.. over the lives of existing human persons. The pro-life position is really a pro-fetus position, and the pro-choice position is really pro-woman. Those who take the pro-fetus position define the woman in relation to the fetus. They assert the rights of the fetus over the right of the woman to be a moral agent or decision maker with respect to her life, health, and family security. The second doctrinal issue in both the abortion and birth-control controversies is who is to have the power to control procreation–women, in consultation with their partners and their physicians, or the church.
The historic natural-law position of the Catholic Church was concerned not about feticide, but about the sin of sexuality if it interfered with procreation, as contraception and abortion do. The Pope and the bishops have been unable to persuade women to accept control by the church over their sexuality; their only hope for asserting that control is to persuade the state through political power to make a church sin into a secular crime. The low view of women that keeps them from being ordained and insists that their proper role is that of mother is not simply Catholic theology but fundamentalist political ideology, which is also anti-woman. The key term in the controversy is not simply pro-life, but pro-family, in which family is always defined as a patriarchal family. The Supreme Court in its Roe v.
Wade decision did not hold that women have a constitutional right to an abortion; it held that they have a constitutional right of privacy that permits them and their physicians to make decisions including a woman’s qualified tight to terminate her pregnancy. The Court also held that during the last three months of pregnancy, the state, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion, except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother. The right of privacy is the night to make personal choices without governmental supervision or dictation. The government exists to serve the people, not to dominate them. The government should not force women to bear children, to remain at home, to relinquish their careers, to accept welfare as the price of not working, or to be subjected to a higher mortality rate from coerced childbirth. Both the woman and her physician have the right to choose appropriate medical procedures for the health of the patient without government’s dictating that one medical procedure is forbidden regardless of the consequence to the woman.
In answering the question, Is there a moral right to abortion? If I am walking along the bank of a river and someone who cannot swim falls or jumps in, it could be argued that I ought also to jump in to rescue the drowning person, even if my own life is thereby endangered. But the person who jumps or falls in cannot claim that I must jump in because that person has a right to life. The mere fact that rescuing another would be a virtuous choice does not give that other person a right to decide my actions. The common-law rule is that we have no duty to save the life of another person unless we voluntarily undertake such an obligation, as a lifeguard does in contracting to save lives at a beach or swimming pool. Neither is there a biblical mandate that each of us is morally required to risk our lives to save the life of another.
Jesus considered it highly exceptional and evidence of great love if a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). No one who has not willingly contracted to do so is legally or morally required to give his or her life, or to make large sacrifices of health or money, to save the life of another person. Even an identical twin is not legally required to donate a kidney or blood to save a sibling’s life. The virtue of the Good Samaritan lay precisely in his doing something he was not obligated to do. No woman should be required to give up her life, her health, or her family’s security to save the life of a fetus that is threatening her well-being.
At the very least she is entitled to self-defense. On the other hand, many women are willing to sacrifice their health and their future in order to have one or more children. The religious community that respects the freedom of women to make such a choice must respect equally their freedom to choose not to bear a child. Laws cannot eliminate abortions. In Romania under Ceausescu, the Communist secret Police checked monthly on all female workers under the age of 45 and monitored pregnant women; yet Romania outranked virtually all other European nations in rates of abortion and abortion-related female deaths.(5) In Brazil, where abortion is illegal, there are twice as many abortions as in the United States, although Brazil’s population is only half that of the United States.
In Latin America, illegal abortion is the number-one killer of women between the ages of 15 and 39.(6) By contrast, in countries where abortion is legal, it is a medically safe procedure–11 times safer than childbirth. The Cook County Hospital in Chicago, prior to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion, admitted about 4,000 women each year for medical care following illegal abortions. After the decision, the hospital admitted fewer than five such Cases a month.(7) Rather than pursuing laws banning abortion, which I believe would be as effective as passing laws against earthquakes, we should direct our energies toward reducing the need for the procedure. Supporters and opponents of legal abortion alike would agree that reducing the need for abortion, and thus the number of abortions performed, is a worthy goal. Women do not engage in sexual intercourse or become, pregnant in order to have abortions.
Some women become pregnant unintentionally because of a lack of sex education. Increasing the availability of birth control information and contraceptives is a possible response to this problem. Then there is the problem of contraceptive failure. The failure rate of barrier methods is in the 10 to 15 percent range, and of birth control pills 1 to 4 percent Until a contraceptive that is 100 percent effective is developed and made widely available, we must provide support for victims of contraceptive failure. For some women, particularly those close to the poverty line who would be financially unable to care for an additional child without jeopardizing the very existence of their families, an unexpected pregnancy can be devastating.
Free day care centers for children of working mothers, or a guaranteed annual income such as Milton Friedman and former senator Barry Goldwater once proposed, would remove some of the economic reasons for seeking abortions. Another way the number of abortions could be reduced would be for society to provide ample facilities for the care of children with severe birth defects at no cost to the parents. For families unprepared or unable to devote the vast emotional and financial resources necessary to care for a severely handicapped child, such a program would present a compassionate and realistic alternative to abortion. Finally, we must face the horrendous problems presented by rape and incest, both of which induce great suffering among their victims. The responsibility of men in sexual relationships must be stressed in the home, in schools, in our churches, and in our legal system. Our society must undertake strong educational and enforcement measures to reduce the tragedies of rape and incest and ensure the safety and dignity of American women.
Many Christians are quick to condemn what they believe is immorality in others. Such people should be reminded that men and women sometimes find themselves caught in situations that they feel leave them no choice, and that we all need understanding, forgiveness, and compassion. All too often a young, physically and psychologically vulnerable woman must bear the entire cal, social, emotional, and financial cost of birth while the father of the child assumes no responsibility. A young woman in those circumstances needs the acceptance, love, and compassion of her parents, her pastor, and her community. In the story of the woman who was about to be stoned because she had been caught in the act of adultery, Jesus expressed compassion and understanding when he said to the men, Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, and to the woman, Neither do I condemn you. Jesus was always more critical of sins of the spirit than sins of the flesh.
That is why he spoke so compassionately to this woman, but so strongly to the self-righteous, legalistic men. All of us who discuss ethics must learn from Jesus that it is not laws that make people good, but love, education, active concern for are others, arid forgiveness when others found wanting. Bibliography Bibliography 1. Amicus Curiae Brief of 167 Distinguished Scientists and Physicians, Supreme Court of the U.S., October Term 1988, William L Webster V. Reproductive Health Services No. 88-605, p.
10. 2. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 1439. 3.
Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Facilities, Publications Office, United States Catholic Conference. 4. New York in its homicide statute defines a person when referring to the victim of a homicide (as) a human being who has been born and is alive. (N.Y. Rev.
Penal Law 125.05] The U.S. Constitution in the 14th Amendment also makes birth a prerequisite to citizenship. 5. Charlotte Hord et al., Reproductive Health in Romania: Revising the Ceausescu Legacy, Studies in Family Planning, 22 (4) (July/August 1991):231-239. 6. Toni Carabillo, Abortion: For Survival, A Guide to the Videotape (The Fund for the Feminist Majority, 1989), pp- 8-10. 7.
Senator Charles Percy, Congressional Record, April 10,1974. 8. The Holy Bible, King James Version Religion Essays.