BREAKING DOWN CARL SAGAN’S LOGIC ON ABORTION Part 38 “Is it wrong to abort a pregnancy? Always? Sometimes? Never?” (My 1995 correspondence with Sagan)

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Carl Sagan asked, “Is it wrong to abort a pregnancy? Always? Sometimes? Never?” The prolife response is found later in this post in the article entitled:

Abortion: The Right to Live – Some considerations on the bioethical issues at the beginning of life

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Recently I have been revisiting my correspondence in 1995 with the famous astronomer Carl Sagan who I had the privilege to correspond with in 1994, 1995 and 1996. In 1996 I had a chance to respond to his December 5, 1995letter on January 10, 1996 and I never heard back from him again since his cancer returned and he passed away later in 1996. Below is what Carl Sagan wrote to me in his December 5, 1995 letter:

Thanks for your recent letter about evolution and abortion. The correlation is hardly one to one; there are evolutionists who are anti-abortion and anti-evolutionists who are pro-abortion.You argue that God exists because otherwise we could not understand the world in our consciousness. But if you think God is necessary to understand the world, then why do you not ask the next question of where God came from? And if you say “God was always here,” why not say that the universe was always here? On abortion, my views are contained in the enclosed article (Sagan, Carl and Ann Druyan {1990}, “The Question of Abortion,” Parade Magazine, April 22.)

I was introduced to when reading a book by Francis Schaeffer called HE IS THERE AND HE IS NOT SILENT written in 1968. 

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Francis Schaeffer when he was a young pastor in St. Louis pictured above.

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Francis Schaeffer and Adrian Rogers

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(both Adrian Rogers and Francis Schaeffer mentioned Carl Sagan in their books and that prompted me to write Sagan and expose him to their views.


Carl Sagan pictured below:

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Francis Schaeffer

I mentioned earlier that I was blessed with the opportunity to correspond with Dr. Sagan. In his December 5, 1995 letter Dr. Sagan went on to tell me that he was enclosing his article “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. I am going to respond to several points made in that article. Here is a portion of Sagan’s article (here is a link to the whole article):

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Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan pictured above

 “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”

by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

For the complete text, including illustrations, introductory quote, footnotes, and commentary on the reaction to the originally published article see Billions and Billions.

The issue had been decided years ago. The court had chosen the middle ground. You’d think the fight was over. Instead, there are mass rallies, bombings and intimidation, murders of workers at abortion clinics, arrests, intense lobbying, legislative drama, Congressional hearings, Supreme Court decisions, major political parties almost defining themselves on the issue, and clerics threatening politicians with perdition. Partisans fling accusations of hypocrisy and murder. The intent of the Constitution and the will of God are equally invoked. Doubtful arguments are trotted out as certitudes. The contending factions call on science to bolster their positions. Families are divided, husbands and wives agree not to discuss it, old friends are no longer speaking. Politicians check the latest polls to discover the dictates of their consciences. Amid all the shouting, it is hard for the adversaries to hear one another. Opinions are polarized. Minds are closed.

 

Is it wrong to abort a pregnancy? Always? Sometimes? Never? How do we decide? We wrote this article to understand better what the contending views are and to see if we ourselves could find a position that would satisfy us both. Is there no middle ground? We had to weigh the arguments of both sides for consistency and to pose test cases, some of which are purely hypothetical. If in some of these tests we seem to go too far, we ask the reader to be patient with us–we’re trying to stress the various positions to the breaking point to see their weaknesses and where they fail.

In contemplative moments, nearly everyone recognizes that the issue is not wholly one-sided. Many partisans of differing views, we find, feel some disquiet, some unease when confronting what’s behind the opposing arguments. (This is partly why such confrontations are avoided.) And the issue surely touches on deep questions: What are our responses to one another? Should we permit the state to intrude into the most intimate and personal aspects of our lives? Where are the boundaries of freedom? What does it mean to be human?

Of the many actual points of view, it is widely held–especially in the media, which rarely have the time or the inclination to make fine distinctions–that there are only two: “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” This is what the two principal warring camps like to call themselves, and that’s what we’ll call them here. In the simplest characterization, a pro-choicer would hold that the decision to abort a pregnancy is to be made only by the woman; the state has no right to interfere. And a pro-lifer would hold that, from the moment of conception, the embryo or fetus is alive; that this life imposes on us a moral obligation to preserve it; and that abortion is tantamount to murder. Both names–pro-choice and pro-life–were picked with an eye toward influencing those whose minds are not yet made up: Few people wish to be counted either as being against freedom of choice or as opposed to life. Indeed, freedom and life are two of our most cherished values, and here they seem to be in fundamental conflict.

Let’s consider these two absolutist positions in turn. A newborn baby is surely the same being it was just before birth. There ‘s good evidence that a late-term fetus responds to sound–including music, but especially its mother’s voice. It can suck its thumb or do a somersault. Occasionally, it generates adult brain-wave patterns. Some people claim to remember being born, or even the uterine environment. Perhaps there is thought in the womb. It’s hard to maintain that a transformation to full personhood happens abruptly at the moment of birth. Why, then, should it be murder to kill an infant the day after it was born but not the day before?

As a practical matter, this isn’t very important: Less than 1 percent of all tabulated abortions in the United States are listed in the last three months of pregnancy (and, on closer investigation, most such reports turn out to be due to miscarriage or miscalculation). But third-trimester abortions provide a test of the limits of the pro-choice point of view. Does a woman’s “innate right to control her own body” encompass the right to kill a near-term fetus who is, for all intents and purposes, identical to a newborn child?

We believe that many supporters of reproductive freedom are troubled at least occasionally by this question. But they are reluctant to raise it because it is the beginning of a slippery slope. If it is impermissible to abort a pregnancy in the ninth month, what about the eighth, seventh, sixth … ? Once we acknowledge that the state can interfere at any time in the pregnancy, doesn’t it follow that the state can interfere at all times?

Abortion and the slippery slope argument above

This conjures up the specter of predominantly male, predominantly affluent legislators telling poor women they must bear and raise alone children they cannot afford to bring up; forcing teenagers to bear children they are not emotionally prepared to deal with; saying to women who wish for a career that they must give up their dreams, stay home, and bring up babies; and, worst of all, condemning victims of rape and incest to carry and nurture the offspring of their assailants. Legislative prohibitions on abortion arouse the suspicion that their real intent is to control the independence and sexuality of women…

And yet, by consensus, all of us think it proper that there be prohibitions against, and penalties exacted for, murder. It would be a flimsy defense if the murderer pleads that this is just between him and his victim and none of the government’s business. If killing a fetus is truly killing a human being, is it not the duty of the state to prevent it? Indeed, one of the chief functions of government is to protect the weak from the strong.

If we do not oppose abortion at some stage of pregnancy, is there not a danger of dismissing an entire category of human beings as unworthy of our protection and respect? And isn’t that dismissal the hallmark of sexism, racism, nationalism, and religious fanaticism? Shouldn’t those dedicated to fighting such injustices be scrupulously careful not to embrace another?

Adrian Rogers’ sermon on animal rights refutes Sagan here

There is no right to life in any society on Earth today, nor has there been at any former time… : We raise farm animals for slaughter; destroy forests; pollute rivers and lakes until no fish can live there; kill deer and elk for sport, leopards for the pelts, and whales for fertilizer; entrap dolphins, gasping and writhing, in great tuna nets; club seal pups to death; and render a species extinct every day. All these beasts and vegetables are as alive as we. What is (allegedly) protected is not life, but human life.

Genesis 3 defines being human

And even with that protection, casual murder is an urban commonplace, and we wage “conventional” wars with tolls so terrible that we are, most of us, afraid to consider them very deeply… That protection, that right to life, eludes the 40,000 children under five who die on our planet each day from preventable starvation, dehydration, disease, and neglect.

