“They are MURDERING babies!!!,” anti-abortionists scream in the blogs and forums, and we know the debate that follows. It tends to come down to the same points—disagreements over what constitutes life, neurological development, whether the fetus feels pain, and of course moral questions such as whether abortion is murder and how that should be defined. Most pro-life advocates, in my experience, are religious, and in the United States they are mainly Christian. These debates can rage on and on, but there is one way I have discovered to change the entire tone, and that is to ask, “What happens to the souls?” In numerous cases, after a few give-and-take posts, the entire debate shuts down. I have experienced this too many times for it to be coincidence.
I begin by asking, “What makes abortion murder?” We kill millions of animals on an ongoing basis, and nobody objects (aside from vegetarians and vegans). Clearly it is the killing of “humans” that matters. Is what makes us human based on our DNA, which is only a single percent away from our primate cousins? No. Not for believers. It is because we have “souls.” For believers, embryos are human from the moment of conception, and souls are what make us human. While being human from a humanist viewpoint might relate to a specific DNA configuration, being human from the religious standpoint is all about having a soul, which the religious insist takes us on a path to an afterlife and retains the essence of who we are. I suggest that if what makes us human is the possession of souls, then what happens to those souls is critical because there are eternal implications. Why is that never discussed in abortion debates ?
Before we examine what happens to the souls in abortion, a quick check of the Bible tells us that if these souls exist, Yahweh clearly has little concern for them. Recall the law that calls for stoning adulterers to death. In a day before reliable contraception, an adulterous woman had a good chance of being pregnant, but in his book, Yahweh demonstrates no concern for the unborn. A woman who failed to cry out loudly while being raped or a bride found to be lacking in virginity (either of whom might also be pregnant) are to be stoned to death. Numbers Chapter 5 has a procedure handed down by Yahweh requiring that a wife accused of adultery (probably because she was found to be pregnant) but for which there was no evidence (otherwise she would be stoned to death) must drink a concoction that includes mud or dirt from the floor of the Tabernacle—that is, the place where the animal sacrifices are conducted. This E.coli–infused potion of dirt, blood, guts, urine, and feces was to be consumed by the woman who would then abort or die, confirming her guilt. If she did not get sick, then she was proclaimed innocent. This procedure proscribed by Yahweh again demonstrates no concern for the unborn. Christians consistently overlook this. They never ask, “Where do the aborted souls go?”
The Catholic Church is the most vocal of the anti-abortion advocates. In the Catholic Church, life is said to start with conception. It insists that the Sacrament of Baptism is “necessary for salvation,” but baptism cannot be performed until after birth, thus creating a quandary. In its discussion of the sacrament, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation” (CCC 1257). It goes on to say, “The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude. …” The Catechism offers a couple of exceptions that do not apply to infants. As for infants, it begins as follows:
Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth. (CCC 1250)
In other words, denying baptism denies salvation. With respect to infants, the Catechism declares:
As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope [emphasis added] that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. (CCC 1261)
“Allow us to hope.” That is what it comes down to for aborted, miscarried, and stillborn children who die without being baptized–hope. One must hope that the god they worship does not deny salvation to a completely helpless soul. What happens to those who are not baptized, if this “hope” is not realized? For centuries, the Church claimed that these infants go to “Limbo,” the afterlife condition of those who die in a state of original sin without being assigned to Hell. However, Limbo of the Infants is not an official doctrine of the Catholic Church and has essentially been disavowed. An advisory body known as the International Theological Commission in 2007 generated “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized,” which disavowed Limbo and concluded that there were sufficient grounds to “hope” for the salvation of these infants, while admitting there were no grounds for sure knowledge. The document was authorized by Pope Benedict XVI, indicating that it is consistent with Church teaching, although not an official expression thereof.
What are the ramifications of all this? Catholics are allowed only to hope that aborted infants will be saved. They worship a god that their Church considers capable of denying salvation to an utterly helpless infant through no fault of its own, as a result of original sin and the lack of a splash of holy water on the forehead. If Limbo is no longer a favored theory and these infants are not saved, the only destination remaining is Hell. They are stained by the sin of Adam, the “original sin,” and must be baptized to attain salvation.
Clearly the Church has been concerned about the destination facing these unbaptized infants; surely that is why it theorized Limbo in the first place. There is historical evidence to confirm that, at times, the Church baptized Jewish and indigenous children against the parents’ wishes to save them from Hell. While the Church no longer recognizes forced baptisms, there are exceptions. The Code of Canon Law states, “An infant of Catholic parents or even of non-Catholic parents is baptized licitly in danger of death even against the will of the parents” (Can. 868 §1, §2). It also states, “If aborted fetuses are alive, they are to be baptized insofar as possible” (Can. 871). Clearly the Church is concerned about the ultimate destination for these unbaptized infants and does not presuppose that they are saved. It seems, then, that in Catholicism, abortion is bad because it almost certainly sends souls to Hell.
