Who’s choice is it: Navigating the Abortion Debate

No man is an island, Entire of itself…
Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know, For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
by John Donne

Abortion is a highly debated topic that brings up discussions about personal freedom, societal responsibility, and religious beliefs. It’s a complex issue that has been shaped by historical, spiritual, and societal perspectives. As John Donne wrote, we are all connected and our actions have an impact on society. To understand the abortion debate, we need to look at its historical roots, religious interpretations, and societal implications.

Abortion stands as an intensely personal and private choice. Comedian Josh Healy skillfully navigates the delicate terrain, recounting his internal struggles upon learning of his university girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy after only six months together.

Religious Perspectives on the Sanctity of Life

The debate surrounding abortion often hinges on the assertion that society possesses a compelling interest in safeguarding the evolving life of the human fetus. Proponents of a restrictive stance argue that the fetus, from the moment of conception, assumes the rights of any living human person. In their view, anyone involved in the abortion process becomes an accomplice to the crime of ‘murdering a human being.’

However, contrasting perspectives emerge within the tapestry of religious beliefs. While murder stands as an unequivocal prohibition in the Jewish faith, the Rabbis of the Talmud, in interpreting the foundational instruction ‘Pru urvoo’ – ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ – consistently prioritize the well-being of the mother over the fetus’s right to life. Consequently, Jewish law, or halacha, permits abortion for Jewish women based on their psychological and physical needs throughout the entire duration of pregnancy.

Societal Implications and the Shadow of Overpopulation

Turning to broader societal implications, the discourse extends to overpopulation. In the backdrop of the nineteenth century, the discourse of overpopulation found widespread acceptance, notably championed by the British economist Thomas Malthus. His “scientific” formulation contended that unchecked population growth would inevitably lead to mass starvation.

“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.”

The course of history has debunked Malthus’s theories. Advances in science, such as the invention of fertilizers and improvements in agricultural techniques, have effectively addressed the challenge of feeding burgeoning populations. In the twentieth century, the root cause of widespread starvation shifted from a lack of food to flawed government policies and wars. A glaring example lies in the Soviet Union’s ill-fated attempt to impose Communist ideology on Ukrainian farmers during the 1930s, resulting in the tragic starvation of millions due to policies imposed on Ukraine’s abundance as a breadbasket. Historian Timothy Snyder, in his 2010 book “Bloodlands,” attributes the impact of the “Holodomor” (Ukrainian for “to kill by starvation”) to Stalin, shedding light on Nazi practices of using starvation as a weapon during wartime, impacting prisoners of war and Jews in concentration camps and ghettos.

The apprehension of overpopulation prompted the Chinese government to implement the one-child policy, leading to the disturbing phenomenon of state-sponsored abortions. Tragically, this policy led to the abandonment of children on roadsides, particularly affecting female infants left in orphanages. Some were fortunate enough to be adopted internationally through officially established Chinese channels, as exemplified by my friends in Montreal who adopted Chinese infants through these means. The documentary “One Child Nation” delves into this dark chapter, narrating the journey of one such child who returned to China to uncover her family of origin, unveiling a distressing history of state control over reproduction. Recent years have seen China renouncing the one-child policy, recognizing its long-term disastrous consequences, including a shortage of marriageable-age women and a deficit of children to support the workforce and care for the elderly.

Exploring the Historical Significance of Children to Human Civilization

In a recent podcast exploring the archaeological traces of children during the Pleistocene Ice Age, inspired by April Nowell’s insightful work, ‘Growing Up in the Ice Age: Fossil and Archaeological Evidence of the Lived Lives of Plio-Pleistocene Children,’ the discussion unfolds, emphasizing the pivotal role of child-rearing in the progression of civilizations.

“Nowell’s studies look at cumulative culture: the process of adults passing down knowledge to their children, and so on through successive generations.”

Nowell demonstrates how “youths weren’t simply empty repositories. They remembered some lessons, forgot others, and chose which lessons to build on throughout their lives to pass on to their own children.”

Exploring the family history in the Torah reveals the interconnected stories of generations, preserving the lasting legacy of the Jewish people.

