I approach the subject of abortion as a biologist who was raised Christian. I have worked most of my life as a church organist ("mainline Protestant"). Most of the arguments against abortion reflect an appalling lack of knowledge about life. They also reflect an Old Testament and extremely outdated view of the superiority of human life over other life forms and a patriarchal view of women's place in human society, as merely the conduit for heirs. Until they are born, babies are, biologically, parasites on women's bodies. Therefore, until they are born, I believe that the health and welfare of the woman should take precedence over that of her unborn offspring. Church teaching, especially Roman Catholicism, has traditionally put the welfare of an unborn child higher than that of its mother. I realize that faith and logic are mutually exclusive, but something is very wrong with this attitude, when an unknown quantity is considered more valuable than a known, usually loved, thinking, mature (or nearly mature) human being in which society may have invested considerable resources. In framing the discussion of abortion, we must get past the popularly held assumption that most women who get (or even consider getting) abortions are unmarried and find being pregnant an inconvenience. In reality, many married women seek abortions, for a variety of reasons that have little to do with convenience. Three examples from my own extended family illustrate three very different reasons that married women may choose abortion. (1) After marrying young, one relative learned that she had married an extremely abusive man. After she had decided to leave him and seek a divorce, she discovered that she was pregnant. She immediately had an abortion, because she could not imagine bringing a child of this abuser into the world. Also, if they had had a child, she would legally have been compelled to deal with him for many years. A few years after the divorce, the family learned that her ex-husband had murdered his brother. (2) Another married relative already had three children, as many as the family could financially support (barely). Although the couple practiced birth control, she became pregnant. Unfortunately, she learned that she was pregnant AFTER she had just come through a bout of German measles, a known cause of severe birth defects. For this family to have another child would be a great burden. To have a fourth child that also required a huge investment of time and resources because of birth defects would have meant that their existing children would suffer. Although this was before Roe vs. Wade, the couple and her doctor decided that she should have an abortion, and he arranged for her to have one at her local hospital. The fetus was defective. (3) An in-law married a woman who came from a big family and wanted children of her own. They were thrilled when she became pregnant and crushed when she spontaneously aborted ("miscarried"). They tried again, and this time things seemed to go well. They went ahead and furnished a nursery. Then ultrasound revealed that this fetus lacked a part of its anatomy essential to life. It would not survive after birth. Genetic testing showed that both parents carried a very rare lethal recessive gene. Rather than carry this child to term knowing that it would die either before birth or immediately thereafter, she chose to abort so that they could try again for a normal child. If a safe, legal abortion had not been possible, this family might never have dared again to try to have children. Happily, their next pregnancies produced healthy babies, though one carries the lethal gene.
In any of these cases, would it have been the right choice to continue the pregnancy? Are there not more important considerations than simply life, any kind of life, versus death? Is birth to a life of torture morally more desirable than simply not being born? Think about couples that carry the dreaded Tay-Sachs gene. If a child inherits the gene from each parent, it is born appearing to be normal and healthy. The parents fall in love with their baby, as normal parents would. Then they must watch as this child melts away before their eyes, usually dying before the age of five. How much better if this child had never been born!
There are other terrible genetic diseases that condemn their victims to lives of torture, and their loving parents to watching the torture. Is abortion immoral for these parents?
In answering the questions below, I am requesting that my name, which is uncommon, not be used in order to protect the privacy of the family members discussed above. If you could share these stories without using my name, they might help to provide starting points for discussion.
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