Wills on Abortion

One of the things that’s always befuddled me about the Religious Right’s passion about abortion is that the Bible says absolutely nothing on the subject. Thankfully, Garry Wills has a great op-ed today in the LA Times elaborating on just that:

Nor did the Catholic Church treat abortion as murder in the past. If it had, late-term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person, which would require baptism and a Christian burial. That was never the practice. And no wonder. The subject of abortion is not scriptural. For those who make it so central to religion, this seems an odd omission. Abortion is not treated in the Ten Commandments — or anywhere in Jewish Scripture. It is not treated in the Sermon on the Mount — or anywhere in the New Testament. It is not treated in the early creeds. It is not treated in the early ecumenical councils.
Lacking scriptural guidance, St. Thomas Aquinas worked from Aristotle’s view of the different kinds of animation — the nutritive (vegetable) soul, the sensing (animal) soul and the intellectual soul. Some people used Aristotle to say that humans therefore have three souls. Others said that the intellectual soul is created by human semen.
Aquinas denied both positions. He said that a material cause (semen) cannot cause a spiritual product. The intellectual soul (personhood) is directly created by God “at the end of human generation.” This intellectual soul supplants what had preceded it (nutritive and sensory animation). So Aquinas denied that personhood arose at fertilization by the semen. God directly infuses the soul at the completion of human formation.

When Thomas Aquinas claims that abortion is morally neutral up until the point of birth (even I think the cut-off’s before that), you know something’s gone deeply awry in religious understanding of the subject. Read the whole thing.

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