Monday, August 12, 2013

The Dilemma of Abortion.

Some situations we may face regarding abortion are: a decision to abort or to teach / advise or express an opinion. Whatever the case may be, our fundamentals on abortion should be architected on solid foundation.

Two positions exist in the abortion debate: pro-life (anti-abortion) and pro-choice (accepting abortion). The pro-life position argues that the unborn is a person (human being with life), hence should not be killed. The pro-choice groups have posited many arguments favoring abortion with one central assumption - that the unborn is not a full person. A few important pro-choice arguments are presented here:

1. The woman has the right to choose:

If the woman can choose what she wants to do, then by the same logic one should not condemn drugs, prostitution, suicide or the likes. Simply speaking, if a person can do what he wants, then all actions against one’s own body should be permissible. But we do not have an absolute claim over our own body! For example, a prostitute cannot justify her profession under the guise of poverty, a married man cannot solicit a prostitute for the sake of his pleasure, and a person cannot abuse his body through illegal drugs. Similarly, the woman has no absolute right over her body to make any choice.

Moreover, the fetus is not a part of the woman’s body, as a hand or an eye is a part. The fetus is attached to the mother through an umbilical cord, but is not a native part of her body. The fetus, in many cases, has a separate gender identity (male). Thus, it is unnormative to include a differently gendered part (fetus) as a native part of the woman. Only through a denial of its own identity can the fetus be considered a part of a woman’s body. This is a confusingly ridiculous proposition. Since the fetus is not an innate part of woman’s body, she loses her right to do what she wants.

2. The woman should not be forced to continue her pregnancy from rape or incest:

This is an emotionally compelling argument for a woman’s right to choose abortion. This argument posits justice to the woman for she cannot be punished with a child due to imposed pregnancy (lack of consensual sex). But justice is applicable to the fetus too! If the woman should not be penalized on account of imposed pregnancy, how can the fetus be penalized with death over the sin of his/her father? Furthermore, it would be more difficult to verify the rape claim of a woman seeking abortion. Thus, this argument tilts in favor of pro-life or shall we say that the pro-choice lacks strength in this argument.

3. The woman should not be forced to deliver severely handicapped children:

As in the previous situation, the woman lacks the fundamental right to choose abortion. If killing a severely deformed fetus is valid, then killing a severely deformed or a handicapped child is also valid. Just as no one would accept to killing a severely handicapped child (because of his personhood), the unborn fetus cannot be killed because of its personhood.

Personhood of the Fetus:

If the fetus is inanimate and not a person (with life), then discarding it is not a concern. After all, discarding something without life is tantamount to shredding a paper to bits or dumping garbage. But, if the fetus has life, then discarding it is tantamount to killing a child that cannot defend itself - a serious sin.1

If the fetus has life, then it is a person with full human rights. But the contention is to determine the time during gestation when the fetus becomes a person. Pro-choice groups often delineate an arbitrary distinction between the fetus being a human being and the fetus being a person. But, the fetus does not undergo a change in its essence during its gestation, and even into adulthood. Moreover, science is yet to discover the time when actual personhood begins in the fetus. If that be the case, one should err on the side of life, for one should not risk the life of a fetus for it could well be a person. As Scott Rae writes, “uncertainty about the status of the fetus justifies caution, not abortion.”2 

Pro-choice groups have posited several breaks during the gestation of the fetus for the time of the beginning of its personhood to justify the killing of the unborn. ‘Viability,’ ‘Onset of brain activity,’ Sentience,’ ‘Quickening,’ ‘Implantation,’ and ‘Birth’ are these stages. But none of these breaks are empirically sufficient to justify the killing of the fetus.3 Scott Rae presents a compelling case for the personhood of the fetus from the time of conception:

 (A) An adult human being is the end result of the continuous growth of the organism from conception (this premise has hardly any debate).

(B) From conception to adulthood, this development has no break that is relevant to the essential nature of the fetus (this is the debatable premise, but…all proposed breaks do not have a bearing on the nature of the fetus).

(C) Therefore, one is a human person from the point of conception onward (this conclusion follows from the above two premises).4

The fetus has a unique and a separate genetic identity from conception. It possesses all capacities to mature into a full adult, thus the fetus is a full human being. The full personhood of the fetus compels the mother to bear all responsibility for the wellness of the fetus. Any failure on the part of the mother incriminates her.

Is abortion a sin? What does the Bible teach?

(1) God is actively involved in the creation and sustenance of the fetus from conception (Jeremiah 1: 5; Isaiah 49: 1; Psalm 139: 13-16).

(2) Bible uses the terms ‘conception’ and ‘birth’ interchangeably (Job 3:3; Jeremiah 1:5; Isaiah 49: 1; Psalm 51: 5), implying the fetus as a person from birth. In fact, Psalm 51: 5 states a continuity of personal identity (as a sinner) from conception to birth. The Greek term for baby, ‘brephos’ is applied to a child in the womb (Luke 1: 41-44) and a new born baby (Luke 2: 16), for Christ’s incarnation was recognized from the time of conception. 

