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I am not a likely candidate to agree with anything the Taliban wing of the Republican party has to say about any aspect of reproduction. I support Planned Parenthood and have worked in abortion care, for Pete's sake (as Romney might say). And yet I find that I cannot prevent myself from agreeing with one particular wingnut talking point. For more, please follow me below the orange Fallopian tubes.....

I consider myself an "aspirational Buddhist". By that I mean that Buddhist is what I would choose to be, if I was willing to do the actual work involved in learning about and practicing a religion. In particular, I am drawn to the idea that all living things have moral value (spiritual value?) deserving of our respect and consideration. I believe that includes animals, plants, and yes, human zygotes.

On a trip to Bhutan (in the Himalayas), I was surprised to learn that Buddhists are not necessarily vegetarians. There is very little land in mountainous regions suitable for growing crops. So animals that can graze in the mountains are an important food source. Unless you are able to import food from elsewhere, it may not be practical to be a strict vegetarian. So it's rationalized on some level to eat meat.

On the Indian leg of the same trip, I was also surprised to learn that some Jains (practitioners of Jainism) don't eat root vegetables because it ends the life of the plant. Apples are ok, but not potatoes. There are also Jains who wear a cloth over their mouth and nose to avoid accidentally inhaling, and thus annihilating, teeny insects. For some reason antibiotics are ok, even though they end the "life" of bacteria. (maybe because the Janes' beliefs developed before microbes were discovered, and failed to evolve to include them?)

So what's the overall pattern, and how can it help us to discuss abortion? I think there are two points - first, intent matters. And second, circumstances matter.

If I end the life of a goat or a potato plant by eating it, it is not my primary goal to harm those living things. The same is true if I take antibiotics or spray Raid under my sink. All of those actions end existence that has moral value. But ending that existence is not my primary goal. My goal is to protect my own well-being. Perhaps I am morally required to be mindful that I am harming the potato plant or E. Coli. But few would argue that I am required to die, or even to be mildly inconvenienced.

The material that becomes an individual human life is "alive", it exists, and I believe it  has moral value. That existance, and that moral value, can be viewed as starting as long ago as thousands of years. That is when the mitochondrial DNA in every one of our cells was formed. It is passed down from mother to daughter interrupted only by mutations. Or perhaps we can say that an individual human life begins when the egg that will be fertilized to become that individual is formed. That would be when your grandmother was about half way through the pregnancy with your mother. It would be utterly arbitrary to say that there is no life until that egg meets a sperm. There is already "life", and some sort of moral value there. But I do think that it has an increase after it meets a sperm. And here I agree with the Rick Santorums of the world - I believe that the moral value of a fertilized egg is independent of whether that life began as a result of rape, or incest, and even whether or not it threatens the life of the mother. The moral value, or "beingness" of a living thing, is intrinsic to that thing. It is dependent on that thing's sentience, self-awareness, complexity, but not in how it came to be or where it is. A zygote in the uterus has the exact same moral value as one in a petri dish or one about to rupture thru a woman's Fallopian tube in an ectopic pregnancy.

So how can we take our beliefs about the moral value of various living things and apply them? Here is we get to the other point - circumstances matter. That's where I diverge from the wingnuts. Rape, incest, life of the mother, poverty, hardship are all cirmstances, and they matter. We can acknowledge the moral value of  a living thing, but also see that the interests of that living thing may be trumped by circumstances. Even in the strictest Catholic hospital, a woman is not required to die so that a tubal pregancy can have its full allotment of days of "life". I would argue that she is not required to endure hardship either. Not because a zygote lacks moral value; we can admit that it has that. But because the moral value is very low, and easily trumped by circumstances.

I think those of us who favor abortion rights are missing an opportunity by ceding the "right to life" aspect of it to those who are opposed. I think we can acknowledge that zygotes and cows and potatoes all have a "life" and still be in favor of giving stronger weight to other considerations.

(Edited to fix spelling of "Jains")

Originally posted to blueisland on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 04:22 PM PDT.

Also republished by Anglican Kossacks, Abortion, and Pro Choice.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Beautifully Written. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lgmcp, karmsy, phonegery, mideedah, annrose

    Thank you for sharing your insight. It is definitely a way of looking at this that I've not thought of.

  •  I agree. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    phonegery, annrose

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 04:34:26 PM PDT

  •  I've always wondered why (9+ / 0-)

    since we generally agree in industrialized nations that "brain death" is the final determination of whether someone is alive or not, why we can't agree on "brain-life" or the period in which actual thought related brain waves are detectable to be the time when life begins.  This would take a whole lot of argument off the table because I believe that this would be about 8 weeks.  

