must obey even when we cannot fully understand.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    So, basically, the Catholic Church is doing that because it believes God told it so. Morality is unimportant; all that’s important is that the supreme ruler says so.

    Catholic Christianity does in fact allow for self-defense. It’s okay in Catholic morality to shoot an armed intruder. Why is a parasitic fetus that’s about to kill you any different?

  11. parse says:

    You seem to be willfully misunderstanding what I write, or willfully mischaracterizing it. Notice, for example, that I didn’t comment on the specific case of El Salvador’s lamentable statute concerning abortion, but on the general rule you drew from that about “every serious moral law.”

    And while I don’t think a Catholic would agree that “morality is unimportant,” I do think a Catholic would belive that whatever the supreme ruler says defines morality. It’s not a precept I could accept, but if you believe the fairy tale that supports it–that there is a being who knows everything–it does make sense to concede that such a being might be a better source of moral guidance than the best efforts of those with far more limited information. Imagine trying to convince peoplee incapable of understanding the germ theory of disease that it is moral to stick needles into people’s flesh. Defend vacination to them.

    Your resort to a discussion of the El Salvador law reveals the paucity of true outrage in the original incident you described, when all the superstitious cleric did was to affirm that “If you don’t believe in our superstitions, you can’t be a member of our cult.”

  12. SLC says:

    It should also be noted that, unlike the f****** born again churches, the Catholic church is consistent in that it also opposes capital punishment.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    Parse, I don’t think it’s that outrageous. I think it’s a positive development that the Church can’t prevent abortions in at least one country.

    Besides, it innocent life is so important to the Catholic Church, why does it only excommunicate people over abortions, rather than over murder? If abortion is murder, it needs to be treated as if it’s as bad as murder, rather than worse.

  14. Axel says:

    I’m in the very strange situation to defend the Catholic belief system in a sort even I’m an atheist. If you accept the Catholic dogmata (that’s clearly the crucial point but let’s factor out this for the moment) as the basic for your morally reasoning, their abortion position seems straightforward to me .

    From Wikipdia (emphasis added): “Excommunication is the most serious ecclesiastical penalty for Roman Catholics. While under censure, the excommunicate is barred from participating in the Church’s sacramental life. The outward sign of this loss of community involves a prohibition of the person from participating in liturgy in a ministerial capacity, as well as from receiving the Eucharist or the other Sacraments. Certain other rights and privileges normally resulting from membership in the church are revoked, such as holding ecclesiastical office. Excommunication is intended to be a “medicinal” penalty intended to seriously motivate the offender to repent. In the Roman Catholic Church excommunication is usually terminated by repentance, confession, an act of profession of the Creed, and then absolution.[…] According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, the excommunicant is still considered Christian as the “baptismal watermark” is held to be indelible.”

    Just a few examples for an automatic excommunication: Apostasy, heresy, desecration of the Eucharist, ordination of a bishop without a Papal mandate, violation of the sacramental seal of confession by a priest or bishop, procurement of a completed abortion. For instance, apostasy is the formal renunciation of one’s religion. If you regret your decision to leave the Catholic Church some years later, after a talk with a priest and a ceremony the excommunication will be reversed. In contrast, the Islam typically demand the death penalty for apostasy (and in practise, it’s often enough performed).

    A murder is – according to the Catholic Church – a mortal sin.
    From Wikipedia: “According to the beliefs of Catholicism, a mortal sin is a sin that, unless confessed and absolved (or at least sacramental confession is willed if not available), condemns a person’s soul to Hell after death.”

    In my opinion, this is a coherent “punishment arrangement” (if you accept the Catholic dogmata of course…).

  15. parse says:

    Parse, I don’t think it’s that outrageous. I think it’s a positive development that the Church can’t prevent abortions in at least one country.

    I guess I need to get a better feel for your authorial voice. I completely missed that you were writing about this episode because you thought it was a postive development.

  16. Alon Levy says:

    No, it’s not really an authorial voice thing; I usually snark about things’ being positive developments in similar situations.

    Axel, the Wikipedia article on mortal sins implies that sins that incur excommunication are a special subset of mortal sins. So abortion not only condemns you to hell, but also warrants excommunication; contraception, a lesser offense, only condemns you to hell.

  17. Axel says:

    I hope I made it clear enough that I don’t share the Catholic position at all…I was just arguing from that perspective as far as I know and understand it, and it sounds coherent for me. But you raised an important topic: “The Catholic Church has time and time again proved that it’s more interested in controlling people’s bodies – especially but not only women – and in ideological purity than in helping people.” That’s sadly true but I’m always optimistic. The intriguing aspect is that even the Vatican with its total obedience to the Pope, excommunication, mortal sins, hell and the devil isn’t capable of controlling the Catholic Church in an enlightened and modern society completely if responsible and intelligent Catholics are politically taken up on their promise to help – even in the case of abortion. This happened in Germany a few years ago.

