Rethinking abortion

August 8, 2007 4 Comments »

That title may have you thinking that I’m going loopy, but never fear. My position on abortion remains the same, it’s just some of the reasoning behind it which is being revisited.

Mandi’s writing a paper on abortion for one of her Masters’ classes, so we’ve been “discussing forcefully” the various positions on abortion. She read a book on the subject by a Christian author that infuriated her because of its lack of regard for the woman involved (i.e. passive vessel, etc.). That may be the biggest failing of the pro-life position: that in our defense of the rights of the foetus/baby/whatever terminology floats your boat, we have been ignoring the rights of the mother.

The flipside is true as well: the biggest failing of the pro-choice argument is the failure to take into account the rights of the foetus, assigning instead all rights to the mother.

The middle path is what interests me: what happens if we equate the rights of the mother with the rights of the foetus, as in they have the same legal/moral standing and their rights are equal. Why it becomes interesting to take this middle road is because the foetus wins by default. Unless you can conceive of some right the mother has that trumps the right to life of the foetus, the baby will always be brought to term, except in instances where it threatens the life of the mother to continue the pregnancy. Is convenience a big enough right to trump the right to life if the mother and foetus are equal? Is escape from the mental anguish from a rape or incest a big enough right to trump the right to life of a foetus? Neither of those rights are codified into law the way the right to life is, so it would appear that the foetus has the stronger argument.

Even in those rare cases where the mother’s life is threatened, the rights are balanced, not automatically in favour of the mother. Something like an ectopic pregnancy is an easy decision because the mother will die and the baby cannot be brought to term. But consider the case of a mother with treatable but progressive cancer. Does her right to live (i.e. through chemo or radiation therapy) automatically trump the foetus’s right to live, if the baby can be brought to term before the mother’s cancer is untreatable? Tough call.


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  1. Chris August 8, 2007 at 8:32 pm -

    If I understand you correctly Ian, there seems to be a choice in this situation between 2 deaths – the possible death of the mother (due to cancer and the lack of treatment) or the death of the child (abortion? because the mother would choose to have chemo?).

    What a dreadfully painful position to be in!

    The differences between these 2 deaths are:
    – the mother’s death would be a possibility; the child’s would be certain
    – the mother’s death would be passive, caused by a disease; the child’s would be intentional. Deliberately chosen.

    However difficult though the decision would be; there is a right and a wrong choice here to be made.


  2. Julie August 9, 2007 at 10:41 pm -

    I agree with you, Ian, and this is the position I’ve held for a long time. The lives are of equal value, and should be treated as such by society. And the life of the unborn baby, by default, will always be chosen.
    Chris – The mother’s death wouldn’t be passive. By denying her life-saving treatment, is this not intentional death? Also, there are instances where it is impossible for the mother to carry the baby to term. Some women are just not able to handle pregnancy, and as the baby grows, the mother weakens. In cases like this, if the baby is not aborted, both lives will be lost.
    Ian – in the case of cancers, there is increasing hope for the life of the baby. Treatments are getting better for the mother, and chances of survival for the baby at earlier dates are increasing.
    I am 100% in favour of trying to save both lives if possible, and I’m not sure how many situations there would be that would have you chose one OVER the other. (I may be uninformed, however) One thing I know for sure – it would be practically impossible to tell someone what to do without having been in the same situation. My youngest son had to have routine, but life-saving surgery when he was two weeks old. Had it come down to it, I would have been willing to give my life for his – but in the process leaving my first son motherless. If there had been a choice like that to actually be made, I don’t know what I would have done, even though I can say now that I would have done anything. (I hope this made sense….it made sense in my head…)

  3. Chris August 10, 2007 at 11:44 am -

    Re: “it would be practically impossible to tell someone what to do without having been in the same situation.”

    We must be cautious about thinking that we cannot determine right from wrong without facing that situation ourselves. This is dangerous thinking. I’m not making light of how difficult that position would be to be in! But experiencing something ourselves does not suddenly qualify us to define right and wrong.

    Re: the word passive. Perhaps I’ve used the wrong word. I’m struggling to think up a better one, but I’m coming up dry. The reason I said the Mom’s death would be passive is that we are not causing it. We’re denying treatment, but we’re not causing it. The disease kills her. Whereas with the abortion it would be us causing the death. It’s deliberate.

  4. Ian H. August 10, 2007 at 2:17 pm -

    No, I think passive is the correct word – it’s the same word used in euthanasia debates to differentiate between removing treatment and letting the person die, and actively doing something (like administering drugs) to cause the person’s death.