Abortion: The Hard Cases
WHAT IS THE COMPASSIONATE RESPONSE?
Opinion polls clearly show that a majority of Americans do not believe abortion should be available as a convenience. Probably an even greater majority among Christians would agree that abortion should not be available “on demand” or “on request.” Many otherwise informed Christians and others are startled upon first learning that abortion is now available on precisely such terms throughout the United States. The Supreme Court decisions of 1973 effectively removed all restrictions on abortion, so that a woman can now have an abortion at any time during her pregnancy for any reason or for no reason. Though the Court stated that access to abortion might be restricted in the last trimester of pregnancy, it hedged this provision with an exception: abortion could not be restricted where it was “necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.” And her “health” needs were to be assessed by herself and her abortionist in terms of what they regarded as “‘appropriate’…though perhaps not ‘necessary,’ in a strict sense,” said the Court.
In other words, at present any woman who has decided that an abortion is “appropriate” or convenient for her has only to find a willing abortionist in order to have one. One has only to glance in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book to see that there is no lack of willing abortionists. The procedure, in fact, is so free of restrictions that there is not even any legal requirement in many jurisdictions to report that it has taken place. Subsequent Court decisions have determined, moreover, that this so-called “right” to abortion may not be restricted by any spousal or parental authority, even if the “woman” in question is a minor child. A young woman or female child of any age may have an abortion regardless of the wishes of her parents or the father of her child.
There now occur an estimated 1.5 million abortions each year in the U.S. Approximately one child in every four conceived is now aborted — that is, killed — by medical-surgical means prior to its birth. The mothers of these victims are for the most part young, healthy, unmarried women in their late teens or early 20s. The evidence is that abortion is now, in fact, a commonly used form of “birth control.” Knowing that it is freely available, a significant number of young women have become pregnancy risk-takers, not taking precautions to prevent conception but risking it, knowing that if it occurs it can be terminated at what appears to be a moderate cost.
In common with the other great religions of the world, Christianity has, of course, forbidden abortion since the earliest times. This proscription was apparently long understood to be subsumed under the Sixth Commandment, but was made explicit in the Epistle of Barnabas in about A.D. 130: “Never do away with an unborn child, or destroy it after its birth.” Again in the collection of instructions for Christian living known as Didache (“The Teaching”) compiled in about 150, the admonition appears: “Commit no murder, adultery, sodomy, fornication, or theft. Practice no magic, sorcery, abortion, or infanticide.”
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