Grounds for Abortion
There are no grounds, no societally sanctioned values, no mitigating circumstances that justify abortion of any kind, other than critical abortion to save the mother's life when the lives of both mother and child are genuinely threatened. This is not to deny that certain pregnancies create severe problems for the parents, society, and the child. But such problems demand the creative, constructive, and compassionate attention of all people.
Abortion solves no problems ultimately; it only makes situations seem better for a time. Since abortion is destructive of innocent people and dehumanizing to the destroyers, it ultimately comes back to haunt society with many disturbing side effects, not the least of which is the tendency of an increasingly large number of people to solve their problems through eliminating other people.
A frustrated teen-ager can indeed decide to "solve" his problem of getting along with a domineering, cantankerous
father by simply killing him. But what has he solved? Even if society should be of such a mind as not to punish children who kill their undesirable parents, what has the young teen-ager gained? Freedom from his domineering father? Yes. But for what is the son now free? To develop a completely selfish life-style that sometimes results in the elimination of people whenever they cross him wrongly. But what kind of freedom is that? It sounds more like tyranny.
The hypothetical example of a son killing his father sounds far-fetched, but it validly illustrates the point that whenever any one man is granted the freedom to murder persons as a legitimate way of solving deep personal, family, or societal problems, then all men become slaves. Abortion is the subtle harbinger of a most terrible tyranny.
In this light we must consider some of the legitimate-sounding grounds for abortion that have become the basis for the liberalizing or eliminating of abortions laws by many legislatures and courts today. 1
The Eugenic Ground
Without question one of the most significant revolutions astir in our time is in the biological field. Through the advances brought about in the biological sciences, it has become possible to detect various kinds of fetal defects (such as Downs syndrome, or "Mongolism") and to make forecast of physical or mental deformity.
Fetal defects that result in physical or mental deformity arise from either a genetic source (faulty genes or abnormal distribution of chromosomes) or an environmental source (viral infections like rubella or drugs like thalidomide).
In states where the American Law Institute (ALI)
guidelines on the termination of pregnancy by abortion are followed (Colorado being the first state to adopt these guidelines and to liberalize its abortion law, in 1967), the reasonable certainty of a predicted serious deformity becomes a ground for abortion. Such might be called forecastive abortion.
Forecastive abortion raises many questions:
(1) How much certainty must there be? The chance of deformity to a child whose mother has been exposed to the rubella virus during the first four weeks of pregnancy is about 60 percent. The chance after six weeks drops to 30 percent and after eight weeks to 10 percent. Colorado law, which permits abortion until the baby has reached term (except in a rape or incest case), would allow an abortion even when the chances are one in ten. So, is it right that nine normal children be destroyed to prevent the birth of one deformed child?
(2) How serious must the defect be? Colorado law says: "Grave and permanent." What is that? Who decides? By what standard? The lack of two arms is permanent, but is it grave? The lack of eyesight is seemingly grave by some standards, but is it necessarily permanent, in view of cornea transplants? A low intelligence quotient may be permanent, but by what standard is it grave? By the standard of the parent's unwillingness to accept and care for such a child? By the standard of what it may cost the state if it should have to assume responsibility? By the standard of what I.Q. may have to do with happiness, if anything? By the standard of the child's eventual usefulness to society? But if mercy and compassion are qualities to be cultivated in society, would society learn such qualities if it set on a course of eliminating all "weak ones"? Or was Nietzsche perhaps right when he said that the highest good is the rule of the strong (Self-assertion, pride, and determination) and the chief evil is any protection of the weak (meekness, gentleness, and love)?
(3) If the child in utero surrenders it right to life because of an expert prediction that its post partum condition will be one of retardation, mental or physical, does the child who is one year old and suddenly afflicted with a debilitating disease that will eventually cause it grave and permanent deformity also surrender thereby its right to life?