In my experience, most Catholics not only hope but believe (which is not condoned by the Catechism) that aborted infants go zinging straight off to the arms of Jesus. Many if not most of them, having never read the Bible, cannot imagine that the god they worship could be so unjust and cruel as to send a helpless infant to Hell, and they become irate at the suggestion of this. Few know what their own Catechism says until you quote it to them or provide a link to Catholic-oriented sites that grudgingly confirm it. Most people are decent and have integrity, and they mistakenly assume that their god has integrity as well. However, if the souls are indeed saved, the Catechism is wrong—notwithstanding that when it comes to matters of Church dogma, it is never wrong. If these souls are saved, then Baptism is not required for salvation, and in that case, what else in the Catechism is wrong? Even Mother Theresa was charged with baptizing Hindus and Muslims secretly to “save” them from hellfire. Do Catholics worship a god who is evil, sending completely helpless infants to eternal torment, or do they follow a Church whose dogma is wrong? What other option remains?
When asked, most Protestants, like most Catholics, will express belief that the aborted, miscarried, and stillborn are whisked off to Heaven. However, there are hardcore Protestants and fundagelicals who insist that we are born deserving to die, and for them, lack of baptism is a one-way ticket to Hell. They worship a god who requires people to be born deserving of eternal torment thanks to a talking snake. Is it worse that they worship an evil god, or that they do not realize that they do so?
In my experience, however, the great majority of believers assume that God is good and that he would never be so cruel and vicious as to send a helpless unbaptized infant to eternal torment. But what are the ramifications of this? If we agree that the unborn, miscarried, or stillborn infants are saved, then 100 percent of them are saved, regardless of the religion and beliefs—or lack thereof—of the parents. While most probably would not agree that a direct pipeline to Heaven is cause for celebration, particularly given how hard they try to delay that trip at the end of their lives, nevertheless an aborted soul, most will agree, is a “saved” soul. What then if abortion is outlawed and these infants are born unwanted and into difficult circumstances? How many will grow up to be devout Christians assured of salvation? How many will not?
In the case of U.S. Catholicism, where the Church teaches that one should be a Catholic in good standing to guarantee salvation, how many souls that would have otherwise been aborted will end up dying in this state of grace? Twenty percent, perhaps? And the rest go to Gehenna (Hell)? I remind believers that the text says “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13–14). Clearly a significant portion of souls that would have gone to Heaven if they had been aborted will go to Hell because they lived. How has their condition improved? “They got to live,” comes the response, but then they get to burn for eternity. Who would take that trade?
Why do so many Christians, who believe aborted souls are saved, work so hard to send many of these souls to Hell by opposing abortion? Isn’t the whole reason for being here to be saved and go to Heaven? For those who believe they are saved, aborted infants go from the starting line to the winner’s circle without having to throw the salvation dice. They do not have to take the chance that they will be born in the wrong country to parents believing in the wrong god or no god at all. They get a direct line to salvation, glory, bliss, and an eternity of praising and worshiping a god who for some reason needs this.
Is this a question of jealousy? It hardly seems fair that the rest of us must endure the human condition of struggle and suffering while aborted infants get to go straight to Heaven. No need for faith. No need for doubt. No need for temptation, sin, and redemption—just a one-way track to eternal bliss … what’s not to like?
The goal here is not necessarily to defend abortion. There may be good social, humanitarian, and evolutionary reasons to debate the issue of abortion, but the group playing the biggest role is the religious, and yet they are studiously avoiding a religious discussion. If abortion is bad because it kills a human, and if it’s human because it has a soul, then they must tell us what happens to the soul and understand the ramifications abortion has for the disposition of those souls. Are they saving souls, opening a door to Hell, or worshiping an evil god? The concept of souls and their eternal disposition becomes extremely uncomfortable to ponder. None of the options is good.
When realization sinks in, the debater fades from the discussion, in my experience. I propose that framing the discussion this way may create second thoughts and temper some of the rabid debate. Try it and see.
“They are MURDERING babies!!!,” anti-abortionists scream in the blogs and forums, and we know the debate that follows. It tends to come down to the same points—disagreements over what constitutes life, neurological development, whether the fetus feels pain, and of course moral questions such as whether abortion is murder and how that should be defined. …