Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Will of God

..."even when life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen." ...

"The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something God intended to happen."

                                       -Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Indiana

Why do only Republican candidates get to know the will of God?  And why does the "will of God" come and go only in fits?  So God intended for the rape to happen, and for the pregnancy from the rape to happen, but apparently not an abortion from that pregnancy?  Why would that be?  If God wanted someone to be pregnant, from what I've read, He had ways of making that happen pretty directly, with no human intervention necessary.

But this continues the theme in many pro-life circles.  It is very hard to rationalize denying abortion to rape victims without seeming heartless and cruel.  So we now have legitimate rape, which doesn't result in pregnancy, and emergency rape, and forcible rape.   In  many Republican eyes some rapes deserve abortions, others, not so much.  For many other Republicans, such as Mourdock, pregnancy from rape is a "gift from God."  He is cut from the same cloth as Rick Santorum, who said:

"As horrible as the way that that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child. [...] I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created -- in the sense of rape -- but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you.

As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life. We have horrible things happen. I can't think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation."
 While I guess they both get points for consistency, he loses a large part of the electorate at that point.  Rape is a huge violation of the body, and some candidate telling a woman to look upon her rape and its results as a "gift" is both insulting and infuriating.  But it seems once again that magical thinking has taken over the Republican party.  Just last week Rep. Joe Walsh said in a debate this gem, "With modern technology and science, you can't find one instance, there is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing."  Walsh apparently has never heard of an ectopic pregnancy.

But why do Republicans keep getting these candidates who in years past would have been relegated to the fringe?  As the leadership and drive of the Republican party is becoming more concentrated in the religious right, rather than the business conservatives who drove the party before, I think we will see increasingly more of these candidates.  Yet the problem for the Republican party going forward is that such candidates are increasingly unpalatable to the electorate at large, which forces more moderates from the party, which increases the likelihood of even more fringe candidates becoming nominated for office.  The Republican party eventually becomes a nonentity.  Perhaps that was the will of God?


  1. The problem is that these candidates do a piss-poor job of explaining what they mean (and I am being charitable in my interpretation of what they mean).

    Discussion of God's will is irrelevant; for one thing, we can't really know it. For another, it does not get to the heart of the matter, which is that the fetus, even one conceived via rape, is innocent human life and therefore has the same right to live every other human gets. It seems facile, and it is horribly unfair, but two wrongs don't make a right. Third, even if you can say that God "intended" the pregnancy, there is no way you can say that God intended the rape -- it is evil, full stop, and therefore cannot be intended by God because he is (and I really mean is) good. A better way to put it is that God sometimes causes good to come from evil, but the best thing would be to avoid talking about what God intended at all (assuming the raper survivor does not share your faith) and just do whatever you can (that isn't evil) to help her.

    FYI, there are medical solutions to ectopic pregnancies that most likely will result in the death of the fetus but are nonetheless not directly killing the fetus and therefore morally licit.

  2. RU-486 and the morning after pill don't directly kill the fetus, but do result in the death of the fetus. Most anti-choicers don't see those as licit.

    I am not religious, so I see the whole argument as to God's intentions as ridiculous. If we can't know God's intentions, then why are some so sure that God intends for every pregnancy to be carried to term?

  3. I believe in separation of church and state, and I think there is an extent to which - in a diverse representative democracy - we have to find ways to legislate that help and protect as many people as possible, in a way that reflects our societal wants and needs. That's a broad statement, but as I was saying over on FB, I think abortion is an area where we can't just take one side when there is such deep division. In that kind of situation my default would be to let individuals choose what they think is right.

    This is also interesting about the way Americans, generally, feel about exceptions for rape, incest, and health of the mother:

  4. I'm unaware of common solutions to ectopic pregnancies which don't involve removing or expelling the fetus in one way or the other, surgically or medically.

    But I agree with Kristen and Emily. It is hard to justify enforcing your own religious beliefs onto others, and interfering with their personal autonomy because of it. In those situations it is best left up to the people involved to figure out what is right for them and their situation.

  5. Removing the fallopian tube entirely is considered morally licit, assuming the death of the fetus is not directly intended. It's called the Principle of Double Effect

    The problem is that pro-lifers believe abortion is murder, so saying that we are forcing our religious beliefs on others is like saying we are forcing our religious beliefs on others when we ban more "traditional" forms of murder -- Thou Shalt Not Kill, and all that. Also, while they are a minority, there are in fact secular and atheist pro-lifers who agree that abortion is killing human life. When you start with the premise that we do, that a fetus is a life, the arguments traditionally used to support abortion simply don't apply.