Thus, it is evident that the Bible affirms the personhood of the fetus from conception, and that God is actively involved in fashioning the fetus from conception. HE knows us even before our conception. If man kills the fetus, then it’s not only equivalent to killing a full human being, but it’s also equivalent to rebelling against God’s design of a human from conception (cf. Exodus 20: 13). Man sins when he rebels against God. Since abortion is a sin against God, man should not abort his unborn baby.

But what about a medical situation that forces us to choose either the life of the mother or baby? If the doctor can save only one life, which is either that of the mother or the baby, what should be our choice? The dilemma here is not pro-life or pro-choice, but a combination of both – either the life of the mother or the baby. This is not a simple predicament. However, if all factors being normal (e.g. mother can resume healthy life); I would choose the mother over baby. My reasoning is that the baby requires the mother for a normal life. If the mother dies, the baby cannot live a normal life (the baby would be raised without mother’s presence and love). However, the mother can resume a normal life at a certain point in time. Hence, my choice is for the mother to live, on the basis of normalcy. But this isn’t an easy decision.5

What about embryonic stem cell research? Any research that kills or damages the embryo, even for a greater good - a potential research to save life in future - remains unacceptable. Just as a terrorist is condemned for believing that killing another will promote his or his people’s wellness, any scientific research should be unacceptable if it involves killing. 

Therefore, since the fetus is a person, it is the duty of the parents and the society to protect and save the unborn. Amen.  

Notes and References:

(1) This essay is largely an extract from Scott Rae’s work, ‘Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics,’ barring sporadic interposals of my thoughts. 

1 We will not try to comprehend in detail the apparent contradiction in the Bible that portrays God as a cruel being desiring to kill the infants and children (Numbers 31: 17; 1 Samuel 15: 3; Psalm 135: 8, 136: 10, 137: 9 et al.). The Pro-choice groups use these verses to validate their claim. But, these verses ought to be seen in their context of judgment. Moreover, it is only the giver of life who has the sole authority to take away that life. If you are employed in an organization, your managing authority has the sole power to fire you, not anyone else in the organization. The rebelling man who does not subjugate himself to God’s authority will always doubt and question God.

2 Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, 3rd Ed, p139, 2009.

3 “Viability” is a point in time when the fetus can live on its own outside the womb. Medical technology constantly pushes viability back to the earlier stages of pregnancy, hence viability keeps changing. Viability also changes from fetus to fetus, and place to place (high technology America to rural India). But the fact remains that there is no link between the fetus’ ability to survive independently outside the womb and its personhood (essence). Thus, viability is more a referral to fetus’ location and dependency than its essence (personhood).
If death is a cessation of all of brain’s activity, then one could rationally state that life begins when the brain begins to function, which approximately is at about 45 days into the pregnancy. But the crucial distinction is that the brain of a dead man is irreversibly dead – it cannot be revived. On the other hand, the fetus prior to 45 days possesses the latent (dormant) capability to develop into a full-fledged brain. In other words, the fetus with a latent brain activity is essentially different from a dead man whose brain can never regain activity. Thus, any pro-choice argument pertaining to the brain’s activity would be unconvincing.
Likewise one can argue that the fetus gains personhood during ‘sentience’ (point when fetus experiences sensations) or ‘quickening’ (when the mother feels fetus’ movement) or ‘implantation’ (embryo establishes its presence in the womb by producing signals or hormones) or ‘birth’ (birth of baby). But we can reasonably and rationally argue that the personhood of the fetus remains independent of these stages. For example, ‘birth’ signifies a change in location of the fetus from within the womb to the outside. But, change in location (from within the womb to its outside) does not change the personhood of the fetus. Since the beginning of personhood remains inconclusive during these stages, we can reasonably and rationally argue that the fetus has full personhood from the moment of conception.

4 Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, 3rd Ed, p142, 2009.

5 For more information on choosing mother’s life over the fetus, you could read Richard Higginson’s work, Dilemmas: A Christian Approach to Moral Decision Making, p190, 1988. 


Michelle D'SILVA said...

Abortion is definitely a moral sin!! Conception itself is the start of a life. Any harm deliberately caused to that life thereafter is murderer or attempt to murder. Do we punish kids when we have a problem with adults? No. Then why should we destroy the life of a child just because its the seed of rape etc? It's not justifiable! I don't think any woman who has murdered her unborn baby will ever sleep peacefully at the heart of hearts we all know its a grave sin.if suicide is a sin and we have no authority on our own lives-there is just NO way we should be under the impression that the life of a foetus is the property of the woman holding it!!!

Raj Richard said...

Your thoughts are very valid, Michelle. Thanks for posting these.

There is one point that I would like to add. A woman in her ignorance or even circumstantially may have aborted her baby. But if she has sought forgiveness from God thru genuine repentance, she is a forgiven human, and so will be able to sleep well. I am sure you would agree with me, but am stating this so to provide further clarity. God bless U much :)