Back on August 24, Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, of San Francisco, appeared on Meet the Press with Tom Brokaw. Brokaw asked her some very straightforward questions about abortion and the beginning of human life, and she attempted to cloak her answers in religious terms, which I am afraid may be very confusing to Catholics who are unfamiliar with the issues.
Alluding to Barak Obama's infamous remark that it was "above his pay grade" as to when a baby should receive basic human rights, Brokaw asked Pelosi, "If he [Obama] were to come to you and say, 'Help me out here, Madame Speaker. When does life begin?' -- what would you tell him?"
Pelosi responded: "I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition. St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose."
Wow. So, according to Pelosi, the Church has no clue as to when life begins, and regardless that question shouldn't impact a "woman's right to choose" -- a sentiment that makes absolutely no sense when you think about what it is the so-called "right" is choosing. It is the "right" to choose to kill your own unborn child. One would think that the question of when life begins would have everything to do with this "right." Answer one way and the woman is having a simple medical procedure to remove a blob of tissue. Answer another way and we are talking about killing an innocent human life, aka murder. Big difference.
But that's not the main point I want to address in this post. I want to address what Pelosi said regarding St. Augustine. Did he really say that life begins at three months?
First off, when Pelosi referrs to "doctors of the Church," let's be clear about what she really means. She is not speaking of medical doctors, but of theological doctors. These men and women, recognized by the Church for their brilliance in theological matters, do not necessarily have any more medical knowledge of human biology than you or I. So these are not medical experts we are speaking of.
Considering St. Augustine in particular, let us recall the time during which he lived, 354-430 AD. 1500 years ago, there were no ultrasound machines, no x-rays, no OB-GYNs, etc. Pondering the question of when ensoulment occurs (when the soul is infused into the body, thus creating a human being), Augustine offered his opinion based on the best facts available to him at the time -- that opinion was that ensoulment occurred at "quickening," which is the moment that the mother first feels the baby move within her.
Does this mean that Augustine was in favor of abortion prior to quickening? Hardly. He wrote, "Their licentious cruelty, or their cruel licentiousness, sometimes goes to such lengths as to procure sterilizing poisons and if these are unavailing, in some way to stifle within the womb and eject the fetus that has been conceived. They want their offspring to die before it comes to life or, if it is already living in the womb, to perish before it is born. Surely, if they are both of such a mind, they do not deserve the name of husband and wife..."
Even though he was uncertain about exactly when human life began within the womb, he understood (rightly) that the womb was the place where human life begins, and regardless of the chronology, that entire process needs to be protected and revered.
If Augustine were alive today and had the benefit of ultrasound machines and modern medical textbooks, no doubt he would be a strong supporter of the right to life. Pelosi, on the other hand, shuts her eyes to these modern developments. Further in her interview with Tom Brokaw, she insists, "I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins..."
In fact, any honest doctor worth his salt (heck, even any high school biology student) can answer the question sufficiently. The question, Madame Speaker, is when is there not life? We all know the "birds and the bees." A male sperm cell (which is alive) meets up with a female egg cell (which is alive). When fertilizaton occurs, the two join together and form a human conceptus (which is alive). That conceptus grows and develops, and modern science has charted that growth day-by-day throughout the course of the pregnancy. And at no time during those nine months is there ever something that is not alive becoming something alive. It is all life. And the unique DNA for that individual person is there, whole and entire, from the moment of conception. Science tells us that.
But Pelosi is not really interested in finding out what science or her Church has to say on this matter. She just repeats the party line. For just as she could open any biology text and discover what I have just related above, so too could she crack open the Catechism of the Catholic Church and learn that the Church really does have a definite teaching on this issue. Are we to seriously believe she is that ignorant? I don't.
Further in the interview she repeats the tired line about wanting abortion to be "safe and rare" and then shifts gears by saying we should reduce the number of abortions by increasing access to contraception (something else the Church has a most definite teaching on). "If you want to reduce the number of abortions," she said, "and we all do, we must -- it would behoove you to support family planning and contraception..."
If has a certain logic on the face of it. If abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies, and you can reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies by contraception, you'd expect there to be fewer abortions the more contraception is used. However, that is not the case. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The more widespread the use of contraception, the more abortions you have. Why is this?
On our "Day of Life" retreat coming up this next Saturday, Sept. 27, we will have as a speaker Dr. David Ramsey, Catholic physician, who will talk about the connection between contraception and abortion. Two different sins stemming from the same root.
WCU students, please contact me to reserve your space for this day of prayer and instruction. I hope you join us!