Those who assert a “right to life” are for (at most) not just any kind of life, but for–particularly and uniquely—human life. So they too, like pro-choicers, must decide what distinguishes a human being from other animals and when, during gestation, the uniquely human qualities–whatever they are–emerge.

The Bible talks about the differences between humans and animals

Despite many claims to the contrary, life does not begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain that stretches back nearly to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago. Nor does human life begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Every human sperm and egg is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, alive. They are not human beings, of course. However, it could be argued that neither is a fertilized egg.

In some animals, an egg develops into a healthy adult without benefit of a sperm cell. But not, so far as we know, among humans. A sperm and an unfertilized egg jointly comprise the full genetic blueprint for a human being. Under certain circumstances, after fertilization, they can develop into a baby. But most fertilized eggs are spontaneously miscarried. Development into a baby is by no means guaranteed. Neither a sperm and egg separately, nor a fertilized egg, is more than a potential baby or a potential adult. So if a sperm and egg are as human as the fertilized egg produced by their union, and if it is murder to destroy a fertilized egg–despite the fact that it’s only potentially a baby–why isn’t it murder to destroy a sperm or an egg?

Hundreds of millions of sperm cells (top speed with tails lashing: five inches per hour) are produced in an average human ejaculation. A healthy young man can produce in a week or two enough spermatozoa to double the human population of the Earth. So is masturbation mass murder? How about nocturnal emissions or just plain sex? When the unfertilized egg is expelled each month, has someone died? Should we mourn all those spontaneous miscarriages? Many lower animals can be grown in a laboratory from a single body cell. Human cells can be cloned… In light of such cloning technology, would we be committing mass murder by destroying any potentially clonable cells? By shedding a drop of blood?

 

All human sperm and eggs are genetic halves of “potential” human beings. Should heroic efforts be made to save and preserve all of them, everywhere, because of this “potential”? Is failure to do so immoral or criminal? Of course, there’s a difference between taking a life and failing to save it. And there’s a big difference between the probability of survival of a sperm cell and that of a fertilized egg. But the absurdity of a corps of high-minded semen-preservers moves us to wonder whether a fertilized egg’s mere “potential” to become a baby really does make destroying it murder.

Opponents of abortion worry that, once abortion is permissible immediately after conception, no argument will restrict it at any later time in the pregnancy. Then, they fear, one day it will be permissible to murder a fetus that is unambiguously a human being. Both pro-choicers and pro-lifers (at least some of them) are pushed toward absolutist positions by parallel fears of the slippery slope.

 

Another slippery slope is reached by those pro-lifers who are willing to make an exception in the agonizing case of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. But why should the right to live depend on the circumstances of conception? If the same child were to result, can the state ordain life for the offspring of a lawful union but death for one conceived by force or coercion? How can this be just? And if exceptions are extended to such a fetus, why should they be withheld from any other fetus? This is part of the reason some pro-lifers adopt what many others consider the outrageous posture of opposing abortions under any and all circumstances–only excepting, perhaps, when the life of the mother is in danger.

By far the most common reason for abortion worldwide is birth control. So shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions. Instead, the United States is far behind other nations in the development of safe and effective methods of birth control–and, in many cases, opposition to such research (and to sex education) has come from the same people who oppose abortions.continue on to Part 3

For the complete text, including illustrations, introductory quote, footnotes, and commentary on the reaction to the originally published article see Billions and Billions.

The attempt to find an ethically sound and unambiguous judgment on when, if ever, abortion is permissible has deep historical roots. Often, especially in Christian tradition, such attempts were connected with the question of when the soul enters the body–a matter not readily amenable to scientific investigation and an issue of controversy even among learned theologians. Ensoulment has been asserted to occur in the sperm before conception, at conception, at the time of “quickening” (when the mother is first able to feel the fetus stirring within her), and at birth. Or even later.

Different religions have different teachings. Among hunter-gatherers, there are usually no prohibitions against abortion, and it was common in ancient Greece and Rome. In contrast, the more severe Assyrians impaled women on stakes for attempting abortion. The Jewish Talmud teaches that the fetus is not a person and has no rights. The Old and New Testaments–rich in astonishingly detailed prohibitions on dress, diet, and permissible words–contain not a word specifically prohibiting abortion. The only passage that’s remotely relevant (Exodus 21:22) decrees that if there’s a fight and a woman bystander should accidentally be injured and made to miscarry, the assailant must pay a fine.

Neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas Aquinas considered early-term abortion to be homicide (the latter on the grounds that the embryo doesn’t look human). This view was embraced by the Church in the Council of Vienne in 1312, and has never been repudiated. The Catholic Church’s first and long-standing collection of canon law (according to the leading historian of the Church’s teaching on abortion, John Connery, S.J.) held that abortion was homicide only after the fetus was already “formed”–roughly, the end of the first trimester.

But when sperm cells were examined in the seventeenth century by the first microscopes, they were thought to show a fully formed human being. An old idea of the homunculus was resuscitated–in which within each sperm cell was a fully formed tiny human, within whose testes were innumerable other homunculi, etc., ad infinitum. In part through this misinterpretation of scientific data, in 1869 abortion at any time for any reason became grounds for excommunication. It is surprising to most Catholics and others to discover that the date was not much earlier.

From colonial times to the nineteenth century, the choice in the United States was the woman’s until “quickening.” An abortion in the first or even second trimester was at worst a misdemeanor. Convictions were rarely sought and almost impossible to obtain, because they depended entirely on the woman’s own testimony of whether she had felt quickening, and because of the jury’s distaste for prosecuting a woman for exercising her right to choose. In 1800 there was not, so far as is known, a single statute in the United States concerning abortion. Advertisements for drugs to induce abortion could be found in virtually every newspaper and even in many church publications–although the language used was suitably euphemistic, if widely understood.

But by 1900, abortion had been banned at any time in pregnancy by every state in the Union, except when necessary to save the woman’s life. What happened to bring about so striking a reversal? Religion had little to do with it.Drastic economic and social conversions were turning this country from an agrarian to an urban-industrial society. America was in the process of changing from having one of the highest birthrates in the world to one of the lowest. Abortion certainly played a role and stimulated forces to suppress it.

 

One of the most significant of these forces was the medical profession. Up to the mid-nineteenth century, medicine was an uncertified, unsupervised business. Anyone could hang up a shingle and call himself (or herself) a doctor. With the rise of a new, university-educated medical elite, anxious to enhance the status and influence of physicians, the American Medical Association was formed. In its first decade, the AMA began lobbying against abortions performed by anyone except licensed physicians. New knowledge of embryology, the physicians said, had shown the fetus to be human even before quickening.

Their assault on abortion was motivated not by concern for the health of the woman but, they claimed, for the welfare of the fetus. You had to be a physician to know when abortion was morally justified, because the question depended on scientific and medical facts understood only by physicians. At the same time, women were effectively excluded from the medical schools, where such arcane knowledge could be acquired. So, as things worked out, women had almost nothing to say about terminating their own pregnancies. It was also up to the physician to decide if the pregnancy posed a threat to the woman, and it was entirely at his discretion to determine what was and was not a threat. For the rich woman, the threat might be a threat to her emotional tranquillity or even to her lifestyle. The poor woman was often forced to resort to the back alley or the coat hanger.

This was the law until the 1960s, when a coalition of individuals and organizations, the AMA now among them, sought to overturn it and to reinstate the more traditional values that were to be embodied in Roe v. Wade.continue on to Part 4

If you deliberately kill a human being, it’s called murder. If you deliberately kill a chimpanzee–biologically, our closest relative, sharing 99.6 percent of our active genes–whatever else it is, it’s not murder. To date, murder uniquely applies to killing human beings. Therefore, the question of when personhood (or, if we like, ensoulment) arises is key to the abortion debate. When does the fetus become human? When do distinct and characteristic human qualities emerge?

