The Religious Consultation
on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics
"Revisiting the World's Sacred Traditions"

October 3, 2005

Is Abortion Murder?

By Daniel C. Maguire

Murder is the unjust killing of a person.

So can you murder a fetus?

Not unless it is a person.

The longest view on that in the Christian tradition is that the fetus is not a person until it is fully "formed." St. Augustine held that early the fetus has the moral status of a plant. St. Thomas Aquinas said all life has a soul. The early fetus has a vegetable soul, when it develops a bit more, it has the moral status of an animal. Only when it is formed could God infuse a spiritual soul. Catholic philosophers Daniel Dombrowski and Daniel Deltete from the Jesuit Seattle University say that modern science would put that at around six or seven months. Other religions hold similar views. (See Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions, Oxford University Press,2003: Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Fortress Press, 2001)

The argument is heard that the fetus is "potential life." That's wrong. It's real life. It just has not reached personal status. It is potentially a person, but the potential is not actual. After all, gentle reader, you and I are potentially dead but would not like to be treated as if that potentiality were fulfilled. Personhood was potential in the early evolutionary process, but even if some extra terrestrial person killed one of the highly developed species that predated humans, it may have been wrong but it was not murder.

There may be serious and justifying reasons for killing pre-personal, fetal life. The decision on that belongs naturally to the woman who carries that life. Women have a far better track record than men when it comes to cherishing and protecting life. Let's leave abortion decisions up to them.

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