(4) What kind of twisted logic is it to suggest that a child with a fetal defect is being done a favor to be aborted because it has a right to be born normal? in a pamphlet prepared by the Colorado Right to Life Committee, entitled "Abortion: To Maintain the Quality of Life," Dr. Watson Bowes, Jr. says:
When the diagnosis is made prior to birth there are only two alternatives: birth with the appropriate care and support of an inevitably retarded or deformed human being or abortion with the elimination of the affected individual. It is the stark paucity of choices that gives the lie to the apparently altruistic demands that each man had the right to be born with normal body or mind. This argument would be profoundly persuasive if the choice were between being born with an abnormal body or being born with a normal body. But it becomes absurd to discuss the right of the individual to be normal when the alternative is not being an individual at all. The choice is between being abnormal or being destroyed. 2
In the Saturday Review of Science (5 August 1972) John V. Tunney and Meldon E. Levine discuss the whole matter of "Genetic Engineering" in an article by that title. Ten ethical questions are suggested in the article that serve to pinpoint some of the complexities of engaging in any eugenics. Though some of the questions bring us slightly astray of the present subject of abortion on eugenic grounds, I think it would be helpful to quote the essential parts of all ten
questions anyway, if for no other reason than to show the broader context of ethical discussion related at least indirectly to abortion.
First, if we are to engage in any eugenics, negative or positive, we must confront three vital questions that pervade this entire subject: What traits are to be considered desirable? Who is to make the determination? When in the course of human development will the choice be made?
...Second, we must ask whether the genetic engineering or "improvement" of man would affect the degree of diversity among men. Does it presume a concept of "optimum" man? Is diversity important as a goal in itself? Does or should man seek a "unique"? What would the quest for an "optimum" do for our sense of tolerance of the imperfect? Is "tolerance" a value to be cherished?
Third, ... do different ethical consideration apply if we attempt to distinguish between experimentation on an unfertilized sperm or egg, a fertilized sperm or egg, a fetus, an infant, a child, or an adult?
... Fourth, is there a workable difference between, on the one hand, genetic "therapy" to correct genetic factors known to cause somatic disease and, on the other hand, genetic "engineering," defined as techniques to alter man in terms of some parameters other then somatic disease?
...Fifth,... it should be asked whether techniques developed for the therapy of an individual patient automatically diffuse into the general public for purposes other than this therapy. Are physician operationally capable of restricting the use to one group, or does societal pressure make them semiautomatic dispensers of seemingly desirable technologies?
Sixth, we might ask whether any eugenics program whether positive or negative, voluntary or compulsory does not imply a certain
attitude toward "normalcy," toward a proper norm for human activity and behavior, and toward expectations with regard to the behavior of future generations of human beings. Implicit in this question are distinctions with regard to positive versus negative eugenics programs and also with regard to compulsory versus voluntary eugenics programs.
Seventh, how are words such as "normal," "abnormal," "health," "disease," and "improvement" defined? Are they words that can be operationally used to determine what should be done in the area of genetic engineering?
Eighth, we must ask if the quest for genetic improvement would be continuous. Would it invariably make all children "superior" to their parents? What would be the social consequence of this? Would it institutionalize generation gaps and isolate communities by generations?
Ninth, we should consider whether the institutionalization of a quest for genetic improvement of man is likely to lead to his perception of himself as lacking any worth in the state in which he is. What does this do to the concept of the dignity of the human being in his or her own right, regardless of some "index of performance"?
Tenth, if we have a well-developed ability to perform genetic therapy as an assault upon certain diseases but such therapy is not available for all who have the affliction or who desire the "cure," the question will immediately arise as to how to determine which patients will receive it. Are some classes or groups of people more desirable patients or more worthy of treatment? How will selection be made? By what criteria will those decisions be reached? 3
The Humanitarian Ground
An altruistic abortion, may it be called, is permitted by many legal statutes when the mother's pregnancy
has resulted from rape or incest. Women's liberationists and abortion coalitions would have the humanitarian ground broadened to sustain altruistic abortions on behalf of the unwanted child as well. They assert:
(1) Altruistic abortion on behalf of the mother victimized by rape or incest.
