I generally steer clear of abortion debates, but a discussion on another blog inspired me to share a few thoughts.
About fifteen years ago, my wife had a miscarriage. At the time, we had two small children and my wife had recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness which promised to make her third pregnancy much tougher than the first two. Piled on top of that, I was not going to be able to help out as much as I had with the first two kids because some recent career reversals had me working a lot of hours at a crappy job just to make ends meet. My wife and I never considered an abortion and I have no doubt that I would have loved that child as much as the other two, but I have to confess that my primary reaction to that miscarriage was relief. In light of our situation at the time, I felt like we had finally caught a break.
I suppose there are some who might consider me a monster for feeling the way I did, but I would like to think that most people would view the miscarriage and my feelings about it a private matter between my wife and me. I have known people whose reactions to a miscarriage varied from relief to detached resignation to mourning. I don’t feel that anyone had any right to tell any of them what their reaction should be.
According to some medical experts, 15% of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage and this does not count the women who miscarry without ever realizing they were pregnant. If that many infants suffered crib death, we would consider it tragic and medical science would be striving to find a solution to the problem, but miscarriages draw little attention. In fact, it would be foolish to devote too much effort to eliminating miscarriages because they are often nature’s way of dealing with severe genetic abnormalities.
The point of this is that I think that our natural moral sense (whatever that may be) does not recognize a first trimester fetus as a unique person having the same claim on society’s attention and protection as a baby born alive. I think that this is an innate sense of the thing that has built up over millions of years of evolution. Even many people that would not choose abortion for themselves are never going to feel that this stage of the pregnancy is anything but a private matter.
The anti-abortion crowd asserts that every abortion is the murder of an innocent baby and that the failure to be shocked by this is proof of moral depravity. However, I see no evidence of their dismay at the millions of babies that die through miscarriages or the millions more whose lives are ended when a fertilized egg naturally fails to attach to the uterine wall. Nor do I expect to see such evidence because I think they recognize that these are not yet person who have a claim on society's attention. That does not mean that the pro-life side might not make some powerful arguments when it comes to late term abortions, but 75% of abortions occur at ten weeks or less. The claim that every one of these is the murder of an innocent baby isn’t going to ring true for most people. I personally find it very difficult to attribute the malevolence of a murderer to someone who chooses the result that I was so relieved to obtain by chance.