The Inaudible Plea of Children in Utero

Thu, 11 Aug 2011 Source: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power)

This article, the final part of the three-part article series, ‘Why Abortion is Synonymous with Homicide’, briefly discusses the ethicality of some of the major factors that motivate the practice of abortion, namely: 1. the desire to limit family size, 2. the inability to rear a child properly usually due to financial difficulty, 3. to protect a career or an occupation, 4. to evade the social stigma associated with procreating out of wedlock or through illicit relationship (including incest), 5. to avoid carrying to term a pregnancy resulting from rape, 6. to prevent the birth of a child with medical problems, and 7. to preserve a woman’s life or health.

Since pregnancy almost invariably occurs as a consequence of sexual activity, questions about the ethics of abortion must be discussed together with questions about the ethics of sex itself. It is a known fact that a sexual activity carries consequences, one of which may be pregnancy. It is therefore unacceptable for one to freely engage in a sexual act and enjoy its “pleasures”, but fail to take full responsibility for some of the obvious outcomes - pregnancy. The first three reasons for abortion listed above are thus hugely insupportable. Why should people engage in “uncontrolled” sexual acts conscious of the fact that some of the outcomes of such activities may affect their career, or if they know they are not in a position to properly rear a baby or take care of a big family?

Some people argue that anyone who has a claim to a right to live, should have some sort of independent life of their own; and since a fetus is only able to live because it is attached to the womb of a woman, any claim to a right to live must necessarily be at the expense of the woman. They consequently maintain that the “right” to an abortion is primarily a right of a woman to control what happens to her body and that the death of the fetus is an unavoidable consequence of choosing not to be or not to remain pregnant. What they fail to realize is that no human entity (whether a fetus, child or an adult) is entirely independent – all humans and even animals depend to some extent on others for survival; and the decision not to be pregnant must be considered prior to engaging in a sexual activity and never after conception. In other words, a person possesses the right to choose not to be pregnant only before conception, not after.

The carrying out of an abortion for the purpose of destroying the evidence of immoral sexual behaviour or of obtaining relief from the burden of raising an illegitimate child is absolutely unjustifiable. Those who perform immoral deeds must stand the responsibility for them – they must stand their shame. However, despite the inequality of social stigma (which hits the woman harder), the moral responsibility is equal. As already mentioned, one of the immediately foreseen aftermaths of sexual intercourse is conception or pregnancy; hence, one who plans to indulge in illicit and uncontrolled sexual act, should also be prepared to embrace the “burden” of nurturing a baby even if the intention is not to get pregnant. Murder is certainly no solution to previous iniquity; two wrongs do not make a right.

Rape is undoubtedly one of the most terrible crimes in human society; and I have always maintained that the penalty to be paid for raping a person should be at least 15 years in jail. However, a clear distinction should always be made between the debaucheries and guilt of the rapist and the innocence of the resulting fetus (that’s if pregnancy occurs). Killing or handing a death sentence to an innocent human entity for the iniquities of a disgraceful and cursed father is one of the vilest injustices. Some people quite understandably argue that carrying pregnancies resulting from rape to term and seeing the children walking around, ignites the pain, horror and the traumatic experience endured by the mothers prior to the pregnancies. One should however not lose sight of the fact that such children can also become the very people who heal the wounds and the psychological “illnesses” of their mothers and serve as significant source of their (the mothers’) happiness and hope. If women view their children as special gifts and treasures, they will love and cherish them irrespective of the painful circumstances leading to their births. Killing a fetus resulting from rape is not a wise antidote to psychological pain; and attempting to defeat evil with evil is hardly an achievable mission.

Thanks to contemporary science and technology, some of the medical problems of a human entity can be detected in utero and dealt with if possible before the child is born. This has however generated very massive ethical concerns. It is becoming a common practice for women to opt for the direct termination of their pregnancies when advised by physicians that their babies may suffer certain serious illnesses or deformities if the pregnancies are carried to term. This is encouraging the emergence of the so-called designer babies – the survival of the “fittest” and the most “gorgeous”. The efforts that contemporary physicians are making to improve the lifespan of humankind cannot be undervalued. However, the prerogative to decide who lives and who dies in the womb has not yet been transferred to medical doctors; nature is still in control (if we put God aside as I have deliberately decided to do on this occasion).

We witness instances where babies in utero declared hugely deformed and worthless by doctors, grow up to become very healthy and useful people in society. It will thus be a supreme error to assume that babies with signs of deformities or clear abnormalities in the womb will inevitably become a burden and have nothing to contribute to society if they are allowed to see the light of day. There are loads of resourceful “deformed” or less abled people all around us – blind politicians and musicians, crippled athletes and entertainers, great educators and business people with sickle cell conditions, medical doctors with various disabilities, etc. All these facts should communicate to us that nature is superior to humans and that physicians do not have the final say in such matters. Surely, no human being is without some form of defects. We are, after all, witnesses to the various heinous crimes – theft and armed robbery, murder, rape, bribery, etc. being committed by some so-called strong and healthy people.

“Therapeutic abortion” (an abortion meant to save a mother’s life or health) brings up a very different and more complicated but solvable ethical problem. What happens if a pregnancy is detected to be developing into a serious threat to the life of the mother, child, or both? Should one be saved at the expense of the other? Who then should be saved – mother or child? It is easy for pro-abortionists to argue that a mother’s right to life is prior to and consequently supersedes that of the child (the fetus); and anti-abortionists might just as well argue that the mother has had at least some enjoyment of life and should yield to the child if only one of them could be saved. But all human beings have equal right to life, and age gives no one any priority in the matter. Hence, neither may be murdered to save the other; doing so breaches one of the four principles of double effect – using evil means to obtain a good end, which renders an act morally impermissible.

No doctor can be absolutely certain that a mother will survive abortion or die without it. Some women have died of abortion who might have lived and borne healthy children if they had refused it; this can be judged from the cases in which doctors advised it and mothers refused it, yet both mother and child lived. But, even if it is medically certain that both will die if serious action is not taken, a direct killing of the child or the mother is no ethical solution to an unfortunate occurrence. The only ethical thing for a physician to do under such circumstances is to apply the principle of double effect by having the intention of saving both lives, but indirectly permitting the death of one or the other, preferably the one who has the lesser chance of survival.

It is however ethical when a mother has a serious illness and the only effective treatment, whether medicinal or surgical, will have two effects: the cure of the mother’s ailment and the death of the child. This is ethical because the child is not directly tampered with and its death, even if certain to follow, is an incidental and unavoidable side-effect in the performance of a legitimate act. The mother is morally allowed to take such treatment no matter what effect it may have on the child; and the death of the child is not the means by which she is cured.

It should always be remembered that conception is the beginning of a human person. ‘Life does not begin with birth. When born, we are already nine months old’. Let us heed to the inaudible plea of the unborn child.

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power) is a lecturer and an investigative journalist in London, UK. He is the author of ‘Fourth Phase of Enslavement: unveiling the plight of African immigrants in the West’. He may be contacted via email (andypower2002@yahoo.it).

Columnist: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong