Friday, August 15, 2008

On Abortion

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.


  1. I think the difference between miscarriage and abortion, as far as a conservative person would see it, would be that one is the product of chance or circumstance and one is by choice. Which is as stupid of a point as the term "pro-life" is. When it comes to a situation such as yours, most would sympathize with you since it wasn't your choice to terminate the pregnancy, and share in your relief. I'm assuming we're speaking of rational human beings, here. However, regardless of your situations, should you have chosen to abort, you would've been labeled a monster by some of the same people.

    I'm not sure if I have a point here, this was just a thought I had upon reading your fantastic blog.

  2. You do have a point (and I don't mean about my blog being fantastic) and it is absolutely true. I agree that whether something is intentionally caused is a significant issue in the moral calculus.

    However, my response would be this:

    If we are going to respond to the intentional termination of a first term fetus in the same way we respond to the murder of a one month old, shouldn't we respond to a miscarriage in the same way we would respond to a one month old who dies of SIDS?

    Isn't the fact that we don't respond that way as a society evidence of some sort of moral consensus that the first term fetus really isn't a person in the same sense that the one month old baby is?

    Isn't the fact that you can respect my reaction to the miscarriage evidence of that moral consensus? After all, if my three year old had been hit and killed by a car and I responded with "At least that's one less mouth to feed," wouldn't you quite justifiably think that I was a monster?

    I certainly don't imagine that I am offering any sort of comprehensive argument in favor of legalized abortion. However, I think a person who is morally opposed to abortion might be able to see that "baby murdering" is not a reasonable characterization.

  3. Maybe some people don't see miscarriages as all that bad, but I haven't met any who were also pro-life. (I'm not saying you're pro-choice.)

    My mom miscarried twice and mourned deeply. Other ladies in our church has done the same, and the entire church has mourned. These are precious children, and I've even met a couple of complete strangers mourning the loss of a child in such a way.

    While some may not hurt so much, or might not hurt at all, abortion is still wrong.

    N8 T8

  4. I have also known women who mourned deeply, but as a society, I don't think we respond to miscarriage in the same way we react to something like SIDS that claims the lives of infants.