Section Six: The Case for Abortion

How far should an unborn potential life dictate the future of the life of the woman that carries it in her womb? It is only the woman carrying that unborn potential who can really answer this question. In today’s world, individuals are less likely to accept their lot in life by submitting to whatever life brings them. This has much to do with the rejection of religious norms for the way society ought to think, and the acceptance of a more rational freedom of individuals in seeking quality of life. It may well be that there are ethical implications of ending a potential life, but there are also ethical implications involved in condemning a woman to a life she does not want.

Few women take the choice to abort lightly and abortion clinics are only too familiar with the timidity, fear, and distress of most women who cross their thresholds. Some women are happy to have many children; some do not want any at all. For each woman, there is a limit beyond which the quality of life vanishes, and there is also a time when it is right to have a child and a time when it is radically wrong.

“Pro-life” groups, as they call themselves, or Anti-abortion Rights campaigners, often make the point that adoption, or putting a child in care, are better options than abortion. But pro-abortion rights groups demand, “Better for whom?” Certainly not for the mother, who has the added burden of carrying a child she does not want to full term, a birth process that she does not want, and then the guilt of parting with the child. And orphanages were full when abortion was illegal: clearly, without abortion, there will be many unwanted children in institutional care.

Bringing another human being into the world is a highly responsible and important act. Unless that being can be offered a considerable measure of quality it seems futile to bring him or her into a world where the quality of life would be lacking. The fundamental rights of women mean little if they cannot control their own fertility. The woman is a living, conscious human being, with knowledge of the joys and vicissitudes of life. Her life, balanced against an unconscious potential life is precious, more precious than the potential life that she carries. Without quality in her life — in whatever way the woman understands that word — her life expression is diminished.

One of the most important criteria for later terminations of pregnancies is the evidence that the fetus is seriously handicapped either mentally, physically or both. Most women who carry a potential child in their womb are radically concerned that they will bear a “normal” baby. Some women will cope admirably with a handicapped child; others would never be able to cope.

Given the increasing overpopulation of the planet, abortion is seen as one way of limiting population expansion. In China, for example, abortion is compulsory for those who have more than one child (though this has brought increasing evidence of infanticide for baby girls), and in Tibet, one has to have a certificate in order to become pregnant. Severe financial penalties ensue for those who conceive again. In Bangladesh, a choice between sterilization and starvation has been the policy in years past.

In India it is often potential females that are aborted, partly because of the crucial difference an extra mouth to feed can make in impoverished families, but also because a woman will normally reproduce until she has a son. Sons are socially and religiously important for maintaining parents in their old age, for status, and for important religious death rites. Through its long history, Hinduism has generally given the male a far greater status than the female. In fact, women are not even permitted to read certain scriptures.

In India, then, disappointment will surround the woman who gives birth to girls, when there is no boy, and since the amniocentesis test has become available, abortion has become a means of restricting family size, accounting both for the need for son(s), and for the need for a smaller family. However, to humanists, abortion as a means of curbing population expansion is misguided belief: it is efficient contraception that should do this, and this will only occur with better sex education and health services concerned with birth control.

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