    After that, it is, as you've so beautifully written, the right to life choices of the Mother vs that of the fetus.  It isn't that I don't feel badly that I got pregnant at age 19 and had an abortion -- it is that I still can feel badly, wish it had not happened, and still be glad I made the choice I did for what I wanted the outcome of that pregnancy to be.

    In making that choice, I prevented myself from marrying a man with an anger management problem, was able to finish college, get a good job, marry a wonderful man, and raise two great daughters.  

    I will always honor that unknown child (who would be 37 now) but do not regret my choice.  

    The GOP -- Hating Women, Gays and People of Color since 1854

    by Former Chicagoan Now Angeleno on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 04:48:13 PM PDT

    •  Actually, more like 24 weeks (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lgmcp, Wee Mama, phonegery, annrose

      The brain dead adult who may be taken off life support may have some brain wave activity from the primitive brain stem, but no organized activity from a functional cerebral cortex. In the fetus, that level of brain development occurs pretty late in pregnancy. Not sure of exact week, but I think it is early third trimester.

    •  Good question as well. (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lgmcp, Wee Mama, MsGrin, phonegery, KayCeSF, annrose

      The main reason I am pro-choice is because it is a devastating choice to make in any case, but still it is a choice that -has- to be made by the woman. I, myself, could not imagine how hard it is to make that kind of choice, nor could I imagine how hard it is after the decision has been made. Thank you for being honest and I'm glad that your life is well, even after such a hard choice.

  •  I love Buddhism, without being a practitioner. (5+ / 0-)

    I attempted a Zen practice many years ago...and slowly realized it was totally wrong for me. But not before I'd absorbed many wonderful, sustaining traditions and teachings.

    Thanks for the diary.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 04:54:36 PM PDT

    •  Was in Bloomington, IN in the 80s when the Dalai (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      karmsy, blueisland, phonegery, KayCeSF, annrose

      Lama was in town to bless a new stupa.  I had friends that were part of the host group who took him to a fine vegetarian restaurant in town.  He said to them that his country wasn't well-suited to vegetarianism and that he would prefer a steak.  A very practical man.

      Now, 30 years later, my stepson is a Buddhist priest.  There is a lot about Buddhism to like, even if you don't practice.  I suspect that most American agnostics would say that there beliefs are closest to Buddhism.  It's a very practical belief system.  

      "The next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please, pay attention." Molly Ivins

      by janmtairy on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 05:26:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thoughtful, and essentially correct, but (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, blueisland, Wee Mama, phonegery, crose
    Not because a zygote lacks moral value; we can admit that it has that. But because the moral value is very low, and easily trumped by circumstances.
    Their thinking is binary and is not going to start allow gradations for a continuum of moral value, nor for a mitigating interplay with circumstance.  They have staked out an absolutist position which will, for the purposes of argument, will NEVER allow them to concede that a zygote has a smaller value than a blastocyte which has a smaller value than a fetus which has a smaller value than a fetus which has a smaller value than a infant.  

    It's quite likely that a number of right-to-lifers know in their hearts that this gradation of value is a natural reality -- any family grieves the miscarraige of a wanted pregnancy, but I don't think many grieve it as intensely as they would an actual child.  

    But for political and rhetorical purposes, they will never cede it -- hence the Personhood amendments which seek to enshrine their absolutism in law.   Even where they may secretly see the continuum, they are convinced that selfish "secularist" women will take advantage of any loopholes -- give 'em an inch, those uterus-havers, and they will take a mile.

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 05:04:01 PM PDT

    •  I totally agree (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lgmcp, Wee Mama, crose

      ...that the hard core anti-abortion people will never accept a graduated view. But then, their issue isn't really "life". That's why they oppose anything that would help born people. But for normal people? Lots of people who will tell a pollster they are "pro life" actually demonstrate in their actions that they really believe in graduated states of life.

  •  Respect life, your way in your life. (7+ / 0-)

    Respect life. Your way in your life. My way in my life. Deal?

    The most wonderful thing about Jains (you spelt it as janes) is not just that they respect the right to life of potatoes, but also they are willing to let others who do not agree with them to eat potatoes. Heck, your local Patel grocery will even sell them to you.

    You have the freedom to respect the spirit in zygotes and even take the stand zygotes should not be aborted even in the case of rape. And there is nothing to stop you from practicing that belief.

