In Abortion, Life Advocacy

Abortion made the headlines repeatedly in 2004 and has resurfaced in the media in 2005. This surprising development was due in large part to Tony Abbott, the Federal Minister for Health.

On 16 March 2004, Mr Abbott spoke about abortion in an address to the Adelaide University Democratic Club, concluding that “as a measure of the moral health of our society, 100,000 terminated babies is a statistic that offers no comfort at all” (The Australian, 17/3/04).

In the midst of the furore in July over the ABC’s decision to screen the abortion documentary, My Foetus, Mr Abbott stated, “If moves were made to unambiguously ban late-term abortions, I would sincerely support that as a move worthy of consideration” (The Australian, 16/7/04).

When protesters placed coat hangers bearing personal messages to him in front of government offices in Darlinghurst on National Abortion Rights Day, Mr Abbott responded on the Nine Network: “I think the 100,000 abortions we have in Australia are a national tragedy and the interesting thing is that a lot of people who were the great advocates of choice two decades ago are themselves having second thoughts. So a debate has begun and let’s see where it goes” (The Age, 8/8/04).

Addressing Cardinal Pell and other church leaders at a Catholic conference at the end of October, Mr Abbott said: “More than a quarter of all pregnancies in Australia end in abortion. We will be a better country, we will be a better people and, frankly, we will have better governments if the church speaks its mind clearly and unambiguously on this” (The Age, 1/11/04).

When his Parliamentary Secretary, Chris Pyne, told The Age in November that abortions “shouldn’t be carried out at all beyond 21 weeks”, Mr Abbott defended him on ABC radio, declaring: “I don’t much like abortion full stop, but obviously abortions at a point in the pregnancy when the child to be might otherwise be viable, obviously raise even more serious ethical issues than those much earlier in pregnancy” (“AM”, 1/11/04).

A few days later, Mr Abbott commented: “I think women’s right to choose is a good principle, but is it an unforced choice? … Are people being railroaded by parents, husbands, boyfriends and the culture of convenience?” (The Age, 5/11/04).

Predictably, pro-abortionists were incensed by Mr Abbott’s comments and rounded on him at every opportunity. But their fury and invective simply served to keep the spotlight on abortion throughout last year.

This year, more of Mr Abbott’s parliamentary colleagues have voiced concern about abortion and have flagged the possibility of a private member’s bill to restrict Medicare funding on late-term abortions. The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, has indicated that he will allow the issue to be debated in parliament if a private member’s bill is put up.

The challenge for pro-lifers in 2005 is to perpetuate the momentum of 2004 in the hope that the Howard Government will use its majority in the Senate after July to curtail abortion in some way. One way to do this is to familiarise ourselves with arguments against abortion, arguments that we can share in conversations with family and friends or in letters to politicians and newspapers.

To assist in such “consciousness raising”, I offer the following arguments in defence of the unborn.*

The Beginning of Life

Those who favour abortion (ie, the destruction of an embryo or a foetus in the womb through surgical or chemical means) argue that human life does not begin at conception. They maintain that the foetus is merely a potential human being. Supposedly, then, “nature” intervenes at some arbitrary point to confer humanity upon the foetus. Yet advocates of this view cannot explain when the foetus actually becomes a human being. Is it after the first trimester—that is, the first three months of growth? Is it when the foetus is viable—that is, able to survive outside the mother’s womb? Is it upon birth after nine months gestation? They cannot say.

People opposed to abortion, however, maintain that human life begins at the beginning—that is, at conception. For it is both a biological and a logical fact that life commences when a sperm and an ovum unite. If this life is not “terminated”, the foetus will grow into an infant, then into a child, then into an adolescent, and then into an adult.

If left alone, the foetus (Latin for “young one” or “offspring”) will grow into a recognisable human being, never anything else. A woman does not become pregnant and then wonder what she will give birth to. She might wonder if the young one she carries will be normal or handicapped, healthy or sick, male or female, but she never wonders if her offspring will be human.

