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(Berthe Morisot. The Cradle. Source)
Note: In this essay, I take for granted the immorality of abortion, and concentrate on the special case of ectopic pregnancies. If you are pro-choice, please first consult "A reading list for pro-choicers".
Many people who consider themselves pro-life say: "Abortion is never permissible, except when the woman's life is in danger, for example in the case of an ectopic pregnancy".
In my opinion, this is very slippery ground. At best, people who say such things use very inappropriate words to express their correct ideas. At worst, these people are not pro-life, but pro-abortion. Not only are they pro-abortion, but their apparently humane exception to the rule, in the case of ectopic pregnancies, is in fact the Trojan Horse responsible for more deaths than the satanic Nazis and their concentration camps.
"Ectopic" in Greek just means "which is not in its proper place". If somebody borrows your hammer, and abandons it somewhere other than in your toolbox, then that hammer is "ectopic". As far as I know, an ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg, instead of settling down in the woman's uterus where it belongs, decides to "take root" somewhere in the Fallopian tube. The fetus grows, bursts the internal organs not designed to accommodate a pregnancy, causes massive internal bleeding, and kills the mother and itself in the process.
Abortion is defined as the direct killing of the fruit of conception (i.e. beginning with the embryo), willed either as a end or a means, whatever the means used (such as accelerated birth, craniotomy, laparotomy, cesarean, the abortion pill, etc.).
The principle is simple. If you see one person drowning in the river, you'll try to save one life. If you see two persons drowning in the river, you'll try to save two! A woman with an ectopic pregnancy is not only going to die, but so is her child. Two lives are in danger, we must try to save two lives.
Conceptually, the surgeon has to remove the embryo from where it is, and ideally put it back in the mother's uterus where it belongs, so both the mother and the child will be saved. As far as we know, currently this is not technically feasible (September 2004). Therefore, practically speaking, the child dies, and the mother lives.
So, if the fetus dies because of the surgeon's intervention, why not just say that abortion is sometimes permissible? The surgeon knew in advance that his intervention was going to kill the baby, so didn't he just perform an abortion?
This is where we start exploring the "Trojan Horse" we were talking about. The discussion is going to get a bit subtle, but by definition, a Trojan Horse that anybody can see through is not a Trojan Horse!
First, let's review the relevant theory. The Principle of double effect can be summarized as:
"Accomplishing an action (or deliberately omitting it) is licit even when this choice implies a negative effect, with the following conditions:
4.1) if the intention of the agent is informed by the positive finality;
4.2) if the direct effect of the intervention is positive;
4.3) if the positive effect is proportionally superior or at least equivalent to the negative effect;
4.4) if this complex intervention has no other remedies exempt of negative effects."
[Sgreccia, Elio. Manuel de bioéthique. Paris, Mame-Edifa, 2004, p. 181]
Notice all conditions must be met. Even if only one condition is not met, the principle doesn't apply. You can also consult the following sources concerning the Principle of Double-effect:
of the Catholic Church, #2263.
Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 64, a. 7., in the "respondeo dicendum".
DANTEC, François. Love is Life; A Catholic Marriage Handbook, Notre Dame IN, University of Notre Dame Press, 1963, p. 52.
Let's now see how this Principle applies to ectopic pregnancies.
What is the difference between surgically removing the fetus from the Fallopian tube and having it die, and performing an abortion on that woman (which in this case probably means surgically removing the fetus from the Fallopian tube, and then letting it die)?
In a way, there is currently no difference: the act is the same (surgical removal of the fetus), and the result is the same (dead baby, live mother). These similarities are used by pro-abortionists to build their Trojan Horse.
To defeat this Trojan Horse, you must make the effort to see the differences, not only the similarities. There are many differences today, and these differences will only increase with time:
5.1) Intentions of the mother and the surgeon. The mother of the child and the treating surgeon don't want to kill the child, on the contrary. "The mother's cure is in truth the only purpose of the treatment." An abortion, on the contrary, has only one purpose: to kill the unborn child.
5.2) Respect of the fetus. "All possible preparations have been made to baptize the fetus". (See also Canon 871.)
5.3) Current inevitability of this treatment. "The treatment used, operation or otherwise, really tends by its nature to cure the mother, and no other treatment is available which would be less dangerous to the fetus."
5.4) Evolution of this type of intervention. The surgeon faced with such a case will research medical literature to find out if recent advances now permit both lives to be saved. If medical science is not yet that advanced, this surgeon (because of his Hippocratic Oath, and his desire to respect the sacredness of human life) will be compelled to somehow participate in the effort to save both lives. Perhaps he will himself invent a new surgical procedure! All of the wonderful progress of medical science can be traced to this intense desire to save all lives. On the other hand, abortionists couldn't care less about that fetus.
5.5) The very name of this type of intervention. As soon as it becomes technically feasible to re-insert the fetus in the uterus, this operation will receive some medical gobbledygook name like "embryonic trans-nidification". Even if currently some people incorrectly call it "indirect abortion", that very name will change sooner or later.
If the deliberate killing of an innocent human person is sometimes permissible, morality doesn't exist anymore. If you let the Trojan Horse of Abortion into the Fortress of Ethics, all is lost. It might take some time for the enemy soldiers hidden inside the Trojan Horse to come out, and they might come out at night when everybody is asleep. They might even mingle with the civilians inside the Fortress for a while. But sooner or later, they will draw their swords and overtake the city.
Historically, this is how abortion camps have appeared inside our western countries. Pro-abortionists didn't start out by saying: "Let's exterminate all handicapped children, just like the Nazis did in Germany, and while we're at it, why not include any man which we consider annoying?" They started out with the Trojan Horse of "Therapeutic Abortion", which is probably the oxymoron of the Century. Therapy, by definition, is not about killing people, but saving them. Abortion, by definition, is not about saving people but killing them.
The whole affair of "Therapeutic Abortions" has generated a double trend. Real cases of pregnancies where the mother's life is in danger have dropped steadily, whereas imaginary threats to the life of the mother have increased dramatically, and become more and more vague.
A great number of these 'indications' [for so-called "therapeutic abortions"]
have, following the progress of Science and medical assistance, lost their
raison d'être. Tuberculosis, cardiopathies, vascular diseases, diseases of
the hematopoietic system (some forms of anemia), kidney diseases, hepatic and
pancreatic diseases, gastro-intestinal diseases, pregnancy-related chorea,
myasthenia gravis, tumors (except those for the genital system); all these
diseases are claimed to be motives for 'indications'. But a thorough study of
each one of them, based on what has been said, let's us conclude that the
medical basis of these 'indications' is very limited, and that in the cases
where, in the absence of a therapeutic alternative, there remains a real risk
for the life or health of the mother, these cases are in a strong and
progressive downward trend.
[Sgreccia, Elio. ibid., p. 488].
Assumptions are constructed in this mindset which lead to admit, under the
name of 'therapeutic abortion', cases of eugenic abortion (malformation or
disease of the fetus), cases of contraception (undesired child) and cases with
socio-economic motivations. It must be realized that the progressive
extension, beyond the 'medical indications', has often been driven by
political reasons, to include under the heading of 'therapeutic' and under the
aspect of 'regulation of abortion' the whole casuistry of contraceptive
instances and 'liberalization' (i.e. unrestricted access to abortion)
[Sgreccia, Elio. ibid., p. 486].
Next time somebody taunts you with ectopic pregnancies, in order to get you to say that some abortions are permissible, don't let their Trojan Horse into your fortress. Just hand them this text, or some equivalent.
By avoiding the "ectopic word" of abortion when discussing ectopic pregnancies, we'll help save innocent human lives.
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