    The issue is NOT whether what you believe is right or wrong. The issue is do you have the right to impose that point of view on others.

    That is why I was moved at the end of the VP debate, when Joe Biden spoke very poignantly about his belief and faith and his church's teachings. And then had the courage to say "I do not have the right to impose my view on others".

  •  What lgmcp said, there is no reasoning with anti- (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Abortion people. Women are a vessel for a parasite, ONLY. Women have no choice but to be breeding chattel. Fuck that & fuck them.  

    Don't like abortion don't have one AND support sex education & free contraception. So for men, STFU.

    The radical Republican party is the party of oppression, fear, loathing and above all more money and power for the people who robbed us.

    by a2nite on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 05:20:21 PM PDT

  •  Republished to Anglican Kossacks (unless you mind) (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    phonegery, LadyMiseryAli

    Thanks for a thoughtful essay!

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 05:24:34 PM PDT

  •  It isnt a matter of what someone else (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    crose, LadyMiseryAli

    finds morally valuable.  I for instance do not see any more moral value in a zygote than any other appendage of the female body as long as that body sustains life in an exclusive way.  I can agree that once brain function has started, it may be clear that there is a human to be that can function outside of the female.  But before this point it is a mass of cells with some potential to be several things.  That potential may have a moral value to some, it may have a religious value to some. But it doesnt have these properties as a human, only the potential of a human.  It doesnt have the properties as an independently surviving and thriving life form - be it vegetable or animal.  The potential however, does have several other properties that could be considered, like that of risk to the health of the mother, her mental state in the case of rape or unwanted pregnancy.  Financial and social potentials to the mother.  If we are to respect the dignity of life, as a potential for surviving and thriving, then so too must we consider that potential of the mothers life.  She too is entitled to her own survival as she sees it, as her own religion or philosophy would have it.  The decision to terminate such a process such as zygote development, is the decision to take one potential over another.  It is not the decision to end a human life as many would have us believe because indeed such a human doesnt exist. I agree that as a fully functioning fetus society and communities may wish to have a say in the mother's decision.  Should she have waited long enough to determine what the potential outcome of the pregnancy might be. Before this however, it is her body, the functions over which SHE and she alone should have dominion.  The weighing of potentials are best left up to her and her own God.        

  •  Your argument is great outside of civil law (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    phonegery, blueisland, crose

    If you're trying to convince someone to have or to not have an abortion.

    However, it all centers around religious thought. And, insofar as law and legislatures are concerned, we need to stop allowing or making that an acceptable direction for conversation.

    If abortion is a religious matter or a matter of personal conscience then it doesn't belong in the hands of lawmakers. Period. End of discussion.

    We need to avoid anything that seems to give a legitimacy to the idea that it's okay to use religious "reason" to create laws. As soon as you accept that as normal and okay, that's when you get pushed down the slippery slope by the American Taliban.

  •  I have (0+ / 0-)

    always counter-pointed people arguing with me about how life begins at fertilization with the fact that the two cells that create the zygote are themselves alive. Then I go on to tell them that they take life every day--so-called "innocent" life even--and I give examples. If they eat chocolate there is a good chance a very small child was worked to death picking the cacao pods to make it. If they eat fruits and vegetables from American growers, the workers tending those crops suffer from cancer, heat-related deaths and illness, and severe injury, because of what they do. The cars people drive, the electrical power they consume--all create pollution that causes many kinds of cancer. From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, just being alive on Earth means we live while others die. If I were being true to my beliefs, I would eat nothing, drink nothing and breathe nothing for all of those actions take life. Yes, life already exists at fertilization, and since I can't not take life by being alive myself, I advise those trying to stop women's access to abortion to come up with a way to take care of the people we already have instead of wasting breath on a moral choice that is not theirs to make.  

  •  Great. (0+ / 0-)

    I just had this same argument this morning with a "Blue Dog" Congressional candidate who is likely to win.  He said he was "pro-life", with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.  He further expoused that some people believe abortion is murder and other people believe that it is a woman's right.

    I retorted that he just contradicted himself.  If he (and others) believe that abortion is murder, then they should NOT believe in the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.  

    He said he wouldn't push the issue.  And I asked him to just walk on abortion related votes.  Who knows? But, you are right on the concept.  Thanks.

    Abortion Clinics OnLine, the world's first and largest source for online abortion clinic information. Join my DK Abortion Group.

    by annrose on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 09:55:11 AM PDT

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