Saving the 8th: Thoughts on Truth, Personhood, and our Capacity for Compassion

Saving the 8th does more than save lives

Saving the 8th amendment does more than save lives: it preserves our society. It does this by grounding us in the true fundamental realities of existence, namely the personhood of the unborn and the human obligation to other-person-centred love.

When we refuse to speak truth – society dissolves

At various points in the history of a society people have been able to step back and observe its descent and disintegration. Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived during the height of communist Russia and wrote of its horrors in his work, The Gulag Archipelago. He points out that one of the reasons why things became so unbearable was that truth became corrupt at every level of society, from the individual, to the family, to the government itself. In Stalin’s Russia no one could be trusted and therefore no one could be truthful. 2 out of every 5 people were government informers. Think about that this meant that you couldn’t speak the truth to those closest to you for fear of recrimination.

Others have also pointed to the necessity of continually speaking truth and refusing to swallow lies. Ghandi, Mandela and others have all concluded that what happened in their respective societies was that individuals refused to speak the truth and instead spoke lies.

There then is a goodness about speaking the truth even in the midst of a society that refuses to hear it. The truth will set us free after all!

This is why, on the issue of abortion, it is crucial that we don’t remain silent, that we think carefully about these issues and in doing so commit to speaking truth and refuting lies. Voting “No” on May 25th would be commitment to the truth of the value of the unborn.

What makes a person?

Fundamental to this issue is the question of “what constitutes a person?”
Assuming, of course, that we are all against killing “people”, the argument seems to run that an un-born child is not a person and so it is morally acceptable to terminate a pregnancy. This is why people use terminology like “tissue” or “clump of cells”.

Well why is it not a person? When does a clump of cells become a person? The issue here is that if you draw the line anywhere other than conception you draw a false line that would include adults among those whom you would “terminate”.

For example, someone might say “a person is someone who is independent and a foetus is dependent on its mother”. But aren’t we all dependent on others at various points? To say nothing of severely disabled people who are dependent on their carers are they not persons?

Philosophers like Peter Singer have taken this sort of thinking to its logical conclusion. If a foetus isn’t a person because it is dependent on its mother, then why draw the line at birth? He writes, “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons…the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”
See what he is saying? Because babies are dependent on their mothers and not cognisant of their surroundings, they are not persons!

American University philosophy professor Jeffrey Reiman has asserted that unlike mature human beings, infants do not “possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them.”

Take a moment and absorb that…

Others might say “he or she is only a person if they have a heartbeat”.
And yet there are plenty of cases where an adult’s heart would not beat without medical intervention do we refuse such treatment?
What then do we do with people who have pace makers fitted? Are they no longer a person?

Or perhaps you say that a foetus isn’t “sentient” or has limited brain function and therefore cannot perceive the world in the same way as a fully developed person?
What about those in a coma are they no longer people?

What about whether the foetus is wanted?
We seem to confer personhood on those we “want”. You go into a maternity hospital and because the majority of pregnancies are desired, people don’t think twice about using the language of “child” and of doing everything they can medically to preserve that life. Yet the language of abor-tion tends to dehumanise the unborn because they are unwanted.

However we must recognise that there are plenty of people in our society who have been rejected and who are unwanted by the people around them are they still people? Would it be morally acceptable to end their lives? In fact don’t we have a moral obligation as Christians to embrace those whom society rejects?

The 20th century saw dreadful examples of people who were dehumanised by those who saw them as undesirable. These unwanted people were killed in their millions: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China are a sobering warning of how easy it is to kill someone if you consider them to be unwanted or less than human.

The Christian worldview maintains that human beings have intrinsic value by virtue of being image bearers of God (Gen. 1:26-28). This innate nature endures regardless of the circumstances of their conception, whether or not they are wanted and despite any disabilities or limitations that may possess. The science attests to this in that conception brings about the creation of a genetically unique and distinct individual.

It’s only potential human life

Some may respond that an embryo isn’t a human but of a lesser status perhaps describing it as a potential human life. But what do we mean when we say this? We mean that given normal conditions it will develop into a fully formed human. It would arguably be more accurate to describe it as a human life with potential. The key difference between you as an unborn child and now is time!

But even if someone is only willing to admit that it is a potential life surely they must concede that given time and natural processes, it will realise that potential and become a fully formed human be-ing and is therefore of more value than an indiscriminate lump of tissue?

Perhaps you aren’t sure if it’s a human life or not? What should you do then?

Imagine you are driving at speed down a dark road. In the distance you see a the outline of something in the path of your vehicle. You think that it might be the figure of a person but you aren’t sure. What do you do? Do you press down the accelerator full speed ahead! Or do you exercise cau-tion, stop the car and find out for certain whether it is a human being in your path?

If you aren’t sure whether an unborn child is a human or not surely you should err on the side of caution and vote NO?

What about Rape?

Our health minister Simon Harris made an impassioned speech at the beginning of his introduction of the 8th amendment referendum bill stating that he, “could no longer live in a country where a women who was raped was forced to travel to another country to have an abortion”. He also made a highly emotive argument about sparing women the heartache of having to carry a child with a “fatal foetal abnormality”.

His words are a deep plea to our sense of compassion. Rape is an abhorrent and despicable act and why wouldn’t we want to limit the suffering of any woman who has endured such a violent ordeal?.

However, we must step back and recognise the flaws in this sort of argument.

First, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland stated that in 2013 there were 2036 reported sexual assaults. Of those 90 resulted in pregnancy. This means that 4.4% of the total number of sexual assaults ends in pregnancy.

The vast majority of abortions in the UK are carried out for “social reasons” i.e. a woman already has several children and does not want any more and so elects to have an abortion.