It may seem, initially, on the basis of an immediate emotional response to a rape resulting in a pregnancy, that the mother has suffered such an indignity that she should (by the demands of love) be entitled to relief from the responsibility of carrying a rapist's child. Such thinking has tremendous emotional appeal and is entirely understandable. But when the demands of love conflict with the demands of justice (which is love distributed fairly to all persons), then love for the mother which allows her to kill her unborn child is really not love at all at least not in the more comprehensive sense of justice. It is not loving to give another person the license to commit a murder so as to cure a rape. The demands of love extend to the innocent unborn child, too! And so the just (comprehensively loving) response to rape is not to liberalize abortion laws, but to enforce stricter laws against rape, seek more diligently to apprehend the rapacious offender, provide more societal assistance to the burdened mother, and allow the unborn child to live and eventually be loved by the immediate parent or by adoptive parents.
Quite apart from the fact that an extremely low percentage of rape cases result in pregnancy, it remains true anyway that a person's right to live ought never to be made conditional upon how the person began. The basic moral question in both rape and incest is not: Is this child a result of a sex crime? but rather: Is this child image of God, person?
(2) Altruistic abortion on behalf of the child victimized by being thrust into a situation of being unwanted.
The rhetoric of the liberationists trumpeting the right of the child to be born wanted is as misleading as it is trite. If it were possible for the unborn child to choose to be wanted or unwanted, the child would predictably and rightfully choose to be wanted. But if the alternative to being wanted is to be eliminated, what kind of choice is that? Since the child cannot even make the choice (fruitless though it would be, considering the alternatives), there are those who make its choice for it by killing it, and then piously pretending that their killing is really not an act of murder but of mercy because it is done as a humanitarian favor to the child. This is a favor? All living unwanted persons in society had better hope that aspiring power elitists do not get the idea to do them a similar favor. Of course, there is a name for all of this altruistic nonsense it is called "prenatal euthanasia" (Willke) or gracious killing of unborn children.
In my view, one of the most moving statements in the Willke's Handbook on Abortion speaks to this problem of the unwanted child:
We agree that every child should be wanted. A world without unwanted children would be an idyllic place in which to live. No one could quarrel with that as an idealistic goal. Wouldn't it also be a wonderful world if there were no unwanted wives by husbands, no unwanted aging parents by their children, no unwanted Jews, Black People, Catholics, Chicanos, or ever again a person who at one time or place finds himself unwanted or persecuted. Let's all try to achieve this, but also remember that people have clay feet and sadly, the unwanted will always be with us.
The measure of our humanity is not that there aren't unwanted ones, but what we do with them. Shall we care for them or kill them? 4
The Psychiatric Ground
Therapeutic abortion on psychiatric grounds accounts for the vast majority of abortions performed today. For example, in the state of Colorado in 1971, "maternal mental health" was listed as the medical ground for 3,889 of 4,168 abortions. In 1972, in Colorado, 93 percent of reported abortions were for "maternal mental health." Purportedly, therapeutic abortion is required in some cases because of an immanent threat of suicide or because of the likely result of serious permanent impairment of the mental health of the woman.
Based of the reading I have done and on my own counseling experiences, I would question, factually, whether pregnancy does increases the threat of suicide, and would wonder whether abortion is not a greater contributor then it is preventer of serious psychic disturbances within the women who have had abortions.
Four personal counseling experiences are illustrative:
(1) Counselee A: A man whose pregnant wife had committed suicide after suffering serious mental disturbance.
This man reported to me that his wife had been experiencing mental problems for some time. In the midst of her problems she discovered that she was pregnant and at first was ecstatically happy. But soon she became depressed again and continued in the condition until one day she called the hospital and made an appointment for an abortion. The night before her scheduled abortion, she took her own life.
