Monday, 17 September 2012

THE ABORTION DEBATE

This blog is a response to an article by @shecrownlita that appeared on ynaija on the vexed issue of abortion; an issue that society has always and continues to grapple with. You can read it here http://www.ynaija.com/shade-lawal-abortion-a-womans-right-to-choose-30-days-30-voices/#commentspost . There were a lot of claims in the article that I felt needed to be addressed. Most of the claims are routed, in what I would consider, to be a distorted notion and understanding of the fundamental principle that is critical to the aforementioned issue. However these claims are widely used to shut out any sensible debate (or discussion) on the fundamental principle on the true moral value of abortion.  
In order to proceed, it is important for us to agree on a certain principle, which is ‘every human person is entitled to certain rights, the greatest of which is the RIGHT TO LIFE’. Therefore, when the term ‘a right to choose’ is used, it speaks to its very essence: the question of freedom.
Even common law grants us this very essential faculty, but as in common law, this freedom is not absolute. This usually becomes clear when it involves two or more people. As a result, society has a mechanism to ensure the balancing of the very exercise of this freedom. To choose implies there is more than one alternative. So if I am free to choose from more than one alternative, why stop me from choosing in this case? Well, Society has the responsibility to balance rights in order to ensure a sense of justice, equity but more especially and crucially to all facets of human society; to a sense of what is Right (not wrong). When a woman is pregnant, are we dealing with a single individual or two (maybe more as in the case of twins)? Well, this point to the fundamental principle needed to engage in this discussion. Can the other party be considered to be a ‘Person’ or as they would like to point out, just a ‘fetus’ and essentially, is it ‘viable’? This is clearly the ‘Heart and Soul’ of the whole debate which certain influential groups (emmm…, let me see….., Marie Stope International, BPAS, Planned Parenthood, et al) try to and most times successfully, move society away from addressing; limiting the whole discourse to a distorted notion of freedom.
So what (or should we say who) is a ‘Fetus’?
My default position has always been, if in doubt; carry out an etymology of the word.
Fetus comes the Latin word Fetura –ae, f which means a young brood or offspring. 
Another word that needs to be clearly defined is the word viable. Viable means:
  1. Capable of working successfully; feasible
  2. (of a seed or spore) Able to germinate
Having gone through this semantic exercise, it is now time to clearly establish my first premise.  As human beings, it is important not to deny that our physical development at our present age is not the same when we were teenagers, adolescents, infants, babies or fetuses but our viability has never been in question or in doubt. We all started (me and you) as a zygote (no one skips that). ‘We are who we are now, physically, because we developed from what we used to be’. Once conception has taken place and a zygote is formed, if you give it time, let’s say 9 months or 28 years, the only other thing it could be is an infant or adult respectively. It cannot be something else, ever!!! The term trimesters used during pregnancy are just the stages of development of the baby once there is a presence of matter. All living organism go through this process (life cycle of living organisms: O’level Biology). Also it is interesting to note that, even in countries with liberal abortion laws, they prohibit abortion once it has passed a certain level of development (usually before the third trimester begins) depending on the circumstance or intention and there is even no consensus on the actual time. This for me points to a fundamental recognition of the question of life at even this stage of development.

Having clearly constructed my premise let me go ahead and address some practical issues that were raised in her article.

The World Health Organization (WHO), estimated in a study conducted a few years ago, that “back-alley” abortions cause 68,000 maternal deaths each year in countries where abortions are illegal.”

Statistics does not seem to back up this assertion. It is important to clarify that there is no correlation between strict abortion laws and the rate of maternal mortality (MMR). It, on the other hand, depends on the quality and accessibility of healthcare to pregnant women. If you look at the chat (courtesy of the CIA) on maternal mortality rate (MMR) worldwide, you will notice that countries with poor healthcare system (African countries) top the chat. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2223rank.html . Countries like Poland, Malta, Lithuania, Ireland and so many others have a lower MMR than even the US or UK (with liberal abortion laws) with their very restrictive abortion laws. Chile with one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world has a low MMR (almost comparable to that of the UK and US). Taking the Chile example, it has been noted that the MMR has undergone a tremendous reduction over the last 50 years, despite the fact that it has continually tightened its abortion law over the last 25 years. It showed that MMR fell irrespective of the change in law.

