What are the pros and cons of abortion from the standpoint of faith and medical science?
The blog has so far addressed topics that have shaken it up a little bit. Now I thought it appropriate to take it up a notch. In light of the recent 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade, this week’s post will focus on a heated and a very polarizing topic: elective termination (the pseudonym for abortion). A landmark decision made abortion legal on January 22, 1973. The first year after the decision, one out of every four pregnancies ended in abortion; by 1980 one of every 2.25 pregnancies ended in abortion and this figure has remained relatively constant since then. Interestingly, Jane Roe (who fought for legalized abortion in the Supreme Court Case) now is a vocal advocate against it.
One line in the sand separates us all into two groups: those who are pro-life, and those who are pro-choice. I’ve wrestled with the issue on many different levels, and this post will provide facts that will allow you to make your own assessment. I have my own personal views, but will not declare them here. Some in the liberal circles consider that a cop-out, and some in the conservative or religious circles consider that heresy. Let’s examine the different sides of the argument.
First, the facts (all drawn from the Center for Disease Control’s 2009 Abortion Surveillance Summary, unless otherwise noted):
- Since 1973, more than fifty-four million abortions have been performed in the US1.
- Woman in their twenties account for the majority of abortions and had the highest abortion rates (women aged 20-24: 32.7% of all abortions; 25-29 years: 24.4%; 15-19 years: 15.5%).
- Most abortions were performed at or before eight weeks gestation (64%).
- 91.7% of abortions were performed before thirteen weeks gestation.
- Non-Hispanic white women and non-Hispanic black women accounted for the largest percentages of abortions (37.7% and 35.5% respectively).
- 85% of women obtaining abortions were not married.
- A majority (59.9%) of women who obtained abortions had previously given birth.
- For all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages), 22% end in abortion.
- 27% of women obtaining abortions have income levels less than 200% of the federal poverty level2.
- 54% of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant3.
- The reported risk of abortion complications, defined as patient who requires hospitalization after the procedure, is 0.3%.
- The reasons women gave for having an abortion include concern for or responsibility to other individuals (75%), lack of ability to afford a child (75%), a baby would interfere with work (75%), school or the ability to care for dependents, and 50% stated they prefer not to be a single parents or are having problems with their husband/partner4.
Using these statistics, the “average” woman who has an abortion is a 20-24 year old non-Hispanic white female who is unmarried, has had a child before, used some of form of contraception the month she became pregnant, belongs to the middle or lower classes and had her procedure before she reached thirteen weeks of gestation.
Historically, Dr. Margaret Sanger started the modern birth control movement and founded Planned Parenthood, the organization that now performs the largest number of abortions in the United States annually (approximately 300,000). Dr. Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916 and was a fierce advocate of contraception; she always remained fiercely opposed to abortion because in her time (the early 20th century) the procedure remained highly dangerous and she held firm her opposition to aborting a child after conception. Dr. Sanger is important to mention because it is well known that she regarded certain racial groups as inferior and advocated contraception as a means to “eliminate of the unfit”.Sanger supported improving human genes through social interventions by reducing reproduction among those considered unsuitable.5 Moreover, in 1932, her organization, Birth Control Review published an article which suggested giving “certain dysgenic groups in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization.” It is always important to keep the intent in mind of any individual or organization when considering their policies.
Now the key issues:
Life: It may come as a surprise that no well-accepted scientific definition of life exists. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines life as “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.” Using this definition makes a microscopic bacterium as alive as an adult male, as alive as the mosquitoes we all swat during the summertime. Hence, the reader can begin to see the difficulty in interpretation.
The question then presents itself: if a woman decides to have an abortion, what exactly is being terminated?
First, a developing baby (the fetus) does not reach viability until the age of 27 weeks. That means a fetus at 12 weeks (when all major systems have not been formed) cannot survive outside of the nourishing environment of the womb; it is totally dependent on the mother. Past 27 weeks, this fact changes, and the baby can survive outside of the womb independent of the mother. Keep in mind though, that it is to the baby’s benefit to spend a full term (37 weeks) growing and developing in the mother’s body because a premature child can have many difficulties after birth. Using Oxford’s definition then, a pre-27 week fetus is incapable of performing “growth, reproduction or functional activity.”
Second, embryologically speaking, it is not easy to distinguish a human fetus in its early stages from those of other animals—dogs, fish, chickens and lizards, for example. This fact exists because all vertebrates (things with backbones) have genetic material very similar to each another. Definitively human characteristics do not develop until several weeks into the pregnancy (about three months). I won’t comment on its validity, but the biogenetic law states that as embryos, animals go through changes representing different stages in the evolution of their ancestors. This clearly opens up another can of worms, but I will just leave the theory out there. Very early in the pregnancy (less than 7 weeks) the fetus looks unlike anything.
So, is a 2-week-old fetus alive and a human being? What about a 38-week-old baby? Seven weeks? 28 weeks?
Rights: Purely in the sense of a person’s rights, a woman owns her own body and everything in it. If a woman consents to having intercourse with a man, then a fetus may result due to this consensual act (in most cases). So, if the fetus is there because of the consent of the mother, what if the mother withdraws her consent?
If we consider the fetus, no matter how early in development, to be a person, does the fetus have a right to infringe upon the personal property of the mother? If I, a grown man, take up residence in another woman’s house and infringe on her personal space, this is clearly wrong and violates the property of another. So, why do the rules change when infringement of a “person” involves a child in the womb? Does right to life entail the right to invade the body of another person who does not consent to the invader being there?
