letters to surfers

Do you think every abortion is the murder of a human being ?

Answer by Robert Brow    www.brow.on.ca    1998

Let me begin with some alternative answers to your question. In each case the position taken depends on the difference between a potential human being and a particular person :

A. An unfertilized ovum is a potential human being, so any form of birth control to prevent it being fertilized is immoral. The Church must fight to discourage the condoms or other means of birth control.

B. An ovum only becomes a potential human being when it has been fertilized, so the use of condoms is not immoral. But an overnight pill prevents a fertilized ovum from attaching itself to the wall of the womb, and so becomes murder. Christians must fight to make the making and use of overnight pills a criminal offence.

C. A fertilized ovum is a potential human being, but it is not yet a particular person. Preventing it from being attached to the wall of the womb does not end the life of a particular human being. The use of an overnight pill is therefore a good solution for a woman who has been raped or persuaded to have unprotected sex.

D. Once an ovum is attached to the wall of the womb, it begins to differentiate, but it does not become a particular person till the brain begins to generate brain waves and the person can be filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15, 41). God has arranged to discard at least thirty per cent of fertilized ova in the first few days by way of quality control.

E. Once a woman has bonded with the baby she is carrying, and views him/her as a particular human being, aborting it then becomes a form of murder. The state should make such abortions illegal (except in cases of danger to the mother's life) by terminating the licenses of doctors who do them. But I do not think the woman should be charged with murder and sent to the electric hair. Such late abortions often cause terrible guilt which can be ended by the confession of murder, and the giving of absolution (I have to do this from time to time).

F. Extreme pro-choice advocates maintain that a woman should be free to do what she likes with her own body right up to the ninth month, and a fetus only becomes a particular person with the first breath after birth.

My impression is that only a minority of women would support the F. legal position, a huge majority would favour C. and less would favour D. I agree that moral questions are not settled by democratic vote, but it seems that a vote in each state for E. could easily be achieved if it was not tied to the A. and B. positions. By calling A. and B. murder, we confuse the issue, and there is not hope of making progress in abortion legislation.

For myself I find it impossible to view a newly fertilized ovum as a human being, which it would be murder to discard. Apparently cell replication towards complex organization only begins when the ovum is attached to the womb. That suggests that the fertilized ovum has the potential for life, and already has an XX or XY gender chromosome, but it gives no evidence of being a particular individual person till replication begins. Until the ovum is attached to the wall of the womb the cells have no organization of any kind, and could in fact become any part of the human body/brain as needed.

Death is defined as the termination of brain waves, so presumably human life begins when brains waves begin to occur. There is no brain of any kind until differentiation of cells begins to occur. That suggests that the fertilized ovum has the potential for life, and already has an XX or XY gender chromosome, but it gives no evidence of being a particular individual person till replication begins.

It is significant to me that God has his own quality control to discard at least thirty percent of all fertilized ova if they do not suit the body's purpose. If we call an overnight pill murder, what do we say about God?

The argument based on potential for life would take one into opposition to birth control (which is exactly the position the present Pope has taken). The logic is that by practicing birth control an ovum that would have a potential for life is denied that right.

In terms of practical politics, it seems to me that a majority would vote for the limited objective of preventing the killing of live babies in the later stages of pregnancy. Doctors who did late stage abortions would lose their licence and suffer criminal prosecution. But by calling an overnight pill or an induced miscarriage the first two or three weeks murder, we can be sure that the majority of people will reject our position as extreme. Progress in a democracy requires limited attainable objectives, and the extreme positions of our present Pope relating to birth control of any kind makes that impossible. It actually results in the
majority of us being unable to pass legislation to terminate the killing of hundreds of thousands of live babies.

A note on Abortion posted on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Discussion List, January 31, 2000

To discuss the ethics of abortion we need to distinguish two quite different sets of questions. Jesus said "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). And the overnight pill has brought the two sets of questions into very sharp focus.

The idea of legalizing abortion is a totally nonsense term. We might as well talk of legalizing adultery. All that happened in the previous century was that adultery is no longer a criminal offence. At present in Canada it is not a criminal offence for a woman to abort her fetus. In a democracy we could vote to determine what are the consequences to be assigned for a woman choosing to take an overnight pill, wherever obtained, but nobody is suggesting she be hung for murder, or sent to jail. There are still countries where the selling of an overnight pill by a pharmaceutical company is a criminal offence, but in Canada this does not seem to be a major political issue (it is much cheaper than paying for abortions).

Nor is anyone suggesting that a woman who gets herself an abortion in the first trimester be sent to jail. The focus of the political question is what consequences should be assigned for a doctor who performs an abortion, and at what stage? If the selling of overnight pills is not a criminal act, then it becomes impossible to convict a doctor of murder for suggesting or prescribing an overnight pill or whatever that results in aborting a fetus beginning to grow in the first week. But just about all Canadians would agree that a doctor who takes a live baby out by Caesarean section in the ninth month and kills it is guilty of murder. In between the first week and the last month it is politically unhelpful to take an either or position. By calling an overnight pill murder we are so far out in left field that we lose all political credibility. We should take every opportunity to ally ourselves with all who wish to assign criminal consequences for the murder of live fetuses in the third semester, and then if possible in the second semester.

As Jesus made clear, what we render to God is a quite different question. We can make rules for church membership. I can't think of any congregation who would want to pry into the possibility that a woman had taken an overnight pill, and excommunicate her. I have argued that, even in 1 Corinthians 5, we never excommunicate anyone (the results have almost universally been dismal), but we can hand over people to Caesar's magistrates in cases of criminal behaviour (in 1 Cor. 5 for incest). Where there is no law against the overnight pill, all we can do (and this is a lot) is welcome all kinds of sinners to our fellowship and trust the Holy Spirit to change them in due course.

We can also, and this is the heart of our task as Christians, teach that humans are in the image of God, their lives and their feelings are to be honoured, and that little children should be received without abuse or causing to stumble. And most Christians would agree that, except perhaps for an overnight pill after being raped, pregnancy is a gift of God that is not to be thrown away in the garbage. Making clear from the Bible how we as Christians view human life at every stage is the best hope of ending the carnage of live babies in the third trimester. Trying to make women of our world feel guilty about murder by taking an overnight pill inevitably condemns us to irrelevance.

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