Abortion: The Crucial Issue (2)

Dr. Edwin H. Palmer of Wayne, New Jersey herewith presents the second and concluding installment of his article on Abortion: the Crucial Issue. Dr. Palmer is the Executive Secretary for the Committee on Bible Translation of the New York Bible Society.

Following are two more common arguments advanced for easier abortion laws:

7. The population explosion is wreaking havoc with our ecology. Birth control is the first line of defense, and if it fails, abortion is the second line.

The crucial test: If the unborn is not a human, then the population problem may be solved in this way. But if he is human, then it is no more morally permissible to do away with him before birth than after birth. Again, pre-natal infanticide would then be principally the same as post-natal infanticide.

It is unfortunate that Planned Parenthood, which has performed a valuable service in the past, advocates abortion as a means of controlling live births so that the population will be kept within bounds. It is one thing to plan parenthood; it is another thing to destroy it by doing away with the unborn child.

Some have facetiously suggested that if the first two lines of defense failed, namely, contraception and abortion, there is still a third possibility for the permissive abortionist, namely, committing suicide. Seriously, if the fetus is the image of God, is there really a difference in principle between feticide, infanticide and suicide?

8. Laws against abortion hurt the nation economically because they are one of the reasons that more children are born and therefore are on welfare, causing welfare costs to rise. In the spring of 1971 President Nixon put restrictions on permissive abortions in military hospitals. He did so because of “my persona] belief in the sanctity of human life, including the life of the yet unborn.” He said he was convinced that America “will open its hearts and homes” to the unwanted children. At the same time the government ruled that Medicaid payments for abortion would be suspended.

In reaction to President Nixon’s orders, The New York Times in an editorial on April 12 wrote scathingly of his action. It said: “He, more than most, has reason to be aware that the nationwide conservative revolt against the cost of welfare is centered on the tens of thousands of children born out of wedlock in welfare homes.” In another editorial, the Tim es tells how much more economical it is to have an abortion than a baby. If the mother is on welfare, the Times figures, “her relief budget goes lip by $624 a year to care for the extra child.” Then they ask: “Where is the economy in this?” and they call the suspension of payments for abortion a “vicious, inhumane” thing!

The crucial test: The fact that the Times could state that it “is a vicious, inhumane” thing to make it more difficult to destroy the fetus reveals how warped thinking can be when it is secularistically oriented. The Times rarely if ever deals with the issue of tissue or human. It blithely skirts the problem and talks instead of welfare costs, as if the sanctity of life can be measured in terms of dollars and cents!

The question the Times must ask first is: Is the fetus human? If it is not, then we may talk in terms of the dollar sign. But if the fetus is human, then the Times is guilty of a “vicious, inhumane” editorial against unborn babies.

Consider the Incarnation

Perhaps these examples will enable the reader to go on to any other reason for abortion and to apply this basic question: What is the unborn? Man or thing? The answer is a sine qua non in the decision that will be made.

Theologically evidence points to the inescapable fact that from the very beginning of gestation we are dealing with the image of God. Let us consider the incarnation. On the basis of Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:35, historic Christianity has confessed that the Second Person of the Godhead became flesh, not at Christmas, but nine months prior to that. The Second Person was not united to a glob or a parasite or a “potential human” in Mary’s womb for nine months, and then formed the God-man relationship at birth. Bather, “he was conceived by the Holy Spirit,” as the Apostles’ Creed says. :\or did Jesus gradually become man, so that when Mary was three months pregnant Jesus was one third man, and when she was six months along Jesus was two thirds human. It is either—or, Jesus was either complete man or he was not. And Christian theology has always affirmed that he was complete man from the moment of conception.

If Jesus was fully man in utero, then there is every reason to believe that we are, too. For Christ is like us in all points, sin excepted.

Arbitrary Lines of Demarcation

Biologically our evidence is also conclusive. Embryology and fetology indicate that human life is a continuum from conception to death, and that there is no scientific basis for denoting any point on that spectrum as a dividing line between a thing and a human. The less people knew about the child in the womb, the greater was the inclination to draw such a line at the point of the mother’s ability to feel life, often called “Quickening.” But scientists now conclude that quickening or viability1 or birth are completely arbitrary lines of demarcation between the supposedly non-human and the human.

Dr. H. M. Liley, who pioneered fetal surgery, is typical of the modern scientific world, when she writes:

“The head (of the fetus), housing the miraculous brain, is Quite large in proportion to the remainder of the body, and the limbs are still relatively small. Within his watery world, however (where we have been able to observe him in his natural state through a sort of closed-circuit x-ray television set), he is quite beautiful, perfect in his fashion, active and graceful. He is neither a quiescent vegetable nor a witless tadpole, as some have conceived him to be in the past, but rather a tiny human being, as independent as though he were lying in a crib with a blanket wrapped around him instead of his mother” (Modern Motherhood, rev. ed., Random House, 1969, pp. 26–27).

No wonder Dr. Lily is an opponent of permissive abortion.2

Here are some conclusions of the science of the unborn:3 the entire genetic code is established at conception; the baby can suck its thumb (eleventh week), swallow amniotic fluid (10th week), open and close its eyes (six month), react to pain, hiccough and even cry in the womb (eighth month); it sleeps and wakes just as it will after birth and can be aroused from sleep by external vibrations; at four weeks its heart is pumping blood; by 63 days he will grasp an object placed in his hands and make a fist; at twelve weeks its heartbeat can be detected by radiotelemetry, and electroencephographic waves have been detected at 43 days; at the end of the sixth week all its internal organs will be present, even if in a rudimentary stage, and the baby’s skeleton is complete, in cartilage (not bone).4

For some reason, the permissive abortionists repeatedly refuse to come to grips with the most fundamental issue of all, namely, whether the fetus is human or not! Usually, they find refuge in their slogan of the mother’s rights. That is a good slogan, if they have firmly established that the fetus is not a person. But this they have not done to the satisfaction of medical science; nor of Protestant theologians, such as Barth,6 Bonhoeffer7 Thielicke8 and Ramsey;9 nor of the Catholic Church; nor of the Greek Orthodox Church; nor of the Mormons; nor of the 1971 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

If the unborn is simply a glob, then the permissive abortionist is correct in emphasizing the rights of the mother. If, however, the unborn is more than tissue, and is a human being, then we must balance the rights of the unborn and the rights of the mother.11

Therefore, the primary question always is: What is the unborn?

