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Abortion: David Hopkins considers
There are many issues to consider when dealing with abortion, and this article will touch on some of them. When you have finished reading, you might want to consider this emotive and sensitive matter in a slightly different light. Certainly there will be no attempt to reach a definitive standpoint on the morality or ethics of abortion. As in all things, we have personal responsibility for the view we take; I have no right to say that the ideas I express have any more validity than anyone else’s. I simply ask you to take time to assess your own views.
Abortion is the process of ending a pregnancy before normal birth, thereby ‘killing’ the foetus, the unborn child. It must be an extremely difficult and painful process for any woman who faces the dilemma of whether or not to have a termination carried out, both at the time and subsequently.
I assume we all agree that killing is wrong, and particularly that killing an innocent human being is wrong. We reach the question: “Is the foetus an innocent human being?” Innocent – clearly; human being – a complication. When can the foetus be classed as such? There are lots of views on this: conception; implantation into the womb; the ‘quickening’; tissue separation; brain activity; viability. Anyone care to make a pronouncement on that? Not me, that’s certain.
Every cell is alive, so from the very first moment of conception there is life. Once created, that life must, according to Spiritualist principles, continue. But when do we reach the point of individual existence? From the moment of conception there is the potential for individual existence but it also has to be remembered that a large percentage of foetuses miscarry; the body rejects them without medical intervention. Morally and ethically, what is the situation with these potential individuals?
In abortion, are we causing pain and distress to the foetus? Can we justify that, whatever the circumstances? Research suggests that from eighteen weeks the foetus can feel pain; other studies indicate a much earlier point in development. Are we removing an element of respect for life by allowing abortion to take place?
What ‘rights’ are involved in abortion? Those of the unborn child and those of the mother, clearly. What about those of the father? And does society have a right to a voice? The woman bearing the foetus has a right of ownership of her own body and has the right to decide her own future – or don’t you agree? She has personal responsibility, so should the law, society, religion or anything else seek to interfere? Does it have the right to interfere? What if it seems that the life or health of the mother is at risk by continuing the pregnancy to full term? Who decides – mother, physician, church, culture, God? Is a woman who has an abortion committing a ‘sin’ in so doing? Even for those who are opposed in principle to abortion, are there circumstances in which it might be justified? Rape is an obvious situation that could fall into this category. There is a possibility that such a child will be born unwanted and unloved. Is that seen as preferable to prevention? Do we knowingly and willingly place the child in such an environment? Which is the greater ‘sin’? Are there other situations where abortion is the lesser of two or more evils?
And what of the father? Can we lay down hard-and-fast rules or do we need to look at each case on its individual merits? Conception following rape, or in a loving and caring background, and all the points between – there are clear differences. Does the role of the father vary depending on where on that scale the couple are? At the ‘positive’ end, it would be nice to think that there was an involvement of both parents, but should we legislate for that? Where would we draw our lines of distinction, and in the case of dispute who would arbitrate? Does the father have any element of right to veto an abortion, remembering that he has had a part in the creation of the foetus, and if the decision to conceive was mutually agreed, is it reasonable that a change of mind on the part of one partner has greater weight?
Both sides protest this emotive issue
Potential mum, potential dad... now, potential child. What are the moral and ethical rights of the child? Does the child have a right to be carried in the mother’s womb, regardless of her views? We cannot take an opinion from the child so it is left to the individual, or to society, to establish those rights. What Job-like figure is going to step forward and provide a list? There will no doubt be volunteers from various religious backgrounds, from those with strong ethical and philosophical views, from those referred to as ‘pro-life’ and from champions of women’s rights and many others. Who decides which of these views will take precedence?
What of the views of other women? Alice Paul (who drafted the original version of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution) referred to abortion as “the ultimate exploitation of women”. In the past other women have held similar views. It seems reasonable to suggest that today many women would see the right of choice by the woman as being of paramount importance. The woman is an individual and not just a foetus-carrier. Historically, it was the male view that overrode anything else. We accept that the female view has equal validity and must be given equal (or greater) weight.
Moving to a more Spiritualist viewpoint, where do we find ourselves as a group in this debate? I suggest it is probably as a group of individuals with a range of views. We have no authoritarian figure or book to make a decision for us. At the end of the day we cannot claim papal infallibility whatever view we hold.
A child has a spirit that at some point (don’t try to tie me down on that one!) enters the ‘body within the body’ – the foetus. Differences of opinion will exist on whether that spirit has chosen to enter that foetus with the aim of being born to those particular parents at that precise period in all their lives. Many of those spirits will inhabit bodies that do not survive to full term, being ‘lost’ somewhere along the nine-month journey. Is what happens to those spirits likely to be any different to what happens to an aborted child? If it is the spirit itself that wants to come to those parents, will it try again? What if that cannot happen, say because the mother is not able to carry any child to full term? Does that spirit give up, try another route – and if so is this ‘second best’ for them?
Will the spirit of an aborted child understand what has happened and more importantly why its route was blocked? What emotional trauma (if any) will that inflict on the spirit?
Will that spirit and its guiding helpers simply say, “Well, if at first...” and keep going?
My name and the beard in my picture will show that I have never been pregnant, so I have never had to make this decision. I cannot say that I understand, because no man could ever understand – unless it had happened to him at a previous time in a previous (and female) physical body! And that idea would open up more lines of discussion and debate!
In summary I would say that abortion is not a sin, is not against the ‘will of God’ and has to be permissible. However, it should not be seen as the ‘three-month after’ pill and certainly not as a ‘remedy’ for what has been perceived as the ‘wrong’ gender. It should not be encouraged and generally speaking is not a good choice for any of the parties involved. But there will always be exceptions where abortion is the least damaging of the options that face the woman concerned.
In the end I cannot give you the (or even a) Spiritualist view on abortion. All I can do is make some points for you to consider. As always, Spiritualists realise that every case has to be judged on its own merits and individual circumstances. A cop-out of an answer? Sorry if you think that. I am no arbiter of human responsibility and no decision-maker for others. No one has that right. The old chestnut about letting conscience be your guide might be applicable to this issue.
I really look forward to your responses on this subject. Perhaps together we can take forward our knowledge, understanding and wisdom to assist others.
© David Hopkins
• David Hopkins is an SNU minister, author and broadcaster.