The husband recalled in retrospect that what had prompted his wife's suicide was the decision in her mind to "do away" with her unborn. The mere fact of giving in to the idea of an abortion was enough to take away her last incentive for living.
The experience of Counselee A's wife is not atypical, but matches the facts.
For 16 years (1950-65), Dr. Alex Barno did a study on suicide in Minnesota that included
1,301,745 women with normal pregnancies (about 80,000 live births per year). Comparing males, pregnant females, and nonpregnant females, the study showed that the least number of suicides occurred among the pregnant females (0.6 per 100,000 average) as compared to 3.5 per 100,000 average among the nonpregnant females and 16 per 100,000 average among the males.
Many psychiatrists now believe that the risk of suicide for women who have had abortions is much greater than for women who have not had abortions.
The Colorado Right to Life Committees' Newsletter of October 1972, quotes an associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA, Dr. Pietro Castelnuovo Tedesco (from R. Kotulak's Emotional Myths That Cloud the Issue), as saying:
In the past psychiatrists would testify that a woman would probably commit suicide if she didn't get an abortion. Such testimony was required in order to perform a therapeutic abortion under the old laws. We were fudging in behalf of the patient for humanitarian reasons. It may have been for a good cause, but it was still fudging on psychiatric standards and on scientific truthfulness. 5
(2) Counselee B: A girl who had had two abortions, the first legally, the second illegally.
This girl reported to me that even though she had had no previous social conditioning on the wrongness of abortion, and even though she held no strong religious convictions of any kind, she felt that the second abortion had literally scraped the last vestiges of her own human-ness away and had left her with a totally empty self not just an empty womb but an empty being: devoid of self-respect and a reason to live. This total sense of emptiness or alienation drove her to drugs and, but for the grace of God, to suicide.
Quite frankly, I believe this girl's experience illustrates that whether men acknowledge God or not, all men experience an inner reproach (not always consciously felt) when they depart from the ways clearly revealed by God as right.
Dr. Paul Tournier, Swiss physician and author of several excellent books, says in Guilt and Grace:
Thus the true guilt of men comes from the things with which they are reproached by God in their innermost hearts. Only they can discover what these things are. And they are usually very different from the things with which they are reproached by men. The reference to God brought to us by the Bible illuminates our problem in a remarkable way: from now on, "false guilt" is that which comes as a result of the judgments and suggestions of men. "True guilt" is that which results from divine judgment. In fact, the guilt towards oneself of the Jung School is indeed at the same time a guilt towards God, since it is a refusal to accept oneself as God wishes us to be; and the guilt towards others of Martin Buber is also a guilt towards God since it is a refusal of the divine order of human relationships. 6
What kind of concern for the mother's mental health is it that would exclude considerations of the guilt problems that most women have after abortion?
(3) Counselee C: A girl who had two previous abortions and had just tried and failed to induce a third by running up a steep hill. This girl was pregnant unintentionally with a Hell's Angel while her husband was incarcerated in the state prison.
I asked this girl why she wanted another abortion. She replied that her husband was incensed about her pregnancy through another man and would not rejoin her after his release
from prison if she did not do something to get rid of the baby. I then asked how she felt about the other two abortions. She responded that she was guilt-ridden, though she couldn't explain why since she had no religious faith of any kind and did not believe in God at all, nor ever had.
In thinking of this poor girl now, I wonder: If guilt is purely a "learned reaction," then why did this lonely young lady experience an inner censorship that she could not shake?
(4) Counselee D: A girl who had had a suction abortion and was invited by her doctor to view the "fetal remains" in a jar.
This particular girl reported that she "felt nothing" when she viewed the torn-up aborted child. She claimed she felt no guilt whatsoever. In fact what bothered her was precisely the absence of any guilt feeling. The numbness and hardness of her spirit, for which she had gradually conditioned herself, sacred her and made her feel "one" with the "butchers at Buchenwald" who could view heaps of dead bodies in mass graves and not "feel a thing."
