Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Abortion and the unborn baby Jesus

Frances Kissling, a leading pro-choice advocate and former president of Catholics for Choice, writes on a Washington Post blog about this ad (right), which shows an ultrasound of baby Jesus.

"When I saw the 'Here He Comes' [sic] ad which showed the baby Jesus waiting inside his mother's uterus in a 3D sonogram I just burst into happy laughter," Kissling says. "I want one to hang on my wall. I want it to be my Christmas card."

She continues:
And then, some silly people who are obsessed with abortion tried to spoil a good thing. Pro-life Wisconsin decided to be the grinches who stole Christmas. The [sic] wanted to interpret these joyous billboards as an anti-abortion message and instead of allowing people to feel the joy and inspiration and holiness that the birth of Jesus' [sic] symbolizes they wanted us to think about abortion.

This happens every Christmas. It's a tough time for supporters of abortion rights who have just as much excitement and take just as much joy in expecting a baby in their family as does everyone else, but end up feeling defensive and grumpy about the baby Jesus being hijacked for political gain. ...

Well, I'm hoping that those of us who are pro choice here in America will allow ourselves to enjoy this modern depiction of the baby Jesus awaiting entry into the world in his mom's uterus. It's a great and happy and anticipatory message. Mary and Joseph, certainly a nontraditional family and their precious baby boy are a perfect symbol for the complex modern world in which we live.
I'm certain that the Wisconsin pro-life group does not want to prevent people from "feel[ing] the joy and inspiration and holiness that the birth of Jesus' [sic] symbolizes." (On the contrary, I imagine.)

But they are trying to make an additional point, which is this: the fact that Jesus was once a fetus growing in his mother's womb should give us pause about our nation's widespread practice of abortion (1.2 million abortions per year). Accepting the ultrasound image as "Jesus," as Kissling does without hesitation, entails that Jesus was once a fetus identical to his later, adult self, and that to kill that fetus by abortion would have been to kill Jesus. By extension, all human beings are the same beings as the fetuses from which they developed, just as they were once also newborns, toddlers, adolescents, etc. To have killed the fetus growing in my mother's womb 25 years ago would have been to kill me.

So Kissling presumably agrees that there is a continuity of personal identity throughout the different stages in the life of a human being -- that to kill the unborn Jesus, or the unborn me, really would have been to kill Jesus, or me. And yet her pro-choice position says that would have been morally permissible.

That's a tough pill to swallow -- hence the effectiveness of the ad. Presumably, Kissling would have to argue that having a right to life is a non-essential property that a human being acquires at some point in his or her life, perhaps by virtue of developing certain mental functions or by being "wanted" by others. This view doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

It's also not biblical. The story of the unborn John the Baptist "leap[ing] for joy" in the presence of the unborn Jesus (Luke 1:41-44), as well as other passages in the Bible (e.g., Psalm 139:13-14, Psalm 22:10, Isaiah 49:5), highlight not only the continuity of identity throughout the life of a human being, which Kissling concedes -- they also suggest that human beings have their special dignity and importance from the time they come into existence, simply by virtue of the kind of thing they are: persons made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). That's why "shed[ding] the blood of man" is condemned (Genesis 9:6) -- not just some men, but all men (humans). It follows that abortion is a grave moral wrong.

As thinking, rational creatures, we ought to pay attention to (rather than thoughtlessly dismiss) the implications of our own assumptions.