Physical or mental conditions that endanger the woman’s health if the pregnancy is continued”

This is assertion is simply not true. Let me quote from a report on AN INTERNATIONAL symposium on maternal healthcare held in Dublin recently. The full report can be found here:  http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2012/0910/1224323797477.html#.UFEFMNfy2dE

Abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother
It says:
Eamon O’Dwyer, professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynaecology at NUI Galway and a conference organiser, said its outcome would provide “clarity and confirmation” to doctors and legislators dealing with these issues.
The symposium was organised by the Committee for Excellence in Maternal Healthcare, chaired by Prof O’Dwyer. Other members of the committee include Dr John Monaghan, Dr John Greene and palliative care nurse specialist Sin√©ad Dennehy.
About 140 medical professionals were at the event, including experts in obstetrics and gynaecology, mental health and molecular biology. They presented new research on issues surrounding maternal healthcare, with a focus on high-risk pregnancies, cancer in pregnancy, foetal anomalies, mental health and maternal mortality.
Prof O’Dwyer and a panel of speakers also formally agreed a “Dublin declaration” on maternal healthcare. It stated: “As experienced practitioners and researchers in obstetrics and gynaecology, we affirm that direct abortion is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.
“We uphold that there is a fundamental difference between abortion and necessary medical treatments that are carried out to save the life of the mother, even if such treatment results in the loss of life of her unborn child.
“We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.”
In a statement, Prof O’Dwyer also said no treatment should ever be withheld from a woman if she needed it to save her life, even if that treatment resulted in the loss of life of her unborn child.
Let me also give you a testimony that I came across on my twitter feed:
MaHelena LCeballos@mariahelenalc
@LOcculta Of course!! I'm oncologist & we can even treat a pregnant woman with cancer chemotherapy. Abortion is never a solution
I think I should probably not add anything to this. It says it all for me.
“Contraceptive (Birth Control) failure: Over half of all women who have an abortion used a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant.”

You are absolutely right. Artificial Contraception fails and due to this, there is always going to be a demand for abortion. For instance in the UK, it was estimated that there were close to c200000 abortion just last year alone even with contraception being readily available on demand on the NHS from your teenage years. It shouldn’t be hard to see if you advocate artificial contraception; you are bound to advocate for abortion. Why does it fail (risk compensation may be; et al)? Well I think that should be a topic for another day.

“Inability to support or care for a child and Lack of financial and moral support”

The inability to care and support a child either due to lack of financial and moral support should never be a reason to abort. Let me explain this philosophically. In every society there is a sense of what is right and wrong; good and evil. Now as moral agents, society always calls us to choose to do the right thing (good) and avoid doing the wrong thing (evil). Circumstances and Intention may drive us into doing evil but it does not take away the intrinsic value of the act (even if it sometimes it reduces our culpability). (Analogy) For instance, In Nigeria, assuming you have a graduate with no job (very common), social welfare or family member to support him. The circumstance is grave; his intention to get some money to feed himself and take care of his dying mother is good and noble; but It is never a justifiable reason for him to steal, rob a bank or kidnap someone (NOTE: with this analogy, I am not equating  both conditions but trying to extract similar elements related to the fundamental principle). Therefore it is important to state that if you cannot take care of a child there are numerous agencies and organization in Nigeria who are prepared to take that child and many couples looking to adopt babies. What we need in Nigeria is a promotion of the adoption culture. How do I know? There is an increase in the number of couples going for IVF treatments.

