Abortion. Is it as black and white as we make out?

abortion(10)

I used to be staunchly against abortion under any circumstances. And I mean any. It’s an issue that I’ve grappled with for a while, mainly because it’s something that elicits such strong emotions on either side of the argument, and also because I have a strong emotional attachment to the idea of a child growing inside of me. You have the people who campaign outside abortion clinics, claiming that abortion is as bad as the murder of a child, and then you have the so called ‘pro-choice’ crowd who claim that abortion is a fundamental part of women being allowed ownership of their own bodies.

I’m kinda wary of either camp personally. I’ll be honest, although I wouldn’t personally have an abortion, I don’t see abortion as the same as shooting a 5 year old. The morning after pill is not akin in my mind to smothering a baby. I think most people who claim that abortion is the same as murder are being completely disingenuous, simply because if there was a clinic near their house that lined up unwanted 3 year olds and injected them with a lethal painless poison, I’m pretty sure they’d be outside that clinic every day protesting. The majority of us who are against abortion have not been on a single solitary march against it, written letters to our local MP, or demonstrated any type of radical behaviour in the way I assume we would if people were killing 3 year olds. Clearly, there is some idea even on a subconscious level, that killing a fetus is not as reprehensible as killing a ‘live’ child.  The question is, when does a life become a life? As a Christian, I’ve been brought up to believe that from conception, life begins. Although that may be true, I’m not sure that that necessarily means that abortion is wrong. We’re told in the commandments ‘thou shalt not kill’, but the original translation as I understand it states that we should not ‘murder unlawfully’. To my mind that indicates that there are some cases where killing is lawful. There are cases in the Bible where God commands people to kill – usually in order to punish for some sort of evil. For example, one of the tribes God ordered the Israelites to destroy were known for practicing mass child sacrifice. Or what about when another country invades? Is it wrong to defend yourself? So we can’t argue that all killing is wrong. In the case of a mother’s life being at risk, is it wrong to abort a fetus when the mother has 3 other children to look after and her death would leave them orphaned? Why is the potential life of the fetus of more value than the already certain life of the mother? And is the problem because abortion is an active taking of life whereas allowing the mother to die is passive? These are all questions I struggle with. There are numerous passages of scripture which  indicate that God definitely considers the fetus to be of value, but there are texts such as Exodus 21:22-25 which seem to suggest that this value is less than that of a live born child. As such, I would personally be wary of making a claim that abortion is the same as killing a live born child or an adult. But what about a child that is 39 weeks? Surely that’s different from aborting a blastocyst that has just been implanted into the womb? The blastocyst has no nervous system, cannot feel any pain and is essentially a ball of cells, It seems very easy to blanketly state abortion is always wrong, but maybe it’s not that simple.

On the other hand, I can’t support what I simply feel is encouragement of reckless and irresponsible behaviour. I have sympathy for women who become pregnant in less than ideal circumstances, but outside the case of rape, it is entirely your responsibility to use adequate contraception. The majority of abortion cases are not due to rape, or the mother’s life being at risk. They aren’t due to ‘failed’ contraception either. The success rate for most contraceptives is above 95%. So most women who have abortions are women who either didn’t use contraception, or failed to use it properly. We live in a country where contraception is widely available, and in a lot of cases free – they are forever handing out condoms to students at the GP, so what excuse is there for the vast majority of abortions? I understand that people can get caught in the heat of the moment, but we’ve created a culture where people feel they can participate in adult activities without adult consequences.  One of the real possible outcomes of intercourse is pregnancy. And if you use contraception there is a 95% chance that you won’t get pregnant. And even if the condom splits, there’s always the morning after pill. Pro-choice should include the choice to be adult about your behaviour, and to make sensible choices about your sex life. Sex is not a human right, it’s a privilege. You do not have the right to have sex without the responsibilities that come with it – it’s a symptom of the spoilt, narcissistic society we live in that people seem to think they do.

