Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Well-Informed but Without Wisdom
Bonnie J. Mansell
807 S. Catalina Ave., #3
Redondo Beach, California 90277

From: JASA 34 December 1982): 126-127.

I was extremely disappointed to read the article on abortion in the September 1981 issue of Journal ASA, and I would like to address specifically some of the statements in the hope that this letter will be read with the same sincerity in which it is written.

The article begins in a manner which demonstrates both concern and enlightenment, but even in the opening paragraph there are signals which warn that Bube does not fully comprehend his subject. Forgive me if that sounds harsh, for clearly he is well-informed, but his knowledge is without wisdom.

The statement is made, "Like many other issues of this type, the abortion issue calls for a neither/nor approach to ethics that excludes extreme positions and enables us to deal with a real and imperfect world in a meaningful and compassionate way." First of all, there simply are no "other issues of this type." While there are numerous issues which deserve our emotional as well as our political involvement, abortion, by its very nature, stands as a category of its own.

A "neither/nor position" is an irrational phrase which is impossible to put into practice. Can the law reasonably be ambivalent toward slavery, murder, child abuse, rape, or any other crime? There are many of us for whom abortion is absolutely synonymous with killing babies. The only difference is the age of the children in question. To ask us to take "a neither/nor approach to ethics" is to ask us to abandon all sense of morality. The implication that only such a middle ground approach is "meaningful and compassionate" strikes a nerve in those of us who care for both the mother and the child with every ounce of our being.

In the sixth paragraph Bube draws a rather inappropriate conclusion: if ". . . once a human life has been started ... any attempt to terminate this development is tantamount to destruction of a human life," then it is logical to conclude "that efforts at birth control by any means might well be suspect." Such logic is entirely false. There is no comparison whatsoever between preventing a life from beginning and terminating its development once it has begun.

The comment is made that Bube is ". . . considering possible grounds for granting an abortion to someone who desires it, not grounds for forcing abortion upon someone who chooses not to request it." Certainly the thought of forced abortion is intolerable, but no more intolerable than the thought that a mother who "desires it" may be granted the right to end the life of her child no matter what the "grounds." That sort of reasoning could be equally applied to any law which seeks to impose the morality of one group onto another (as all laws do). If, for example, it is against my principles to abuse my child, I will thank you not to force me to do so. But if I know for a fact that my next door neighbor is beating his children, do I have any right (or obligation) to ask the law to intervene? Would it not be easier not to get involved? And if his children should die from his abuse, should that concern me if he never forces me to beat my own children?

The list of indications for abortion deserves attention:

Non-psychiatric medical risk of a pregnancy to the woman.

This is not really an argument in favor of abortion at all. When a woman is pregnant, there are always two patients, two lives to be considered-that of the mother and that of the child. It is the responsibility of the doctor to save life, not to end it. In the rare case where the mother's life is actually threatened by the pregancy, removing the child from the womb is an act of saving her life. In most cases it is not a matter of choosing the mother over the baby, but choosing life for one or death for both. If the child is young enough, he will probably die from this operation, since he cannot survive outside his natural environment, but the Purpose of the operation is to save life, not to destroy.

In the even more unusual case where there really is a choice between the mother's life and that of the child, the decision rests with the physician, family, and the mother. Most would probably choose to let the mother live, but it is exactly the same moral decision as the one faced by the captain of a sinking ship in determining who will get into the lifeboats. The decision is an extremely difficult one, but it has nothing whatever to do with the "humanness" of any individual.

2. Threats to the mental health or psychiatric condition of the woman.

There are two problems with this argument.

a. The terms "mental health" and "psychiatric condition" are so vague that they are practically without meaning. Unfortunately this excuse for abortion has become a catch all in which all sorts of abortions have been justified.

b. The second problem is stated clearly within the article itself: "this time the dilemma does not pit human life against human life, but the life of the fetus against the personal wholeness of the mother." "Personal wholeness" is another vague and immeasurable term. How can we even begin to weigh one person's well being against another person's very right to exist? The natural extension of this argument has already led to the wholesale slaughter of the unborn; what is to prevent it from going beyond that? Bube states that "a third human life is involved." His reasoning suggests that if another human being threatens our well being, it is our right to destroy that other life. Can such destruction ever improve our well being?

3. Abnormality of the fetus.

We have just come through 1981, "The Year of the Disabled," yet we continue to cheapen the value of human life by saying that if a person does not measure up to our standards of wholeness or perfection, then that person does not have the same values as a " normal" human being. I know that all of us want our children to be able bodied and of sound mind, but we have no more right to kill our handicapped children before they are born than we do after they have been with us for twenty years.

4. Rape.

a. Studies have shown that pregnancy resulting from rape is extremely rare. It is so rare, in fact, that it is practically non-existent. This argument is usually used as an exception clause, but has more than once led to further liberalization of abortion laws.

b. If a woman is treated medically shortly after she's been raped [and this is standard operating procedure], it is possible to prevent fertilization. This is not an abortion.

c. Since this does happen, even though it is unlikely, we cannot ignore the one-in-a-thousand rape victim who does become pregnant. But how do we best offer her our support? Certainly not by in% iting her to do violence to another individual. Violence done to one person is never compensated for by violence done to another. That mother is in a very undesirable circumstance, but we should encourage her to look upon her child as an innocent party in the crime that has taken place. Her own humanity has been violated and she needs our support, not our quick solutions.