Dr. Julius Figel, a gynecologist-obstetrician who advocates therapeutic abortions and performs them, and who is also a Freudian psychiatrist, has said:
Mental illness does not automatically follow an abortion. Often the trauma may sink into the unconscious and never surface in a woman's lifetime. But it is not as harmless and casual an event as many in the pro-abortion crowd insist. A psychological price is paid. I can't say exactly what. It may be alienation, it may be pushing away from human warmth, perhaps a hardening of the maternal instinct. Something happens on the deeper levels of a woman's consciousness when she destroys a pregnancy. I know that as a psychiatrist (From Unseen Scars Left by Abortion, by Colman McCarthy). 7
If demographic abortion is to be allowed to solve the problems of the parents who "can't support another kid" in the microcosmic sphere of the home, and to solve the problems of society that "can't stand to have any more people because too many people cause crowding and pollution" in the macrocosmic sphere of the whole earth, then why not extend this same principle further and eliminate a whole lot of other undesirable people so as to solve the socio-economic problems faster and more effectively?
Is it right to kill persons to solve such problems? Unborn children are persons too. What does it take to make men see that people cause problems (like poverty and pollution) not because they exist but because of how they think. This world has a better chance of survival if put in the hands of the projected aborted ones than if kept in the hands of those trying to play the dangerous game of God, giving and taking life.
In speaking of a legal ground, I am refering to the mother's claim that she is being deprived of her rights over her own body and over her privacy when she is denied an abortion on demand.
If the demand for personal abortion on legal grounds were not mentioned so often by women's liberationists particularly, it would not be worth the time of day to comment on it.
Aside from the incontrovertible fact that the unborn child is not part of the mother (biologically, genetically, or spiritually as an independent image-bearer), it can also be stated that the mother's right over her own body is not absolute, so that even if the unborn child were a part of the mother's body, she would have no right to authorize a doctor to dispose of it. If a woman asked a surgeon to amputate a perfectly healthy leg, and the surgeon did it, he could be sued by a third party for malpractice. Doctors may remove cancerous tumors, cysts, and the like, but the
zygote-embryo-fetus is not an unnatural intruder in the body of its mother; it is a rightful occupant in the womb introduced into its nine-month home by an act of sexual intercourse that took place quite apart from its own willful involvement.
As to the pregnant woman's privacy, no one would want to interfere with it, unless her privacy became a cloak for violence perpetrated against her own children. If I, for example, began to beat unmercifully my four-year-old son, to the point of death, I might expect that if his cries were loud enough, the police would promptly interrupt my privacy and rescue my child if possible.
Sad to say, the unborn child has no voice and his cry is not heard, except by those (and sometimes they seem so few) who listen with the ears of their hearts and try to save its life, not often successfully.
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1. It must, of course, be remembered that all of the state laws referred to in this chapter have been superceded by the January 22, 1973, United States Supreme Court rulings in the Texas and Georgia cases. Nevertheless, since the states are still being given some say-so on abortion after the third month of pregnancy, this discussion on grounds for abortion and what the states previously have decided remains relevant.
2. This brochure can be obtained from the Colorado Right to Life Committee, P. O. Box 20144, Denver, Colorado 80220.
3. John V. Tunney and Meldon E. Levine, "Genetic Engineering," Saturday Review of Science 55, no. 32 (August 1972): 24-26.
4. Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Willke, Handbook on Abortion, rev. ed. of January 1972 (Cincinnati: Hiltz Publishing Co., 1971), pp. 46-47.
5. Colorado Right To Life Committee, Newsletter 2, no. 10, p.3.
6. Paul Tournier, Guilt and Grace (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 67.
7. Colorado Right To Life Committee, Newsletter 2, no. 10, p. 3.
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