1. How can a non-sentient being have value?
We do not know that the fetus is 'non-sentient'. We do know that brain function, as measured by EEG is present in the fetus at about 6 weeks after conception and that responses to tactile sensation (skin tightening, bending, fist forming) can be observed at seven to eight weeks gestation. At nine to ten weeks the fetus squints and swallows and breathing movements begin at eleven to twelve weeks. By 16 weeks he will respond violently to stimuli that you or I would find painful. Pain is a peculiarly personal and subjective experience and there is no biochemical or physiological test we can do to tell us if fetuses (or any other persons) experience it. By the same token we lack any proof that animals feel pain, but judging by their responses, it seems charitable to assume that they do. No one would dare suggest dismembering newborn kittens (which ironically are born blind, deaf and helpless at 9 weeks gestation!).
Even if they are non-sentient the Christian view is that all human beings are made in God's image. If they lack the means to feel, think or form relationships as we do they still have dignity by virtue of the fact that they are made and known by God. Biblical morality dictates that the weak deserve special protection and in God's economy, the strong lay down their lives for the weak Even if it could be established that fetuses feel nothing, should it really make a difference to the way we treat them?
2. Don't women have a right to choose?
No man (or woman) is an island. We all value the opportunity of living in a free society, but also recognise that personal autonomy has its limits. Rights need protection but they are not absolute. They must be balanced against responsibilities.We are not free to do things which limit or violate the reasonable freedoms of others. In human community abortion is not simply a matter between a woman and her doctor. There are others to consider; the father, any other citizens who may be affected by the decision and, not least, the unborn child herself.
Whether she opts for abortion, adoption or keeping the baby the decision will change her life for ever. She needs to know that the fetus is not just 'part of her body'.
3. Won't refusing abortion simply mean that women suffer?
A common myth is that women will not change their minds about having an abortion when offered practical help and given the facts about fetal development. Many do, and pregnancy counselling organisations like CARE for Life have made a substantial contribution in helping women whose turning to abortion is simply a cry for help. But even women refused abortions do not necessarily seek them. Most unwanted pregnancies, if not aborted result in wanted children. Conversely most abused children come from wanted pregnancies. Since the Abortion Act came into force in Britain in 1968 the incidence of child abuse has doubled.
Representatives The Royal College of Psychiatry have stated that there are no psychiatric grounds for abortion. This is in spite of the fact that most abortions are carried out on alleged grounds of damage to the mother's mental health. In fact for suicidal pregnant women abortion will increase depression and the risk of post-abortion psychosis.What they really need is proper psychiatric treatment. In some patients post-abortion psychosis can be crippling, and those who feel ambiguous about the decision are particularly vulnerable.
4. Surely we can't return to the days of back street abortionists?
The argument that 'safe and legal' abortion is necessary to stop 'thousands of women' dying at the hands of back street abortionists is ill-founded. Claims about death rates have been wildly exaggerated. The truth is that, throughout the world, abortion deaths have fallen steeply in line with maternal deaths, owing to advances in medical science. According to WHO figures this trend has occurred regardless of whether abortion is legal or illegal in particular countries. Ireland, which has maintained an absolute law against abortion, has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world.Prior to the Abortion Act mortality from criminal abortion in Britain was very low (approx 20 per year); compared with the 180,000 unborn children who now die annually. This was because many so-called back street abortions were performed (albeit illegally) by doctors in relatively 'safe' circumstances.
5. What about abortion for rape?
If life before birth has the same status as life after birth then it follows that if we wouldn't approve of infanticide in a given situation, then neither should we approve of abortion. These difficult cases must be seen in this light. Rape is a very serious crime that itself was a capital offence in the Old Testament. However pregnancy arising from rape is extremely rare; and even alleged rape is a factor in less than 1% of abortions. Furthermore in the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, 75 to 85% chose against abortion.This is because many women who have been raped believe that abortion is immoral, that the child is simply a second innocent victim, and that if they get through the pregnancy they will have conquered the rape. Giving birth in such circumstances is a display of courage, strength and honour. Abortion, by contrast, simply sacrifices a second innocent party to the crime. However one can not advocate adoption this without at the same time realising that it puts every onus on us as Christians to do everything we can to help an equally innocent (and much sinned against) mother.
6. What about abortion for fetal handicap?
Abortions for fetal handicap make up only 1.1% of the total in Britain, but over 90 are performed on infants of viable age each year. This puts the issue in sharp perspective. Whereas profoundly handicapped 26 week old neonates are (quite rightly) given every chance of survival, older babies still in utero can be legally killed in Britain for less serious abnormalities. Abortion for fetal hndicap discriminates against the handicapped. This is not to deny the often extreme hardship incurred by those who have to care for children with special needs. It's a responsibility that the community must share; but it is sheer nonsense to assert that people with spina bifida, Down's syndrome, or some worse anomaly cannot, with the right support, live useful and fulfilling lives. Even those whose anomalies are incompatible with life can make a valuable contribution to the world and to others; and they are undoubtedly precious in the eyes of God.
8. What about abortion to save the life of the mother?
Usually when the mother's life is at risk, the baby is viable and so can be saved simply by bringing forward the time of delivery. On very rare occasions it may be necessary to terminate a mid-trimester pregnancy in an emergency in order to save the life of the mother. Here we are not saying that the baby's life is less important than that of the mother, but simply (since the baby will die regardless) that it is better to intervene to save one life rather than to stand by and watch two die. In the UK only 0.013% of all abortions are performed 'to save the life of the mother' and it is even questionable whether many of these require such radical action The National Maternity Hospital in Dublin investigated in detail the 21 maternal deaths which occurred among the 74,317 pregnancies managed in 1970-1979. The conclusion was that abortion wouldn't have saved the mother's life in a single case.