Even some of the proponents of abortion have had serious misgivings about the liberalized laws. For instance, Dr. Robert E, Hall of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, a leader in the abortion-reform movement, believes only hospitals can best handle the possible complications of abortions.
In his book A Doctor’s Guide to Hating an Abortion, Dr, Hall explains that complications are infrequent; but when they occur you should be in a place that can handle them—that is, in a hospital or very close by—for they can be sudden and serious. For this reason, abortions in doctors’ offices are inadvisable unless
(a) your pregnancy is very early (less than eight weeks from the beginning of your last menstrual period)
(b) there is a hospital no more than a block or two away… in most communities clinics which are fully equipped must be affliated with a hospital no more than 10 minutes away.
Anti-abortion forces have stepped up their campaign to pressure legislatures to vote against liberalized laws, but to date their efforts haye been unsuccessful. As an allernate solution to abortions, Ngw York’s Roman Catholic Diocese founded an organization called Birthright. Counseling, prenatal and postnatal care, adoption services, day care and foster care are being provided, The Conservative Party of New York and other interested groups are working hard to roll back repeal.
In California, some counties are making efforts to require all unmarried women who are less than 21 years of age to have parental consent for an abortion. According to abortion opponents, the physician has the duty to protect and save the work of nature. Yet, the developing embryo has no human characteristics during the first six weeks and the fetus cannot survive outside the mother’s body before the 20th week, although there is a report of a case of an infant that lived despite weighing less than 400 grams (1,000 grams is widely used as the criterion of viability; premature infants weigh up to 2,500 grams or 5.5 pounds,) Thus there is no scientific way to back up the changing ecclesiastical theological notion of when human life begins.
Today, Catholic doctrine holds that it is impossible to determine exactly when human life begins. But that has not always been so. St. Thomas Aquinas, the leading Catholic philosopher of the 13th century, placed the beginning of life and the soul at the moment the growing baby first moved in its mother’s womb. And, in the Golden Age of Greece, Aristotle, for instance, proposed that life for the male began 40 days after conception, for the female 90 days after. Roman law was more equitable, determining that date as 40 days after conception for both sexes.
The ethical issue remains unresolved, and is likely to remain that way. Since there is no way of knowing the status of the embryo or fetus, Catholics are enjoined from taking any action at all that may harm it. Therefore, Catholic doctors and nurses may not participate in an abortion, but they are not held back from providing abortion post operative or nursing care to patients. Unfortunately, as long as children are not wanted by their parents, abortions will be sought, no matter what the ethical considerations are. Frederick S. Jaffe in Science (October 8, 1971) cited the finding that “between 1960 and 1965 at least 19 percent of all births were reported as unwanted by the parents at the time of the conception.”
For parents, this may be the overriding considerations no matter what the religious background or how repugnant the thought of either ending or preventing a life. According to Dr. Charles Ballard of the University of Southern California, the number of women treated for the consequences of illegal abortions has dropped dramatically, from 800 to 100 per year, at the Los Angeles-USC Medical Center, following the liberalization of the California abortion laws in 1967.
The law holds that prior to the 20th week of pregnancy, a committee of licensed physicians must find that the continuation of a pregnancy “would gravely impair the physical or mental health of the mother,” or that the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
“In spite of the controversy over abortion, it has reduced the number of unwanted children,” Dr. Ballard stated. “Fewer babies are available for adoption than was the case four years ago and it is very likely that the number of ‘battered’ children—beaten unreasonably by parents who did not want them —will also decrease.”
These social realities, as they bear on the quality of life, are influencing abortion opponents. As an example, Daniel Callahan began his book Abortion: Law, Choice and Morality opposed to abortion, but ended believing that the State has no right to refuse an abortion to a woman who wants one. But he is not happy—hoping, like other experts in the field, for increased reliance on better methods of birth control. This will then not require that we make a choice between the life of a conceptus and those other human values we count important.
The results of liberalized laws have demonstrably posed no threat to society. In fact, legal abortions may safeguard mothers and preserve unwanted children from the clear dangers of such a status. At this time, such concrete considerations about the social realities appear to be taking precedence over religious interdiction or over the abstract reasoning of the theologians and philosophers.