Abortion: The Crucial Issue

The crucial issue in the matter of abortion is this: Is the unborn child the image of God or not? Is he a human with an eternal destiny, or is he a mere glob a bit of tissue? Is he an individual distinct from his mother, or is he a part of the mother, like an appendix, a kidney or a tumor? Is he a human with a potential, or is he a potential human?

This is the heart of the matter. Every decision rests on that. Nothing is more crucial. This question must be answered before any other question is asked. It is the key to the solving of all kinds of perplexing questions about abortion.

In this light consider some of the objections that are raised against the Right of Life laws1 by the permissive abortionists.

1. If the unborn will be physically defective, then they and their parents should be spared the anguish of their living a wretched, miserable existence. Christian love, it is reasoned, would demand the terminating of their lives.

The crucial test: In line with the crucial issue, we must first ask: What is the unborn? A person or a thing? If the unborn is a thing, a part of the mother’s body, then there is no moral problem at all in snuffing out its life. Then it is not only permissible, but in many cases probably mandatory. The parents should be spared the anguish.2

But if the unborn is a human, made in the image of God, then it is intolerable to kill him.3 The fact that the child is unborn does not affect the moral decision, unless one thinks that the cutting of the umbilical cord and the physical breathing of the infant suddenly endow the child with eternal worth. The important question is: Is the unborn the image of God? If the fetus is the image of God, then feticide is no more morally permissible than infanticide.4 It is simply pre-natal infanticide.

If the permissive abortionists had their way, then the New Orleans Saints (a pro football team) would have lost a close game in the fall of 1970. For it was won dramatically in the closing moments by Tom Dempsey, who broke all records in kicking a stunning 63 yard field goal. Tom was born. with half a foot (the one used in the kick). Under the proposals of many permissive abortionists and the New York state law,5 his mother could have been allowed to get rid of him because he could not live a “normal” life.

It is of significance to note that the New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed with this reasoning, when in 1967 it handed down the Gleitman v. Cosgrove decision. In that case the Gleitmans sued their doctors for not performing an abortion when they knew that the mother had had rubella while pregnant. The boy, Jeffrey, was then born defective. But the court ruled: “It is basic to the human condition to seek life and hold on to it, however burdened. If Jeffrey could have been asked as to whether his life should have been snuffed out before his full term of gestation could run its course, our felt intuition of human nature tells us he would almost surely choose life with its defects as against no life at all. ‘For the living there is hope, but for the dead there is none at all.’ . . . The right to life is inalienable in our society . . . . We are not faced here with the necessity of balancing the mother’s life against that of her child. The sanctity of the single human life is the decisive factor in this suit in tort. Eugenic considerations are not controlling. We are not talking here about the breeding of prize cattle. It may have been easier for the mother and less expensive for the father to have terminated the life of their child while he was an embryo, but these alleged detriments cannot stand against the preciousness of a single human life to support a remedy in tort . . . . Though we sympathize with the unfortunate situation in which these parents find themselves, we firmly believe the right of their child to live is greater than and precludes their right not to endure emotional and financial injury.”

In deciding this case, the court had to judge first of all if the unborn, even if defective, is human and therefore has rights. This is the first question that has to be answered in solving any abortion problem. In solving the eugenic abortion issue, is there scientific or Biblical evidence that handicapped or crippled children are subhuman? Is a thalidomide baby with deformed arms, or a blind baby, or a baby with an I.Q. of 75 less human than a so-called “normal, average” baby?

2. If a girl has been raped, or her offspring is the result of incest. then in order to spare her a traumatic experience, which is no fault of her own, the permissive abortionists reason that the unborn’s life should be destroyed.

The crucial test: Again, the fundamental question must be asked first: What is the fetus? An organism that is a parasite? Or an organism that is a human being?

If the former, then there is no moral problem in burning it in the hospital incinerator, putting it in formaldehyde, or experimenting with its heart, brain, kidneys or eyes, just as one might cut up a dog’s brains or organs for the advancement of medical science.

But if, as Calvin6 and Luther7 believed, the product is the image of God, of course, it is morally irresponsible intentionally to destroy it. The circumstance of rape or incest does not allow man to destroy the image of God. It was not the unborn child’s fault he was conceived. He is still precious in the sight of God, a human with an eternal destiny, and should be allowed to live, just as much as if he had been born. The main criterion is not: Is he the result of a sex crime? But: Is he the image of God?

The Christian should not forget that God loves a bastard as much a~ a legitimate child; he loved Solomon, even though he was the product of adultery.8

This reason for abortion is an emotional one to rationalize the passage of permissive abortion laws. For very few—if any—of the 15,000 unborn babies that are killed each month in New York are the result of forcible rape or incest. Rather, the more usual reason is that the mothers found it too inconvenient or embarrassing to have a baby.

Dr. Donald J. Freeman, head of the Obstetrics and Gynecological Department at the Henepin County General Hospital in Minneapolis informs us that during a fourteen year period in which he and his predecessor dealt with bona fide rape cases, not one conceived! It is not fully known why this is so, although one major factor may be that the traumatic experience of the victim has affected her ability to conceive.

