Abortion is a tragic and divisive issue in our country and in our Religious Society. Much of our lack of community and consensus may come from the desire to simplify an entanglement of complex legal, medical, and moral concerns into a single political position. Should any of us take a position without considering questions such as these and the consequences of their answers?
Legal questions include: When does legally protected human life begin? Does the interest of the state in a prospective citizen ever supersede the pregnant woman’s right to privacy and control of her bodily functions? If one allows that the state has interest in pregnancy, what is that interest and how should that interest be monitored and enforced? If the mother’s life is in danger, is it permissible to interfere in the pregnancy? If so, at what point in her dying is it permissible to intervene without legal reprisal? Is the state willing to force victims of rape and incest and bearers of deformed infants to continue unwanted pregnancy? If not, what proof is required, who is to provide it, and in what setting? If protected human life begins at conception, what is the status of products of conception that turn cancerous? How would the state regulate birth control drugs and devices that interfere with implantation as well as conception?
Medically related questions include: How is human life defined? How do contraceptives work and what is available? How will pregnancy be diagnosed and monitored? If conception is chosen as the beginning of protected human life, will procedures such as D & C and hysterectomy be available to women whose need for them is not related to pregnancy? If so, will there be physicians trained and willing to perform them? Would infertility treatment continue, given the high risk of multiple pregnancy, the unavailability of selective abortion, and difficulties regarding the legal status of unimplanted fertilized ova? Will caring people choose careers in Obstetrics and Gynecology in a setting that restricts or requires certain treatments and/or places the physician at legal, professional, and personal risk? Should fetal and genetic research be pursued or abandoned? What counseling is to be provided before, during, and after pregnancy?
Religious and moral issues include: When does inspirited human life begin? Who decides this? What, if any, intervention is ethical in normal or abnormal pregnancy? Is it ethical to use means of birth control that interfere in early stages of pregnancy, even if the primary action is to prevent conception? What responsibilities does a moral society have in protecting the unborn and the unwanted? Is it ever ethical to use fetal tissue to treat illness in others? Does terminating pregnancy in cases of rape take lives of innocent victims? Should pregnant women alone bear the risks and results of unwanted pregnancy? Is it just to use one’s medical, legal, or political influence to impose one’s moral beliefs on another? What responsibility does society have for creating a favorable climate in which to be pregnant and raise children? If one believes all abortion to be murder, is evangelizing for one’s belief sufficient, or does this belief require other activities, lawful and unlawful? Is compromise permissible when it will result in death, either of pregnant women or unborn children?
As we struggle with these issues, we may recognize that we are a part of a continuum of life with potentials realized and unrealized. Unfertilized ova, rejected sperm, products of conception that failed implantation, all had potential for separate human life. We do not mourn for them or insist on their right of survival. But for all of us, there occurs a point following implantation, when the potential for human life is no longer potential, but a human life with legal rights and human needs. We may try to define this scientifically, but it is in essence an issue of personal belief, an emotional and moral issue. How do we legislate such a beginning? Any statute that protects our privacy as sexual beings and allows for unimpeded emergency procedures will also allow for activities that we may find personally and morally abhorrent. As Friends, we can try to discourage such activities by example and by providing a part of the educational, medical, and societal support that results in abortion becoming an uncommon and unwanted procedure. We can encourage discussion and compassion.
Mary Beth Keiter
Johnson City, Tenn.