Abortion—At What Price?
IN GLASGOW, Scotland, two nurses had “horrific nightmares” and suffered sleepless nights, reported The Daily Telegraph. Why? Because they took part in an operation to abort a baby boy of 24 weeks. Unexpectedly, he lived “for a short time.”
In Detroit, U.S.A., a 29-week-old fetus, supposed to have been killed by an injection into its mother’s womb, was dumped into a stainless-steel bucket in a hospital abortion ward. But it survived. Its cries were heard, and this baby girl was rushed to the intensive-care unit, just in time.
The aborting of viable fetuses is a growing problem as the number of abortions increases. Advancing medical techniques provide better care for premature babies, so that at 26 weeks it is now possible for a healthy infant to survive—something that would have been very difficult a few years ago. As a result, nurses in some countries have the legal right to refuse, on grounds of conscience, to participate in abortions.
But what about the doctors? How do they react?
The Business of Abortion
“To be publicly identified as an abortionist is the kiss of death,” confided Dr. Phillip Stubblefield in an interview with Newsweek. In fact, public pressure has caused many doctors in the United States to cease the practice entirely. A number of bombing incidents have destroyed abortion clinics, and “all over the country, we have clinics that can’t get medical directors because doctors are afraid of what the community will do,” Dr. Stubblefield explained.
Nevertheless, abortions are still being performed in increasing numbers. And one reason is perhaps not too difficult to find. It is a profitable business.
In Paris, France, for example, parents paid the equivalent of £1,000 ($1,400) for their teenage daughter to have a private abortion, according to a report in the medical magazine Pulse. Some London clinics, says the same report, charge up to £2,000 ($2,800) for every abortion they perform.
In 1982, two of Britain’s largest abortion agencies had a combined income of £4.5 million ($6.3 million). Reporting this figure, Human Concern comments: “Abortion is a lucrative business.” In Japan the government refuses to legalize the birth-control pill. “The ban,” reported The Sunday Times of London, “is due to lobbying by doctors, who make a fortune from abortion.” Wherever you look in the world of abortion, money surfaces.
This is hardly surprising. When faced with a sudden traumatic situation, like that of an unmarried, pregnant teenager, many parents will consider any price a reasonable one to resolve the situation, especially if an abortion can be done safely, speedily, and in strict confidence.
Even so, many doctors are becoming increasingly unhappy about the whole affair. At the opening of the abortion era in Britain, the Daily Mail reported Professor Ian Morris as saying: “If I were just beginning my career knowing what I know now about abortions, I would never choose gynaecology.” He added: “I detest the operation. It is a complete reversal of all my medical training. The whole aim is to save life, not perform this particular form of homicide.” Strong words, indeed, and not every doctor will agree with them. But they do convey some idea of the revulsion to the practice some doctors instinctively feel.
To Abort—Whose Choice?
When a woman faces the issue of abortion, few people, perhaps even the woman herself, give much thought to the father. The decision to have an abortion is often made by the woman alone, drawing on the support of close friends and relatives. But “men also go through the grieving, the sense of loss,” reports The New York Times, “and may also experience a lot of the ambivalence that women do about becoming a parent.”
Some fathers feel strongly that their wishes should be taken into account, too, that they should have more say before the mother decides to abort their child. “Men wanted to share, not impose, the decision making,” says sociologist Arthur Shostak following a ten-year survey of the problem. Surely such thinking is not unreasonable.
Coping With Reaction
Yet, in making the decision, the woman, unlike the man, has to cope with the physical shock to her whole system if her gestation period is suddenly terminated. Just what is involved?
Even after an early abortion, it is usual for a woman to feel weak and tired. Cramps, sickness, and possible bleeding are common too. When an abortion is performed much later on, the signs of the terminated pregnancy can last up to a week or more as the hormone level drops. Soreness of the breasts and a feeling of depression are additional factors to face. Yes, having an abortion can be a painful experience, as only the woman knows, and it is seldom an easy choice.
Of greater importance is the fact that, emotionally and mentally, the effect of an abortion can be devastating. The problem is that whereas a physical reaction can be immediate and expected, the mental and emotional wounds appear later and take longer to heal, if ever they do. “Speaking as someone who professionally has to deal from time to time with patients who have had abortions, they are often greatly disturbed many years after the clinical event,” writes a correspondent to The Times of London. How big is this problem?
“It now seems that the size of the hidden problem is greater than previously thought,” commented The Sunday Times. The effects of depression and emotional disturbance are often so great that “half the unmarried women who have abortions for therapeutic reasons end up needing psychiatric help.” These findings have been borne out by a study at London’s King’s College Hospital. This study reveals, according to The Times, that “couples who decide to have a pregnancy terminated can face acute grief reactions” and that they find their grief “difficult to cope with.”
The Japanese have an unusual way of handling this human problem. Tiny statues, made of plastic, plaster, or stone to represent aborted children, are placed in temple grounds. There they are committed to the care of Jizo, the Buddhist guardian of children. Parents, as they pray to the deity for forgiveness, can thus give vent to their feelings of shame, sorrow, and guilt. But they are not alone in feeling the need to do this. Consider the following personal experiences.