Should we make a wide ranging provision for such a small percentage of cases? Perhaps the victims of an horrific assault are not best served by a procedure that itself can impact a woman’s mental health? And why are we seeking to end the life of a child conceived in horrific circumstances when it had no part in (or responsibility for) the manner of its origins?

“Fatal Foetal Abnormality”

The repeal of the 8th amendment would allow the Oireachtas to legislate widely on the issue of abortion. Abortion up to 12 weeks is only the first law proposed and we can anticipate more wide reaching provisions. Yet as it stands the 12 week law would grant an abortion “without specific indication” i.e. without the mother having to give a reason. However in the case of so-called “fatal foetal abnormalities” (such as anencephaly) abortion would be permissible up to term (40 weeks).

For an article from a medical doctor outlining 20 reasons why we should think twice about aborting a child with anencephaly click the here.

But notice also the language changes between cases. At one point the unborn are an indiscriminate “clump of cells” and yet people (like Simon Harris) implicitly confer personhood to the unborn in circumstances such as FFA when he speaks about the traumatic nature of losing a child. He cannot have it both ways. It cannot be tissue at one point and then a child whose untimely death is tragic at another. People don’t weep for ill developed tissue, they weep for children.

Is suffering to be avoided?

One of the unchallenged assumptions held by those who would be proponents of abortion is the idea that all suffering is a mistake and should be avoided. The reason for this is an a priori belief that suffering is meaningless. So the logic runs:
– The mother will suffer mentally or physically
– All suffering is meaningless and should be avoided
– Therefore it must be avoided
– Abortion minimises the suffering of the mother and is therefore a good thing

Or in the case of so-called “fatal foetal abnormality”:
– This will have no “quality of life” or will be a tremendous burden.
– Suffering is meaningless and should be avoided
– Therefore the compassionate thing to do is to end the life of this child

Let’s probe this at two levels:
1. Does abortion end the suffering of the mother?
2. Is suffering meaningless or does it have a purpose?

First, there are a host of complications associated with abortion that are not well publicised. These include infection to the uterus or fallopian tubes that can lead to infertility. There is also the emotion-al distress of undergoing an abortion to consider. The risk of mental health issues is particularly high for women who are young or who have had previous pregnancies.
The sad reality is that “many counsellors believe that the psychological trauma of abortion can re-emerge many years after the event, can affect men as well as women and has some features in common with post traumatic stress disorder”

Second, as Christians we must challenge the assumption that suffering is meaningless and should therefore be avoided. This does not mean that we seek out ways to suffer, rather it is an acknowl-edgement of the nature of the world God has made. The secular mind hates suffering, sees it as an interruption to the proper function of life and seeks to avoid it all costs. Part of this avoidance is the lack of philosophical and emotional resources within that worldview to deal with suffering when it comes along.

And it not just again the secular worldview that the Christian view of suffering stands utterly unique, as Tim Keller writes:

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”

If God is not there (the secular worldview) then of course suffering is ultimately meaningless, it is the blind indifference of the universe and we should seek to avoid it at all costs. Our highest ideal therefore is personal happiness and that becomes the metric governing our decisions. Perhaps there are higher ideals to aspire to than individual personal happiness? Study after study shows that people who do NOT have children are generally happier than those who do. Should we then conclude that there is something inherently wrong in having children or do we change the orienta-tion of our life away from the pursuit of mere happiness and to the pursuit of other-person-centred-love.

Christianity maintains that there is a God who works even in the midst of pain and suffering to bring about his good purposes. This means that our grief and pain, while terrible, are not without meaning they make us who we are, they clarify what we value, they elicit dependence on God, they drive us to him.

This is the hope that lies in the Christian worldview that even when circumstances are at their bleakest and most hopeless there is still meaning, purpose, hope and the potential for human flourishing. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a potent reminder that suffering is meaningful even when we cannot see it.

Killing the weakest amongst us dissolves our capacity for compassion

90% of Down Syndrome pregnancies in England and Wales end in an abortion. What that means is that those who might be considered among the most vulnerable in a society are systematically wiped out. Virtually an entire group of distinct, beautiful, image bearers, because of their higher level of dependency or assumed lower quality of life, have been exterminated. Yet below the obvious tragedy lies a deeper one when we opt to kill the weakest amongst us, we stunt our own capacity for compassion, generosity and love.

Love always chooses the harder of two roads. It says that this is the more difficult path and chooses to walk it anyway for the sake of the other. This is the difference between love of self and love of others. Love of self demands that you die for me love of others lays down its life. It sacrifices time, money and dreams for the sake of the other and in doing so finds itself enriched.

When we choose to kill the weakest amongst us we give ourselves over to the worst of our nature rather than striving for those higher ideals encapsulated in the gospel love of God and love of neighbour (this includes our unborn neighbour).

Compassion also necessitates the speaking of truth into a situation, especially in the cause of op-posing harm. We speak the truth about abortion to people because to fail to do so is to stand by while people pursue that which would harm and enslave them.

I began by painting a fairly dystopian view of the world when truth is eroded and it is likely that society wont immediately collapse should abortion become legal in this country. However, do not underestimate the spiritual, psychological and sociological force of legalising abortion. It is suppressing the truth of the created nature of human beings, of the reality of God and the inherent dignity he bestows upon us. To suppress the truth in the Biblical mind is to become less human, to de-create ourselves in the name of autonomy and personal freedom. We do not find ourselves more complete but more estranged from our God-given capacity for other-person-centred love. We become more alienated from one another, more fearful and more adrift in a sea of moral relativism. In short, we suppress the truth at out peril! Remember, societies disintegrate when the truth stands silent in the streets. Let the truth about abortion and the truth about the Good News of God’s free grace to us in Jesus ring loud and clear across this land.

For more information visit Love Both.

Sources used:

-Walking with God through pain and suffering, pg. 30