[Vision2020] George Will is Confused and Misinformed about Abortion
ngier006 at gmail.com
Fri Nov 10 10:55:29 PST 2017
Good Morning Visionaries:
For those of you who do not get the DNews, you will find a longer version
of this column below, one that will be published in the Sandpoint Reader
next week. The full version is attached.
Will is one of our foremost conservative columnists, and except for some
overly artful phrasing, he usually writes well-reasoned and evidence-based
articles. This piece “The Democrats are the Real Abortion Extremists” is a
surprising exception (*The Washington Post*, October 18, 2017).
In praise of all creatures great and small,
*George Will Confused and Misinformed about Abortion*
In a recent column on abortion, George Will criticizes the 1973
Supreme Court decision for arbitrarily dividing pregnancy into three
trimesters. He claims that the judges “postulated, without a scintilla of
reasoning, moral and constitutional significance in the banal convenience
that nine is divisible by three.”
Will is famous for his erudition, so he should have known that
the trimester framework for fetal development is as old as the Greek
philosopher Aristotle, who argued that the fetus starts as a nutritive
soul, transitions to a sensitive soul, and then finally becomes a rational
soul—a human person.
The fact that there is explosive brain development in the fetus from 25-33
weeks gives credence to Aristotle’s theory. (See
www.NickGier.com/fetalbrain.pdf.) Fetal movement, depending on whether it
is a woman’s first or second pregnancy, occurs from 13 to 25 weeks, the
second trimester. Contrary to Will, Aristotle’s trimester framework is
neither arbitrary nor unscientific.
Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Catholic theologians, was profoundly
influenced by Aristotle and he accepted his theory of the soul with one
crucial exception. Aquinas explained: “The rational soul is created by God
at the completion of man’s coming into being. This soul is at one and the
same time both a sensitive and nutritive life-principle, the preceding
forms having been dissolved.”
The equally great Catholic theologian Augustine believed that abortion
should be restricted at the “sensitive soul” stage. Augustine argues that
abortion is not homicide, “for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul
in a body that lacks sensation when it is not formed in the flesh.”
The idea of a formed (vs. unformed) fetus comes from Exodus 21:22-25. The
Greek translation, which the early church fathers considered divinely
inspired, states that if someone causes a woman to miscarry and the fetus
is “unformed,” he will pay only a penalty, but if the fetus is “formed,” it
is murder. This view was incorporated into Catholic Canon Law and it was
not changed until 1917, when personhood was moved back to conception.
English Common Law used the term “quickening in the womb” to establish the
cut-off point for abortion. “To quicken” means “to receive life,” and this
conforms nicely with Augustine’s “formed” and “live” soul and the
“viability” criterion of Roe v. Wade. Under the influence of Sir William
Blackstone (1732-80), quickening was incorporated in early U.S. law, and,
significantly, this would have been the position of our founding thinkers.
Many anti-abortionists claim that genetics make this traditional view
obsolete and unscientific. The problem, however, is that genetic identity
is not personal identity. There is always a possibility of twinning up to
16 weeks, and identical twins, while being genetically unique, are
obviously two different persons. Furthermore, Aquinas (see above) and all
orthodox Christians believe that a person’s essence is created by God, not
Anti-abortionists are now proposing laws that protect the fetus at 20
weeks, when they believe that it can feel pain. But a 2005 article in
of the American Medical Association* surveyed all the research and
concluded “that a fetus’ neurological pathways that allow for the conscious
perception of pain do not function until after 28 weeks gestation.”
In 2010 the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
with those results and in 2012 the American Congress of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists <http://www.acog.org/> joined the scientific consensus.
Last Wednesday House Republicans held a hearing on a bill that would ban
abortions at the point that a fetal heart beat can be detected. But animal
fetuses have beating hearts, they feel pain, they quicken in the womb, and
they have unique genetic identities.
The main problem with Aristotle’s concept of personhood is that we now know
that animals can show intelligent, emotional, and moral behavior without
large cortexes. Crows have distinctive tool kits and they recognize
individual human faces. Dogs have a moral sense of being cheated on food
portions. Alex, an African grey parrot, was the subject of a 30-year
scientific experiment, and he reached high levels of cognitive performance.
We can no longer make a moral distinction between our lives and those of
our fellow creatures. We should therefore reject the fallacy of
“speciesism,” which privileges humans as the only beings with a serious
moral right to life.
I challenge all of us to embrace a consistent pro-life position that
respects the dignity and value of all living beings. If women at abortion
clinics must to listen to a lecture about fetal pain, then a similar script
should be read out at every slaughter house in the world.
Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they
shall never sit in.
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance
from another. This immaturity is self- imposed when its cause lies not in
lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own
understanding!—that is the motto of enlightenment.
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