When a child is born, he or she is clearly under the guardianship of the parents, whom have complete control and ownership of the child until they are of age. This is the moral and just way society works, and I have no right to tell you how to raise your children (cases of abuse and neglect are obviously excluded). If this is the accepted norm, then why should society have the right to tell a mother how to “treat” her child in the womb, when that child, out of the womb, is strictly under the power of the parents? Using the same logic, does society have the right to tell a woman that she may or may not use a condom? Birth control? Wear blue jeans? Get a tattoo? Date a person outside her race? Associate with “those people?” Have fries with that? Wear makeup?
Outcome: The authors Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt make an interesting case in their best-selling book, Freakonomics for the poor outcome of children born to single, poorly educated, economically depressed mothers—the typical demographic description of the woman most likely to utilize abortive procedures. These three variables cause a child’s propensity to commit a crime to skyrocket. For example, a child from a single-parent household is 60% more likely to commit a crime. Childhood poverty is also among the strongest predictors that a child will have a criminal future. Others studies suggest a low maternal education is the most powerful factor in determining a child’s future criminality. The authors go on to conclude that the abortion of unwanted children led to the widespread decline in crime rates across the nation in the early 1990s, the time when the unwanted babies would have been born, in their late teens, at a time most likely to commit a crime. The theory states that abortion led to less unwanted children; less (unwanted children) led to less crime and thus more abortions resulted in less crime.
The reader may agree or disagree with the argument, but the fact remains, deciding to have, or not to have, a child is a long-lasting and permanent decision. It is not temporary or fleeting; there is no correlation to “getting fries with that.” One should consider the mental, emotional, financial, familial, and spousal security of the mother and the subsequent effects on the environment the child will be brought into. Even in the most unfavorable circumstances, will the child have the benefit of the doubt? Even in the case of adoption, is it compassionate to put a child into a parent-less environment to grow up as an orphan and develop all the psychosocial issues associated with the feeling of abandonment? Is it more “logical” or “feasible” for a woman to have an abortive procedure now, when she is unable to properly care for a child, and consent to carry a baby to term when her life situation improves?
Religion: Leviticus (17:11, 14) states that “the life of flesh is in the blood” and “as for the life of all flesh its blood is identified with its life” (NASB). One of the ten commandments states “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). The Lord tells Jeremiah (1:5) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” Paul states in Ephesians (1:4) “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” The latter two scriptures proclaim that each human being is preconceived before they enter the womb. Certainly, this analysis refutes any argument that can be made about life, rights, or outcome after conception since each person is divinely conceived prior to conception.
This begs the question: As each person is divinely conceived, have the abortions not also been seen from a distance? This question does not suggest approval of said procedure, but only highlights the concept that everything past, present and future comes under the divine watchful eye of the Creator.
But what of those who have no spiritual background whatsoever? Who is society to tell a person who has never even heard of the Bible about what Jeremiah says about being consecrated? What if a Hindu imposed their religious beliefs on society-at-large and forbid the consumption of beef in order to maintain the sanctity of holy cows?
Incentive: Everything in life has consequences. Many activities produce such bad results, we are incentivized not to do them. For example, if you drink sugar-laden soda all day, you’ll get fat. If you jump off a roof, you’ll break your leg. Obesity and a shattered leg bone are both fantastic negative incentives to discourage these activities. But, if a woman has sex, she may get pregnant. She also may have an abortion, and is cognizant of this reality prior to engaging in consensual intercourse. Essentially, the very existence of the procedure shields both men and women from the adverse consequences of their actions. I cannot say that abortions encourage or produce risky behavior, but they do provide some form of insurance and mental security to someone who has to make a tough decision. Now, there are many people in this world who struggle to get pregnant, or cannot become pregnant. Both groups desire children feverishly. There are also people who have abused the availability of the procedure and have had multiple elective abortions for reasons separate from preserving the health of the mother. It saddens me to know that while some people struggle to conceive, there are others who have conceived multiple times and have rid themselves of the burden of responsibility of their actions. The gift of life is just that—a gift—and should be treated as such, with honor, respect, dignity and commitment.
In the end, it is prudent for all of us not to put on blinders and march through life adamantly sticking to certain philosophies without considering each case, the people and their circumstances, and also bearing in mind the multi-factorial nature of certain problems. In my ideal fantasy world, every child would be born into a stable and mature environment of a loving man and woman who have not only committed themselves to each other, but also understand the responsibility and duty in having a child. This fantasy world clearly does not, and will never exist. In our reality, the most important individuals in the equation remain the mother and the child she carries. After all, this decision is not temporary and that woman has to live with the consequences of her termination forever, or assume responsibility until the child is of age. No one can take this decision lightly, because each child does not ask to be born, and as adults we owe it to all of our children to provide the best nurturing and supportive environment possible. Children are helpless and as adults we must all help them. It is much easier to judge or chastise a woman and then walk away, leaving her to deal with the situation. It is also very easy to say “good job, now spend the next eighteen years dealing with your decision.” Everyone will be judged in due time, this is not a human responsibility. What we should all do is to treat that woman like she was our wife, sister, daughter, or family member and ask all the difficult questions posed in this essay. Showing compassion, not judgment, for others is certainly the logical way to resolve the dilemma.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal
1 Minnesota Citizens for Concerned Life, Mccl.org
2-4 The Guttmacher Institute: In Brief: Facts on Induced Abortion in the US. January 2012
5 Porter, Nicole S.; Bothne Nancy; Leonard, Jason (2008-02-01). Evans, Sophie J. ed. Public Policy Issues Research Trends. Nova Science. p. 126