Stages of Development

Advocates of abortion claim that the unborn child is merely “a blob of protoplasm” or a “mass of tissue”. This is utterly untrue.

The baby’s blood cells form as early as the seventeenth day. His (or her) eyes
begin to form around the nineteenth day. His nervous system begins to form around the twentieth day. His heart begins regular pulsations (a legal sign of life) around the twenty-fifth day. His cerebral cortex begins to form around the thirty-third day, with brain waves being recordable ten days later.

Around seven weeks (before most abortions are performed) the unborn child is recognisably human, with a miniature head, face and body, and tiny arms, legs, fingers and toes. Around eight weeks all his organs—brain, liver, kidneys and stomach—are functioning. Around the tenth week he can squint, swallow, kick, and grasp.

If women were told these facts, they would not so easily succumb to the lie that life in the womb is merely a blob of protoplasm that can be destroyed at a whim.

Complete from Conception

However, as important as these facts and this argument may be, there is a deeper fact and a stronger argument yet. The child is actually complete from conception. There is never a moment when another gene is added to determine his sex or eye-colour or some other characteristic. He is complete, needing only nutrition, oxygen and protection.

Consequently, it is not quite correct to say, for example, that the child’s brain begins to form around the thirty-third day. The truth is, the blueprint is there from conception, contained in the chromosomes and genes.

Just as a woman cannot be a little bit pregnant, a foetus cannot be a little bit human. From conception, he is as fully human as his mother is fully pregnant. As has been said by others, the foetus is not a potential human being but a human being with great potential.

Viability Outside the Womb

Some people argue that it is all right to abort a child before he is viable—that is, before he can live unaided outside the womb. Children born eighteen weeks prematurely (after only twenty-two weeks gestation) have been known to survive with adequate medical care. Until this point, however, they cannot survive outside the womb and are therefore, some argue, suitable candidates for abortion. This is a curious logic for two reasons.

Firstly, helplessness is not a justification for extermination. What has a child’s frailty got to do with his right to life? A person is not expendable simply because he is vulnerable. In humane, civilised societies, the defenceless are viewed as candidates not for wanton destruction but for special protection. It is mischievous to attempt to validate abortion by arguments about the viability of the foetus. A child who is helpless has a special right to care and protection, and persons entrusted with such care and protection have a special obligation to deliver it.

Arguments about the viability of the foetus are illogical in a second way. If independence is a condition for survival, then a child who is born at term is not safe either. For even after nine months in the womb, a child is utterly dependent upon his mother. As far as dependency is concerned, a baby’s situation before birth is exactly the same as his situation after birth. While the nature of the nutrition and care that a child requires may change, the need for it does not. Whether his nutrition comes via the umbilical cord or the breast, whether his shelter comes from the womb or the bunny rug—either way, a child is utterly helpless, utterly dependent. If inability to survive unaided is not a valid argument for infanticide, nor is it a valid argument for abortion.

A Part of a Woman’s Body

Some people claim that a foetus is a part of a woman’s body, and therefore may be treated as she pleases. This is a mistaken assumption.

An unborn child is not a part of a woman’s body, like an appendix or a tooth. He is an independent person, with his own brain, heart, organs and body. His genetic structure is different from his mother’s and his blood may be of a different type. Indeed, if the baby is a he, even his sex is different! Both before and after birth, a child is an independent being who happens to be dependent on his mother for care and nutrition.

Abortion is not about a woman’s right to control her own body. It is about her right to control—or more accurately, to destroy—another person’s body, namely, her child’s.

Part 2 of “Arguments against abortion” will appear in the June issue of Life News.

* These arguments are taken from my pamphlet, “In Defence of the Unborn”, which is available from Life Ministries, 4/334 Wanneroo Road, Nollamara, WA 6061. Phone: (08) 9344 7396.

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