Section 8 Sperm journey to becoming Human 

We recognize that specifying a precise moment will overlook individual differences. Therefore, if we must draw a line, it ought to be drawn conservatively–that is, on the early side. There are people who object to having to set some numerical limit, and we share their disquiet; but if there is to be a law on this matter, and it is to effect some useful compromise between the two absolutist positions, it must specify, at least roughly, a time of transition to personhood.

Every one of us began from a dot. A fertilized egg is roughly the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The momentous meeting of sperm and egg generally occurs in one of the two fallopian tubes. One cell becomes two, two become four, and so on—an exponentiation of base-2 arithmetic. By the tenth day the fertilized egg has become a kind of hollow sphere wandering off to another realm: the womb. It destroys tissue in its path. It sucks blood from capillaries. It bathes itself in maternal blood, from which it extracts oxygen and nutrients. It establishes itself as a kind of parasite on the walls of the uterus.By the third week, around the time of the first missed menstrual period, the forming embryo is about 2 millimeters long and is developing various body parts. Only at this stage does it begin to be dependent on a rudimentary placenta. It looks a little like a segmented worm.By the end of the fourth week, it’s about 5 millimeters (about 1/5 inch) long. It’s recognizable now as a vertebrate, its tube-shaped heart is beginning to beat, something like the gill arches of a fish or an amphibian become conspicuous, and there is a pronounced tail. It looks rather like a newt or a tadpole. This is the end of the first month after conception.By the fifth week, the gross divisions of the brain can be distinguished. What will later develop into eyes are apparent, and little buds appear—on their way to becoming arms and legs.By the sixth week, the embryo is 13 millimeteres (about ½ inch) long. The eyes are still on the side of the head, as in most animals, and the reptilian face has connected slits where the mouth and nose eventually will be.By the end of the seventh week, the tail is almost gone, and sexual characteristics can be discerned (although both sexes look female). The face is mammalian but somewhat piglike.By the end of the eighth week, the face resembles that of a primate but is still not quite human. Most of the human body parts are present in their essentials. Some lower brain anatomy is well-developed. The fetus shows some reflex response to delicate stimulation.By the tenth week, the face has an unmistakably human cast. It is beginning to be possible to distinguish males from females. Nails and major bone structures are not apparent until the third month.By the fourth month, you can tell the face of one fetus from that of another. Quickening is most commonly felt in the fifth month. The bronchioles of the lungs do not begin developing until approximately the sixth month, the alveoli still later.

So, if only a person can be murdered, when does the fetus attain personhood? When its face becomes distinctly human, near the end of the first trimester? When the fetus becomes responsive to stimuli–again, at the end of the first trimester? When it becomes active enough to be felt as quickening, typically in the middle of the second trimester? When the lungs have reached a stage of development sufficient that the fetus might, just conceivably, be able to breathe on its own in the outside air?

The trouble with these particular developmental milestones is not just that they’re arbitrary. More troubling is the fact that none of them involves uniquely humancharacteristics–apart from the superficial matter of facial appearance. All animals respond to stimuli and move of their own volition. Large numbers are able to breathe. But that doesn’t stop us from slaughtering them by the billions. Reflexes and motion are not what make us human.

Sagan’s conclusion based on arbitrary choice of the presence of thought by unborn baby

Other animals have advantages over us–in speed, strength, endurance, climbing or burrowing skills, camouflage, sight or smell or hearing, mastery of the air or water. Our one great advantage, the secret of our success, is thought–characteristically human thought. We are able to think things through, imagine events yet to occur, figure things out. That’s how we invented agriculture and civilization. Thought is our blessing and our curse, and it makes us who we are.

Thinking occurs, of course, in the brain–principally in the top layers of the convoluted “gray matter” called the cerebral cortex. The roughly 100 billion neurons in the brain constitute the material basis of thought. The neurons are connected to each other, and their linkups play a major role in what we experience as thinking. But large-scale linking up of neurons doesn’t begin until the 24th to 27th week of pregnancy–the sixth month.

By placing harmless electrodes on a subject’s head, scientists can measure the electrical activity produced by the network of neurons inside the skull. Different kinds of mental activity show different kinds of brain waves. But brain waves with regular patterns typical of adult human brains do not appear in the fetus until about the 30th week of pregnancy–near the beginning of the third trimester. Fetuses younger than this–however alive and active they may be–lack the necessary brain architecture. They cannot yet think.

Acquiescing in the killing of any living creature, especially one that might later become a baby, is troublesome and painful. But we’ve rejected the extremes of “always” and “never,” and this puts us–like it or not–on the slippery slope. If we are forced to choose a developmental criterion, then this is where we draw the line: when the beginning of characteristically human thinking becomes barely possible.

It is, in fact, a very conservative definition: Regular brain waves are rarely found in fetuses. More research would help… If we wanted to make the criterion still more stringent, to allow for occasional precocious fetal brain development, we might draw the line at six months. This, it so happens, is where the Supreme Court drew it in 1973–although for completely different reasons.

Its decision in the case of Roe v. Wade changed American law on abortion. It permits abortion at the request of the woman without restriction in the first trimester and, with some restrictions intended to protect her health, in the second trimester. It allows states to forbid abortion in the third trimester, except when there’s a serious threat to the life or health of the woman. In the 1989 Webster decision, the Supreme Court declined explicitly to overturn Roe v. Wade but in effect invited the 50 state legislatures to decide for themselves.

What was the reasoning in Roe v. Wade? There was no legal weight given to what happens to the children once they are born, or to the family. Instead, a woman’s right to reproductive freedom is protected, the court ruled, by constitutional guarantees of privacy. But that right is not unqualified. The woman’s guarantee of privacy and the fetus’s right to life must be weighed–and when the court did the weighing’ priority was given to privacy in the first trimester and to life in the third. The transition was decided not from any of the considerations we have been dealing with so far…–not when “ensoulment” occurs, not when the fetus takes on sufficient human characteristics to be protected by laws against murder. Instead, the criterion adopted was whether the fetus could live outside the mother. This is called “viability” and depends in part on the ability to breathe. The lungs are simply not developed, and the fetus cannot breathe–no matter how advanced an artificial lung it might be placed in—until about the 24th week, near the start of the sixth month. This is why Roe v. Wade permits the states to prohibit abortions in the last trimester. It’s a very pragmatic criterion.

If the fetus at a certain stage of gestation would be viable outside the womb, the argument goes, then the right of the fetus to life overrides the right of the woman to privacy. But just what does “viable” mean? Even a full-term newborn is not viable without a great deal of care and love. There was a time before incubators, only a few decades ago, when babies in their seventh month were unlikely to be viable. Would aborting in the seventh month have been permissible then? After the invention of incubators, did aborting pregnancies in the seventh month suddenly become immoral? What happens if, in the future, a new technology develops so that an artificial womb can sustain a fetus even before the sixth month by delivering oxygen and nutrients through the blood–as the mother does through the placenta and into the fetal blood system? We grant that this technology is unlikely to be developed soon or become available to many. But if it were available, does it then become immoral to abort earlier than the sixth month, when previously it was moral? A morality that depends on, and changes with, technology is a fragile morality; for some, it is also an unacceptable morality.

And why, exactly, should breathing (or kidney function, or the ability to resist disease) justify legal protection? If a fetus can be shown to think and feel but not be able to breathe, would it be all right to kill it? Do we value breathing more than thinking and feeling? Viability arguments cannot, it seems to us, coherently determine when abortions are permissible. Some other criterion is needed. Again, we offer for consideration the earliest onset of human thinking as that criterion.

