In America we care a lot about our rights. We are perhaps too individualistic. During the normal interaction of people, times occur when the rights of one person comes into conflict with the rights of another. For instance, the right to listen to our music can conflict with another’s right to silence. We are constantly negotiating compromises of our rights to get along with each other.
I can think of no greater conflict of rights than what occurs during an unwanted pregnancy. A woman’s right to have control over her body, her future, her reputation and possibly her health is huge. The only right that I can think of that is larger is the right to the preservation of your life itself, and that is what is at stake. It is tragic conflict that in the right circumstances would be a cause for joy instead, instead it is cause of great grief.
Humanity, not just pregnant couples, needs to wrestle with the questions raised by unwanted pregnancies. Historically, we have had brutal and selfish answers. Abortion is not a modern invention. It has been done in some form for centuries. In Greek and Roman societies you married somebody for economic reasons. Sex is what a male had on the side with prostitutes or slaves. Unwanted pregnancies were solved by abortion or by exposing an unwanted child after birth until they died. Hopefully, we find this repugnant. But when does a child deserve their right to live?
You don’t become a human by being pushed out a birth canal. These days you are sufficiently developed to be independent of the womb by around week 23. What status conveys rights? Keep in mind that if you deny someone the right to live, you eliminate not only their contributions to society but you also eliminate a whole branch of their family tree. Scripture also tells us that we are eternal beings. When somebody is terminated, what is their spiritual status? We would all like to think that all of the unborn who die, naturally or not, go to Heaven. The real answer is we don’t know. I believe God has a way to deal with this that is merciful, but I also know that we are sinful and therefore liable to judgment from the moment we are conceived (Psalm 51:5). Does a mother, or any human, have the right to make this call?
Humanity starts at conception by either scientific or Scriptural standards. You are genetically distinct from your mother, capable of replicating cells, and your genome is human. A fertilized egg is not a part. Is it a person?
Some have argued that personhood, and therefore rights, go along with a longer list of criteria. The problem is who makes this list? Such arguments have made slaves, women, disabled people less than fully human and therefore able to be denied their rights. Does our society want to sink or perhaps stay at this hypocritical and selfish level?
Of course there any many contexts that surround unwanted pregnancies. Failed birth control, rape, “unviable fetuses”, the health of the mother and other situations make this emotional and complex. Legal definitions are needed, but legal definitions alone do not begin to solve the dilemma. Compassion in large amounts is needed.
A woman pregnant with an unwanted pregnancy needs to have compassion for a child who is her own flesh and blood and all the future children who may proceed from the one in her womb. This is even true in the case of rape. Rape is a heinous crime, but the child is the victim as well. I know two women, who know that they are the product of rape. Both are fine people. One has multiple kids–all good kids. They would be gone.
There also needs to be compassion for the damaged. Some won’t survive to birth, but I still don’t think medicine always knows what will happen. Even if life is but a moment in this world, it starts something that is eternal. Some countries routinely test for and eliminate children with Down’s Syndrome. Yet Down’s Syndrome people are some of the sweetest people you will meet.
The eugenically minded like Darwin, Hitler, Sanger think of humans like animals. Our genetic stock is to be improved by eliminating not only those with genetic health defects, but those who come from “criminal stock”, or “inferior” races. This ugliness is not only based on false ideology it is a darkest form of evil. Beware of this reasoning hiding in the shadows of the “pro-choice” movement.
Compassion also needs to be given in large amounts to the mother of a unplanned pregnancy. She doesn’t need judgment. Everybody sins and all sins bring judgment without Jesus. So if a young Christian woman gets pregnant outside of marriage, she has sinned. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. We forgive, assist, support. It could happen easily to anyone. I imagine Mary got her share of whispering. We need to be like Joseph.
Good, accessible pre-natal care, quality adoption services and more need to be there. To approach unwanted pregnancy with just laws or even criminalization doesn’t fix things. Society needs to be taught about a common situation that nobody wants to think about. Then will we finally be able to extend the rights we are endowed with by our maker to all.