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Deadly Questions... on Abortion (part 2)

summer 1998

From nucleus - summer 1998 - Deadly Questions... on Abortion (part 2) [pp32-35]

'Be prepared to give an answer... with gentleness and respect.' (1 Pet 3:15) Have you ever been stuck for words when quizzed on ethical issues? Following on from the discussion started in the last issue, Peter Saunders looks at four more deadly questions on abortion and how we might tackle them.

1. Surely we can't return to the days of back street abortionists and abortion tourism?

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; take for eample the pro-choice newspaper which claimed in 1989 that 600,000 Brazilian women died from illegal abortions each year.[1] A look at UN statistics reveals that there were only 2,507 maternal deaths in Brazil in 1988 - from all causes![2] Similarly the figure of 200,000 abortion deaths worldwide promoted by leading politicians (such as Baroness Chalker) has been acknowledged to be hugely exaggerated. The UNFPA Report 'The State of the World's Population', published in August 1994, put the figure at 60,000. Even this is a guestimate. Dr Bernard Nathanson, who was a major figure in the effort to legalise abortion in the US and presided over 60,000 abortions before having a change of heart, gives some insight into the reasons for the disparity between the real and the claimed:

'...we emphasised the frame of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always '5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year'. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false... but the overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible.'[3]

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[4]. Ireland, which has maintained an absolute law against abortion, has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world.[5] 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.[6]

It's also claimed, by pro-choice law 'reformers', that women denied abortions at home will simply travel to other countries to obtain them. While this did happen to a limited extent in the past, it was never in numbers approaching those in countries where abortion is legal. Legalisation has increased abortion rates dramatically, to the extent that deaths (of unborn children) from abortion worldwide now number 55 million per year.[7] Abortion rates among Irish women (who can easily travel) are still only a third that of British women.

2. 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. Would we sanction the destruction of a neonate who was grossly deformed, conceived as a result of rape or the child of a minor? Wouldn't we rather look for some way to make the best of a bad situation by using our medical skills, helping practically or financially, or perhaps by arranging adoption?

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. In the USA in any one year, one in a thousand women report rape and of these a similar proportion become pregnant. Furthermore in the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, 75 to 85% chose against abortion.[8] 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.

I am forced to the conclusion that the Christian solution, difficult though that may be, is to care for the child at least until birth when adoption can be considered (especially if the mother is young). However one can not advocate 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.

3. 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. Many women will not now consider having a child with any form of handicap, so biochemical screens, preimplantation diagnosis, chorionic villous biopsy and amniocentesis are increasingly available. Apart from the small number of tests done in order to prepare parents in advance for the arrival of a child with special needs, or to identify surgically correctable anomalies, most screening is performed to identify handicapped fetuses so that they can be aborted. This is a form of discrimination that would not be tolerated in any other group apart from unborn children. While no one is denying the huge psychological and financial cost of raising a handicapped child, we would not use this as an excuse for killing in any other field of medicine. Our obligation is to do the very best with what we have to 'strengthen what remains'.

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.[9]

4. 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. Even in these situations it is usually possible to deliver the baby in such a way that the parents can have some short time with it. 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. Ireland's leading obstetricians stated in 1992:

'... we affirm that there are no medical circumstances justifying direct abortion, that is, no circumstances in which the life of the mother may only be saved by directly terminating the life of her unborn child'.[10]

This was not unsubstantiated. 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.[11]

Alan Guttmacher, former President of the pro-abortion US Planned Parenthood Federation has said:

'Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save life'.[12]

In fact, women with cancer will often forgo chemotherapy for the sake of the baby[13] and this brings us back to our starting point. When we recognise how precious human life before birth really is, we begin to see the evil of abortion in all its stark reality.

References

  1. Spare Rib. US Abortion Rights under Threat. Spare Rib 1989; p12 (May)
  2. World Health Organisation. World Health Statistics Annual 1992, Geneva: WHO, 1993
  3. Nathanson B. Aborting America. Doubleday. 1979
  4. Maternal Mortality: A Global Fact Book, WHO
  5. UNICEF, The State of the World's Children
  6. Calderone M. Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem. American Journal of Health 1960; 50:949 (July)
  7. Shain R. A Cross-Cultural Study of Abortion. Cinics in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 1986; 13:1-17 (March)
  8. Humanity, Beyond the Myths of Rape, Incest and Abortion. July 1995, p7
  9. Palmer K. A Life Precious to God. Nucleus 1995; pp9-12 (April)
  10. Letter to Irish Times, 1 April 1992
  11. Murphy J. Maternal Mortality - is there ever a case for abortion? Irish Medical Journal 1982; 75:304-306 (September)
  12. Guttmacher A. Abortion - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow' The Case for legalised abortion now. Diablo Press.1967
  13. TIMES. Mother turns down cancer treatment to save unborn baby. 1996; p8 (20 March)

Article written by Peter Saunders

More from nucleus: summer 1998

  • Editorial
  • Cloning
  • Obituary - Dr Verna Wright
  • News Review
  • Evolution - a Theory in Crisis?
  • Surrogacy
  • Deadly Questions... on Abortion (part 2)
  • Differential Diagnosis 24
  • Fishing the Net
  • Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult (Book Review)
  • Know Your Bible 26
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