Totally banning abortion makes some people uncomfortable. We’ve been told time and again that there are unique situations for which abortion is the best option. If a lie is repeated often enough, people begin to accept it as truth. Such is the case with the erroneous notion that abortion must be permitted in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, or a perceived threat to the mother’s life. Let’s take a look at each of these situations and explain why the exception is in error.
Rape and incest
Rape and incest are both criminal acts, and in our system of justice we punish the criminal. We do not punish the victim, nor do we punish the criminal’s children. We are told that if a pregnancy results from an act of rape or incest the compassionate response is to offer the traumatized woman an abortion. No woman should be “forced to carry that monster’s child,” we are told. The trauma of sexual assault is very real. But why compound such severe trauma with the additional trauma of abortion?
Rape is an act of violence inflicted upon a woman. She is an innocent victim, and this knowledge may someday help her come to terms with the rape and rebuild her life. Abortion, on the other hand, is an act of violence that a mother inflicts on her own child. Through abortion, the mother becomes the aggressor, and this knowledge may haunt her long after she has dealt with the rape. Women – even those who were victims of sexual assault – have reported years of physical, emotional and psychological difficulty following their abortions. Abortion did not solve their problems; it merely created additional ones.
The compassionate response to rape is to meet the real needs of the mother. Providing life-affirming medical, financial, and emotional care meets these needs, and pro-life groups across the state of Wisconsin—more than 100 crisis pregnancy centers, and groups like Life After Assault League—are doing this work.
Abortion takes the life of a living human being. The circumstances of conception may have been criminal, but the life of the newly-created human being is just as valuable as any other person’s. We do not put criminal’s innocent children to death in our culture; it simply isn’t done. It should not be done in this situation, either.
Expectant parents can often view a diagnosis of fetal deformity or other form of birth defect almost as if it were death itself. Not as a physical death, but a death of hopes and dreams. Visions of a normal childhood – playing games, going to school, growing up and starting families of their own—vanish in a flash. Despairing parents become vulnerable to the suggestion of terminating the pregnancy and getting on with their lives.
The first problem is that medical opinions can be just that—opinions. There are countless cases of parents who permitted their children to live and found out at birth that the experts were wrong. Imagine the horror of parents who abort their child, only to see that they had destroyed a perfect baby. It is against the very nature of parents to harm their own children, and abortion is the ultimate child abuse.
When abortion is used to solve the problem of a disability, it is discrimination of the most severe kind. These children are not merely discriminated against for their disability; they are killed because of it. Abortions in these cases raise frightening prospects, for if it is all right to kill a disabled person in the womb, could it not someday be permissible to kill a disabled infant? A disabled adult? The answer is clearly “no” in those cases; why is there any question when the victim is a child in the womb? Preborn children diagnosed with disabilities deserve to be treated with the same respect as born people with or without a disability.
Every human life is a gift from God. Caring for and loving a child with disabilities allows us to serve someone other than ourselves. It fosters patience, understanding and gratitude for the gifts we have been given. And it allows us to experience the joy of Christ whose life and death was total self-giving, unconditional love for each one of us.
The mother’s life
The so-called “life of the mother” exception for abortion is unnecessary and dangerous. To begin with, there are no situations where abortion, defined as the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child, is medically necessary to save the life of the mother. Bernard Nathanson, M.D., who himself performed over 30,000 abortions, said:
“In our first book [after he stopped doing abortions], we proposed a lengthy list of illnesses (including but not limited to heart or kidney disease) which would justify abortion. We regard that list now with…disbelief: if women with heart and liver transplants can be carried successfully through pregnancy, we can no longer conceive of any medical condition which would legitimize abortion. In short, we have slowly evolved to an unshakable posture of no exceptions…[W]orkable, morally acceptable legislation proscribing abortion can have no exceptions written into it—not even medical ones.”(Bernadell Technical Bulletin, April 1991)
Medical operations such as the removal of a cancerous uterus or the removal of an ectopic pregnancy are moral even under Catholic teaching and are not considered abortions. If a pregnant woman has a cancerous uterus that imminently threatens her life, then the uterus may be removed even though such removal results in the death of the unborn child. Similarly, when a fertilized ovum lodges in the fallopian tube and grows there, the damaged portion of the tube containing the baby may be removed where it is clearly necessary to save the mother’s life. Such operations are justified by the “principle of double effect,” because the death of the child is an unintended effect of an operation independently justified to save the mother’s life. They do not involve the intentional and willful destruction of an unborn child.
Legally, such operations are not considered abortions. The removal of such conditions has never been prosecuted in this country, even when the mother’s life was not immediately threatened. There is, therefore, no need to provide a specific exception for such cases in a statute or constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion.
Moreover, an explicit exception for the life of the mother is dangerous. One should never attempt to codify in law the importance of one innocent human life over and above another. Physicians must make their best effort to save both patients, giving equal care to mother and child. They should never be given a license to intentionally kill either of them.
Finally, many abortionists believe that the very condition of pregnancy itself is a life threatening condition. Consequently, a “life of the mother” exception can become a massive statutory loophole through which to drive abortion on demand.
Once pro-lifers say there can be a “good reason” to kill a preborn baby, the foundation of the pro-life movement crumbles. The argument is lost. Either the preborn child is a person, or the child is not a person. Since the preborn child is a person, there can be no exceptions for abortion.
“Beware that you don’t look down upon a single one of these little children. For I tell you that in heaven their angels will have constant access to my Father. And I, the Messiah, came to save the lost. If a man has a hundred sheep, and one wanders away and is lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the 99 others and go out into the hills to search for the lost one? And if he finds it, he will rejoice over it more than over the 99 others safe at home! Just so, it is not my Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:10-14)