As judgmental as I can be, I have never felt that I am morally qualified to raise my gavel on any woman who, for reasons known to her, opts for an abortion. Cardinal Renato Martino of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace roused me into a more than cursory interest on the issue recently with his call on Catholics to refuse membership of and refuse to finance Amnesty International as a result of the recent decision of AI’s executive council to support access to abortion for women whose health was endangered by their pregnancy or who had been raped.
From a religious perspective, it is all too easy for us to sit in the comfort of an armchair and place a value on anyone who decides to practice abortion. But abortion is one issue we cannot view with any degree of objectivity using religion or science or even both together as the sole basis of our argument. I frown at those who abuse the practice by repeatedly using it as a contraceptive measure just to make up for their carelessness or indiscretion, which, I think is what healthcare practioners also frown at in most cases. I am neither pro-life nor pro-abortion. I consider myself a pro-scenario who believes in looking at abortion using the specific instances of life and acting in accordance with the demands of every situation rather than applying an either-left-or-right rule. Therefore, it is my belief that as we contemplate a straight yes or no answer on abortion we should be able to provide answers to the many questions the issue throws at us.
Take the biological condition or potential health status of a fetus for example: Won’t it be better that the parents are allowed to make a choice between giving birth to a child who will be perpetually sick to a deathly degree or aborting the fetus and saving both parents and future offspring the agony and trauma of a life full of suffering and avoidable expenses on medicare only for the child to die prematurely? Can’t we accept that in the case of biologically compromised fetuses, the parents are, by deciding to abort the fetus for instance, safeguarding against the ‘greater’ sin of knowingly bringing an innocent baby into the world to suffer?
Another case is the issue of incest-rape: The question here is this, is keeping a pregnancy from incest-rape fair on the child or the mother? What sort of impact can we expect it to have on a child’s life when she discovers that her father also doubles as her grandfather or even that her grandmother is also her mother? And how is the mother supposed to cope with the trauma of such circumstances.
What about other cases of rape by say, armed robbers, or – as happens frequently during war, particularly in third world countries – rape by soldiers and militiamen like the Janjaweed in Dafur? How are the parents of a helpless girl or the husband of a rape victim supposed to take the situation when they discover that their daughter or wife is pregnant for some faceless animal or band of gorillas? What about the potential lifelong psychological trauma to the mother and the future child?
Religion and morality would of course admonish the victim to let the future sort itself out in each of these cases. But that is easier said than done. Certain victims (mother and baby) may be lucky and strong enough to overcome the pain and stigma associated with such incidents and circumstances. For others however, the experience constantly interferes with the quality of life they can experience as it means a lifelong struggle with the stigma and trauma of such circumstances, fighting to shake off the shame and inferiority complex associated with such controversial biological experiences.
Now, if we all concede to abortion in this instance, then what does that say of the pro-lifers and moralists in our midst? Is it right to say that abortion is justified in this case considering the circumstances surrounding the conception of the baby? Isn’t it logical and legitimate to ask whether the fetus here is any different from any other one ‘properly’ conceived? What happens to this fetus’ right to live, which is the argument of pro-lifers? If we (pro-lifers inclusive) somehow contrive an agreement that the baby and its life in this case are worth less than that of ‘proper babies’ then any vaunted pro-life view ceases to be pro-life in any sense. At best we can call it thinly veiled hypocrisy.
Left or right, therefore, the decision to abort or not should lie with the parents or mother of an unborn baby, as the case may be, unless we can establish that carrying out an abortion is a threat to the mother’s life or later life physiological condition. Even then, somehow, it still remains their/her choice to make by taking prevailing circumstances into account. Whilst I am not admonishing the ‘indiscriminate’ (for even within the word indiscriminate, it is virtually impossible to decide for anyone what should be termed as indiscriminate) practise of abortion, I believe that this is a choice these ‘stakeholders’ should be able to make without anyone threatening to cast any stones at them/her.
From a moralist standpoint, it may be true that abortion is a form of murder and is as such a sin. But it can also be argued from the same standpoint that fornication, as a catalyst for abortion is also a form of sin.
We cannot directly and tacitly allow or promote sexual indiscretion and still hope to win the fight against abortion. Of course, our battle with pre-marital sex and all that is long since won and lost, and we know in whose favour. Rather than adopting an inflexible stance against abortion, we should contemplate applying solutions according to the reality of our present world. We should advocate sexual abstinence (and hope we achieve any margin of success at all) and/or safe/protected sex and encourage easier access to contraception in every form. This may sound simplistic and more like an excuse than a reason not to support a stronger stance against abortion. Frankly, so also is the concentration of attention on abortion rather than the issues that necessitate the practice.
So, at the risk of being branded a promoter of promiscuity, I reiterate my belief that until we can turn the tables against indiscriminate sexual practices, the more workable approach to handling the abortion puzzle may be to encourage the use of protection in the form of condom and other forms of contraception, which do not only prevent undesirable pregnancies but also help reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. This way, the rate at which abortion is used as a form of contraception will be reduced and the health of society, which should be a bigger cause for concern, will be less compromised by sexual practices. This is the reality of our present world, and it is this fact or reality that we should seek to align the debate over abortion to more than anything else.
Then again, even this can only serve well in fairly straightforward instances of sex by mutual consent. Which still leaves us with the other germane questions of pregnancy by regular rape or incest-rape, biologically compromised fetuses and so on, to tackle. We must, therefore, understand that seeking a cut-and-dried approach to abortion is not and cannot be true-to-life.