5.  Incest.

Do they really  need to be delivered from the consequences of their environment?" That may solve an immediate embarrassment, but it will accomplish nothing. These girls need desperately, to be delivered from their environment!

6. Population control.

I can't even believe this was said. The argument is abominable.

Eugenic control

I cannot understand the statement that this need not have the negative image of association with Hitler's plans' for a super race. How does it differ? Perhaps it differs in motive, since he wanted his super race to rule the world and we merely wish to avoid the inconvenience of having to care for the non-productive members of society. We may even say altruistically that we wish to spare them a life of misery. But aren't we still judging them to be less valuable than we?

The distinction between "wholly human" and "fully human" is nonsensical. By this reasoning, it would be law ful to kill anyone, since all of us are in the process of becoming. And if coming to faith in Christ is the criterion for being fully human, then we may treat as only potentially human those who do not yet know Him; and we may assume that if we do know Him we can stop growing, for we have now fulfilled our human potential.

Bube's solidification of the abstract concept of "personhood" is very convenient for his argument, but it cannot change the abstract nature of the idea he is trying to relate. A statement such as, "It is ... appropriate to view early abortion as the ending of human life, but not as the ending of personal life" smacks of "pure science" ideologies in which the individual is irrelevant.

On the bottom of page 164 Bube begins the sentence, "If spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) can be consistently viewed as the will of God, it would seem that induced abortion in the early stages of pregnancy can also be viewed as the will of God expressed through human agents." Have we forgotten that natural death occurs at every age? How could he possibly reason that since many people die at age 16 (or 60 or 86). it would therefore be an expression of God's will for us to terminate" others of the same age?

If justice were in force no one would yet have legalized aborting babies, since no one has yet proven that they are not human beings ("wholly," "fully," or otherwise). And the burden of proof lies with those who would pass such judgment. For if there is any reasonable doubt, must we not give these children the benefit of that doubt? I truly believe that the evidence in favor of the children will overwhelm you.

The two questions which Bube feels dominate the issue really avoid it altogether. Rather, we should be asking ourselves: (1) Is an unborn baby a human being? [and if we cannot be absolutely sure of the answer, what is our obligation?) (2) Are there any circumstances which justify the un-provoked killing of fellow human beings?

There is no magical distinction between the first trimester and the third. There is only an aging process begun at the moment of conception and continuous until the moment of death.

Response by the author:

I fear that in her zeal for the sanctity of human life, a concern with which I most heartily agree, Mansell has read into this article problems that are not there, and has failed to read out of the article those statements upholding the sanctity of human life. The article clearly states, for example, that abortion at any stage should not be granted at the whim of any person, even the mother, that the rights of the woman "over her own body" terminate when she voluntarily enters into intercourse, that fetal personhood must be defended against arbitrary abortion, and that reasons such as not being wanted cannot be taken as automatic sanctions for abortion. I will try to respond briefly to a few specific items in Mansell's letter.

The claim that "there simply are no other issues of this type" perhaps betrays the limited vision that characterizes the criticisms made. As a matter of fact the issues that arise in euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, research on fertilized human ova, and various facets of genetic engineering are exactly the same kinds of issue as abortion. In each the sanctity of human life needs to be both defined and defended.

A "neitherl nor" position properly understood is hardly irrational, and is, in fact, most moderate. It specifies that we avoid both the absolute dictum of abortion under any condition on the one hand, and abortion under no conditions on the other hand.

Part of Mansell's difficulty is defined by her own statement, "There are many of us for whom abortion is absolutely synonymous with killing babies. " I grant the historic accuracy of the statement, but that does not necessarily guarantee its ethical correctness. Mansell obscures the issues involved consistently throughout her letter by referring to fetuses, regardless of age or stage of development, as "babies, " "children, " "human beings, " and "persons. " But it is precisely the suitability of the application of these labels as more than emotional and psychological stimuli that is under question.

As stated above, I explicitly eliminate as acceptable the right of a mother "who desires it" to end the life of her conceptus "no matter what the grounds. " To argue that I favor this position is not to read the article objectively.

The "abominable" argument relating to the use of abortion for
population control is not even hinted at in the article. Instead under this heading I report what is indeed the fact in the world today and point out that the use of abortion for population control is highly undesirable.

Mansell's categorical rejection of the distinction between "wholly human" and fu1y human" as nonsensical can be attributed only to her lack of understanding of what these terms are trying to express. This is not surprising since space was not taken in the article on abortion to work this out, a previous article having been devoted to this subject. Needless to say, none of the implications suggested by Mansell is valid.

Mansell may desire to dismiss the statement, "It is . . . appropriate to view early abortion as the ending of human life, but not as the ending of personal life, " because it smacks of reductionistic scientific ideology to her, but the definition of "person" cannot be so easily dispensed with. Within the context I have developed in which any abortion is a tragedy, not to recognize the correlation between the development of biological structure and personal life is to close one's eyes to the reality of the created universe in which we live.

If we are to maintain that genetically human material not possessing the biological apparatus required for the most elementary expression and experience of consciousness is nevertheless equivalent to a human person, we make travesty of the meaning of words and attempt to treat the world that is as if it were some other world of our own invention.

In spite of our disagreements, I am thankful there are people in the world who care as much as does Mansell about these issues. I hope only that her caring does not in some cases lead to more suffering and inhumanity to human persons than she is seeking to avoid.