Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Talk with Me about Abortion Some More

The forum at the Medical College of Georgia on “Religious Perspectives on Women’s Reproductive Issues” in which I will be participating will soon be here. (See yesterday’s post for details). I remind you that in my posts on this subject I am “thinking in print” and I am asking you to help me with that process by dialoguing with me through your comments.

Yesterday I said that I was hesitant to talk about abortion because I would never be in the position to have one since I am not a woman. For purposes of this discussion, however, I have been trying to think about the responsibilities that a pregnant woman has for the fetus she is carrying.

Pro-choice folks will probably say that my next statements constitute a caricature of their position; these sentences may in fact do so and if they do I hope some of you will say so and point out to me how that is the case. The pro-choice argument seems to me to include the idea that “a woman has the right to choose what will happen or not happen with her body.” Until the baby is birthed the fetus is a part of the woman’s body and so if she chooses to remove it from her body she has that right, they seem to me to say. I hope that I am not inaccurate in those summary statements.

We still have to deal with the fact that the fetus is a life that has the potential to be a person. A person might choose to have surgery to remove some bodily organ; such surgery might even be elective (some women, for example, have mastectomies when there is a family history of breast cancer even if they themselves have not been diagnosed with it). Usually such surgery takes place because leaving the organ in the body would endanger the life of the person. A person has the right to refuse to have such an organ removed despite the risk to her life. But, and I think that this is a big but, that organ is not a potential separate and independent life. Therefore, it seems to me a leap to treat a fetus like an organ that can be removed or not removed at the discretion of the patient.

It’s just hard for me to get around the fact that a potential person is being eliminated when an abortion takes place and past the thought that the fetus could, if not eliminated, become a human being. My “removal of an organ analogy” leads me to observe that, if the continuing presence of the fetus would threaten the life of the mother, then that could constitute just and moral cause to remove the fetus. The woman and her family would have to decide which life has more value at that point. That would be tough, because one would have to consider the impact of the death of the mother on those already viable lives who love and depend on her (spouse, other children, etc.).

I want to raise one more issue today. I have been trying to think about how a Christian woman should approach the issue of abortion. I keep coming back to the teachings and especially the example of Jesus Christ which focused on self-sacrificing, other-centered love. We talk a lot in church about Christ’s call for us to always put the needs of others ahead of our own needs and to give ourselves up for the sake of others. If we conclude that the fetus is a life (which I believe), then it seems that extraordinary circumstances would need to be in play before a Christian family could seriously ponder abortion, since by definition an elective abortion values the needs of the woman or others ahead of the needs of the potential life that the fetus is.

What do you think?

1 comment:

The Beast said...

Mike,

There are so many directions this conversation can go that it is almost too overwhelming to even begin. I will be out of town until Sunday, so I apologize in advance for my inability to dialogue more with you.

To begin, your initial foundational comment and observation of you being a male that led you to say “who am I to say what a woman should do with her body” and your follow up post outlining what you considered to be the main pro-choice argument of a woman having the right to do with her body as she pleases prompted this question: What about the father? I acknowledge that there is something special and uniquely personal about carrying a child that no father could understand, but by today’s standards, the father gets left out of the picture. As far as I know, there is nothing the father can do to prevent the abortion from happening, nor is there anything he can do to ensure that it does happen, leaving him with a lifetime of financial obligations.

If the science angle wants to be pursued, and I am assuming since this is for a medical college it will, then I would suggest a reading of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission where the basic terms and fertilization process is outlined fairly clearly. They point out myths from both pro-choice and pro-life arguments. One interesting area is what you have described as the “potential person” being eliminated that could ultimately become a human being. The question as I see it is not about when human life begins. There is human life in the sperm and egg themselves. The question is when does a human being begin? The “potential person” you mention I would argue exists when the sperm or the egg are independently present, each carrying only 23 chromosomes. When those two come together, the immediate product of fertilization is an embryonic human zygote containing 46 chromosomes. At that point, there is a human being and the rest is just a matter of development. I am obviously not a doctor or scientist, but that much seems pretty clear. One can still, of course, argue philosophically that a human being just isn’t a human being until they are capable of breathing and living on their own.

Equally interesting is the law angle. I was told tonight that the Supreme Court has issued abortion legal up to the third trimester because at that point, the baby could live on their own. So, if the government recognized a fertilized embryo as a human being, abortion would be illegal immediately because obviously killing a human being is illegal.

Two issues you raise that I am in complete agreement with are 1) the inconsistencies that seem to prevail with this issue. Not only the concept of some kind of recognition for a miscarried baby, but also how we understand birth control. For the person who holds to what I have addressed above, the “morning after” pill and other such contraceptive devices should be given a closer look. 2) the selfless attitude of a Christian obeying the command of Christ should all but negate the possibility of abortion. Apart from extreme circumstances, such as the probable death of the mother, what other reason is there to abort? I looked at two separate statistical studies that came to similar conclusions. 93% of abortions take place because of social reasons, including not mature enough to be a mother, not enough money, and too many responsibilities. 7% of abortions were "hard cases" such as the death of the mother, a serious health problem with the baby, or rape (which is less than .5%)

I’m out of time for now, I have seminary tomorrow and then driving to Virginia. I wish I had time to address your OT analogy, but that will have to wait. I will do my best to check back with you soon. Blessings!