Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on Meet the Press, made a statement that incurred the wrath of members of the Catholic bishops club. She dared to say that there has not been a consistent line of argument from great Catholic theologians on the issue of when life begins. Immediately the bishops moved in on her, for if there is anything they hate more than laymen talking theology it is women laymen talking theology. The fact that she has been a devout Catholic since being a child didn't count. First, one must say that she is right: St. Augustine in the fourth century and the medieval era's premier theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, did not believe that the fetus was ensouled immediately after intercourse. In fact Aquinas talked of the 12th week. Their view is thus different from the current Catholic hierarchy that says that life begins immediately at conception. So Pelosi was indeed correct and is owed an apology by these bishops and also by EWTN, the fundamentalist Catholic television station that is really an arm of the Republican Party lately.
Where she is wrong, is that we know a lot more about embryology than Augustine or Thomas did. The more we know about life in the womb, the more problems there are with the right to choose position. For it appears that even in the earliest trimester, the fetus begins to move away from what appears to be intrusions that cause pain to it. Certainly the old divisions into three month periods that marked Roe v. Wade are not consonant what we know about the developments in the womb. Indeed by the third trimester we are talking about fetuses that can be and are saved by our newest technologies. Still there deserves to be a rational moral and scientific dialogue on this matter, and attempts to intimidate Catholic politicians are the wrong way to go.
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Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.