CHURCH & SOCIETY

INTRODUCTION

It will not be wrong to state that abortion has become one of the ethical issues needed attention in our modern world. It is indeed one of the most controversial topics affecting both the church and society at large. In his book on Christian Ethics, Geisler stated that ‘of all the moral issues, the most pressing are those involving life and death. And of all the life and death issues, the one that involves the taking of the most lives is abortion’[1].

An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced. The term abortion most commonly refers to the induced abortion of a human pregnancy. Abortion when induced in the developed world in accordance with local law is among the safest procedures in medicine. However, unsafe abortions result in approximately 70 thousand maternal deaths and 5 million disabilities per year globally. Forty percent of the world’s women have access to induced abortions (within gestational limits). Induced abortion has been facilitated by various methods including herbal abortifacients, the use of sharpened tools, physical trauma and other traditional methods. Contemporary medicine utilizes medications and surgical procedures to induce abortion.[2] 

ETHICAL ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH ABORTION IN RESPONSE TO PARENTS OR SOCIETAL PRESSURE

There are various reasons that account for women committing abortion. Among these are;

i.                    SOCIAL STIGMA: Large number of women performs abortions because they cannot face the social stigma of being an unmarried mother. In Africa, many societies disapprove strongly becoming pregnant before marriage. Girls who become pregnant within such societies may be disowned by their parents and if they are going to school, they stand the chance of being expelled from school.[3].

ii.                  CHURCH POLICIES: In situations where the couple is planning to get married, they may get an abortion because of the policies of the church. Most churches refuse to a woman who is already pregnant. Others do insist that pregnancy test be taken before marriage. In order not to bring shame upon themselves and the family, some women resort to abortion[4]. More so, some churches disciplines (sacks) the woman or the man who is involved with the pregnancy.

iii.                The sex of the child if it is not the one desired by one of the parents especially the man can lead to abortion. The economic status of the parents can also be a contributing factor. Also in situations where the spacing between the children is very small.

THE DEBATE ON ABORTION

Pro-Choice (Abortion at any time): Pro-choice (abortions) refer to the political and ethical view that a woman should have complete right over her fertility and that she should have the freedom to decide whether she wants to continue or terminate her pregnancy. The pro-choice movement entails to guarantee a woman her reproductive rights. Those who are pro-choice give the following arguments in support of abortion:

  • One of the important pro-choice reasons is that rape or incest is traumatic for a woman. Forcing her to bear the added responsibility of the child she conceived through the unfortunate act would only add to her mental stress.
  • Control over her body and the freedom to decide the course of her life is critical to a woman's civil rights. When a woman is pregnant it is her body that goes through all the stress of pregnancy. If she decides not to have a pregnancy she should be able to do so. Denying her right to her body is violating her most basic freedom.
  • One of the most pertinent questions regarding abortion is when does life begin. A fetus may be alive but so are sperms and eggs. It is true that life in every form should be respected. However, should the right of a fetus be greater than that of a woman who in majority of the cases would bear the responsibility of the unplanned child?
  • Unwanted teenage pregnancy can have serious complications if the pregnancy is continued. An adolescent is neither mentally nor physically ready to continue a pregnancy. Besides health related complications, a minor mother isn't psychologically ready to handle the responsibilities of a child. With a life to support, many such girls drop out of school and start working in order to fend for the child. This certainly spells a bleak future for such girls.
  • While some believe that life begins at conception, there are others that do not believe in this. There are different theories regarding when life begins. Unless everyone can be made to agree to the one point when life begins, laws prohibiting abortion would be forcing one theory on all. [5]

It should be noted that the pro-choice abortion is deeply rooted in the western cultures. Some of the Western countries have even gone ahead to legalize abortion in some states. It was difficult for the African where community living was so paramount to think along such lines. The situation is however changing gradually. As stated by Kunhiyop “Africans are increasingly buying into this mindset where a person does whatever he or she pleases. A girl who gets pregnant now makes her own decision to abort the baby if she does not want it.” [6]

The fundamental flaw in this argument is that it fails to acknowledge that the baby does not actually belong to its mother or its father but to its maker: “the unborn child belongs (in the most ultimate sense) not to his parents, not to human society in general, nor to government, but to God.”[7]

PRO-LIFE

Pro-Life individuals generally believe that human life should be valued either from fertilization or implantation until natural death. This group is against all forms of abortion in the society. Their reasons include the following;

