Or at least that’s the impression the Archbishop of Canterbury gives in his recent writings. He thinks that people see abortion as an “easy” option, rather than using it only in extreme cases:
“But the rapidly spiralling statistics – nearly 200,000 abortions a year in England and Wales – tell their own story. We are not now dealing with a relatively small number of extreme cases (and clinical advances have in fact reduced the number of strictly medical dilemmas envisaged in 1967 act’s supporters). When we hear, as in a recent survey reported in the Lancet, that one-third of pregnancies in Europe end in abortion, we may well ask what has happened.”
Ok, so he has read the Lancet article in question (or at least is aware of the journal issue). Why then, does he think abortion rates are “spiralling” simply because they are legal? I was under the impression that the study showed it didn’t matter whether abortion was legal or not – people still sought them at the same rate. I also like when people quote statistics such as “one-third of pregnancies in Europe end in abortion.” He means induced abortion, which is fine – but he should state that explicitly. He fails to say that 20-25% of recognized pregnancies result in spontaneous abortion. The percentage is probably even higher, given that many women spontaneously abort without being aware they were ever pregnant (I’ve heard it quoted as high as 40-50% taking that into account). People of God never like to quote that one (surprise, God kills babies too!). My favorite quote of the Archbishop – and by favorite, I mean the one I am most appalled by – is this (emphasis mine):
Recent discussion on making it simpler for women to administer abortion-inducing drugs at home underlines the growing belief that abortion is essentially a matter of individual decision and not the kind of major moral choice that should involve a sharing of perspective and judgment. And that necessarily means that certain presumptions have changed.
Seriously? Is that really what he believes? That there is a “growing belief” – implying a change in previous belief – that abortion is a decision made by an individual? Abortion has always been an individual decision – sure, a woman may consult friends and family members, but she is the one that has to go through with it. You can argue that she should consult the father of the baby (which is debatable), but she should never have to get permission from a complete stranger (archbishop, political figure, etc) in order to proceed. If you don’t want an abortion, don’t get one. If you think abortion is wrong, then try and intelligently communicate to people why you think it is wrong. But you should never get to tell someone what to do with their life, when their actions have no consequence to you. If you think a woman is damned to hell for eternity if she gets an abortion, then fine – that’s your belief. But her decision makes no difference to you and your spiritual quest. I may believe that it’s appalling when people eat meat, but that doesn’t mean I should get to ban you from ordering that hamburger the next time you go to a restaurant. It makes no difference to my life whether you do or do not consume meat. (this said after I just consumed eggs and sausage for breakfast)
I find it hard to believe that this Archbishop has ever met a woman who had an abortion – I doubt it’s an easy decision for most of them. They understand that it’s a baby – their baby, but they get the abortion because in their situation it is the best decision for them. Maybe they don’t have the means to care for the child. Maybe they’re not in a stable relationship, and want to raise the child in an environment with two capable parents. Or maybe they have a medical condition and don’t want to put their body through the stress of pregnancy. It shouldn’t matter. Plus, who wants to have any sort of medical procedure done “just because”? It carries certain risks, which most are aware of – but the benefit to their personal situation outweighs the risk.
I will give the Archbishop credit for acknowledging that there aren’t necessarily “absolutes” when it comes to deciding what is right or wrong:
“There is no escaping the tough decisions where no answer will feel completely right and no option is without cost. But when do we get to the point where accepting the inevitability of tough decisions that may hurt the conscience has become so routine that we stop noticing that there ever was a strain on the conscience, let alone why that strain should be there at all?”
I just disagree that women who get abortions don’t notice a strain on the conscience – they’re human beings after all, not unemotional robots. Perhaps if women had better access to contraceptives then there would be fewer abortions in the first place. I don’t know the Archbishop’s stance on that issue, but a lot of vocal anti-abortion people seem to be against those measures as well.
I also find his discussion on the issue of “fetal rights” interesting – that is, the “paradox” between legislation that would punish women who harm their unborn child (he gives the example of smoking or drinking) versus the legislation that protects a woman’s right to terminate the pregnancy. I don’t know much about those laws, but it makes for interesting debate. One thing I know for sure is that we do not give a fetus the same rights as a woman (at least in the past…perhaps the fetal-rights laws are changing that). This is because our society does not view someone as a “complete” person (with all rights) until they reach a certain age. You can’t drive until you’re 16, you can’t vote or enlist in the military until you’re 18, you can’t drink until you’re 21, and you can’t run for President until you’re 35. By the definitions we’ve put forth in our legislation, a fetus does not have the same rights as an adult. I think it’s harmful to say otherwise – to try and put the rights of an unborn child on the same level (or above, if you are restricting abortion) as the woman is a dangerous path.
As much as I disagree with most of the Archbishop’s opinion, I’m glad he wrote it. It’s helpful to think about these things from time to time, and to see how different each of our views can be. This is why I am a libertarian. We can continue to disagree, but under my political philosophy those disagreements remain personal, rather than public. My views on any issue will never trump yours, just as yours will never trump mine. Live and let live, so long as we don’t infringe upon the rights of each other.
To read the Archbishop’s entire letter, click here.