Since, on average, fetal thinking occurs even later than fetal lung development, we find Roe v. Wade to be a good and prudent decision addressing a complex and difficult issue. With prohibitions on abortion in the last trimester–except in cases of grave medical necessity–it strikes a fair balance between the conflicting claims of freedom and life.What do you think? What have others said about Carl Sagan’s thoughts on 

END OF SAGAN’S ARTICLE

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Carl Sagan with his wife Ann in the 1990’s

Abortion: The Right to Live – Some considerations on the bioethical issues at the beginning of life

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“Please Let Me live”

Abortion: The Right to Live – Some considerations on the bioethical issues at the beginning of life

by Dr Alex Tang

1.                  Introduction

A mother is expecting her sixth child. She is physically and emotionally exhausted by the demands of her large family. The home is over-crowded and she is living at the poverty-line level. It will be financially impossible to have another mouth to feed. The mother is the sole breadwinner (her husband has abandoned the family). Another baby will ruin the family.

A teenager found that she is pregnant. Being unmarried that will be severe stigma on the good name of her family. She is also emotionally not ready to bring up a baby.

An expectant mother contracted rubella (German measles) during the first trimester of her pregnancy. The doctors told her that her baby will likely to be born blind, mentally retarded and with heart problems.

A pregnancy is the result of a rape (or incest). Continuing the pregnancy with add to the emotional tragedy. The child will be an unwanted baby.

An expectant mother is a busy executive in a multinational corporation. Having a baby now will slow her climb up the corporate ladder.

These real-life problems seek abortion of the unborn foetus as a solution. What is the Christian response?  The debate on abortion has been raging since the early church. It is still going on because it is a complex issue. John Stott wrote that abortion have medical, legal, theological, ethical, social and personal aspects.[1] It often involves painful personal dilemmas. It is one of the difficult questions we Christian has to face if we are to be the ‘salt and light’ of the world.

1.1               Definition

A medical dictionary defined abortion ‘as the premature expulsion from the uterus of the products of conception- of the embryo or of a non-viable foetus’. Embryo refers to the first eight weeks of gestation after fertilisation of the ovum by the sperm. Foetus refers to the embryo after eight weeks until birth. Abortion can be a naturally occurring process. It was estimated that 50% of all conception occurs in abortion because for some reasons, the embryo was non-viable. In this paper, we shall limit our discussion to abortion involving a normal viable embryo or foetus, if left to the natural process will be delivered as a full term baby.

Abortion on demand is not available in Malaysia. Abortion can only be performed for medical reasons as provided in section 312 of the Penal Code and its has to be certified by at least two doctors. 

In Singapore abortion is available on demand. It even allows teenage girls to procure abortions without their parents’ knowledge. In Britain, abortion was illegal until the Infant Life (preservation) Act of 1929 provided that abortion was admissible if it is to save the life of the mother. This was further liberalised in the 1967 Abortion Act. By 1983 over 2 million legal abortions had been performed since the 1967 Act was passed and by 1995 over 4.5 million. In the United States, in January 1973 in Roe v. Wade case, the United Supreme Court declared by seven votes to two that it is constitutional for a woman to choose to have an abortion done on her during the first three months (first trimester) of her pregnancy and during the second and third trimester if the pregnancy affects her physical or mental health. This ruling opened a floodgate for abortions to be performed in the United States. The premise behind the ruling is that a woman has a right to decide what is to be done to her body and that includes an ‘unwanted’ foetus. This is usually described a ‘pro-choice’. ‘Pro-choice’ means a woman has total rights to decide what is done to her body.

1.2               Techniques of abortion

Most abortions are done during the first three months of pregnancy. There are a number of ways a fetus can be aborted. I have not included the herbal or other manipulations done by traditional healers and back-street abortionists.

1.2.1          Vacuum aspiration

This is used for pregnancies up to 12-14 weeks. In this technique, the cervix is dilated and a tube connected to a suction apparatus was inserted. The fetus was sucked out into a jar. The foetal body parts were examined to ensure totally removal.

1.2.2          ‘D & C’-Dilation and Curettage

This is the most popular technique. The cervix was dilated and a ‘curette’ was inserted. The walls of the womb were scraped until the foetus was cut into pieces and removed.

1.2.3          Toxic solution

In this technique, a hyperosmolar solution, usually saline was introduced into the womb by means of a needle. The saline kills the foetus that will then be expelled naturally through the vagina. This is usually used in pregnancies of 12-16 weeks.

1.2.4          Hysterectomy

This is similar to Caesarean section by which the foetus is removed through an incision in the womb. Unlike Caesarean section, the foetus is left to die.

1.2.5          ‘D and X’ – Dilation and Extraction

This is done in late stage pregnancies when the foetus is fully formed and is too strong for dismemberment by the above mentioned techniques. Here the foetus was manipulated into a breech position and labour induced by a drug, prostaglandin. The baby was partially delivered feet first until the head remains in the womb. Then the doctor creates an incision at the base of the skull and a suction catheter inserted. The brain is then sucked out through the catheter, causing the skull to collapse and then the now dead baby was removed from the womb by pulling on the feet.

1.2.6          RU 486 with prostaglandin

In 1991, it was licensed for use in the United Kingdom. It is not available in Malaysia. RU 486 can be used during all three trimesters. It produces an abortion by destroying the lining of the womb. It is often used with prostaglandin, a drug that facilitate labour and the evacuation of the abortus from the womb.

1.2.7          ‘Morning after’ pill

This pill contains a high dose of oestrogen, which makes the lining of the womb unsuitable for implantation of the fertilised ovum. It is effective if take within 72 hours after sexual intercourse.

            There are many techniques to abort an embryo or a foetus. Some techniques are relatively safe while others have certain dangers. What is important to note is that these techniques are readily available and can be done by any competent doctor. Hence there are demands from pregnant women for abortion for whatever reasons because of the easy availability and the safety of the procedures. Virginia Mollenkott wrote, “Every time a woman gives birth, she undergoes the equivalent of a major operation, whereas getting a legal abortion is seven times safer than giving birth.” [2]  A pregnant lady can check into a hospital or a clinic in the morning, have an abortion done and be home in the afternoon in time for tea.

2.                   Basic Positional Response to Abortion

There are many confused responses to abortion. Many people look to their spiritual leaders for guidance. Unfortunately many spiritual leaders themselves do not have the answer. The theologians’ stand may be different from that of the doctors who profess evangelical faith. A rape victim may think differently from a busy female executive.

The responses of various people to the emotive issue of abortion can be categorises into four basic stands:

2.1               Abortion is never justified.

There are people who believe that abortion is never justified whatever the circumstances. Proponent of this stand believes that the foetus is a human being and there is no justification whatsoever in allowing the killing of a human being. The Roman Catholic Church has denied allowing any abortions to be done, even those to save the mother’s life. Some conservative Christians also held to this view. The consideration here is of the sanctity of human life.

2.2               Therapeutic abortions.

The second group of people believe that only in one special circumstance is abortion allowed. That is if the abortion will save the mother’s life. This group also held to the view that the foetus is a human being, but a potential human being. When weighed against the life of the mother, who is a realised human being, can be sacrificed. Many conservative Christians have this view.[3] The abortion done here is called therapeutic abortion because it is used to saves lives. Consideration here is of the value of an individual.

2.3               Justifiable or ‘hard cases’ abortions.

The third group also held the view of the second group concerning the value of the foetus and the mother. However they have extended the justification to include victims of rape, incest or congenital abnormalities in the fetus. They consider these circumstances as ‘hard cases’. The consideration here is of  compassion.

2.4               Pro-choice view of abortion.

This group feels that the mother has the right to choose and that society, government and religious authorities have no right to interfere. The foetus is considered a part of her body and she has a right to decide what is to be done to her body. While some recognise the foetus as a potential human being; others regard it a lump of cells, equivalent to a tumour. As doctors remove tumours from her body, abortion is likened to be removal of a tumour. The consideration here is of the rights of an individual to choose.