  • One of the fundamental arguments supporting anti-abortion is the reason against capital punishment - what right do humans have to curtail the life of something that providence has created? The fetus has a soul, which if allowed blooming will result into the formation of a human being. However, when we kill the fetus, we deny someone a chance to exist in the world.
  • Children are the gift of God. Everything that happens in this world is because of the wishes of the God. If he wants a child to be born, he will take care of it as well. To kill a blossoming soul means that we are putting a hindrance in the way of God. God has a plan for the child too.
  • While it cannot be said whether an abortion is an unforgivable act, it is of course an unforgettable event. It plays havoc with the psychology and the future life of the entire family. The woman who goes ahead with aborting a child finds it difficult to cope with the stress of coming to terms with the fact that she was a party in murdering her own child. Surveys over the years have found that stress levels are higher in women who have undergone abortion as compared to other women.
  • Some general complications arising in women due to abortions are blocked fallopian tubes, weakened cervix, uterine scarring, and damage to the woman's reproductive system, which may make her unable to conceive in the future. Apart from these common problems, there is also an increase in the probability of miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births. Abortion is also related to the increase in chances of breast, uterine and cervical cancer in women.
  • Abortion is against the Hippocratic Oath. Doctors and nurses who perform an abortion break the golden rule that they will do everything in their capacity to save a life. [8]

 These are some of the reasons against abortion. The effects of abortion on a woman can indeed be catastrophic. Nevertheless, there may be situations where a woman or her family is left with no other choice, like in the cases of rape and incest. Abortion should be used only when there is no other alternative, but, treating it as another type of contraception is not justified at all. Abortion pro-life Christians encourage women to seek alternative options who have experienced unwanted pregnancies. They teach people on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies especially while they remain unmarried. They further show women on variety of options available for those who have unwanted pregnancies.  

ABORTION IN GHANA

The law on abortion: Until 1985, abortion in Ghana was governed by the Criminal Code of 1960 (Act 29, sections 58-59 and 67). Under the Code anyone causing or attempting to cause an abortion, regardless of whether the woman was pregnant, could be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 10 years. A woman inducing her own abortion or undergoing an illegal abortion was subject to the same punishment. An abortion was legal, however, if carried out in good faith without negligence for the purpose of providing medical or surgical treatment for the pregnant woman. The abortion law in Ghana, enacted in 1985, states that an abortion performed by a qualified medical practitioner is legal if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or “defilement of a female idiot;” if continuation of the pregnancy would risk the life of the woman or threaten her physical or mental health; or if there is a substantial risk the child would suffer from a serious physical abnormality or disease.[9]Abortion is thus supported under specified situations in Ghana. It will not be out of the blue to state that most abortions committed do not fall under the legal requirements in Ghana.

Rate of Abortion: The abortion rate is higher among educated and wealthy women than among women with no education and those who are very poor. Likewise, it is twice as high in urban areas (21 per 1,000 women) as in rural areas (10 per 1,000). The rate is especially high (34 per 1,000) among 20– 24-year-old women in urban areas.[10] The Ministry of Health in Ghana has reported there were 16,182 abortions in 2011, almost double the number in 2009 when there were 8,717 abortions. In 2010 there were 10 875 recorded abortions. Of these 16,182 abortions, 216 were for girls aged 10 to 14, 7,800 for girls aged 15 to 19, and 7,800 for women aged 20-24. [11] From these findings, it is notable that the youth bracket constitutes a high percentage to abortion. Why is the educated rate in abortion so high? Probably it is because they can afford payments for the performance of the abortion. Another factor could be that they want to further their education hence not even an unwanted pregnancy could stand their way. On the issue of low abortion in rural areas, it could be attributed to the community of life, early marriage or the norms within the rural areas which prevents them as compared to that of the urban centres.

This research on abortion cannot overlook the current incident that happened in Ghana in September where the undercover investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas and his team with hidden cameras caught a quack abortion expert by name Joshua Drah and how he performed abortion on his patients. His office which is located in Madina, a suburb in Accra uses unsterilized abortion equipment and the demand of sex as part of the abortion procedure[12]. These are some of the horrible plights some of our women had to endure in their bid to get rid of pregnancies. In order to go through the procedure, they give in to the ‘doctor’ before undergoing the abortion.

WHEN DOES HUMAN LIFE BEGIN? This question has confounded individuals and divided our society. Opinions have come from pro-life advocates and those in favor of abortion on demand, from physicians and lawyers, from the pulpit and the courtroom.

The Genetic position argues that since a genetically unique individual is created at the time of fertilization, each human life begins at fertilization. The embryological view holds that human life begins 12–14 days after fertilization, the time period after which identical twins would not occur. Also some Neurologists assert that human life begins when the brain of the fetus has developed enough to generate a recognizable pattern on an electroencephalogram (EEG). Here, it is proposed that humanness is attained when the brain has matured to the point that the appropriate neural pathways have developed.  Again there is the ecological argument which asserts that the fetus is human when it reaches a level of maturation when it can exist outside the mother’s womb. In other words, a fetus is human when it can live separated from its mother. Here the limiting factor is usually not neurological development, but rather the degree of maturation of the lungs. Lastly, there is also the birthday view which states that human life begins only at the point when the baby is born. Here the baby is human when the umbilical cord is cut, and the child survives based on the adequate functioning of its own lungs, circulatory system, etc.[13] There are other several views that seek to argue when life begins. The Bible could help in this argument since it is good for moral judgments.

