I have a further concern with something we have been assuming in the recent discussions about abortifacient birth control. That is, the definition of a point in time at which "contraception" becomes "abortion" - the specific scientific moment in time when new life begins.
I would contend that we only do this because of the acceptance of birth control. Because almost everyone had already declared birth control to be morally acceptable, the nature of the abortion debate caused us to have to make a distinction of when an act of despising God's blessing of children is "contraception" and when such an act is "abortion." The pro-life side of the abortion debate chose "fertilization" as the moment a person is "conceived." I'm not saying I disagree when forced to choose sides, but I've never been very comfortable with defining things in that way. Contraception is wrong. Abortion is wrong. Why do we need to make such a distinction between the two unless it is to ease someone's conscience or decide what type of criminal penalty (or penance) should be applied?
Do we truly know when a new soul's existence begins? Is this not a supernatural divine event that is unobservable? If so, for what reason do we point to the scientifically observable event of "fertilization" as the moment a soul is implicated in the flesh? As far as I know, Scripture does not answer the question of what scientifically observable event signals the exact moment life begins. If any of you believe Scripture does answer this question, I'm all ears. We have an equally difficult time defining the end of life.
I have briefly voiced this concern of mine before in various discussions and writings, but I believe I may have found a very helpful way of looking at this. I would argue that choosing the exact moments or events in time when life begins and ends is no less problematic than choosing the exact moments or events in time when the presence of Christ's body and blood in the bread and wine begin and end in the celebration of the Sacrament.
Please review the following excerpt from Luther's second letter to Simon Wolferinus, July 20, 1543, with which I'm sure most of you are already familiar:
...such a definition of the action would bring about infinite scruples of conscience and endless questions, such as are disputed among the papists, as, for example, whether the Body and Bood of Christ are present at the first, middle, or last syllables. Therefore, one must look not only upon this movement of instant or present action, but also on the time, not in terms of mathematical but of physical breadth, that is, one must give this action a certain period of time, and a period of appropriate breadth of time, as they say, “in breadth.”
Therefore, we shall define the time or the sacramental action in this way: that it starts with the beginning of the Our Father and lasts until all have communicated, have emptied the chalice, have consumed the Hosts, until the people have been dismissed and [the Priest] has left the altar. In this way we shall be safe and free from the scruples and scandals of such endless questions. Dr. Philip defines the sacramental action in relation to what is outside it, that is, against reservation of and processions with the Sacrament; he does not split it up within [the action] itself, nor does he define it in a way that it contradicts itself. ...
You can see where I am going with this, but let me substitute a few words in this text to make my point crystal clear regarding the problems of declaring that life begins at the union of egg and sperm:
...such a definition of the beginning of life would bring about infinite scruples of conscience and endless questions, such as are disputed among those who approve of contraception but oppose abortion, as, for example, whether soul becomes present at fertilization, implantation, or at the moment when the heart begins to beat, or when the brain cells begin showing activity, etc., etc. Therefore, one must look not only upon a movement of instant or present action, but also on the time, not in terms of mathematical but of physical breadth, that is, one must give this action a certain period of time, and a period of appropriate breadth of time, as they say, “in breadth.”
Therefore, we shall define the time of God's action of creating and sustaining life in this way: that it starts with the conjugal union of husband and wife, and lasts through the entire life of the person created through that act, until the person's heart stops beating, all efforts to resuscitate have failed, and until the loved ones have been dismissed from the deathbed. In this way we shall be safe and free from the scruples and scandals of such endless questions. We must define the creation of life in relation to what is outside it, that is, against the separation of any of the purposes of the conjugal union, because Scripture does not split it up these purposes in a way that it contradicts the nature of the whole. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
This is another reason why I believe the question of what is or is not abortifacient birth control is a much more complicated subject than it ever needed to be. What made me start thinking about this is having written a warning to readers of the list of abortifacient birth control that new drugs are always being invented. Fertilization itself is more a chain of events than a single, isolated phenomenon. What happens when a new drug is invented that doesn't prevent a sperm from uniting with an egg (fertilization), but rather inhibits one of the many subsequent cytological events of zygote formation, such as one of the many observable processes before, during or after nuclear fusion? How would we decide whether that is an abortifacient drug?
We don't have to answer such questions if we understand that it is not our business to be messing with any of it. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
Much more could be said on the subject, but I'll leave that for the comments.