Furthermore, in cases of rape and incest state laws do not prohibit (whether morally right or wrong) a D and C up to five days after the attack.

If someone concludes that the fetus is the image of God, and that it would be immoral to kill it, even in cases of a defective child or rape or incest, he must not lightly and cooly condemn those considering abortion. Instead he must also try to understand the real, agonizing, practical dilemmas t.hat mothers are sometimes put into by a pregnancy. It is well and good to say that a mother should carry a deformed child to full term, or that she may not kill a fetus when she already has eight children and her nerves were already fragilc with three, or that a fourteen year old daughter must not abort a baby produced by incest. Yet, it is imperative to be compassionate and understanding in such circumstances, and to be prepared to offer concrete help to the distressed woman. To do less is hardly Christian. It is one thing for a male theologian in the seclusion of his study to calmly pontificate what a mother should do: it is another matter to make a decision on abortion while one is experiencing a traumatic pregnancy.

Therefore, without abandoning one’s principles about the humanity of the fetus and the immorality of destroying it, all pro-life people must open their hearts—and purses—to those woman who have undesired pregnancies. They must be filled with love and practical concern to alleviate the suffering.

It is for this reason that an international, undenominational organization called Birthright is springing up all over the nation to help any prospective mother who is distressed that she is pregnant. The Christian Church should likewise exercise the love of Christ towards these mothers and give them practical aid: love, comfort, counselling, emotional support and medical aid from the time they seek help through post-natal care or adoption.

3. Why, if the state does not forbid the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, should it forbid the termination of pregnancy if contraceptives fail? Why should women be forced to give birth? Why is not the abortion decision made by the woman and her doctor, just as in the case of contraceptives?

The crucial test: The answer is simple: Contraception is not abortion! Contraceptives prevent the spenn and ovum from being united. Abortion destroys the new being formed that has already begun in the union of the sperm and the egg. In the case of contraceptives, no human being is involved. In abortion, it is. As the objection states, contraceptives prevent pregnancy. A sperm and an ovum by themselves, before they unite, are not the beginning of a life that will grow, mature and live for eternity. By themselves, eggs and sperms will die. But once they are brought together, then a human life is formed. It may be impossible at an early stage of union for the human eye to see physical features that are like a twenty-year old man. But incipiently they are there. The color of the eyes, hair and skin, the sex, and other physical and mental features are determined right at the start of gestation. And in only a few weeks plainly human features will be recognizable. The New York law allows the destruction of the unborn baby up to the seventh month of pregnancy (24 weeks). That is a big baby! Anybody who wishes to be objective can recognize the difference between destroying that well developed life and the prevention of such a life in the first place.

Yes, the use of contraceptives is and should be a private matter. That is a matter of the bedroom, and the state should not interfere. But the crucial question in the case of abortion is: Is a third life involved? When a third life is involved, the life of the unborn, formed by the union of the sperm and egg, then it is the obligation of the state to step in and protect that life. To protect human life is one of the main functions of the state. That is why abortion cannot be treated legally the same as contraceptives.

4. Every child should be a wanted child. If, however, a child should be conceived by accident, in an unplanned situation, he could become a battered child. Therefore, it is better and more loving to discontinue his existence before birth. He has a right to be wanted.

The crucial test: The basic question is not: Is he wanted?9 But is he a human being? If it is just a question of being wanted, then the life may be snuffed out anywhere along the line from conception to death. Infanticide would be as ethical as feticide. But if the fetus is the image of God, then, of course, we must fully respect his right to live. Again, first questions first.

5. A woman has the right to govern her own body. What she docs with it is a matter between her and her doctor.

The crucial test: The crucial question is: Is the unborn baby a part of her body, or is it an independent organism?

A woman does have rights over her body within limits. Neither before God nor the present laws of the United States, however, does she have the right to destroy her life. This is immoral and irresponsible.

But she does have the right to decide whether her tonsils should be removed or not, whether she should have an appendectomy or not, whether she should have her infected toe amputated or not. These are private matters and the state must leave the decision to the woman and competent medical prognosis.

But an unborn baby is not to be compared with a tonsil, an appendix or a toe! A toe is not a human being, an unborn baby is. An appendix will one day rot, even if it is in formaldehyde, but the unborn baby will live forever. A tonsil does not have an eternal destiny, but the unborn do.

If the unborn are to be equated in value with toes and tonsils, then, of course the mother has the right to do with it what she wants. But medical science indicates that the unborn child is physically a separate organism with its own body, systems and genetic code, and with tissue, blood type and fingerprints that are different from the mother’s. At twenty weeks, for example, the unborn is just like the born child of twenty weeks, except it is not quite as fully developed, just as the born child of twenty weeks is like the child of twenty months, but not as completely developed. Whether it is twenty weeks after conception or twenty weeks. months or years after birth, it is a human being. And it is irresponsible before God to kill a human, in whatever stage of development he may be.

So a woman does have a right over her own body within limits. But the unborn is not a part of her body! It is an independent human life.

