Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist

If there is one thing that is likely to arouse the most emotional response in people it is the subject of therapeutic abortion. In Canada, at least, it is no longer an all consuming public debate since the Supreme Court struck down the laws restricting therapeutic abortions, and the federal government has yet to introduce new legislation. To all intents and purposes, then, there are no laws restricting therapeutic abortions in Canada. Legally, a fetus does not become a “person” in Canada until they have been born and unborn embryos and fetuses are not legal “persons”. In practice, therapeutic abortions are readily available in Canada for any woman who wants one, with a few exceptions. Since they are not illegal, the anti-abortion pressures are restricted to social ones and are predominantly religious.

There is a saying that “politics makes strange bedfellows”. I suggest that the subject of abortion makes even stranger ones. Different religious groups having different, perhaps even opposing, beliefs which results in them usually not associating with each other, work side by side to a common goal in this area. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians who think of the Roman Church as the epitome of evil work side by side with its members to a common goal. That goal being to return to a time when therapeutic abortions were illegal and socially unpalatable.

The historical facts are that during this period in the past when abortions were banned numerous women were killed by botched abortions. This also will happen again should the religious groups get their way, since the need for abortions will not go away just because someone who is not involved says it should. People’s circumstances differ and there are a myriad reasons why a woman may wish to terminate a pregnancy. That should be her business, not the business of a religious group seeking to force their view of morality on the rest of the population, a population who may be predominantly irreligious anyway, as many surveys have shown Canadians increasingly to be.

In the unlikely event that anti-abortion groups are successful in recriminalising therapeutic abortions, should they not take some of the responsibility for those deaths that will undoubtedly follow? If they get their way and succeed in returning to the approach used in the past of legislating abortions as illegal, any deaths which result from back street abortions should be laid squarely at their feet, for they are the reason the death happened. People, including religionists, must take responsibility for their actions, and if the consequences of anti-abortion legislation brought about by pressure from them is the death of a pregnant woman, then to the degree they pressured the legislators to that same degree they are responsible for the death. I do not mean this just in a moral sense, I mean it in legal and financial senses as well.

If the pressure religious groups bring to bear on legislators results in anti-abortion legislation, then the relatives, particularly the husband, children and parents, of any women who dies as a consequence should have the option of suing the religious groups for damages on the basis that Canada has separation of church and state, and the death of the woman concerned was brought about by violating that separation and her human rights. Denial of their involvement by religious corporations and churches, arguing that anti-abortion activists were acting as individuals, should be rejected since these organisations are working hand in glove with their members in this area, despite being registered charities which are forbidden to engage in political action.

It is interesting to note that many of the same people who want abortions to be illegal are the same ones who resent supporting a single mother with children, even if those children would not have been born if the woman had access to a therapeutic abortion during pregnancy. They want their cake and eat it too. They want to compel women to give birth, but want her to be solely responsible for raising those children. They are quite willing to put women into an untenable situation but deny any responsibility for her being there. Their self justification always come down to one thing, yet another religious, moral absolute being rammed down someone’s throat along the lines of, “If you don’t want children, don’t have sex!”

Anti-abortionists are not all cut from the same cloth. A minority are absolutists, that is, they want an absolute ban on all therapeutic abortions no matter how the pregnancy came about. Others, who appear to be the majority, are more liberal and would make an exception for pregnancies arising as a consequence of rape or incest, or for fetuses which have some developmental disorders. Surely, though the normal fetus of a raped woman is as valid a human life as the normal fetus from a love affair or a marriage. If one can be terminated why not the other? An English proverb says, “The exception proves (tests) the rule”. Allowing an exception to the rule that abortions are wrong, tests the whole foundation of the anti-abortion stance, since accepting that the termination of one fetus is not wrong but is justified means that termination of any fetus is not wrong but is justified. If one exception is allowed, simple justice says that all must be allowed.

A frequently heard objection raised against abortions is that it is used as a means of birth control. I am not sure that is the case, and I think it more likely that it is used when birth control fails for some reason, or due to a lapse in personal control. I do not believe that there are many women, if any, who deliberately get pregnant just to have an abortion, but I suspect there are a lot who insist their partner use a condom only to have the condom fail. Everyone’s life experiences are different and an individual woman will have an individual experience and an individual reason for being pregnant, and there is no way anyone else can know what that is. Nor should they be interested in knowing. It is her private business.

