Abortion Revisited

The difficult subject of abortion forces us to ponder the uniqueness of human life and how it might differ from other life forms. Modern psychology teaches the following:

  1. Women and men are sentient beings: Our five senses are constantly receiving impulses traveling through sensory nerves all the way to the brain. All senses are constantly receiving and transmitting. We are not constantly aware of all of the sensory perceptions because, for practical purposes, we have trained ourselves to ignore what is not relevant.
  2. 2. Women and men are cognitive beings: Each sensation received by the brain from each one of the five senses is automatically and instantly identified or cognized. It is compared to the enormous databank of other sensations already identified so that we know right away if a sensation is in the normal range of what we are used to or not. While all this takes place in the brain, there appears to remain an emotional association with the body part or sense involved.
  3. Women and men are conceptual beings: From the information received and compared to prior data, with the help of the mind, we develop some concept of the sensorial experience; and the mind enters into action to make choices, pass judgment, and give meaning to what we experience. Essentially, we learn from the result of the myriad of empirical information received by the senses and interpreted by the mind. From those experiences we draw knowledge that becomes the basis of our future choices. The child who touches the hot surface of a stove learns to keep his/her hands away. We also receive information from nonempirical data, such as by transfer of knowledge from someone else or by a direct revelation from the depth of our being.
  4. Women and men are conscious beings: Of all living entities, it seems that only men and women are able to be consciously aware. It is clear that many animals are capable of some thinking, but it is not likely that they can think about their thinking. They are simply not aware of it. When the seventeen century French philosopher René Descartes said, “I think therefore I am,” he was not identifying with his body but rather with his capacity to think. He could have said, “I am aware of thinking therefore I am.” But we had to wait for the twentieth century American mystic and spiritual teacher, Joel Goldsmith, to be clear on the subject of the true nature of men and women when he said, “Consciousness is what I am.”

The point from all this is that men and women are conceptual beings who have the capacity to become conscious of their conceptual, cognitive, and sentient nature. They form paradigms of beliefs that explain and rationalize their environment and individual whereabouts.

It is clear that most animals have some degree of awareness, and many animals are sentient beings.  But we have no evidence that they are capable of being aware of their awareness. By this definition animals are not capable of being conscious in the same way that humans are conscious.

Understanding the distinctive nature of man and woman as consciousness is quite important in defining the uniqueness of human life beyond our biology or psychology. This distinction becomes paramount when faced with critical moral issues, such as abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia.   

The subject of abortion is a difficult issue that has been politicized in the United States as well as in several other countries. It has become a screening test in the qualification for Supreme Court judges and other officials. It is an unmeasured and unqualified view of life that has led to the extreme position of banning all abortions even without consideration for individual circumstances. Of course, the real motivation of those pushing this agenda is barely hidden. The misogyny and anti-sex obsession of much of Christianity is driving many Christians to find ways to make premarital sex as punishable as possible and even to limit sexual activity to the act of procreation on the part of legally married heterosexuals. Is the imposition of an unwanted pregnancy on a woman or a teenage girl fair retribution for their sexual act?

By declaring that life starts the moment the sperm penetrates the ovum, as some activists have stated, inflexible pro-life groups pay no attention to consciousness as a critical consideration that defines the uniqueness of human life.

Those who affirm that the one-minute-old embryo is a human life with the same rights as the mother reduces human life to its most simplistic biological level. They ignore the matter of consciousness as a critical and defining aspect of human life.

During the first three months of pregnancy, the embryo is essentially an extension of the life of the mother. From the third month on, the fetus exists only as a potential human life that becomes realized from a biological viewpoint with the successful exit from the womb. But from a spiritual point of view, it is the advent of the Soul and the exercise of consciousness that makes life sacred and truly “in the image and likeness of God” (Gen. 1:27).

Soul and consciousness go hand in hand as it is reasonable to assume that consciousness is a necessary tool of the Soul. We do not know when the Soul joins the body, but it is not going to happen before the fetus becomes capable of an activity of consciousness. Based on the time frame of the development of the embryonic brain it is clear that the embryo has no consciousness. The fetus will have the potential of consciousness only when the brain has sufficiently developed its neocortex. It is known that by the sixth month, only three quarters of the neocortex development has taken place.

Movements of the fetus can be felt as soon as the fourth month. These early movements are emotionally important for the mother but cannot be seen as indications of a conscious life of the unborn baby so long as the neocortex is not yet sufficiently developed before the sixth month. Consequently, an abortion before the sixth month cannot end a conscious human life. The first act of independent individual consciousness of the fully formed baby might be when it makes the first moves to leave the womb shortly before it is born, although even that is most likely due more to an instinctive action than a conscious one. Any earlier time that there may be a conscious act remains pure speculation.

