Nigel Cameron wrote that it is important to see elective abortion as a symptom, not the disease. Because this is true, if Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, and some states started to outlaw abortion, the abortion problem would not end; because even if Roe v. Wade goes away, all of the reasons that women have abortions will still exist. What will those of us who call ourselves Pro-Life do to address some of those underlying causes? What are we doing to address those underlying causes? (Do we even think about what the underlying causes are?) What are we doing to promote a social and cultural environment that is less inimical to the raising of and providing for children? What are we doing to help those who do choose to carry their babies to term, particularly among the poor in whom abortion is so prevalent? What are we doing to support them in feeding and housing and providing a safe environment and medical care to their children? (Why are Pro-Lifers so heavily represented among those who are most vocally opposed to health care reform and gun control?)
I hope and pray that some day Roe v. Wade is overturned. But I believe that we as a Christian community must work more energetically to show that being Pro-Life means more than picketing and praying. At the very least, it means making sacrifices to help women and families with children. It means getting more involved in the messy lives of those around us. If we can address some of the reasons so many women feel that abortion is their best or only option, maybe we can go a long way towards accomplishing what we can never accomplish merely by overturning a Supreme Court decision.
Last week I wrote about the practice of eugenics in modern American obstetrics: induced abortion performed because prenatal testing shows a potential chromosomal abnormality or birth defect. This past week, the BBC News Online ran a series of stories under the headline “India’s unwanted girls.” These stories tell of the practice in India of induced abortion performed because prenatal testing shows a particular unwanted chromosomal “abnormality”: the presence of the XX chromosome pair, i.e., aborting a baby simply because she is female. Because of long-standing prejudices and practices, in many parts of Indian society a female child is considered undesirable. There is widespread availability of prenatal ultrasound clinics for sex determination, and so many parents avail themselves of these clinics’ services to guide abortion decisions that in some areas of India there are less than 840 female children for every 1000 male children. Some Indian activists use the word “genocide” to describe this selective killing of girls. Lest anyone suspect that Indian families thought up this novel use of medical technology on their own, the following quote from the story provides chilling evidence to the contrary: “In 1974, Delhi’s prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences came out with a study which said sex-determination tests were a boon for Indian women. It said they no longer needed to produce endless children to have the right number of sons, and it encouraged the determination and elimination of female foetuses as an effective tool of population control.”
Three observations: First, given the rationalizations for the unfettered right to abortion that pro-choice advocates have promulgated in this country, they would be have to be mute in the face of sex-selective abortion. They cannot say that it is wrong to abort girls, because if it is wrong to abort girls, then it is wrong to abort boys. If they admit that it is wrong to distinguish — and extinguish — foetuses on the basis of an arbitrary criterion such as gender, then they would have to admit that it is wrong to do so on the basis of any arbitrary criterion — such as the presence of a disability.
Second, the term “genocide” used by certain Indian activists seems extreme, but it may not be such a long walk from eugenics to genocide. The justification used to commit foeticide on the basis of gender can be employed to commit foeticide, say, on the basis of a genetic predisposition to obesity (A 1993 March of Dimes poll found that 11% of parents said they would abort a fetus whose genome was predisposed to obesity), and is not far from the justification used to commit murder on the basis of whether one belongs to the Hutu or Tutsi tribe.
Third, this tragic story shows yet again what happens when medicine abandons its Hippocratic ethos of commitment to the patient and instead uses its considerable power to pursue goals such as “population control,” social stability — or eugenics.
I have a friend who is from Africa. She sees a lot of things in this country from a different perspective that makes me think, and sometimes makes me uncomfortable. We were recently in a discussion in a group at church about how we define who has moral status and how that impacts our moral decisions about human embryos and fetuses. After the discussion she said she had noted that many Christians in America were quite passionate about the value of the life of those who were unborn, but didn’t seem to care as much about those who were born. She said we stand up for the value of the lives of the unborn whom we will never know and who do not put any demands on us, but seem to neglect the value of the lives of those around us who are in need because valuing their lives would put demands on us.
I think my friend is right. If we really believe that all human beings have full moral status we need to help people see the moral problems with abortion, destructive research on embryos, and the making and discarding of excess embryos in IVF, but we need to do much more. We need to affirm the moral worth of those who have been born. We need to care for widows, orphans, the poor, and those who are oppressed. We can see God’s heart for them in the prophets and in Jesus. There are many Christians who reach out to those in need and love them in tangible ways that express their understanding of their value as human beings. More of us need to do that. I need to do that more.