The decision to terminate a pregnancy is between the woman and her physician, and the physician’s role is advisory, not decision taking. The physician can give advice about the process and what may happen afterwards, based on the woman’s individual medical history, but should be limited to that. She can then decide what to do, discussing it with others if she wishes. Should she decide to have an abortion it will be her decision and her business. Should she decide to have an abortion on more than one occasion, that also is her business and nobody else’s. Obviously, if a woman is capable of deciding to have sexual intercourse and becomes pregnant she is also capable of deciding what else she will allow to happen to her body.

Criticism of this nature are often not based on logic but on emotion. That is the reason words such as “murder” or “baby killer” are bandied about, or grossly exaggerated and distorted descriptions of the abortion procedures are made, or pictures of fetuses in waste bags are displayed. It is quite obvious to any experienced photographer that such pictures are arranged and composed because of the need for proper lighting and composition to obtain a clear photograph. In other words, they are deliberately composed by anti-abortionists misusing the bodies of fetuses and stillbirths so as to be emotionally draining. Emotion is used to replace logic because when people have a strong negative emotional response to some activity they tend to find reasons for blocking that activity, a process called rationalisation. So much of the anti-abortion rhetoric is of this kind.

Even more reprehensible than distortion of our emotions is the outright murder that some anti-abortion terrorists have committed. Killing doctors for following their consciences and helping women in need has caused some Christianist crusaders to become murderers, using high powered rifles to terrorise those in the medical professions who would otherwise assist women with these procedures. As a consequence, out of fear for their safety, some health care workers refused to be involved in that aspect of medical treatment. What can one say about this? Not much, really, except to note that Jesus personally condemned the violent actions of the apostle Peter when he cut off the ear of a guard trying to arrest him. Religious anti-abortionists should consider this when tempted to take actions which may be comparable to those of Peter, or worse. Such actions are clearly and indisputably unchristian and may well be antichristian. It is unchristian because Jesus condemned it, and it is antichristian because it contaminates Christianity’s moral precepts with murder, thereby defaming it. It should be noted that, when asked to do so, some senior Christian church officials avoided specifically condemning these murders, and I think that is pointedly reprehensible.

Some cultures prefer to have male children and female children are considered less desirable. Many reasons are given for this, ranging from the economic drain on the family from the necessity for a dowry for the girl when she marries to outright hatred of girls in the belief that they are of less value than boys. All I can say is that the families I have known from these cultures who had girls obviously loved them very much. Like many things, simple explanations usually miss the mark in complex scenarios, and I am not sure someone from another culture, as I am, can really understand the reasons.

Nevertheless, it is generally considered undesirable to choose to have an abortion on the basis of the sex of the fetus. Among other things, such as equality issues, there is the necessity to have approximately the same number of female as male children born. Most men want a spouse, eventually, and who would that be in most cases but a woman? A shortage of women would mean that some men would not be able to marry and have children, a situation which some commentators are concerned could lead to increased frustrations and sexually motivated violence.

In Canada the sex of a fetus is no longer identified to the parents until after the fetus has developed to the point at which an abortion is no longer available. In other jurisdictions this is not the case, leading to sex-selection tourism. This issue needs to be addressed internationally so that sex selection abortions are made as difficult to obtain as possible. Unfortunately, this does not seem likely to happen.

What rights does a man have in all of this? Very little, in real terms. Since it is not he who becomes pregnant, a man should have no decision making power over a pregnant woman no matter what the relationship may be. It is to be hoped that a pregnant woman would discuss it with the father of her unborn child, particularly if they are in a stable relationship, formal or otherwise, but giving advice or expressing an opinion is about as far as his rights go. He must accept the decision the woman makes. This does not mean, of course, that he has no recourse. In the same way that a woman has control of her body and decides who she lives with and who she has sexual relations with, so does the man. If he truly cannot accept a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy then his choice is limited to leaving the relationship. In future he may prefer to use birth control or reach an agreement with the woman about her becoming pregnant beforehand.

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