    Yes, I am well aware that I am in the minority on this. But as I pointed out on facebook, the majority isn't always right, and we can easily come up with situations were laws were forced onto a deeply divided people because the moral premise behind those laws (whether religious or secular in origin) were right. I'm a big fan of democracy, but I would not want to live in a world where the only consideration with regard to a moral principle or law is whether the majority agrees with it. Look at the gay marriage issue -- there are plenty of states where the majority of people do not support marriage equality, and yet activists are trying to change that anyway.

  6. Removing the whole fallopian tube still kills the fetus, and causes future fertility issues to boot. So you are still preserving the life of the removing the fetus, which is what is causing the problem, not the fallopian tube. If we started aborting by removing the uterus, would that also be moally licit? It seems like a distinction with no difference in this case.

  7. If the point of removing the uterus to kill the fetus, then yes -- it is abortion and it is wrong. If you are removing the uterus because it is cancerous, then no. The key issue is the intent, not just the outcome. Do you intend to kill the fetus, or do you intend to treat the mother and hope for the best with regard to the fetus?

    An imperfect analogy -- doctors need to perform heart surgery on a man, whose heart is very fragile and unlikely to survive, but who wants and needs the surgery anyway. The doctors open him up to repair the heart, but the heart can't take the trauma, and it gives out, and he dies. The doctors performed the actions that killed him, but they did not kill him. His death was foreseeable, and even likely, but it was not intended.

  8. I guess I have a hard time seeing how removing the fallopian tube will not directly lead to the death of the fetus. There is not even a small chance, like in your analogy with the heart, that the fetus will survive. Removing the fallopian tube WILL kill it, full stop. That is the intent of the removal. The only treatment for most ectopic pregnancies is to remove the fetus, one way or the other. I don't see why removing it on its own, or removing it with the Fallopian tube wrapped around it makes much difference, except to the woman's future fertility. At that point you are performing unnecesarry surgery, since the Fallopian tube isn't the problem, the fetus is. It seems like such a fig leaf.

    I mean what if you have two ectopic pregnancies?

  9. " That is the intent of the removal." Well, not necessarily; the intent could very well be just to prevent the fallopian tube from bursting, which would kill the woman. Even in cases like this and like the cancerous uterus, where there is no possibility of the fetus surviving, intent does matter. In a perfect world, would the patient and doctor want to find a way to preserve both her life and the life of the baby? It may seem like a very fine distinction, and it may be that no one will ever know the true intent of the patient and doctor, but intent does matter.

    Another imperfect analogy -- bombing a military target of a nation we are at war with. Even if you know there are innocent civilians in the military target who would definitely die, it is ok to bomb the target because (I hope) you don't actually intend to kill civilians -- they are genuinely collateral damage. It is not at all the same thing as deliberately bombing a civilian target, even though the result (dead civilians) is the same.

    In the real world, facts are messy and people are human and motives can be hard to discern (even one's own motives), but we are all called to do the right thing as best we can (yes, I know, people don't agree on what the right thing is).

    If there were two ectopic pregnancies? Yes, that would end the woman's fertility forever. But preserving fertility is not a justification for deliberately and intentionally killing innocent life.

    It seems like a fig leaf because you are looking at it from the perspective of preserving the woman's health and fertility, rather than preserving the life of both the woman and the fetus (even if it is ultimately not possible to save both). But intent matters, just as it does when determining if a death was caused by self-defense, an accident, or a deliberate desire to murder. The outcome -- dead victim -- is the same in all cases, but the intent of the putative killer determines the moral culpability.

    And I'm sorry to take over your combox like this, I was just trying to articulate my viewpoint, which is not adequately expressed by people like Akin or Romney.

  10. Oh no worries Beadgirl. I'm finding this fascinating myself. I guess i have a hard time seeing how the intent is anything other than removing the fetus. The Fallopian tube won't burst on it's own, and you have to remove the fetus, one way or the other, to prevent that. I just see as inflicting double damage. You are still killing the fetus, which is inevitable to save the woman's life, and harming the woman's future fertility in the bargain.

