Too many generalisations in nuanced issue of abortion
Published 27/11/2012 | 05:00
• Discussions of abortion and pregnancy remain insufficiently nuanced to do justice to the issues involved.
They tend to set up superficial polarities, for example, between pro-life and pro-choice, allied to competing assertions about the status of the foetus and about when it should acquire the protection of the law.
Generalisations suggesting that we may never take an innocent life are also unhelpful in that there are so many cases where we may. For example, in separating conjoined twins one of the two is sometimes justifiably sacrificed so that the other will live; in mountaineering, to preserve one's life it may be necessary to cut the rope of a colleague who is beyond rescue and is now endangering your life.
Though the Catholic Church allows the termination of a pregnancy if it threatens the life of the mother, a serious difficulty with its overall prohibition of abortion is that it applies even in the case of a young girl who is sexually abused within the family and becomes pregnant following persistent rape.
In these cases, it would seem reasonable to suggest that the pregnancy is an unjust aggressor and may be justifiably terminated.
What is troubling about the church's teaching related to such cases is that it seems to imply that if God willed the conception he must also have willed the rape; clearly, the theology has gone badly wrong here.
Similar considerations arise in all cases of non-consensual sex which, by any standards, constitutes an unjust attack on the woman's body. This is clearly the case, for instance, where a man regularly arrives home drunk, demands sex and proceeds to rape his wife.
This kind of affront to the dignity of women has been traditionally encouraged by the appalling concept of conjugal rights that has its provenance in the minds of men.
The notion that women do not exist to fulfil men's purposes does not yet have a secure footing in our society.