            The first three groups are often called ‘pro-life’ and most evangelical Christians and Catholics will be included into this group. The last group and by far the largest group are called ‘pro-choice’. Unfortunately dialogues and attempts to understand each other’s views has not been successful. This have lead to ‘pro-life’ protests who often ends with violence with ‘pro-choice’ groups, fire bombing of abortion clinics and even murder of a doctor who performs abortion.

3.                   The Church Response to Abortion

The Church has always being pro-life working from the principle of the sanctity of human life, value of an individual and compassion. But within the Church itself, there are different views about abortions, different reasons to reject abortions and different tolerant to those members to seek abortions.

3.1               Abortion and the Early Church

The Early Church existed in the intellectual climate of the Greeks. In this period, it was generally agreed that the physicians were against non-therapeutic  abortion. The Hippocratic Oath specifically forbids the giving of a pessary to cause abortion. However social and philosophical ethics (especially those of Plato and Aristotle) endorsed it and abortion was widely practised. The Alexandrian Jewish position, which was influential in the Jewish world at that time viewed abortion as immoral and punishable.[4]

The earliest specific written references to abortion were those in the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas. The Didache declared “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion/destruction”. Similarly in the Epistle of Barnabas, the section “Thou shalt love thy neighbour more than thy own life”, the foetus is seen, not as part of the mother but as a neighbour.[5]

Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-ca 215) in his Prophetic Eclogues argued that foetus has a soul and is a living person.[6] Tertullian (ca 160 – ca 240) one of the most eloquent apologists in the west considered the foetus as a human being though still dependent on the mother.[7]

After the ‘Christianisation’ of the Roman Empire under Constantine, the practice of abortion increased in the church. According to Epiphanus of Cyprus (ca 315-ca 403), pagan influence in the church was the cause of the increase.[8]

In 305 AD, the Council of Elvira became the first Christian body to enact punishment for abortion and five major Church Fathers – Basil, Jerome, Ambose, Augustine and Chrysostom – commented on the practice.[9] The earliest Christian ethics seem to be consistently against abortion.

3.2               Abortion and the Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church has consistently held the view against abortion. It held that at the moment of conception when the sperm fertilised the ovum is the time a human being is born. This is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church today. Since abortion is the destruction of the product of conception, there is no difference from the destruction of an adult. Both are considered murder.

The destruction of the foetus is allowed only if it is the result of a foreseen but unintended consequence of another procedure, for example, removal of the uterus with a foetus inside. This is the doctrine of double effect.

3.3               Abortion in Evangelical churches

Though strongly pro-life, the church today is deeply divided polarised on their views on abortion. These view ranges from absolute prohibition to allowing abortion to save the mother’s life to allowing ‘hard cases’ that include rape victim, victim of incest, abnormal baby. ‘Hard cases’ are open to abuse, as the criteria tend to be plastic. Added to this theological potpourri is the militant ‘pro-lifer’ that would resort to violence to impose their views on ‘pro-choicers’. Because of this lack of consensus of the church’s view on abortion, the church was not too effective in influencing the society’s view on abortion. In Singapore where there is a growing Protestant movement, there is hardly any dissent at the government’s policy to make abortion available on demand. Francis Schaeffer and Everett Koop has rightly observed that the Christians has lost the opportunity to make any impact on society because of their lack on consensus on major issues.[10]

4.                   Abortion and the Bible.

The Bible has surprisingly made no reference to abortion. It does not given an answer to the most crucial aspect of the abortion issue- when is the fetus considered a human being? Attempts has been made to cite evidence that God consider the fetus to be fully human by referring to Psalm 139, Job 3:11, Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:39-44.

John Stott made an ingenious argument by using Psalm 139. Firstly, using verse 14, ‘for you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb’, he concluded that the psalmist is already aware at his conception – creation. Secondly, in verse 1 ‘ you have searched me’ (the past), verse 2-3, ‘ you know when I sit and when I rise ..’ (the present) and verse 10,’your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast..’(the future).There is continuity. And thirdly, the whole Psalm 139 spoke of communion between God and the psalmist. John Stott concluded that these three words (creation, continuity, communion) gave us the perspective to see that the fetus is already a human life, though not yet mature have the potential of growing into the fullness of humanity.[11] The point he made was that the beginning of human life is found in the pre-natal period and there is continuity from life before and life after birth.

“Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?”

Job 3:11 (NIV). Job 3:11 is a metaphor. It sheds no light on whether the

status of the foetus Job. It is a retroperspective view as it is the adult Job contemplating

his circumstances.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set

you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV)

Jeremiah 1:5 is more about God calling of Jeremiah to be his prophet.

Luke 1:39-44 is about when Mary and Elizabeth met, both being pregnant. Elizabeth’s baby (John the Baptist) ‘leaped in her womb’ in respond to the presence of Mary’s baby (Jesus). The case was made here that Luke uses the same word brephos of an unborn child (1:41,44) as he later uses of he new-born baby (2:12,16) and of the little ones whom people brought to Jesus to be blessed by him (18:15). It is difficult to conceive of a principle by one Greek word.

The Scriptural passage,to which both proponents and opponents appeal to in the current debate, is Exodus 21:22-25.

“If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.  But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (NIV)

This passage can be understood in different ways. Firstly, the passage may imply that the Bible makes a distinction between a fully human life (the mother) and the life of a foetus. This verse can be taken to mean a foetus is not considered to be a fully human person and is therefore of less inherent value than an already born person. Thus the death of a fetus merit a fine while the death or injury to the mother called for the application of lex talionis (life for life, eye for eye,… etc). However, it must be noted that the foetus does have value, even though it is less than that of the mother.[12]

Secondly, the passage may be interpreted the way as Jack Cottrell has done. He concludes that verse 22 does not refer to a miscarriage but to a premature birth. Thus causing a premature birth will merit a fine but death of injury to the premature baby or the mother will merit the lex talionis.  Thus he concludes,’..the life of the fetus is valued just as highly as the mother, and the lex taliois principle applied to both..’[13] R.C.Sproul has came to the same conclusion.[14]

To support this view, R.C.Sproul quoted the work of:

“Dr. Frame also examines the verb yatza, found in Exodus 21:22. The term means ‘go out’ or ‘depart’. Yatza is normally used to describe ordinary births (Gen 25:26, 38:28-30, Job 10:18; Jeremiah 1:5, 20:18). The only possible exception is the use of yatza in Numbers 12:12; Again, the Hebrew has a more accurate term for miscarriage and spontaneous abortion: shakol (Gen 31:38, Exodus 23:26, Job 2:10, Hosea 9:14, Malachi 3:11). The proper interpretation, then of the phrase weyatze’u yeladheyla in Exodus 21:22 would not be an induced miscarriage nor the death of an unborn child but an induced premature birth of a living child.

Finally Dr. Frame examines the term ason (injury) in verses 22 and 23. Had the writer intended to refer only to the woman, lah meaning ‘to her’ would have been added. The harm then refers to the woman, to her prematurely born child, or to both’”[15]

Regarding the various interpretation of the passage, Gareth Jones wrote,

“I regard this as slender basis on which to build a whole theology of the foetus. The biblical writer was dealing with the regulations within a covenant community, and his primary concern at this junction was with the nature of the punishment to be inflicted for injury following accidents or fighting. He was not dealing with the status of the foetus as such, nor with its importance relative to that of an adult human life. This passage deals with unintentional abortion brought about by personal conflict.

