How abortion mixes church and state

Catholic doctrine insists if an abnormal fetus will kill its mother, and it’s “it or her,” both must die.

That’s because, in the Pope’s thinking (and in the Church, nobody else’s thinking counts), the fetus is “absolutely innocent” whereas the mother is only so-so innocent, so the mother is less innocent than the fetus, so … chop.

The details are set forth here.

Okay, if you wanna be Catholic, those are the rules you’re supposed to live by. (However, if you live next door to an abortion clinic, you’ve probably seen some Catholics — perhaps a fair number of them — passing through its doors.) To wit, if a pregnancy goes awry, and the mother’s life is in danger, tough berries.

You’re a sinner, the fetus isn’t (because it hasn’t been around long enough to dirty its little hands in the ambiguities and imperfections of this world), so you have to take your chances in childbirth. Or so Catholic thinking goes, as explained in the article linked above. To clothe this doctrine in a bit more detail, for the purpose of enhancing understanding, the explanation goes like this:

“As shocking as this perspective may be to articulate, it does allow us to understand how and why the life of an ‘absolutely innocent’ fetus can claim supremacy over a woman’s life.  The fetus shares a property thought to belong exclusively to divinity, no one in the moral community being able to claim absolute innocence.”

The key word here is “supremacy,” and the key concept is that fetuses (fetae?) are “divine” until they pop into this world and dirty their diapers. This is probably the only time in their lives kids get to lord it over their parents. So how does this translate into politics and government policy? According to the First Amendment, it shouldn’t; referring again to the article,

“Much that goes on in the abortion issue is infused with metaphysics and beliefs that can only be described as religious. … That the fetus should be absolutely protected — no exceptions — because its claim to a right to life rests on absolute innocence is a religious belief that imposed by governmental fiat violates First Amendment protections against establishing a religion.”

What this addresses, of course, is whether there should be medical exceptions to abortion bans where the latter are in place, and the trend of Republican legislative proposals away from allowing any exceptions at all, and specifically one for when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. GOP political doctrine increasingly is becoming indistinguishable from Catholic religious doctrine, i.e., not only making women give birth, but also making them die from childbirth.

Whatever you do, don’t call this position “pro-life.”

The article was written by a religion professor and chaplain at Lehigh University, so we can assume he’s a religious guy (he identifies his affiliation as United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination). He disagrees with the view that a fetus is “absolutely innocent,” but says, “I recognize this belief to be a religious view deserving of protection under the First Amendment.” In other words, he doesn’t take issue with Catholics believing what they choose (or, if they don’t believe it, choosing to obey the Pope anyway). In other words, he respects other people’s religious freedom.

Republicans don’t. As the chaplain notes, “the traditional Jewish view that a woman whose life is in danger from pregnancy is required, even against the pregnant woman’s will, to have an abortion to save her life,” and points out this is “a religious view that deserves similar protection.”

Thus, Catholic doctrine and Jewish doctrine are oppositional and mutually exclusive. Government policy can accommodate both only if it doesn’t impose either. Banning abortion within a church, and excommunicating or disfellowshipping violators, is one thing. But a law that prohibits medically necessary abortion is a direct attack on Jewish faith and Jews’ free exercise of their religion.

An honest Supreme Court would recognize this and strike down such laws. But I’m not sure we can rely on either honesty or religious neutrality from this court. (In case you’re wondering, 6 of the 9 justices are practicing Catholics; details here.) I do think we can safely assume at least 3 of the justices are dishonest; as I’ve pointed out elsewhere in my postings on this blog, they committed perjury and fraud in their confirmation hearings when they told senators they considered Roe v. Wade settled precedent, and then provided 3 of the 5 votes that overturned it.

This raises the question of whether the Supreme Court is now some combination of ecclesiastical and secular court, and the First Amendment protects one religion above all others, and at least one not at all, at least when it comes to abortion and whether those seeking abortions for lifesaving medical reasons must now be human sacrifices in order to sanctify someone else’s religious dogma. This is not where we should be going if we want to keep our First Amendment rights, but those seem to be in play now at the ballot box, as is whether some of us will even be allowed to vote.

The chaplain expresses his hope that “in the wake of the toppling of Roe, a new challenge on abortion rights will be raised solely on the issues related to religious beliefs and First Amendment protections. Those protections are grounded in support for the free exercise of religion and in opposition to any legislative or judicial action that would in law establish for all a religious belief.”

Win with that in this Supreme Court? I’m not holding my breath.

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