“To prevent the birth of a child with birth defects or severe medical problems. Such defects are often unknown until routine second-trimester tests are done.”

I have never envisaged a society that would condemn the weakest among them. Deformity is a condition and not a disease. It should not be a death sentence.  The Disabled have every right and should be granted the privilege of the dignity of personhood that we give the able-bodied, born or unborn. I am amazed that this would be offered as a reason for abortion on the same day that the president hosted our Paralympic athletes (some of whom were born with their condition) to a royal reception for doing the country proud in London when the able-bodied athletes had disgraced us woefully (I am blaming the officials though, not the hardworking athletes).


What kind of a country would classify its disabled (born and unborn) as 2nd class citizens to the point of suggesting to abort them.

“For many young women, the cultural stigma of being a single mother is so strong that they feel they have to go to any length to avoid bringing shame and disgrace on their families”

Would it not be easier to advocate for a change in orientation than advocate for the legalization of abortion in culture that you have assumed to be conservative?  What is needed is a change in cultural orientation and mindset not more abortion, to ensure that society especially families support their daughter in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. I will always use the Genevieve Nnaji example as a shining light when at the age of 17 she became unexpectedly pregnant. She received the support of her family and well, it did her no harm.


“Pregnancy resulting from rape or incest”

I opted to tackle this last because of the sensitivity that is needed in addressing it and the nature of the crime. Let me first set this straight, rape and incest are extremely horrible acts and society should do all it can to prevent it and support the victims, in case it happens. In places where statistics on abortion are recorded, abortions due to rape or incest are very few. Victims of rape need all the care, love and support they can get from society. Governments and NGO’s have a key role to play in this as victims sometimes struggle to get the support that they need from their community most times due to prejudice about rape victims in general. Governments and NGO’s need to work hard, apart from providing immediate support to the victims, to also re-orientate society on this vexed issue. Despite the repulsive nature of rape or incest, it is highly unfair to visit the sins of the Father on the innocent baby. The baby is not responsible for the rape but only a product of it. It will be very harsh to pass the death sentence to the child while the perpetuator is still alive. Would it not be fairer suggestion to sentence the perpetuator to death rather than the innocent child? It is simply not true that abortion heals the emotional and psychological wound caused by rape and there is simply no evidence to suggest that it does. If nothing else, as testimony in most cases confirms, the woman feels a sense of guilt for having the abortion thereby adversely compounding her already fragile emotional state rather than heal it. In order words abortion makes the situation worse rather than better.
What kinds of support can we give a rape victim?
First and foremost, there must be a sense of justice (which must be done and seen to be done) and therefore the overwhelming full weight of the law must fall on the perpetuator.
Secondly, a mother who knows she doesn’t want to keep the child for whatever reason doesn’t need to. There are organizations (I can link you to one) that are willing to take the child into care or offer it to couples looking to adopt.
Finally, the emotional and psychological need of the victim should be looked after by the state and NGO’s as well as by society at large, so that together they can make an already hideous situation better. Children born as a consequence of rape grow up to be very lovely and decent people. There is no need to condemn them to the ultimate punishment of death.

Let me summarize, what we are talking about here is a pregnancy crisis. It is this crisis that actually lead women to consider having an abortion because they feel a sense of helplessness. When a woman gets pregnant that she least expects, what she needs at that point (many of whom are usually confused at this stage) is real help not abortion. I can tell you, in Nigeria there are organizations that offer this help even if government is not pulling its weight (as it does on most issues).  We also need to get government to address the ailing state of our health care system that sells our pregnant (wanted and unwanted) women short. This would actually lead to a drop in our already high MMR. The argument that we should make it legal because people would still have it illegally anyway (same argument used for hard drugs that simply is not working) will solve the problem is simply not true. People have abortion (legally or illegally) because they feel a sense of helplessness at their state. The key word here is real help not abortion. Without addressing the joke of a health care system we have; MMR will always be high, whether or not abortion is legal in this country.


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