Just Think – Hard Questions

It’s not often that we discuss abortion in New Zealand, even here at university. As well as being a highly politicised and emotionally charged issue, the ethical questions associated with abortion are often dismissed as being too complex to consider. But surely an important aspect of responsible citizenship and care for our human community is honest engagement and dialogue about serious ethical questions.

Yes, really difficult situations can and do arise, but basic human reason dictates that these difficult situations merit honest and well reasoned ethical dialogue.

What about a situation where scans show that the baby will have a serious disability?

On the rare occasion of a pregnancy scan showing that an unborn child may be disabled, feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are only natural for the child’s parents.
And as a society we must recognise that additional stress will inevitably fall on a family caring for a person with a disability. We must be committed to providing services and care that not only assists the family but also does not discriminate against persons with disability.

Some people argue that ending the life of a disabled unborn child is a compassionate choice. The problem with this “better off dead” philosophy is that deciding another person’s life isn’t worth living is not something that we have a right to choose for them. There is also the serious problem that abortions conducted on the basis of disability demonstrate and reinforce prejudice against the disabled.

Another major issue is where to draw the line. Exactly how serious does a child’s disability have to be – before or after her birth – to justify her death? Compromising the right to life in this way starts a society very quickly down a path of incremental change where the rights of persons with disability or illness are continually eroded, and where more and more reasons are found to justify ending innocent human lives in order to secure some perceived good outcome.

Without easy access to medical abortion, won’t some women want to seek the same result by other methods?

The “safe abortion vs unsafe abortion” dichotomy is ultimately founded on a false choice, relying on the assumption that unsafe or illegal abortions are the only alternative to so-called safe abortion practices. (And that’s leaving aside the fact that medical abortions are hardly 100% safe for the woman, let alone the child).

There is also debate about the methodology and reliability of research claiming to show that legalised abortion is safer than childbirth. Methodologically sound research, like the 2012 study from Chile, has shown that legal restrictions on abortion have actually benefited women’s health there by reducing the maternal mortality rate by 69.2%. (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0036613)

As a society we are getting better – though we’re not yet good enough – at providing options for women caught unexpectedly in the difficult situation of an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. Some will want to choose adoption but for others it might be that accessing financial, emotional and physical support to raise the child will seem a better option. Check out our support page for a list of providers of these services and links to the great work they’re doing.I

How about situations where a woman’s health might be threatened by pregnancy?

Thanks to advances in medical science we are now capable of treating or safely managing conditions which once would have posed great risk to the lives of pregnant woman. Someone medical professionals would even say that these threats are now so rare that abortion simply cannot be considered a necessary response to such scenarios.

Another problem with discussions about threats to the life of a pregnant mother is that people often lump several different issues into that one debate, and as a result things become confused. For example; people wrongly assume that if a mother was to develop cancer during her pregnancy pro-lifers would deny her chemotherapy if this posed a threat to the life of her unborn child. However this is simply not correct.

Pro-lifers make the important distinction between a genuine life-saving treatment (like chemotherapy) that targets an illness, and the act of abortion, which does not actually treat any illness, but instead deliberately targets an unborn human being and terminates her life.

Even if a genuine life-saving treatment like chemo therapy was to prematurely and unintentionally end the life of the unborn child, this is obviously still quite different to the act of abortion where the intention is to end the life of an innocent human being, and where ONLY the innocent human being is targeted and is directly and deliberately killed.

Another area of confusion is that of ectopic pregnancies. Some people wrongly assume that pro-lifers would expect a mother and her unborn child to die without treatment, but, once again, this is not correct. In this instance it is recognised that there is literally no other way out of that situation but to remove the embryo, and if this course of action is not undertaken both the mother and her child will die. Again the intention in this situation is NOT to end the life of an innocent human being, but to save the life of the ONLY human being who can be saved in that difficult situation (the mother).

At the end of the day, the simple fact remains however that the vast majority (approx. 98%) of abortions that take place in this country each year, are not carried out for life-saving purposes, but rather using the loophole of ‘risk to mental health’.

As high court judge Justice Miller stated in his ruling on the Right to Life v Abortion Supervisory Committee case, there is serious reason to doubt the legitimacy of this practice.

What if a woman has no stable income and can’t drop out of uni or work to raise a child – isn’t pregnancy unfair for child and mother?

This is a pretty fair question and seems to encompass two different issues: first, that the arrival of a child in these circumstances could be unfair on the woman and second, that it could be unfair on the child herself. Common to both is the idea that we hear voiced all too often in this country: that a child is unwanted.

Does a child’s right to life depend on her perceived value to others (adults, in other words)? If so, then the logical conclusion must be that some children enjoy a greater right to life than others, given the “unwanted child” argument. And if this is true, then what does it mean for the human rights of children who become unwanted after birth?

Human rights, by their very definition, must apply equally to all humans. It is deeply problematic to interpret a child’s fundamental right to live as somehow being conditional on whether someone else wishes them to be around or not, or for it to be based on economics.

Surely a truly compassionate and just society is geared towards providing the necessary support to women in these difficult situations, rather than rushing them towards an abortion where they feel that they have no other choice available to them?

This is precisely why financial, emotional and physical support to raise the so-called “unwanted children” of society is made available by many New Zealand organisations working in the area of unplanned and crisis pregnancy.

Should a child be brought into the world if there is an abusive situation in her home?

It goes without saying that violence in the home is intolerable. And that’s why our society must work harder to ensure that every child is raised in a safe, loving and stable environment. But arguing that a child should be aborted rather than enter a violent domestic situation makes no sense. What this proposes is that we should do grave harm to a child now in order to spare them from the possibility of grave harm further down the track.

And if protecting children from child abuse can be achieved by ending their lives, then can’t this approach also apply equally to newborn babies or infants? In other words, couldn’t infanticide also be justified by this kind of reasoning if a child’s parents or caregivers were to become abusive after a child was born?

Surely New Zealand social policy is in real trouble if we are now suggesting that the death of a child is the answer to the serious problem of child abuse?

What about a situation where pregnancy results from sexual assault – isn’t abortion the best solution?

Sexual assault of any kind is a terrible crime that no person should ever have to experience.Every survivor of rape deserves the fullest support of family, friends and community to find healing and to overcome this extremely difficult trauma.

Especially those women who have become pregnant as a result.

Positive options are available however, including adoption. This is a relatively straightforward process under New Zealand law, albeit one that will inevitably be highly emotional for those involved. Other women choose to bring up their child with support from family, friends, or other support agencies.

Whatever option is taken, the welfare and rights of the child should be a paramount consideration in any truly caring and just society. In the immensely difficult circumstances of an unplanned pregnancy resulting from rape, it’s worth remembering that the child is an innocent victim along with her mother. Both mother and child deserve to have their profound dignity and worth respected and to receive our fullest support.