          There are even greater difficulties in applying this passage to the status of the embryo and early foetus. The miscarriage at the heart of Exodus 21:22-25 must have been of a relatively well-developed foetus, perhaps six months or older. Had the miscarriage been that of an embryo of just a few days’ or a few weeks’ gestation, the woman would probably not have been aware of her pregnancy, let alone of her miscarriage. To extrapolate from the miscarriage of an older foetus to the status of an embryo a few days old involves a major leap, which has to be justified on grounds of legitimate biblical interpretation. I do not consider that such justification exists.”[16]

The Bible, while silent on abortion, teaches about man and woman being created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Man bears the image of God (imago dei) because God blew his breath or nephesh into man and that man has a role as co-creator. It also implies a foetus bears the image of God. Donald Lake wrote,

“ While I maintain that the image of God is present in the fetus (as is nephresh), it is not something static. Rather, it is dynamic. It develops through one’s life. The image of God refers to the total human being, shape and form as well as his role in creation. Consequently, the image of God is something that a human being grows into rather than simply is.”[17]

What is implied is that the foetus has the image of God (imago dei) and yet also it is in the process of becoming. A New Testament analogy is that we are to ‘conform’ into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29-30). It is present at spiritual birth yet also takes a life long process of growing into maturity. Donald Lake concludes, “Consequently, abortion is wrong not just because the killing of the foetus is destroying the image of God, but rather because abortion prevents the image of God from being fully manifested!”[18]

5.                   Current Discussion on Abortion: Personhood and the Right to Live

The debate on abortion continues both in the United States and in other parts of the world. But the nature and premise of the discussion has changed over the years. Where once Judeo-Christian traditions were the foundation of discussion, it has now changed to a pragmatic materialistic post-modern foundation. Where once the discussion was based on the value of an individual, it is now centred on the rights of an individual (personhood), or the lack of it. Christians has to continue to take part in this discussion or be marginalised. In this post-modern world, the voice of Christians must be heard loud and clear.

What then is a person? Robert Joyce describes  “ a person is essentially a being that is naturally gifted (not self gifted) with capabilities or potentialities to know, love, desire, and to relate to self and others in a self-reflective way. The person is- not by self but by nature- able to be aware of who he or she is and able to direct his or her own self in accord with this nature. ‘(italics author’s)[19]  Joyce went on to emphases that the stress is on the person being ‘a natural being and not simply a functional being’.  The implication is that a developing fetus is a natural being but not a functional being. It will then be reasonable to conclude that personhood begins at conception.

A human organism has the inherent potential for personhood if it is allowed to develop, with the necessary nourishment and stimulation; it will develop into a human being. Thus an unfertilised egg, or a spermatozoa, or a liver cell do not have the inherent potential for personhood. A fertilised ovum, on the other hand, with the right condition will in time develop into a human being.

Recent discussions on abortion have moved into the area of personhood and the right to live. This discussion has serious implications for the moral permissibility of abortion and infanticide. There are three theories, which can be summarised as follows:

(a)          Only beings with a developed capacity for conscious self-reflective intelligence has a right to live.

(b)          Beings with either a developed capacity   or a ‘natural potential’ for conscious self- reflective intelligence has a right to life.

(c)          All members of the human species have a right to life, whether or not there is a potential for conscious self-reflective intelligence.

These theories can be labelled respectively as the actuality principle, the potentiality principle and the species principle.[20]

5.1               The Actuality Principle

This is the most radical principle and most hotly debated at the present time. This principle holds that an individual possess a right to life only when that individual possess self-awareness and self-reflective intelligence.  This view is notorious because of the group with no right to live it will include fetus, infants and the irreversibly comatose. The implication of this principle can be summarise as follows:

Possessor of a right to life   Non-posessors of a right to life
children   foetuses
adults   infants
the reversibly comatose   the irreversibly comatose
the less severely retarded   the severely retarded
     

In this principle, there are no one ‘harmed’ in an abortion because the foetus is not a person and thus has no right to life. No one has a right to come into existence; they only have a right to remain in existence.

5.2               The Potentiality Principle

The potentiality principle endorse the concept that it is wrong to kill what will naturally and in due course will develop into a person. The potential is taken into consideration.

The implication of the principle is as follows:

Possessor of a right to life   Non-posessors of a right to life
foetuses   the irreversibly comatose
infants   the severely retarded
children    
adults    
the reversibly comatose    
the less severely retarded    

5.3               The Species Principle

 The species principle declares that human life is rendered inviolable by virtue of membership in the species Homo sapiens. Thus those who have the genetic code for a Homo sapiens will automatically have a right to life. A fertilised ovum will be included into this category.

Implication to this theory is:

Possessor of a right to life   Non-posessors of a right to life
foetuses    
infants    
children    
adults    
the reversibly comatose    
the irreversibly comatose    
the severely retarded    
the less severely retarded    

This theory is attractive because the Bible states that humans are unique, not because of their self-awareness or other special abilities but that they bear the image of God (imago dei). Thus membership in the human race confers a right to life.

The Bible is silent on the status of a foetus but there are lots of references to persons. The basis of the Christian faith is a personal relationship of a transcendent yet immanent God with his created creatures who are persons.

The three theories are interesting. Obviously, all Christians will have problem with the theory of actuality because using the criteria of personhood, it has excluded foetuses, infants, the irreversibly comatose and severely retarded from having a right to live. Most Christian thinking falls into either the potentiality theory or species theory.

The potentiality theory allows for the developing of a foetus into an adult human. It implies development. Some potential may never be realised, for example in a severely retarded child. It also implies a hierachy of values, a fully developed human has more value than an embryo or a foetus. The adult has more value because it is more of a person than an unborn foetus. This allows abortion to be done to save the life of a mother or in some ‘hard cases’.

The species theory states all members of Homo sapiens have equal value. In that case, the unborn foetus has equal value with the mother. Here there is no room to choose. One cannot sacrifice one for the other.

6.                   Christian Alternative for Abortion

If the Church can made a stand against abortion, but it must be ready to help those to whom abortion seems to be the solution to their problem. The biblical mandate of helping our neighbours and protecting the weak and the defenceless are never so important as in the abortion issue. Our neighbours are often the frightened pregnant mothers seeking a way out of their quandary. The weak and the defenceless are the foetuses. No other group of individuals are as weak and defenceless as the foetuses.

6.1               Education

The Church must be in the forefront of education concerning sexual education. There must be continual emphasis of avoiding pre-marital sexual relationships especially amongst the teenagers. There must be teaching on the type of contraceptive methods used.

6.2               Adoption

For unwanted babies done out of wedlock, rape, incest or other reasons, adoption is an option for carrying the baby to term. There are many couples who are unable to have children and the Church has a role to help them.

6.3               Love and Compassion

Counselling, love and compassion should be given to those who are seeking abortion or have had abortion. There are many Christians who have deep wounded because of a performed abortion. These wounds need to be healed.

            The issue of abortion is a good opportunity for the Church to be engaged with society and

the State. There are many frightened pregnant women seeking help. The Church should

be there to meet this need.

7.                   Other issues related to Reproductive Technology

7.1               Contraceptive

There are many ways to prevent pregnancy. Some Christians have problem with the idea of contraception because of the God’s command to be fruitful and to populate the earth (Gen 2).  Basically contraception can be divided into the following categories:

7.1.1          Methods that prevent conception

Methods that prevent conception include ‘coitus interruptus’, rhythm methods, barrier methods, the pill, Norplant and sterilisation.

‘Coitus interruptus’ and the rhythm methods may raise some concern as it interferes with the natural consequences of sexual intercourse. In the rhythm method, couples may have to abstain from sexual intercourse during certain period and the admonition of 1 Corinthians 5:7 may have to be considered.

Barrier methods usually raise no concern. In the use of the pill, it must be noted that some pills that contain only progesterone are likely to allow ovulation to occur but prevent implantation. This is considered abortion.

7.1.2          Methods that prevent implantation

Methods that prevent implantation are intra-uterine devices (IUD), morning-after pills and RU-486. All these methods entail abortion as it prevents the embryo to implant unto the lining of the womb.