    Just for comparison: The position of the rival Evangelical (“Protestant”) Church in Germany – the institutional form chosen by a community of 23 Lutheran, Reformed and United regional churches, German church structures are based on federal principles at all levels – concerning sexuality is much more liberal: Sexuality is a “good gift” of God, it belongs to humans their whole life and therefore it should be a natural part of human communication. Generally, you should act responsible. Contraception is your personal decision, sex before marriage is your personal decision and an abortion is seen as a severe ethical dilemma between the right to life of the unborn child and the woman’s interests taking her emergency and conflict situation seriously. The Church generally prefers carrying a child to full term but ultimately, it’s an individual question of conscience, ultimately, it’s the mother who must accept her child and no one else, and the Church has to accept and respect the women’s decision, especially she must not be criminalized (American Christian Fundamentalists aren’t familiar with Luke 6,37 I guess…). Contrary to the Catholic position, the Protestant Church is mainly interested in the real protection of unborn life (less unintended pregnancies and abortions in practise) and not in abstract ethical debates regardless of their effective implications. That’s the reason why sexual education for youths and parents, family planning or contraception education is part of the official Evangelical Church social offer.

    After reunification, the nationwide abortion law had to be reconciled. And this time there was a rather conservative Catholic/Christian-liberal government in office. Under the terms of the new law, abortion is prohibited. However, a woman who has an abortion during the first trimester will not be prosecuted as long as she undergoes state-regulated counseling that must seek to persuade her to carry the pregnancy to term and waits a three-day period. An abortion is fully legal if the pregnancy is the result of rape or if completing the pregnancy would endanger the woman’s health. Abortions are not covered by public health insurance except for women with low income. So, it’s a de facto legalization during the first trimester. Because of strong doctor-patient confidentiality and medical data privacy no one finds out about it, no employer, no friend or husband etc.

    The dilemma for the Catholic Church was their part in the state-regulated counceling. Among non-religious groups, both the Evangelical and the Catholic Church participated, the first obviously without the slightest problem. Most German Catholics but also Karl Cardinal Lehmann, Chairman of the Conference of the German Bishops – the highest representative of the Catholic Church in Germany -, argued that it’s better to be a part of the counceling system than to abstain completely because in that case you have absolutely no opportunities to help pregnant women and possibly reduce the number of abortions (what actually happend after the counceling) – women simply will go to another non-Catholic counceling service. The Pope (and a minority of German bishops and Ratzinger/Benedict of course) didn’t agree, argued fundamentally and not outcome-oriented, called the counceling participation “a licence to kill” and ultimately and very harshly corrected the German bishops. The Catholic Church officially withdrew…
    …and Catholics founded a similar counseling organization called “Donum Vitae” with Catholic laypersons at once (mostly persons who had worked in the official counceling system), not in the official name of the Catholic Church but as a private organization with “Catholic elements”. Chairwoman is Rita Waschbüsch, former chairwoman of the Central Comitee of German Catholics, the organized laypersons.

    So much for mortal sins and the hell where I will probably meet all of my former Catholic girl friends…

  18. Shannon says:

    It is always a man to be the first to say what a woman is to do with her body. Maybe it is time men are raped and get to see what it is like to have to go through something like that. And expecting a 11 year old to carry a baby? what the hell is wrong with people? She was raped!! It was not her choice. Why put her little body through more torture.

    Like I said, if it happened to men rapists would get the death penalty.

    I speak from experience…

  19. In the case of rape, the rapist’s baby in utero can be treated like a foreign invader.

  20. Zplonk says:

    I presume that by the same token, the Republicans/Nazis were good because they instituted a few welfare measures to keep Americans hooked while corporatists were plundering their wealth to pay for a gigantic war.

    Is the war in Iraq Gigantic? … yes, the war in Iraq lasted longer and cost much, much more than the WW2.

    Oooooh … so bad, comparing americans to Nazis!! Why, that is almost as bad as comparing present day Israelis to Nazis.

    While the American govt never did OFFICIALLY shut down the press, something far worse happened … the mainstream press effectively shut down it self for at least four years after 9/11. I don’t think the Nazis ever managed quite that level of obedience into it’s subjects.

    OTOH to compare anti-abortionist to conservationists who thinks trees are important, more important than people is criminal.
    Trees don’t kill people, people do kill a lot of trees, just by living.
    Four people and a billion trees can live on this planet in harmony, however, if the situation was reverse …

    And I think girls younger than 15 should have mandatory abortion. Next battleground: in utero adoptions. Technology max exist to transplant fetusses in the 2nd trimester to another womb. Can of worms.

  21. Nora says:

    If you are Catholic and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church then you must live by them. Why is the child that if from a rape have no rights to live? That baby cannot help it it was concieved. If an 11 year old’s body has gone through puberty to the point of being able to carry a child, her body can handle it. I am not saying she can emotionally or mentally handle it. But with support she can choose to give life to a life that was conceivd by no will of its own and it. The 11 year old should be pitied for being put in this life changing situation. But does it make sense for a child to DIE to save another child from this suffering? Some children are diagnosed with a terrible disease by no fault of their own, but should another child DIE to save this child?

  22. […] is it just that life begins at conception and ends at birth for these pharmacists? Bookmark on Delicious Digg this post Recommend on Facebook Share on […]

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