Questions From Readers
● Does a substantial health danger justify having an abortion?
While this is a problem involving very deep human feelings and concerns, the perfect counsel of God shows that a potential risk to mother or child does not justify inducing an abortion.
Human views on this question are varied and often conflicting. But fundamental to the Bible view is life and respect for it. Human life has both a divine origin and a divine purpose. (Gen. 1:27; Job 33:4; Ps. 100:3-5) Throughout the Bible we see reflected God’s deep respect for life. He lovingly urged humans to treasure their lives and to respect as sacred the lives of others. One who, without regard for divine law, took the life of another human, even a babe in the womb, was both guilty and accountable.—Gen. 9:5, 6; Ex. 21:14, 22-25.
It cannot be denied that sometimes a pregnant woman faces a considerable danger. A health problem, such as diabetes, hypertension or other cardio-vascular diseases, may lead sincerely concerned doctors to conclude that her life is in jeopardy. She may be told, ‘Either have an abortion, or you will die.’ Or abortion may be recommended when it seems that the child may be born blind or deformed, such as when the mother contracts rubella (measles) during the pregnancy. Some might reason in such cases that having an abortion is actually showing respect for life. Though in no way minimizing the seriousness of such problems or the sincerity of those recommending the abortion, one should have in mind the life of both the mother and the child.
There is no such thing today as a perfect pregnancy, for all humans are imperfect. (Rom. 5:12) Thus every pregnant woman faces a certain risk; the sad fact is that some women, even healthy women, die during pregnancy and childbirth. (Gen. 35:16-19) Is every pregnancy to be aborted just because a risk to the mother’s life or health exists? Obviously not. True, in some instances the danger is greater than normal because of the woman’s age or health. Still, do not most women, including many who face unusual risks, survive childbirth? And it must be admitted that however well meant it is, a medical diagnosis can be wrong. So how could one who accepts God’s view of the sacredness of life conclude that a potential danger would justify an abortion? Is the developing child’s life to be cut off simply because of what might occur?a
Similarly, with every pregnancy there is the possibility that the child will be born with a defect or deformity. “About one in 14 babies is born with a genetic disorder; the afflicted range from the diabetic . . . to the hopeless cripple who may live only a few days.” (New York Times Magazine, Sept. 8, 1974, p. 100) Should this potential risk lead to the conclusion that all pregnancies should be ended by abortion? Not at all.
Here too in some instances the risk of the child’s having a defect may be above normal. This seems to be so, for example, when the woman is over forty years of age or in cases where she took certain potent medicines or contracted a potentially damaging disease in the early stages of pregnancy. About 10 to 15 percent of infants born to mothers infected with rubella during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy have some harmful effects of the disease that are recognizable in the first year of life. (Of course, this also means that 85 to 90 percent of such children are not thus affected.) But how can one having deep respect for life say that a mere potential risk of damage to a child justifies ending the developing child’s life?
Illustrating that such dangers must be viewed as still only possibilities is the case of a woman in South Africa. Before she was aware of her pregnancy she received an injection for a kidney ailment. Later her doctor said that, as a result, her child would be either an imbecile or horribly deformed; he urged her to have an abortion. When she learned from Jehovah’s witnesses what the Bible says about respect for life, she declined the abortion. She realized that, even if her child was damaged, Jehovah could undo the damage in the coming New Order. (Compare Isaiah 35:5, 6; Revelation 21:4.) What was the outcome? She gave birth to a healthy baby girl. But even if her daughter had been affected and needed extra care and treatment, would that change the rightness of deciding to let the girl live, with the prospect of eternal life?
Consequently, a woman who has been urged to have a therapeutic abortion because of a danger to her health or life, or to her child, needs to fix in mind the Bible’s view. A possible or potential danger, even a grave one, does not justify taking matters into one’s own hands and deliberately cutting off the life of the child in the womb. Deciding according to the Scriptural view will take real faith and courage, but it assuredly will be the proper decision, and one that Jehovah will approve of forever.
a Sometimes the treatment of a diseased condition, such as cancer of the cervix, causes the death of the developing embryo. But this may be an unavoidable side effect of the treatment; abortion is neither the treatment itself nor the objective. Similarly, in some cases a fertilized ovum implants and begins to grow in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. Such a tubal ectopic pregnancy cannot develop fully in this small tube; in time it will terminate with the rupture of the tube and the death of the embryo. If this condition is detected in advance, doctors usually treat it by removing the affected fallopian tube before it ruptures. A Christian woman with a tubal pregnancy can decide whether to accept this operation. Normally she undoubtedly would be willing to face any risks of pregnancy so that her child could live. But with a tubal pregnancy she faces a grave risk while there is no possibility that the embryo can continue to live and a child be born.