The Church of Ireland is to make a submission to the Government of the Republic about ‘abortion’. I can hardly wait. (I wish people wouldn’t call it ‘abortion’, by the way, which is a spontaneous event, far commoner than many realize. I wish we would call it termination of pregnancy.) The life history of a human being from fertilization to death is a continuous and infinitesimally gradual process. There is no single moment before and after which the organism is recognizably different. Attempts therefore to say that this moment or that moment is the time after which abortion is not permitted do not stand up to scrutiny.
Some say that ‘abortion’ might be permitted at any stage before the fetus can perceive pain. The trouble is, how do you pin down definitions of ‘pain’ and ‘perceive’, and how does someone who is not the fetus judge? Even if you can pin down such concepts, we would still only be talking of likelihoods and averages, since variations exist in the way that neuronal conductivity develops, and in the development of parts of the brain involved in pain recognition. Others talk of using the ability of the fetus to survive independently as a criterion. But this too is fraught, since it depends on the definition of ‘independent’. Medical intervention now allows premature infants to survive ex utero much earlier than heretofore.
As I see it, then, logic takes me to the position that if it’s permissible to kill a fetus, it’s permissible to kill any human of any age. I can see that under certain very exceptional circumstances, killing the fetus may be necessary. The argument concerns what those circumstances might be, and who makes the judgement.
In forthcoming weeks and months, I picture church bigwigs travelling at church (that is, our) expense to meetings where they ponder issues of ensoulment and anthropology and ontological intentionality and potentia obedientialis. I earnestly hope that biology will not pass them by.