Conscious life is clearly far more than biological life. The life of the embryo, and then of the fetus is one of biological evolution and transformation. It is not a conscious human life, although, from the sixth month on, it is well on its way to becoming one. But all along, the mother is a fully conscious being. Our hierarchy of priorities cannot equate a yet-not-conscious life with a conscious life, let alone forcing one onto the other. But that critical point is conveniently drowned by slogans that willfully ignore the principle of a hierarchy of values and the criteria of consciousness that defines the uniqueness of human life.

Pregnancy cannot cause a mother to become less in charge of her body and of her life than before pregnancy. In effect, we are telling women, “You have the right to become pregnant, but once you are, you lose your rights over your body and your pregnancy, whether it was forced upon you or not you lose your right to determine whether you want the child or not, whether you want that father for your child or not, whether your circumstances enable you to raise the child or not.” Society has no right to turn a pregnant woman into a simple vessel for the development of a fetus.

While it is totally wrong to actively encourage abortion, the current position which has gained so much ground in the United States is that unless the life of the mother is at stake, abortion should be categorically forbidden and that anyone inducing abortion should be prosecuted as a criminal. This position is not only unjustly punitive, but also both ill-founded and hypocritical. The current new laws at both federal and state levels are another triumph of a herd mentality propelled by slogans and rammed by prejudiced thinking pretending to be morally and spiritually founded or even based on scientific facts.

How can men truly relate to this issue? After all, pregnancy is a major aspect of a woman’s life as well as of her sexual life experience. Her life experience must necessarily fall under her right of the pursuit of happiness as enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. Ideally, a pregnancy should be the result of a conscious decision on the part of the parents. The next best thing is that if the pregnancy is unplanned it occurs between loving adults willing to assume their respective responsibilities. Short of this, the next best thing is when the mother is fulfilled by the prospect of motherhood. The above scenarios are the positive ones. Any situation short of those conditions starts the list of negative scenarios.

The worse scenario is when the woman was forced into sex. These circumstances can be horrifically devastating and associated with a life-wrenching experience. The male perpetrator might have very undesirable attributes. Drugs and venereal disease affecting not only the mother but also the embryo and eventually the child might be factors. Under such conditions, how could anyone have the right to force a victimized pregnant female to prolong her agony into an unwanted pregnancy and then into lifelong motherhood? This presumption of judgment is an act of violence against women—not an act of love for the only conscious life at stake i.e., the mother’s.

There are other negative scenarios, one of which is when a pregnancy occurs between two young innocent people unaware of the consequences. Unless they have supporting parents ready and able to help them through the pregnancy and then to raise the child, the young mother will be in a dire situation. Shouldn’t she be given a safe opportunity, through an early-enough abortion, to have a chance to bring a child into the world on her own terms at a later time in her life? Or, for her lack of awareness concerning sexual matters, should she be condemned to a punishment that will affect her for the rest of her life?

Regardless of the circumstances, no one has the right to decide for a woman and potential mother what might turn out to be the most momentous event in her life. Such a decision by others ignores that her very life is about her own choices and experiences. A woman or young girl should not be punished because of the prejudices of others—particularly Christians who should remember the principle of, “Do to others as you would want them to do to you.”

Preventing abortion cannot be rationalized by the claim that it is to safeguard life especially given our dismal track record as a society and in as much as we so often disregard the basic needs of poor youth including how we treat poor single mothers. Claiming to save life by banning abortion is a proposition with the stench of hypocrisy. If there are very undesirable factors pertaining to a pregnancy, it is criminal to insist that the pregnancy be pursued against the mother’s wishes for an early abortion when we know that there is no possibility of eliminating a conscious life. Therefore, it should remain a private matter and not a societal one. Further, if we believe that the Soul selects its human circumstances, we should also believe that the Soul would stay clear of a fetus intended to be aborted.

A society that tolerates young single mothers and their children living in deep poverty—without proper health care and insurance, with limited to no education, without protection from hoodlums and gangs, and with the prospect of a low-skilled job or no job at all, including a high probability of prison—has no moral ground to stand on to impose its will on another conscious being i.e., a woman or girl.

The foregoing should not lead the reader to the rash conclusion that I would suggest that any and every unconscious life loses its right to live. But the issue of abortion forces us to establish a hierarchy of priority. It is within that conflict between the mother’s wishes and the alleged rights of the embryo that there is a need to make … yes, a choice. This choice can be made by seeking the higher truth found through the principle of consciousness. The conscious life should always take precedence over the unconscious one.

It is interesting to note that the majority of people pushing extreme laws to extreme limits—and to even cancel the possibility for a girl or a woman to have an abortion regardless of the circumstances—live in states which fight or ban any mandate to wear a mask during a pandemic. They cast their fight to not wear a mask under the principle that it is a matter of individual liberty. But why would the principle of individual liberty be applicable in the case of refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic, but not applicable in the case of a desired early abortion before a state of advanced pregnancy? Simply more hypocrisy! This is not science and there are none of the overarching Christian values of compassion, kindness, and love for others.
Jon Canas is the author of the book, Religion, Politics, and Reclaiming the Soul of Christianity: A Spiritual imperative for Our Time and Our Nation.

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