6. Abortion laws impinge on the freedom of religion. Some feel that abortion is killing a human being. Others do not. If laws are retained that prohibit a woman who does not hold the belief that abortion is killing, then her freedom of and freedom from religion are being infringed. A permissive abortion law, however, would allow people to follow their own religious convictions.

The crucial test: A state must protect the freedom of religion and the freedom from religion. No one should be allowed to coerce another citizen to follow his religious convictions.

However, people can be mislead and in the name of religion commit t rimes, which the state ought to prevent. For example, in the Old Testament times certain pagan people sacrificed their children to the god Molech. A pro-abortionist may say that if the state should make law against these practices of infanticide, it would be an infringement on someone’s religion. But we all feel intuitively that the state has an obligation to protect those infants in spite of the parents’ religious convictions. The freedom of religion is not an absolute, unqualified right of man. It stops when it violates the rights of another.

And so also the state has an equal obligation to protect the life of the unborn, regardless of a mother’s sincere but mistaken notion about the facts of life, whether they be religiously based or not. If a state has the duty to protect the life of a one-day old baby, then it has the same duty for a baby one day before birth. There is no real difference between the two. And the same could be said for a baby one week before birth or even a month. It is the same· human being whether it is seven months old (after conception) or eleven months old (that is, two months old after birth). It is possible to use the same logic back at six months after conception (the New York law of 24 weeks); and it is completely irrational to say, as the New York law implies, that before the end of 24 weeks the unborn baby is not a human, but one day later it is, and that it is permissible to destroy during the 24 week period, but it is not one day later! Such an arbitrary view is completely indefensible on medical grounds.

Although a mother may be completely sincere in her convictions that a 24 week old fetus that has toes, hair, eyes, a tongue, brain. heart, kidney is just a glob and therefore may be destroyed, the state has a moral obligation to decide the objective facts of life. If. on the basis of fetology and other scientific discoveries, the state should conclude in the crucial issue that it is a human being although not fully developed (neither is a year old baby fully developed!), then the state has a duty to protect the life of that child. And an appeal to the principle of freedom of religion may not hinder the state.

The above is precisely the reasoning of the courts in the cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, in New Jersey doctors told a pregnant mother that her baby would probably die if she did not have a blood transfusion. The mother, however, refused because blood transfusions are against the religious principles of her faith. But the Supreme Court of New Jersey that the child in utero was entitled to the law’s protection (Raleigh Fitkin—Paul Morgan Memorial Hospital v. Anderson, 1956) and permitted a blood trans· fusion. It did not allow the baby to be killed in the name of religion. So, also, it is not an infringement of someone’s religion if the state prohibits abortion on demand.

(To be continued)

1. Right to Life laws are the laws that until a few years ago have been in force in all of the states: laws that protect the right of the unborn child to live. Right to Life is the name of the many grass-root organizations that are springing up throughout the u.s. for the protection of the unborn. For more information, write Right to Life, P.O. Box 9365, Washington, D.C. 20005.

2. However, usually the anguish is on the part of the parents and not of the child. There is evidence that on the average the handicapped child is as happy as the next one, and that the determining factor in eugenic abortion is often the subjective fear of the parents rather than the suffering of the child.

3. To see the great significance the Bible places on the image of God, note Genesis 9:5 and James 3:9. According to Genesis 9:5 it is because man is the image of God that it is permissible to have capital punishment. The Bible sanctioned capital punishment, not because it was insensitive to the sanctity of life, but, on the contrary, just because human life is so holy—because it is the image of God.

And James says that even to damn a person is serious business. The reason? Because he is God’s image. To damn man is to damn God. And to do violence to God’s image is to do violence to God.

4. Both Plato and Aristotle advocated infanticide. Plato advocated a super race by regulating marriage. If such rules were violated then there were “strict orders to prevent any embryo that may come into being from seeing the light; and if any force a way to birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such It union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly” (The Republic, v. 461, c). And Aristotle wrote: “As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there he a law that no deformed child shall live,” Politics, VII, 16.

5. In 1970 the New York legislature by a one vote majority passed a law that permits any prospective mother (without the consent of the child’s father) to obtain an abortion for any reason at all up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, provided a doctor will consent to do it. Under this law, in the first year 181,821 were done away with.

6. Calvin deals with the fetus in at least one place: Exodus 21:22. He says: “the fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being (homo) and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light” (Calvin’s commentary on Exodus).

7. Although Luther never dealt with abortion directly, he did spend considerable time on the theory of traducianism. As a result, he believed that from the moment of conception there was a full human person, and that the products of miscarriages went to heaven. See George H. Williams, “Religious Residues and Presuppositions in the American Debate on Abortion,” in Theological Studies (XXXI, I, March, 1970), pp. 32–34.

8. George Williams, op.cit., p. 72, would permit the killing of the product of an adulterous pregnancy.

9. It should be remembered that despondency is a normal phase of early pregnancy. Many mothers are not happy that they are pregnant, but once the child is born they quickly forget their earlier depression in joy for the new life.

Edwin H. Palmer is the executive secretary of the New International Bible sponsored by the New York Bible Society International.