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?