“I Soon Became Ashamed”
By the time she was 22, Elaine had had three abortions. She recalls: “I was told that it was not wrong or criminal to do it at only six weeks’ gestation, since a baby had not been formed by then, only if it was three months or more. After that, when I heard people passing bad remarks about unwed mothers, I became happy I had terminated my pregnancy. Two years later I repeated the same procedure twice, becoming increasingly happy I had found a way of not bringing children into this world.”
Soon after this, Elaine entered the nursing profession, working in midwifery. “It was a delight,” she recalls, “to see the birth of a baby and to experience the joy such birth gives to doctors, midwives, and parents. But I soon became ashamed of myself for terminating three innocent lives and found myself struggling with my feelings of disquiet and embarrassment. I kept looking back and counting to see how old my children would be and whether they would have been boys or girls and what they would look like. It is horrible to be in such a situation.”
Janet, a mother now 39 years of age, relates her feelings following an abortion: “The only way I coped was by brainwashing myself into believing that it never really happened to me. I convinced myself for many years that I couldn’t have done it, that it was some horrible nightmare.”
Nineteen-year-old Karen confides: “I did my best to pass off what I had done, but I cried when I saw a baby or a pregnant woman. I was so depressed. Then milk started to come out of my breasts to remind me. The nightmares I had made me wake in tears, hearing babies crying. I became so bitter over it all.”
To view an abortion as a simple operation of convenience is misguided. Once the step has been taken, it is irreversible. The immediate problem may go away, yet its effects, as we have seen, can be far reaching and long lasting. But what about when an abortion is recommended by a doctor?
“You Ought to Abort the Child”
That was the straight advice given to Sue by her doctor. Why? Sue already had two young children, and no sooner had she realized she was pregnant than one of them caught rubella, or German measles as it is more commonly called. “It was inevitable that I should catch it, too, as I had never had it before,” she says. Sure enough, soon she was quite ill herself.
Medical experience has established that rubella, when contracted by a woman early in pregnancy, can cause distressing deformities to the growing embryo. It was with this fact in mind that the doctor spoke as he did. “He told me bluntly,” Sue recalls, “that the baby would be deformed and that I would never be able to cope with it. At his clinic he insisted that if I ignored his advice, I would have to sign a letter accepting full responsibility, absolving him.” Sue signed it. “In all fairness, I must say in his defense that he was genuinely worried about me, especially since I am an epileptic,” she added.
Sue’s husband, although naturally very concerned, left the decision to his wife, and she made arrangements to have her baby. In due time a daughter was born. Tests were immediately carried out on the child, but apart from slight anemia, there was nothing wrong with her at all. The doctors were surprised, however, to find antibodies in the baby’s blood that her mother did not have, indicating that the developing child had certainly been affected by the rubella.
Coping With Deformity
Even though in that case the outcome was a happy one, the fact remains that many children are born deformed, in need of special care. It is easy to say that it is humane to prevent cripples’ coming into the world, but who is in a position to judge the quality of life of another? Are there not people with varying degrees of mobility in every community, enjoying life to the extent they are able and contributing, in turn, something for the good of mankind?*
Sue viewed things this way. But she also had another source of strength upon which to draw—her faith. When her doctor first intimated that her baby would be deformed, she told him that even if this were so, she knew she could count on strength from God to help her cope. Also, she had no right to deprive a crippled child of the “wonderful hope of a cure of all physical sicknesses in God’s new system of things,” under the rule of his Kingdom. (Revelation 21:1-4) Such faith has its own rewards.
The Crucial Choice
“Birth? Or Abortion?” Faced with the choice, which will it be?
Sue reasoned: “My baby hadn’t asked to be conceived, so what right had I to terminate that little life before it had a chance to see life?”
Her question is simple enough. How would you answer it?
The care of a Down’s syndrome baby was discussed in the February 8, 1986, issue of this magazine.
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A Conflict of Loyalties?
The Declaration of Geneva was adopted by the General Assembly of the World Medical Association at Geneva, Switzerland, in September 1948. It is based on the ancient Hippocratic oath. The following is an extract from this Declaration:
“At the Time of Being Admitted as Member of the Medical Profession: I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity. . . . I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity. . . . I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.”
How do doctors interpret such an oath? Here are two conflicting views. Which do you share?
DOCTOR I. M.
“I can never look at the tissues I have removed during the termination of a pregnancy without revulsion. It may be a jelly, but it is, after all, human life that I am destroying.”
DOCTOR V. A.
“I don’t think abortion is ever wrong. As long as an individual is completely dependent upon the mother, it’s not a person.”
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The dangers of an abortion for the mother are directly related to the age of the embryo. They should not be underestimated.
For first trimesters it is usual for the fetus to be sucked out by vacuum pump.* This is usually done in a clinic in a short space of time. For second trimesters the dismembering of the fetus to extract it from the mother, or induced abortion brought on by injection, are usual procedures. A short stay in a hospital is normal. For any third trimesters a major operation, such as a hysterotomy, may be the only option.*
The nine-month period of gestation is sometimes divided medically into three three-month terms called trimesters.
Hysterotomy is a cutting of the uterus, or womb, to remove the developing child. Not to be confused with hysterectomy, a removal of the uterus itself.
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It is now possible for premature babies to survive because of advanced medical techniques
Justitz/Zefa/H. Armstrong Roberts
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Few people give much thought to the feelings of the child’s father
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Emotionally and mentally, the effect of an abortion can be devastating