"Is the embryo a person?"
I’m reading an interesting book, “The Life and Thought of St. Edith Stein”. It is written by a St. Andrew parishioner, Freda Mary Oben, Ph.D.! Living in the early twentieth century, St. Edith Stein was a convert to Christianity from Judaism who was a contemplative nun and innovative Catholic thinker. The following are excerpts from a powerful section in the book that reveal her thoughts about motherhood and the baby in the womb:
“Is the Embryo a person?” (pp. 98-101)
“…Edith likens the mother’s free acceptance of her pregnancy to Mary’s ‘yes’ to the Incarnation. Just as Mary was the gateway to the Redeemer, so each woman who welcomes motherhood performs an act of grace. Like Mary, a woman is to ‘devote the entire kingdom of her soul to the soul of her child’ (EES, 473).
In pregnancy, a woman’s entire being is united and given over, physically and spiritually, to the formation of a new person within. In doing so, her own personhood is enhanced. We have seen that a woman’s mission is to defend and nourish life. Her soul is meant to shelter within itself the unfolding soul of another person. How true this must be for the new soul enclosed within her own bodily shelter. And so close is this union of mother and child that to harm the embryo is to harm herself.
Because of its psychic receptivity, the embryo receives spiritual as well as physical nourishment and formation from the mother. Edith voices a conviction upheld by modern medicine: ‘The child’s soul receives impressions from what he sees, hears, and touches; indeed, even experiences before birth can leave impressions upon the soul, and these impressions can have unpredictable consequences in later life’ (Essays, 242).
She offers an example of the inner life and receptivity for impressions present in the embryo: John the Baptist leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth when she meets Mary. What an amazingly beautiful argument this is for the presence of a person in the embryo and the sacredness of life from its very beginning!
And then, the “motherliness,” the “spiritual maternity,” which Edith Stein views as the essence of woman, totally belies the validity of abortion. She has said that woman’s ministering love is an attribute of God’s Spirit poured out over His creation, that her most specific and exalted vocation as a woman is to vicariously help others to their perfection. In this love, we can see the selfless flow of the Holy Spirit moving to renew the face of the earth…
Thus the image of God in the person begins in the embryo. And the unique nature of personhood present there is needed in God’s plan for us. All creation is needed in this plan concerning the Mystical Body of Christ. Each unique personhood is a part of the wholeness of humanity, which, Edith writes, is the Mystical Body of Christ (EES, 478-82). We may ask, will the abortionist have to answer to God for interfering in His Divine Economy?”