7.2               In vitro Fertilisation (IVF)

 For a couple to have a baby, the husband must be able to produce adequate amount of healthy sperms and the wife must have a healthy ovaries to produce enough normal ovum (egg), patent fallopian tubes and a normal uterus. If any one of these factors is missing, the couple will be unable to produce children. Who once barrenness was considered to be a curse, one to be bore stoically, there are now technology to help these couples to produce children.

7.2.1          Sperm donation

If the husband cannot produce adequate amount of sperm or have abnormal sperm, sperm donation is possible. A donor’s sperm is used to fertilise the wife’s ovum by direct insemination (AID) or by outside in a ‘test tube’ and then transferred into the wife’s womb.

7.2.2          Egg donation

If the wife is infertile, a donor’s ovum can be fertilised by the husband’s sperm in a ‘test tube’ and then transferred to the wife’s womb.

7.2.3          Embryo donation

If both the husband and wife are infertile, it is possible to get donor’s ovum and sperm, fertilise it in a ‘test tube’ and then transfer it into the wife’s womb.

7.2.4          Womb donation – ‘surrogate motherhood’

If both the husband and wife are fertile but the wife’s womb is do damaged that she cannot bear children, it is possible to fertilise the wife’s ovum with the husband’s sperm, and transfer the embryo into another woman’s womb. The woman becomes a ‘surrogate womb’.

The technique of in vitrio fertilisation (IVF) followed by embryo transfer was first developed in the United Kingdom by Dr Robert Edwards, a Cambridge University physiologist and Dr Patrick Steptoe, a gynaecologist. Their first ‘test-tube baby’ was Louise Brown who was born in 1978.

These technologies have been helpful to many infertile couple. What is of concern to many Christians is what to do with the spare embryos. Often, many ovum and sperm are used so that as many fertilised ovum is produced. Then one or two is selected for transfer to the uterus. What happens to the rest? If we are to hold to the idea that personhood starts at fertilisation or conception, then we are left with the issue of what to do with these extra little persons. Presently most spare embryos are frozen and stored. Some are discarded or used for research.

That becomes an ethical issue. Should spare embryo be discarded or destroyed? That will be abortion. Should spare embryos be used for research?

A recent alternative to IVF is GIFT (Gamete Intra Fallopian Transfer). In this case ovum and sperm, after being mixed, are immediately transferred to the end of the fallopian tube, where conception takes place as normal. Many consider GIFT to be preferable to IVF. Technically, it is simpler and cheaper. Ethically, it precludes the production of ‘spare’ embryos for research.

7.3               Cloning

The technology for the cloning of a human being is presently not available but it soon will be. There have been tremendous advances made since the production of the sheep clone, Dolly. Dolly was cloned using a non-reproductive cell, that is, not a sperm or an egg. The genetic material for the clone was obtained from an adult sheep cell’s nucleus. This cell nucleus was inserted into an egg whose nucleus was removed. The egg was then stimulated to divide. It ultimately developed into a mature sheep identical to the original sheep.

The potential for organ donation and replacement, replacement of individual lost in death, and selection and creation of a ‘super race’ of identical individuals can become a reality. Again the Bible is silent on this. Does being co-creator with God includes manipulating with our own genetic code?  Is a clone a person? Does it have rights like other human beings? Would cloning make human clones, instruments to be exploited?  These are some of the questions the Church will have to face soon.

8.                   Concluding Remarks

Abortion is a complex issue as we have seen. The Bible did not give us specific instructions about abortion. However, from the principle of Imago Dei, we conclude that the foetus has value because of the image of God and has the potential of personhood. We have seen as Christians we would be unable to accept the actuality theory but we can embrace the potentiality and species theories. This will give us the platform to engage non-Christians in further dialogue.

The Church which is the community of Christians has a great role in this complex issue. It must reach out in compassion and love. It must offer education, support and adoption as action strategy. It must engage the State once again to defend the weak and defenceless. There is none weaker and more defenceless than an unborn child.

Recommended Reading

Jones, Gareth D., Valuing People : Human Value in a World of Medical Technology (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster, 199

Soli Deo Gloria

Appendix 1

Peter Saunders, “Deadly Questions about Abortion, part 1 & 2”, Christian Medical Fellowship website http://www.cmf.org.uk/pubs/nucleus/nucapr98/deadly.htm

1. How can a non-sentient being have value?

We do not know that the fetus is ‘non-sentient’. We do know that brain function, as measured by EEG is present in the fetus at about 6 weeks after conception and that responses to tactile sensation (skin tightening, bending, fist forming) can be observed at seven to eight weeks gestation. At nine to ten weeks the fetus squints and swallows and breathing movements begin at eleven to twelve weeks. By 16 weeks he will respond violently to stimuli that you or I would find painful. Pain is a peculiarly personal and subjective experience and there is no biochemical or physiological test we can do to tell us if foetuses (or any other persons) experience it. By the same token we lack any proof that animals feel pain, but judging by their responses, it seems charitable to assume that they do. No one would dare suggest dismembering newborn kittens (which ironically are born blind, deaf and helpless at 9 weeks gestation!).

Even if they are non-sentient the Christian view is that all human beings are made in God’s image. If they lack the means to feel, think or form relationships as we do they still have dignity by virtue of the fact that they are made and known by God. Biblical morality dictates that the weak deserve special protection and in God’s economy, the strong lay down their lives for the weak Even if it could be established that foetuses feel nothing, should it really make a difference to the way we treat them?

2. Don’t women have a right to choose?

No man (or woman) is an island. We all value the opportunity of living in a free society, but also recognise that personal autonomy has its limits. Rights need protection but they are not absolute. They must be balanced against responsibilities. We are not free to do things, which limit or violate the reasonable freedoms of others. In human community abortion is not simply a matter between a woman and her doctor. There are others to consider; the father, any other citizens who may be affected by the decision and, not least, the unborn child herself.

Whether she opts for abortion, adoption or keeping the baby the decision will change her life forever. She needs to know that the fetus is not just ‘part of her body’.

3. Won’t refusing abortion simply mean those women suffer?

A common myth is that women will not change their minds about having an abortion when offered practical help and given the facts about foetal development. Many do, and pregnancy counselling organisations like CARE for Life have made a substantial contribution in helping women whose turning to abortion is simply a cry for help. But even women refused abortions do not necessarily seek them. Most unwanted pregnancies if not aborted result in wanted children. Conversely most abused children come from wanted pregnancies. Since the Abortion Act came into force in Britain in 1968 the incidence of child abuse has double.

Representatives The Royal College of Psychiatry have stated that there are no psychiatric grounds for abortion. This is in spite of the fact that most abortions are carried out on alleged grounds of damage to the mother’s mental health. In fact for suicidal pregnant women abortion will increase depression and the risk of post-abortion psychosis. What they really need is proper psychiatric treatment. In some patients post-abortion psychosis can be crippling, and those who feel ambiguous about the decision are particularly vulnerable.

4. Surely we can’t return to the days of back street abortionists?

The argument that ‘safe and legal’ abortion is necessary to stop ‘thousands of women’ dying at the hands of back street abortionists is ill founded. Claims about death rates have been wildly exaggerated. The truth is that, throughout the world, abortion deaths have fallen steeply in line with maternal deaths, owing to advances in medical science. According to WHO figures this trend has occurred regardless of whether abortion is legal or illegal in particular countries. Ireland, which has maintained an absolute law against abortion, has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world. Prior to the Abortion Act mortality from criminal abortion in Britain was very low (approx. 20 per year); compared with the 180,000 unborn children who now die annually. This was because many so-called back street abortions were performed (albeit illegally) by doctors in relatively ‘safe’ circumstances.