Now, the most forceful argument of all. May it not be neglected because of its brevity. It must be granted that reasonable men differ on this issue. Sincere men are at opposite poles. But even if there is only a reasonable possibility that the fetus is human. then as in the case of capital punishment, the better part of wisdom is to err on the side of safety.12

If a hunter is not sure that the movement in the bushes is a man or a deer, good ethics and the law forbids him to shoot. The hunter may not risk the killing of a human. So, also, when there are so many people from so many diverse fields (theological, legal, medical, biological, and maternal) who are sure that the fetus is a human from birth, then the killing of the fetus is a flagrant act of pride and callousness to the sanctity of life.

1. Those who believe viability (when the child is able to survive outside the womb) is the point at which the fetus becomes the image of God or a human life worth respecting must give evidence that independence of the mother means humanity. They must consider three factors: 1. that medical science indicates that nothing dramatic changes in the physical or mental construction of the baby at viability. 2. the line of viability is not stable, but is constantly drifting downward as science finds new ways of keeping the baby alive at early stages (even now it is earlier than New York’s demarcation line of 24 weeks); and 3. once outside the womb, the baby is as helpless and dependent on the mother as inside the womb, and in a real sense is not viable even then.

2. There would be many more opponents of abortion if every mother faced with abortion were required to witness an abortion and to see fetuses at various stages, either photographs or models or fetuses in formaldehyde. One reason early theologians debated about the time of “ensoulment,” and advocated a lighter punishment before ensoulment than afterwards, was that they did not have the clear picture science does today of the human qualities of the fetus before the observable time of quickening. One Episcopalian doctor, when asked about the morality of abortion, replied that when you take the aborted fetus in your hand and see it move its fist, “it tugs at your heart strings.” Interestingly, many theologians in the Catholic and Protestant tradition, consider the idea of two substances, soul and body, to be Aristotalian rather than a Biblical concept.

3. A convenient, authoritative summary of many of the following facts is found in the brief submitted by Dr. Bart Heffernan, amicus curiae in the Vuitch case before the 1970 Supreme Court of the United States. It is obtainable from: David W. Louisell, Esq., 655 San Luis Rd., Berkley, CA 94707.

4. If the fetus is not a person but part of the mother’s body, as permissive abortionists so often assert, then a pregnant woman has two heads, hearts and skeletons; and four eyes, hands and legs.

5. Dr. Alan Guttmacher (the national director of the Planned Parenthood Association), for example, merely pontificates that at an early stage the fetus is a potential human, but not human; but he does not give an iota of scientific evidence to substantiate such a radical distinction.

6. “The unborn child is from the very first a child. It is still developing and has no independent life. But it is a man and not a thing, not a mere part of the mother’s body . . . He who destroys germinating life kills a man and thus ventures a monstrous thing of decreeing concerning the life and death of a fellow man, whose life is given to him by God, and therefore, like his own, belongs to him” (Karl Barth, Church Dogamatics, Edinburgh, 1961, III–4, 415–416).

7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (N.Y. 1964), pp. 175–176.

8. “Interference in germinating life confronts us, not with the question whether human life dare be prevents at its beginning as in the case of contraception—but rather with the question whether human life dare be destroyed” (Helmut Thielicke, The Ethics of Sex (N.Y. 1964), p. 226).

9. Paul Ramsey, Abortion: a Theologian’s View, a speech, mimeographically produced, given at a meeting of The American College of Surgeons held in San Francisco in 1969.

11. If a physician would predict to the best of his ability that a prospective mother would die if she carried her baby to full term, then it would be morally responsible to abort the child. For there are sins of omission as well as commission. To sit by and do nothing is to kill as well as as to be active in abortion. In either case, by doing nothing or something, one will die. So a choice has to be made as to who it will be. Fortunately, with the advance of medical science, such a situation, if ever, occurs.

12. In a one year period (July 1, 1970–June 30, 1971) 62 babies whose doctors tried to have them born dead were born alive in New York. (At least these are the officially reported ones. No one knows how many others were not reported.) Once there is a live birth, the law requires that ever attempt be made to keep him alive, and if this does not succeed, a death certificate must be issued for him. Many thinking people are asking. What is the ethical basis for trying to kill him while in the womb, but trying to cause him to live whole out of the womb? Does the darkness of the womb give moral sanctity to such destruction?

This point is brought home even more forcibly by the case of a girl who came to New York from out of state for an abortion. The doctors injected saline solution into the amniotic sac and the baby was soon born dead. But they had not reckoned that there were twins involved and that in this case the saline solution would not seep into the second sac and kill the twin. Therefore the twin was born alive. Now the doctors struggled to keep the baby alive and did so for fifteen hours. (reported in N.Y. Daily News of September 11, 1970.)

The question that will not down is: What was it that made the first baby so radically different from its twin that it was morally permissible to kill it, but not its twin? What fetological, biological or moral basis was there for killing the one and saving the other?