Having said that, I think it’s important for us to understand that the majority of women who have abortions do not do so flippantly. Some Christians portray women who have abortions as soulless child-killers devoid of any emotional connection to the fetus growing inside of them. This is simply not true. For many women, the decision to have an abortion is difficult, painful one, fraught with anxiety and with residual emotional and psychological pain. Other women, don’t have any particular issues and continue life as normal. Every woman is different.

I think this is an important conversation to have, but I think it’s also one to have very carefully. There are women who have had abortions who have been hurt by the judgemental attitude from so called ‘pro-lifers’. And there are women who have been misled by so called ‘pro-choicers’ into viewing abortion as a risk free, convenient medical procedure. Which, by the way, it isn’t. Yes, the physical risk is low, but the emotional risk depending on who you are, may be high. Arguably, the emotional risk of having an unwanted child is also high. From my limited experience though, more women regret abortions than they do keeping the baby.

Personally, I wouldn’t have an abortion unless there was strong advice from a doctor that my life would be at risk from continuing the pregnancy. I’m also cool with the morning after pill, as it mainly works by preventing conception. Interestingly, the official position of my particular denomination (Seventh Day Adventist), is that abortion is wrong except in the case of rape, incest, or the mother’s life being at risk in which case, it’s up the individual woman to decide what her conscience dictates. What do you guys think?

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3 Comments

  1. January 1, 2015 / 11:15 am

    Love this topic. Coming from a politics perspective I would build up another, maybe somewhat less moralistic argument. Experience with anti-abortion laws suggests they function much the same as alcohol prohibition: The market goes underground, becomes deregulated (and thus more dangerous especially for consumers) and prices take into account the legal risk and the tax-free nature of business. The Spanish had the phenomenon that poor(er) women could not afford abortion abroad and had to either risk everything in back-alley set-ups or bear children they didn’t want. Because as much as there seem to be plenty of women on Fox news claiming abortion ruined their lives, if you have no choice in it, the baby doesn’t become more loved. Well-off women and girls meanwhile were able to continue their lives unhindered.

    I’ve seen a similar pattern in Namibia, where there is plenty of teen pregnancy to make for a large sample: kids from reasonably wealthy backgrounds can either continue their education despite the kid (because there is enough to go around), or afford abortion abroad. The rest seem to have a strong tendency to drop out of school, which doesn’t exactly serve their or their child’s future well-being.

    Bottom line is: If we give all sorts of rights to humans once they are born, how do you weigh the future life, or prosperity of the girl, versus the potential one of the baby, when having the baby means both will be vastly more difficult? Unfortunately not all of us are in a position to fall back on family, especially after “straying” from some path of righteousness that tradition or religion prescribes.

    And are you really going to tell women and girls it’s their own fault at all times? I have met guys that see getting their gf pregnant as a way of “marking their territory” with no obligation on their part. I have met plenty of people who will pressure girls into unprotected sex with male (and often age and wealth) privilege putting them in a position to do so. Misinformation spread by some religious groups adds to that. It’s not black-and-white for sure, but I think it is an issue that ends up being so complex and each case meriting their own assessment that there is little scope for blanket rules. If women can decide, at least it will have been their decision, ideally with all the factual information they can get, but definitely their decision. In the end they bear the consequences and live their life too.

    • January 18, 2015 / 2:51 pm

      Sorry for my late reply Matthias. Yes, I do think that the idea of an underground market is scary which is why I’m not for making abortion completely or even largely illegal.”And are you really going to tell women and girls it’s their own fault at all times?” Unless there is an element of coercion – then yes, I am. If a man who is a position of privilege or power coerces someone who is more naive or vulnerable into having sex with them, I consider that to be a form of sexual assault.

      I do understand that young teenage girls who are vulnerable and insecure end up having sex with partners because of multiple factors, but I think we need to do our best to arm them with the ability to if not say no, at least use protection. That doesn’t need to be him even using a condom, although obvs that is ideal – even them being on the pill or another form of contraception is better than nothing. Ultimately though there has to be a level of responsibility, even if it is somewhat diminished. They have decisions to make and they need to be empowered to make those decisions while being aware of the consequences. Also, there a fair number of abortions that aren’t teenagers – they are grown women who have ‘accidents’. And that’s just not good enough.

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