R.C. church ethic: Violence vs. women fetus is sacred and above a mother’s life
Swomley, John M
A RELATIVELY NEW argument against abortion is now being advanced, known as the “consistent life ethic” or the “seamless garment.” It is a two-edged sword used by Catholic pacifists who would like the “pro-life” Catholics also to oppose the death penalty, and at the same time would convince anti-war nonCatholics to oppose abortion.
This argument is based on certain long-held assumptions that everything from a fertilized egg to a 34-week fetus is an unborn child; that a human being exists immediately following the fertilization of the egg during intercourse, even though conception is actually not complete until the fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus, which may take as long as two weeks.
The idea that a baby exists in an embryo or an oak tree in an acorn is known as prolepsis, a propaganda term which Webster’s dictionary defines as “an anticipating, especially the describing, an event as if it had already happened” when in fact it may be months away or may never happen. Even after conception, up to 50 percent are aborted by God or Nature as miscarriages.
There is a further assumption that every act of sexual intercourse is a contract for pregnancy, or, as popes have indicated, must be open to procreation. They ignore the fact that most people who engage in intercourse do not do so only when they plan a pregnancy. Pregnancy occurs from contraceptive failure as well as from wrong estimates of the fertility period and from unintended intercourse such as seduction or rape.
One major implication of this is a requirement of compulsory pregnancy for women. Unlike men, who are able to walk away from a pregnancy, women, under this belief, should not be allowed to do so, no matter what this does to their health, their vocation, the support of a parent or an invalid husband or dependent children.
Compulsory pregnancy is not just for nine months, but may involve years of care for a child, and even more years in the case of a deformed child or child with Downs Syndrome. Compulsory pregnancy is a form of slavery which those who claim the consistent life ethic are prepared to inflict on women for the sake of seeming to treat all life evenly, or for the sake of papal law. There are even some women who call themselves “feminists for life” who justify compulsory pregnancy.
A second major part of the “consistent life ethic” is that its proponents do not advocate the prevention of pregnancy by contraceptive birth control, and hence do not deal in what is truly nonviolent prevention. The boycotting of any companies that do research on such prevention and legislation that prohibits funding for family planning and contraception make abortion more likely.
There is no consistent life ethic that can honestly be claimed by the anti-abortionists. This is evident in the following question-answer statement in Father Patrick A. Finney’s book, Moral Problems in Hospital Practice, pubfished under the imprimatur of the Archbishop of St. Louis:
Q. If it is morally certain that a pregnant mother and her unborn child will both die if the pregnancy is allowed to take its course, but at the same time the attending physician is morally certain that he can save the mother’s life by removing the inviable fetus, is it lawful for him to do so?
A. No, it is not Such a removal of the fetus would be a direct abortion,
This is the serious fallacy not only in the so-called prolife position but in the consistent life ethic. In other words, the prolife position is really a pro-death sentence for women whose lives are at stake in a pregnancy, or whose health is such that compulsory pregnancy will lead to an early termination of lives.
Actually, the pro-life and consistent life ethic advocates are rationalizing violence by focusing] only on the fetus as one that should be protected by some “sacredness of life” slogan. They ignore the covert violence against women by assuming that compulsory pregnancy is a virtue and that all pregnant women who do not want a child should be willing to accept violence to themselves in the interest of a sectarian ethic to which they may not subscribe. Whenever any group, however much they claim an interest in fetal life, is prepared to restrict the freedom of others for the sake of a sectarian dogma or “consistency,” that is violence.
For example, to most anti-abortionists, any damage to a woman’s health is “acceptable violence,” suffering brought on by exacerbation of existing health problems such as diabetes or heart disease and the shortening of her life thereby are “acceptable violence.” The imperiling of a woman’s mental health is also a type of violence.
If violence is equated with the use of power to inflict pain, abortion (as practiced in the United States under the legal protection of present society as provided in Roe v. Wade), does not qualify as violence. The fetus does not feel pain before the development of the cerebrum, which does not exist until about the 33rd week of gestation.
The Supreme Court has held that a woman is constitutionally entitled to have an abortion of a nonviable fetus. Therefore the physician performing second trimester abortions must first determine that the fetus is too underdeveloped to survive outside the womb.
After 24 weeks of pregnancy (the approximate date of viability and the beginning of the third trimester), the abortion procedure is not elective, but emergency, in that the fetus is gravely or fatally impaired or the woman’s life or health is at risk. 90% of all abortions are performed in the first trimester, and 99 percent within 20 weeks. No national data are available past 20 weeks, but the Alan Guttmacher Institute estimated, based on limited data collected by the U.S. Center for Disease Control, that approximately 320-600 abortions annually are performed after the 26th week of pregnancy.
There are certain conclusions to be drawn from this analysis. No legalistic formula such as a “consistent life ethic” is possible. Women as a group cannot be told that they have no freedom to decide their destiny. Many if not most women find abortion a positive or non-violent decision in the very early weeks of pregnancy and certainly in the prevention of implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus by the “morning after” pill which pro-lifers generally oppose as abortion. Almost all emergency abortions are performed for women who wanted that child but faced a terrible crisis, like a fetus with no brain or other organs.
Certainly the emergency decisions made medically are as nonviolent as those made by persons who must lose a part of their body by amputation to survive. The following actual cases reveal both the regret and yet the positive acceptance of abortion as a solution to an emergency:
Tammy Watts, from Scottsdale, Arizona. In March, 1995, Tammy and her husband Mitch made the agonizing decision to end a wanted pregnancy at 28 weeks gestation. It would have been their first child. Her brain was severely damaged, and her skull had not formed in the back. Her liver and kidneys were oversized and already failing irreparably. Her bowel, bladder and intestines were formed on the outside of her body and had grown into a non-functioning mass of tissue. Doctors also told the couple that Tammy’s health was at risk from a continued pregnancy, especially if the fetus died in utero.
Sophie Horak, from Batavia, Illinois. Sophie, the manager of a medical office, and her husband Bob, a firefighter, wanted a large family. In October of 1992 they were thrilled to learn that she was expecting their second child. In her fifth month of pregnancy, however, a routine ultrasound revealed an advanced and comprehensive case of diaphragmatic hernia. The surgery would not be possible, and Joey could not survive. Sophie and Bob wanted to spare their son any suffering, and agreed with their doctors’ advice that terminating the pregnancy through intact D & E was the most appropriate medical option. After ending the pregnancy, the Horaks took their son home to Illinois for a Catholic funeral.
Eileen Sullivan, from Los Angeles, California. A Catholic with ten brothers and sisters, Eileen had long awaited her first child. She and her husband were devastated to discover, at 26 weeks of pregnancy, that testing revealed overwhelming and fatal abnormalities in their son, including an improperly formed brain, a malformed heart, no lungs, and a non-functioning liver. The severe anomalies were incompatible with life. Eileen had an intact D & E abortion.
Most people who read statistics about abortion or prolife arguments are unaware of the personal and often tragic nature of the decisions actually made about abortion.
Copyright The Human Quest Mar/Apr 1998
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