Faith, Science and Abortion
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Questions of abortion are tricky. I have struggled and evolved my thinking on abortion over the years. I have reached some level of peace by recognizing my own complex thinking and emotion. Also, I have come to appreciate the difference of dealing with things as they are, via nature, and the ways things ought to be, via our culture, laws, etc. At the core, I am “pro-life” AND “pro-choice.” Also, frankly, I believe those words are more political slogans than meaningful descriptions. I have also learned not to judge anyone for their thinking, recognizing that reasonable people can certainly have different perspectives.
I am a person of faith, having been raised in the Catholic tradition. For now at least, I have left the Catholic religion as a protest against the church’s inability to effectively deal with its structural pedophilia issues. Regardless, my faith is grounded in a deep respect for life and, especially, the personal responsibility we individually have to family. For me, there is nothing more important than raising children in a loving home. Also, one of my life’s greatest pleasures is my family.
Leonardo DaVinci (1452 - 1519) -
"He began scientifically by arguing the embryo does not breathe in the womb because it is surrounded by fluids. ‘If it breathed it would drown,’ he explained, ‘and breathing is not necessary because it is nourished by the life and food of the mother.’ Then he added some thoughts that the Church, which believed that individual human life begins at conception, would have considered heretical. The embryo is still as much a part of the mother as her hands and feet are. ‘One and the same soul governs these two bodies,’ he added, ‘and one and the same soul nourishes both.’” - Walter Isaacson, author of the eponymous biography
The Donohue - Levitt Hypothesis (1) -
The effect of legalized abortion on crime (also the Donohue–Levitt hypothesis) is a hypothesized reduction in crime in the decades following the legalization of abortion, as a result of fewer children at the highest risk of committing crime being born due to the availability of the procedure. The earliest research suggesting such an effect was a 1966 study in Sweden. In 2001, Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago and John Donohue of Yale University argued, citing their research and earlier studies, that children who are unwanted or whose parents cannot support them are likelier to become criminals, and that there is an inverse correlation between the availability of abortion and subsequent crime. This idea was further popularized by its inclusion in the book Freakonomics, which Levitt co-wrote.
Where does life begin and why does it matter?
For nature, life viability begins at the point where a fetus can survive successfully and without extraordinary human intervention. Likely at about 8 months gestation. One way to think about “extraordinary human intervention” is when:
the medical community provides a fetal environment outside the womb, and
the extra womb environment is necessary for fetal survival.
The extra womb environment can occur in many ways, including providing fluids and nutrients intravenously (IV) .
The point before independent viability, the fetus is a part of the mother. The mother, and as part of nature, is best suited to govern the fetus until viability is reached.
On the question of abortion
Question: Jeff, are you pro life or pro choice?
Jeff’s simple answer: Yes
(As almost always, the answer is very nuanced and the question really needs to be recast. )
Jeff’s answer in more detail:
As a matter of my personal faith, I believe life is sacred and carries a personal responsibility. I believe we are called by God to love one another, this love is especially manifest in our relationship with our spouse and children. If I am responsible for a pregnancy, then I, and in partnership with the mother, will make every responsible effort to bring that pregnancy to term for the purpose of raising a loved (wanted) child. (2)
As a matter of public policy, I believe pregnancy should not be governed separate from the mother. Human laws that distance the mother from the embryo / fetus are likely to be misaligned as a separation from natural processes. This misalignment could have the perverse effect of increasing social instability as described in the Donohue - Levitt hypothesis.
As such, the mother should have ultimate governance responsibility up until the point of life viability. As Leo DaVinci wrote, much the way a mother has governance responsibility for her arms and feet. Laws should be written in, alignment with and support of, the mother.
Along the lines of law and nature alignment, laws should also be consistent with related child care and medical support topics. These topics include health care, pregnancy and early childhood care training, and psychological support.
If an abortion is determined by the mother, support should include a “cooling off” period to confirm the decision is made with great consideration and to allow for proper medical and psychology care. (4)
If a mother brings the baby to term, pregnancy and early childhood training should be made available. This could be provided privately, through churches, through insurance companies, or via public social agencies.
(1) A question concerning the Donohue–Levitt hypothesis: The Great Migration of Black people from the south is generally timed from 1915 to the early 1970s. Isabel Wilkerson wrote a wonderful account of The Great Migration called The Warmth Of Other Suns. Per the book, the migration is considered a contributing factor to an increase in crime in northern and western destination cities (New York, Chicago, LA, for example) I wonder if Levitt and Donahue considered this as a driver for the hypothesis? That is, if they control for the impact of the migration on crime and given the corresponding timing of the end of the migration with Roe v Wade, would the hypothesis still be as significant?
I emailed this question to Dr Levitt on 10/21/20, below is his response as of 10/21/20. Also, I appreciate the opportunity to reach out to Steve Levitt, whose work and courage I admire.
“Thanks for writing. For sure the great migration had important impacts in a thousand dimensions. The methods we use on abortion and crime should take the great migration into account already, though. For instance, we look at cohorts born right before or after legalization, so these are kids growing up in the same places at about the same times, and see how their outcomes differ. Another analysis we do compares how quickly abortion access emerges after roe v wade by state. But a key thing is that we don’t expect crime to be impacted for 15-20 years until the kids grow up. So we can show that for 15-20 years, the crime patterns of states that get abortion access up and running quickly mirrors that of other states, only diverging later. That isn't a story that the great migration could explain.”
(2) Tim Roemer wrote an Op Ed piece on abortion, titled “How this pro-life former congressman is voting this election.” This was published in a Catholic journal in October of 2020.
Tim is a friend, former Congressman, 9/11 Commissioner, and 2020 Joe Biden campaign team member. Tim makes an argument for why he, a Catholic person and someone who believes life is sacred, could vote for Joe Biden, a person labeled as pro choice. Tim carefully walks the line between personal conviction and public policy, but ultimately draws on Biden’s humanist record to support his vote.
I especially appreciate Tim’s initial statement:
“First of all, I refuse to be boxed into labels and categories, like pro-life and pro-choice in 2020, on such a complex and nuanced issue as abortion. These terms and categories are 50 years old and embedded in polling jargon and cultural politics. Interest groups in Washington on both sides of the issue drive it as a wedge to divide Americans and profit off the division. Contrary to special interest spinning and deeper polarization, many Americans actually want to talk with each other, understand the other "side" and search for common ground.”
(3) Richard Dawkins wrote in his book The Selfish Gene, a good description from an evolutionary science perspective. He is comparing the human to all other mammals, with the human being the only mammal with a welfare state. His point is, if we consider natural population control like starvation to be barbaric, then it becomes necessary to instead use birth control for population control.
“Contraception is sometimes attacked as 'unnatural’. So it is, very unnatural. The trouble is, so is the welfare state. I think that most of us believe the welfare state is highly desirable. But you cannot have an unnatural welfare state, unless you also have unnatural birth control; otherwise, the end result will be misery even greater than that which obtains in nature. The welfare state is perhaps the greatest altruistic system the animal kingdom has ever known. But any altruistic system is inherently unstable, because it is open to abuse by selfish individuals, ready to exploit it.”
(4) Another take away from Richard Dawkins regards the driving influence of genes on their host humans (or ”Survival Machines” as Dawkin’s calls us). His point is our gene’s create our evolutionary drive to reproduce. As such, for a mother to decide an abortion is appropriate, the costs of bringing the child into the world must be so great as to overwhelm the genetic benefit of passing on her genes in her offspring. That is, a mother’s (genetic) nature is to want to bring a child into the world. To decide otherwise is an indicator of a significant problem, like the child will not be wanted. There is eons of evolutionary biology behind the mother’s decision.