The candidates for Alabama’s 5th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives participated in a debate on May 22. In the debate’s so-called lightning round, candidates were asked their positions on abortion. In his response, Dr. David Maker said, “I oppose abortion, except in very special cases. If you demand that a woman not have an abortion under every circumstance, I believe you’re being cruel.” Unfortunately, given the fifteen-second time limit in which candidates were allowed to answer in the lightning round, Maker did not go into details. I suspect nonetheless, because they are caveats that politicians and political candidates commonly support, that Maker is speaking of rape, incest, or the life of the mother.
First, let me deal with the idea of cruelty. The cruelty in such a situation is on the part of the rapist. It is on the part of the father who abuses his daughter. It is on the part of the near kin who do not think about the consequences of their creepy, consensual relationship.
Second, how do the circumstances of conception change the fact that a fertilized embryo is a life? A distinct human life! That is all it is about: Is it life? Life is all it must be about because as soon as we start making exceptions for what we think are extenuating circumstances, it becomes far too easy make exceptions for simple convenience.
If we all agree that A, B, and C are extenuating (and cruel) circumstances and worthy of exception, some situation D will come along that is almost, but not quite the same as A, B, or C. Still though, D is basically the same as A, B, or C, so surely we can allow an exception for it. Then later case E arises, which bears a lot of resemblance to case D. Yes, it’s a little different, but if we allow for D, no one can argue that E is not also an exceptional case. Before long, the list of things we make exception for is longer than the list we hold the line on.
What about the life of the mother? I mean, the mother’s mental health is one thing, but we’re talking about her physical health, her life here! I could perhaps be persuaded in theory that abortion is the lesser of two evils if a mother would lose her life in delivery. Why bring a child into the world without a mother? Wouldn’t it be better to try again? Perhaps the next pregnancy will go better, and the family unit will be intact.
The problem is that no one can say with any degree of certainty that a woman will, in fact, lose her life if she attempts to deliver a child in situation X. There are odds based on the research we have on the matter, but they are only odds. How many times have doctors given someone no chance of living only to watch the person pull through in the end? For that matter, it sometimes works the other way around: a seemingly routine pregnancy and delivery end up with complications that result in the mother’s death. We just cannot know. It is therefore unjust to choose to terminate a life in favor of another when we are not sure that either life is truly in danger.
Isn’t it just beyond the pale, though, to ask a woman to rear up the child of her attacker? How can a woman look every day into the face of her child, a child begotten by her own father? The answer, of course, is adoption. If seeing that child every day would be too grim a reminder of how the child came to be, the mother need not see the child again after giving birth. There are would-be parents who are not concerned with how a child was conceived. They simply long for a child.
There is no cruelty in preserving life. Still, that is not to say that there would be no difficulties. The emotional trauma would be grueling. The medical expenses could be crippling. Doing the right thing sometimes demands a heavy sacrifice, especially when one suffers the consequences of someone else’s misdeeds. In the end, the truly cruel thing would be to end a life that has come about by no fault of its own.