The book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible recounts the beginning of humanity, starting with Adam and Eve and also includes the story of Cain and Abel. Despite facing hardships, Adam and Eve continue their family line through their son Seth, which eventually leads to the emergence of a key figure, Abraham. After Abraham’s brother Nahor dies, he marries Nahor’s widow, Sarah, and takes in his nephew, Lot. The journey of Abraham’s family, guided by their religious beliefs, is documented in the Bible.

The Torah contains the stories of the patriarchs, namely Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each of these figures faced difficult challenges on their journey to having children. Abraham had to deal with the conflict between Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac had to handle the rivalry between his twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Finally, Jacob had to confront the jealousy of his ten sons who plotted against their brother Joseph. Throughout the Torah, these family struggles and joys are interwoven into a complex narrative.

The Torah stories like Judah and Tamar, or Ruth and Boaz, show the Levirate law in action. This law says if a married man dies without kids, his closest relative, usually his brother, should marry the widow to carry on the family line.

My recent visit to Shaker Village in the Berkshires unveiled the remnants of a once-vibrant Christian sect—the Shakers. Though known for their creativity and wisdom, their commitment to celibacy led to the extinction of their community. Only remnants, preserved in the form of the Hancock Shaker Village museum, endure.

The desire to have children is innate and shared by many species, including humans. The Talmud suggests that women, in particular, experience a strong longing for children that impacts their religious practices differently than men. Due to the physical demands of pregnancy and childcare, women are exempt from certain time-sensitive religious obligations.

Parenthood, Loss, and the Cycle of Life

Miscarriage is often perceived as a minor loss, leading to personal sorrow that is often kept within. However, initiatives like Le Groupe de partage L’Empreinte in Montreal recognize the need for formal grieving processes to fill this gap. On the other hand, committing to parenthood is a profound and long-lasting commitment, which has become more apparent as birth rates decline in Western countries.

When a child is born and named in Judaism, it is a moment of communal celebration. Male babies are circumcised on the eighth day, which signifies their inclusion in the covenant with G-d that was established by Abraham. Female children are also named and celebrated publicly.

Children are a source of happiness and optimism for society, motivating everyone to work together to foster and encourage them. Both natural and induced abortion are considered losses for individuals and society, causing a shared sense of mourning. Ultimately, children embody our hope for a brighter future, but achieving this goal necessitates a collective effort by society to support and guide the next generation.

Embracing the Future with Compassion and Understanding

The abortion debate is intricate and shouldn’t be oversimplified. It touches on core aspects of human existence, like life, death, autonomy, and responsibility. We can grasp its complexity better by delving into its historical, religious, and societal aspects. Empathy, understanding, and respect for everyone involved are crucial as we discuss it. It’s about finding the correct solution and fostering compassion and inclusivity in our society.

2 thoughts on “Who’s choice is it: Navigating the Abortion Debate

  1. The introduction of “The pill,” liberated womens’ erotic sexual desires.
    This in my opinion was the greatest liberation of spirit, emotion and intellect for humankind.
    Women have the option to control their reproduction.
    The day after pill should have prevented the need for surgical abortions.

    Industrialization of farming and the pill combined, saved the globe from starvation…..
    Malthus couldn’t imagine hormones controlling conception, nor initial zygote implantation.
    If you play adult games you pay adult prices.
    Should children indulge in adult games, they must be taught they will pay adult prices.
    Life is a serious enterprise and in not a game, and freedom comes with responsibilities and accountabilities.
    Of course you have freedom from- and freedom to-, but stupidity and ignorance
    will always cause set-backs, problems , challenges and unwanted pregnancies.

    It is my contention that adults must supervise children’s behavior, until the child is educated and properly informed about sexual activity.

    In games you have winners and losers. In life we are all players, and there should never be imposed completion of pregnancy or motherhood.

    Unwanted pregnancies should be terminated, the earlier (biochemical induction of Menstruation… Mifepristone etc) the better.

    Later abortions have many social/religious. communal/psychological/ medical influences and is a minefield of forces pulling in different directions.

    The ultimate test of a fetus’s right to life, is if it can sustain life with oral nutrition
    and autonomous breathing.

    Desperate ultra heroic advances and therapies, Neo-natal care must have limits and constraints defined.

    Much more…..
    Too much to deconstruct and discuss than this platform allows.

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