A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON ABORTION

It must be noted that the word ‘abortion’ is not in the Bible or a plain teaching on the subject. We can get a biblical view on it by building the case from related matters.

Exodus 21:22-2  And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow; he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

On the above passage, Kunhiyop develops that “sometimes this passage is quoted by those who support abortion because they claim it supports their point of view that the unborn child is less than fully human”.  Those who argue in response to the child not being fully human supports that from the passage, the death of the unborn requires just a fine which means the unborn is less important compared to the ‘death for death’ upon the demise of the woman.

There are flaws however in this interpretation, the unborn child is not treated as worthless but the injury still results in punishment even if the punishment is reduced just as cases of unintentional murder (Numbers 35:10-34, Deut. 19:1-13). The mere fact that some punishment is required indicates that what was done was wrong, and that society recognizes that someone was injured.

“This command in itself, legitimizes the humanity of the unborn child on a level equal that of the adult male who caused the miscarry.”[14] The next verse (Exodus 21:20) states that if a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished. The punishment here appears not to be a death penalty but that does not mean the slave is less than fully human.

Isaiah 49:1b “the LORD has called Me from the womb; He has made mention of My name from My mother's bowels”.

Also, the Almighty knows a person before he or she is born (References from Old and New Testaments)

Psalm 139:13-16 For you formed my inward parts …Your eyes saw my embryo; and in Your book all my members were written, the days they were formed, and not one was among them. (Paraphrased).

The above verse indicates that God saw the embryo of the Psalmist. “God created and supervised his unborn state. There can thus be no doubt that an unborn child is fully human. Other portions of the New Testament indicate also that God knows the unborn. In the case of John the Baptist, God testified through the angel Gabriel giving the mission of the child and even his name (Luke 1:13-17).

A CHRISTIAN REACTION TO ABORTION

To the Christian it must be emphasized that ‘both life giving and life taking are divine prerogatives. And though we cannot interpret, you shall not kill as an absolute prohibition, since the same law which forbade killing also sanctioned it in some situations yet the taking of human life is a divine prerogative which is permitted to human beings only by specific divine mandate. Without this, to terminate human life is the height of arrogance’[15]. The Christian must see the unborn as one having a soul and therefore was given by God. Aborting would be murder thus to the unborn. Other options should be considered before one seeks to abort. For instance, there are homes that can adopt such babies. More so, the church should revisit their policies on pregnancy outside marriage within the church. Congregations should be encouraged in love and strengthened to remain chaste and faithful as seminars are also organized to address these issues on abortion. These should be done in love and the ‘stigma’ attached to those who get pregnant because of severe punishments should be reconsidered.

There are some exceptional cases that the Christian should be careful about the advice given. For instance where the pregnancy could lead to the death of the mother, the child born will have severe deformity and where there was rape or incest.  The mother should indeed be saved if no medical option is available. But any decision to abort must be made with a real concern for and grief at the loss of life resulting from what Tertullian called “necessary cruelty”. In response to the severe deformity of the child, certainly abortion should be the last option to consider and should only be thought of in the case of the most extreme deformities that are incompatible with life.[16] In cases of rape and incest, before making any decision counseling should be provided, considering the trauma of the mother and the unseen capabilities of the unborn. Also options of adoption should be provided during the counseling.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the issue of abortion is so controversial and complicated that it is a challenge that a consensus could be reached. Abortions occur not only in the unmarried but also in those married in order to limit their family size. Many people have their views concerning it and the nation and the church should continue in educating the populace before they get to the crossroads of decision whether to abort or not. Every adult was once a fetus and must guard against the expulsion of fetuses except when all other options have been weighed and medically abortion is the only option available.



[1] Geisler N. L., Christian Ethics Contemporary Issues and Options 2nd ed. (USA, Baker Academic: 2010) 131

[3] Kunhiyop S.W., African Christian Ethics (Michigan:Zondervan2008) p332

[4] Kunhiyop, African Christian Ethics, p 332

[6] Kunhiyop, African Christian Ethics, p 337

[7] Frame J.M., Medical Ethics: Principles, Persons and Problems (Phillipsburg, N. J: 1988) p89

[9] Guttmacher Institute, In Brief, 2010 Series 2 (New York:2010) p1

[10] Guttmacher Institute, In Brief, 2010

[11] Ghana’s 2011 abortion stats double from 2009: 16,182

http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/ghanas-2011-abortion-stats-double-from-2009-16182/ assessed 14/11/2012

[13]Dr. Tommy Mitchell, When does life begin http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab2/when-does-life-begin on August 26, 2010 assessed on 11/11/2012

 

[14] Kunhiyop, African Christian Ethics, p 339

[15] Stott, John, Issues Facing Christianity Today (London, Creative Print and Design: 1999) p280

[16] Kunhiyop, African Christian Ethics, p 343