5. What about abortion for rape?

If life before birth has the same status as life after birth then it follows that if we wouldn’t approve of infanticide in a given situation, then neither should we approve of abortion. These difficult cases must be seen in this light. Rape is a very serious crime that itself was a capital offence in the Old Testament. However pregnancy arising from rape is extremely rare; and even alleged rape is a factor in less than 1% of abortions. Furthermore in the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, 75 to 85% chooses against abortion. This is because many women who have been raped believe that abortion is immoral, that the child is simply a second innocent victim, and that if they get through the pregnancy they will have conquered the rape. Giving birth in such circumstances is a display of courage, strength and honour. Abortion, by contrast, simply sacrifices a second innocent party to the crime. However one can not advocate adoption this without at the same time realising that it puts every onus on us as Christians to do everything we can to help an equally innocent (and much sinned against) mother.

6. What about abortion for foetal handicap?

Abortions for foetal handicap make up only 1.1% of the total in Britain, but over 90 are performed on infants of viable age each year. This puts the issue in sharp perspective. Whereas profoundly handicapped 26 week old neonates are (quite rightly) given every chance of survival, older babies still in utero can be legally killed in Britain for less serious abnormalities. Abortion for foetal handicap discriminates against the handicapped. This is not to deny the often-extreme hardship incurred by those who have to care for children with special needs. It’s a responsibility that the community must share; but it is sheer nonsense to assert that people with spina bifida, Down’s syndrome, or some worse anomaly cannot, with the right support, live useful and fulfilling lives. Even those whose anomalies are incompatible with life can make a valuable contribution to the world and to others; and they are undoubtedly precious in the eyes of God.

8. What about abortion to save the life of the mother?

Usually when the mother’s life is at risk, the baby is viable and so can be saved simply by bringing forward the time of delivery. On very rare occasions it may be necessary to terminate a mid-trimester pregnancy in an emergency in order to save the life of the mother. Here we are not saying that the baby’s life is less important than that of the mother, but simply (since the baby will die regardless) that it is better to intervene to save one life rather than to stand by and watch two die. In the UK only 0.013% of all abortions are performed ‘to save the life of the mother’ and it is even questionable whether many of these require such radical action The National Maternity Hospital in Dublin investigated in detail the 21 maternal deaths which occurred among the 74,317 pregnancies managed in 1970-1979. The conclusion was that abortion wouldn’t have saved the mother’s life in a single case.

Endnotes


[1] John Stott, New Issues Facing Christians Today (London: Marshal Pickering, 1984,1990,1999) p. 345-381.

[2] David K. Clark, & Robert V. Rakestraw, Eds, Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol 2 (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Books, 1996) p. 31

[3] John Stott, “Reverence for Human Life”, Christianity Today, 9 June 1972, p. 12

[4] Michael J. Groman, Abortion & the Early Church (Downers Grove, IL : Inter-Varsity Press, 1982) p. 38

[5] Ibid., p. 49-50

[6] Ibid., p.52-53

[7] Ibid., p. 55-59

[8] Ibid., p. 63

[9] Ibid., p. 64-73

[10] Everett Koop, & Francis Schaeffer,  Whatever Happened to the Human Race?  (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1983). An insightful commentary of how Christian has lost the opportunity to have a strong voice in formulating government policy and influencing public opinion because of the lack of confuses on major important issues. Politicians have however capitalised on it. .

[11]John Stott “Abortion” All Soul’s Papers, 1 June 1980

[12] James K. Hoffmeier, “Abortion and the Old Testament Law”, James K. Hoffmeier, ed., Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987) p. 58.

[13] Jack W. Cottrell, “Abortion and the Mosaic Law” Clark, David K. & Rakestraw, Robert V. Eds, Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol 2 (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Books, 1996) p. 32-35.

[14] RC. Sproul, Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue  (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1990)

[15] Ibid., quoted the work of Dr. John M. Frame on this exegesis. p.197-198.

[16] Gareth Jones, Valuing People (Carliste, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1999) p. 70-71

[17] Donald Lake, “A Theological Perspective on Abortion”, James K. Hoffmeier, ed., Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987) p. 90.

[18] Ibid., p. 91

[19] Robert E. Joyce, “When Does a Person Begin?” Clark, David K. & Rakestraw, Robert V. eds, Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol 2 (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Books, 1996) p. 47

[20] Robert N. Wennberg, “The Right to Life” Clark, David K. & Rakestraw, Robert V. Eds, Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol 2 (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Books, 1996) p. 36-45

Bibliography

Barnes, Peter, Open Your Mouth for the Dumb: Abortion and the Christian  (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984)

Beer, Dominic M., Christian Choices in Healthcare (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press,1995)

Brand, Paul W., Is Life Really Sacred? (London: Christian Medical Fellowship, 1973)

Brown, Harold O.J., Death Before Birth (Nashville, Ten: Thomas Nelson, 1977)

Clark, David K. & Rakestraw, Robert V., Readings in Christian Ethics, Volume 2: Issues and Applications (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996)

Feinberg. John S. & Feinberg Paul D., Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 1993)

Gardner, R.F.R., Abortion, The Personal Dilemma (Exeter: Paternoster Press,1972)

Goodall, Janet and Sanders, Keith, Changing World-Unchanging Values: Christian Faith in Medical Practice (Cambridge: International Christian Medical and Dental Association, 1998)

Gorman, Michael J., Abortion & the Early Church (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press,1982)

Graduate Christian Fellowship, Abortion and the Value of Human Life (Singapore: Graduate Christian Fellowship, 1987)

Hemsley, Jeff Lane ed., The Zero People (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1983

Hoffmeier, James K., Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987)

Jayasooria, Denison, ed., Community Caring: A Strategy for Meeting Needs in Your Community (Petaling Jaya: Malaysian CARE, 1987)

Jones, Gareth D. et al, Respect for Life: A Symposium ( London: Christian Medical Fellowship,1984)

Jones, Gareth D., Brave New People (Leicester:Inter-Varsity Press, 1984)

_____________., Manufacturing Humans (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987)

_____________., Valuing People : Human Value in a World of Medical Technology (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster, 1999)

Kilner, John F., Young, Frank E., and Pentz, Rebecca D., Genetic Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997)

Koop, Everett C., The Right to Live; the Right to Die (Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale, 1976)

Koop, Everett C., and Schaeffer, Francis A., Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Westchester, Ill: Crossway, 1983)

Land, Richard D., and Moore, Louis A., Life at Risk: The Crisis in Medical Ethics (Nashville, Ten: Broadman & Holman, 1995)

Montgomery, John Warwick, Slaughter of the Innocents (Westchester, Ill: Crossway, 1981)

O’Donovan, Oliver, The Christian and the Unborn Child (Nottingham:Grove, 1986)

Pence, Gregory E. ed., Flesh of My Flesh: The Ethics of Cloning Humans (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998)

Walmsley, Jane & Margolis, Jonathan., Hot House People: Can We Create Super Human Beings? (London: Pan, 1987)

Watts, Fraser., ed., Christians and Bioethics (London: SPCK, 2000)

Wyatt, John., Matters of Life and Death (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998)

Sproul, R.C., Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue (Colorado Springs, Co: Navpress, 1990)

Steward, Gary P. et al., Basic Questions on Sexuality and Reproductive Technology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel,1998)

Stirrat, Gordon M., Legalised Abortion- The Continuing Dilemma (London:Christian Medical Fellowship, 1979)

Stott, John, New Issues Facing Christians Today (London: Marshall Pickering,1999

 
Image result for adrian rogers francis schaeffer
I grew up in Memphis as a member of Bellevue Baptist Church under our pastor Adrian Rogers and attended ECS High School where the books and films of Francis Schaeffer were taught. Both men dealt with current issues in the culture such as the film series COSMOS by Carl Sagan. I personally read several of Sagan’s books.  (Francis and Edith Schaeffer pictured below in their home at L’ Abri in Switzerland where Francis  taught students for 3 decades.
Image result for francis schaeffer
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