Since it’s the topic of the moment: what is the moral position on abortion? It’s in fact not a very complex question.
To begin with, we must quickly dispense with the absurdity sometimes argued that the foetus has no true life of its own; such is impossible to be argued.
Irrespective of the foetus’ reliance upon the mother for its life, it is biologically a new human animal as its genetic makeup is the unique combination of the mother and father, therefore cannot be considered simply a contiguous “part” of the mother, but a true distinct being.
Furthermore, any debate about “when” a soul comes to inhabit the foetus is also foolishness. All life is ensouled. From the moment of gestation, the soul is necessarily there. This doesn’t necessarily mean there is consciousness, but discussion on consciousness is irrelevant.
This all recognised, we proceed to the question: is abortion moral? In antiquity, the consumption of certain herbs to induce an abortion was a known procedure, and we don’t seem to have a clear indication from writers at the time whether or not it was seen as morally ill.
It’s also the case that in Rome and Greece, it was not uncommon for children born defected to be either left to die or otherwise euthanised. Sparta is famous for its formalised eugenic traditions, but in much of the ancient world we see similar behaviour.
But the antiquity of any tradition doesn’t prove it morally good, so let us consider its accordance with goodness.
As life is a primary good received from the gods, our baseline must be that any termination of life is in itself not good. But we know there is more to this.
The termination of life can at times be just, and the justice of such terminations are rooted not in the act of termination itself, but in the goodness fulfilled in the whole by the termination. The truth of this is found in nature, where death by termination is the rule.
It befitting the gods to institute by their providence the rule of life and death in the natural world, it surely cannot be thought of as purely evil, but rather should be thought as an integral motion towards the fulfilment of holistic goodness.
But the termination of life in the divinely ordered nature is in pursuit of this goodness and not done for its own sake. So keeping this in mind, we can begin to form an appropriate and moral position in regards to abortion.
We must reject abortion done for its own sake: should a woman desire an abortion for her mere convenience, and no ill defect plagues her child and they would be born healthy, then such is abominable and a violation of the goodness of life.
In such cases where the mother would be made destitute by the child, responsibility for the mother and child should be conferred to the community within which they are born. The progeny of the community is of maximum import and of primary goodness to the community.
But we must accept, indeed encourage, abortion in cases where by the termination, a superior fulfilment of goodness is achieved. In the event of a defected pregnancy, the delivery of such a child is not only a harm to the community, but also a harm to its soul.
I have seen often argued, and it was indeed not an uncommon belief in ancient times, that to be born with defects is a form of punishment for some evil deed the soul conjoined with the defected body had done in a prior life. I do not believe this is true.
Biological defects, both from birth and ones that later develop, cannot be treated as a form of punishment without indicting the cosmic order with an activity of evil. Divine justice does not punish evil with evil, so we cannot say that it is a counter-balance either.
Rather, the cause for defects in the body arise not due to any deliberate cosmic maleficence, but are due to our participation in a cosmos ruled by a great causal hierarchy.
As the human-animal cause, i.e., the human soul, exists as a part and subordinate to higher causes, the activity of the causes we participate within is more primal than our own particular activity of producing the animal. Ergo, our acts are subject to their acts.
Although the human soul works to produce for itself the most perfect human animal, it is not free from the influence of other causes contiguous to it within the cosmos, and in cases these other causes overrule our activity and impose a change we cannot control.
These causes do not disrupt our generation of the animal deliberately or in maleficence (excepting in the cases of when humans invite them to do such with witchcraft or magic), but do so only as an accident of their continuous, eternal activity.
Plotinus uses the image of a turtle attempting to pass through dancers to make his point regarding our place in the harmony of the cosmos. Should the turtle cross through the dancers without harmonising its motion with theirs, it will be trampled by their dance.
But should the turtle cross by harmonising its motion, ensuring it follows the rhythms of the dancers and passes in step with them, it will avoid being trampled and will pass through unharmed.
Although we have small agency in ensuring pregnancies are harmonic, the analogy provides us with an understanding of why defects are produced without it being a form of maleficence. Thus, we can know the soul that comes to produce the defected animal did not expect the defection.
The defection is an imposition and a limitation of goodness that comes by accident of cosmic motion. Were we merely vegetation or primitive, such a fate would be thrust upon us and we would be helpless. However, we are a rational animal, and by it granted liberties in choice.
It is our unique capacity to intervene in favour of the souls who have been allotted the misfortune of producing a defected body. To be born and live defected only serves as an evil limit to the capacity of the soul to pursue its ultimate good of coming to union with the gods.
Thus we are compelled to not only affirm the righteousness of abortion in cases of defection, but to insist on its observance.
And it be right too to affirm on a similar basis that abortion be righteous if to save the mother’s life, but only at the discretion of the mother.