    What about those ectopic pregnancies that don't occur in the Fallopian tubes, like those that occur on the heart or liver. Would the Church's stance be that it would permissible to remove just the fetus in those cases, or would you have to remove the heart or liver of the woman in those cases as well?

  11. At the risk of sounding totally stupid, is that a thing? I did a quick google, and found that there was a pregnancy on a liver, and the baby survived, so apparently there was no "need" for an abortion in that case. And don't livers regenerate, so you could just remove part of the liver?

    I gotta be honest, I have no idea in these cases what is permissible, and given how very rare they are, I'm guessing there has been little discussion of it by moral theologians (or philosophers or ethicists of any background). I think I can safely say that removing just the fetus, to kill the fetus, would never be allowed, but removing the fetus and making a genuine (even if futile) effort to somehow keep the fetus alive via incubators etc. would I think be ok.

    If you REALLY want a Catholic answer, i could ask my brother (he's a priest), but I doubt he knows any more than i do on this.

    oh, and to fix my second imperfect analogy: bombing a military target knowing you would kill civilians even though you don't want to is ok, bombing a military target because you want to kill both the military people and the civilians is not. But unless you tell people you wanted to kill the civilians, no one else will know the difference between the two actions, and it would just be on your conscience. Does that address your intent issue?

    Maybe the gap in our positions is due in part to whether something is intrinsically evil (ie, always evil no matter the circumstances or intent) or extrinsically evil (evil because of the consequences, or circumstances, or the intent to do evil). Do you believe there are some actions that are never justified, no matter how great the greater good?

  12. It is a thing, as the reproductive system is not completely closed. But yeah, reading more on this topic let's me see exactly how badly this whole pregnancy thisng can go. The problem with the liver and heart (and other body parts) seems to be the detachment phase. Once the placenta reaches a certain size, it either breaches some vital artery or detaches and causes uncontrollable bleeding. *shudders*

    I guess with your analogy, I would be bombing the place because I know civilians are there. In fact, if I miss the civilians on the first go around, I would have to come back to bomb the place again. The military target would be beside the point, and perhaps not even desirable to bomb otherwise.

    The only treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is to remove the fetus. How you remove it seems almost beside the point. But I guess from my perspective it seems disigenous to say that isn't the intent of removing that particular section of Fallopian tube. It isn't coincidence that it is the section they are removing, and if some part of the fetus remains in the left over sections of Fallopian tube, they would have to come back and remove those parts too.

    To answer your last question, whether I believe there are some actions that are never justified, no matter how great the greater good?

    I haven't really thought about that in-depth, but I would say it depends on the action, the greater good, and the real-life consequences for the actions. But I tend to lean on the greater good side than not, I'm thinking.

  13. This is a really interesting conversation.

    I think because I enjoy the learning of a set of rules and exploring the limits and reasoning of them. I can see why there are so many Catholic lawyers.

    But that said, one could make an argument - following these rules - that even with abortion or artificial birth control that there are pretty wide loopholes, unless you are rigid in your definition of intent. Like say you cannot afford to take care of another child, so your main intent is to protect the children you have. Or with the pill, that you have acne and that's your "intent" - to treat the acne.

  14. Mandi, the fact that you say it depends tells me you, like most people (especially modern Americans) are a consequentialist. I'm curious, does that hold true for you for something like torture, or even rape? Meaning it is possible that there are a set of circumstances in which you would condone one of those two? My point isn't to try to change your mind by the way, but to simply see if there is some act you consider bad no matter what. That would then give you a point of reference to understand the pro-life position, at least in part, by understanding what we mean when we say abortion is intrinsically evil, and cannot be done no matter how "good" the consequences might be.

    Emily, in fact the popes have made it clear that couples should not recklessly have child after child after child, and that couples need to carefully consider a lot of factors when deciding how many children to have. Also, taking the pill to treat legitimate medical issues (like PCOS, very bad acne, very bad periods, etc.) is perfectly licit, even if the woman is sexually active. But the pill is not the only way to treat those issues, or even the best way. And where I believe you and the Church would part ways is that it is not permissible to take the pill for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy (it's that double effect thing again). For those Catholic couples who want to limit or space their children and who don't want to violate the Church's teaching on ABC (a small group, to be sure), there is NFP/FAM, which works a lot better than people think.

    Fr. Beadbrother OSB suggested that I become a canon lawyer. I'd've had to also get a theology degree though, and move to D.C.

  15. If it means you moving to DC, I'm on board :-)