A brain-dead Texas woman is being kept on life support because she is pregnant. Her hospital refuses to take her off machines, despite her husband’s pleas, because a state law requires continued treatment of a pregnant patient. Texas is one of 12 states which automatically invalidate a pregnant woman’s advance health care directive. So long as the fetus is alive, the mother cannot be removed from life support.
President Reagan designated January 22, 1984 the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. For 30 years, many churches across America have observed the third Sunday in January as Sanctity of Life Sunday. As the observance continues this Sunday, I’m thinking today about the logic of our society’s position on abortion.
A fetus inside its mother’s womb must be protected if the mother is brain-dead. However, if the mother revives and chooses to end the life of her unborn child, she can. Why is it deserving of legal protection if the mother is brain-dead, but not deserving of legal protection if she is not? Nothing about the fetus has changed.
I assume the logic of the law is that society cannot know whether the mother would choose abortion, so we protect the child in case she regains her ability to choose (or the fetus becomes viable enough to survive outside the womb). Our position focuses on the woman’s choice. Since the fetus lives in the mother’s womb, she alone should decide what to do with her body, or so we think.
But is the fetus part of the mother’s body? It has its own DNA, brain, nervous system, and blood circulation. After 21 days it has its own blood type, often different from the mother’s. When my wife was pregnant with our sons, she did not have male genitals, two brains, or four kidneys. The chair of Mayo Clinic’s department of genetics says, “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.” It’s a question only of location—once the fetus moves two feet, from inside the womb to outside, it must be protected. Before it is moved, it can be killed.
Abortion advocates often focus on the mother’s health, but is this argument persuasive? Researchers have documented links to breast cancer, pre-term births in subsequent pregnancies, anxiety, depression and suicide. In one study, 81 percent of women who chose abortion felt victimized by the process. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of obstetricians and gynecologists refuse to perform abortions.
A website called “The Abortion Memorial” allows mothers and fathers to post notes about their abortion experience. One entry is from a mother named Maureen, who mourns the son she aborted, Bryan Patrick: “40 years ago and it still hurts everyday. Ruined my life and my child’s. It was not my choice but when you are 15 and your mother tells you that you don’t have a choice, you do what she says. Lost my first love that day… God has forgiven me, my son has forgiven me and I am working on forgiving me.”
Last Sunday, my oldest son and his wife brought their newborn daughter home. She is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), a beautiful gift from her Father. I grieve for those who have rejected such a gift, and for a culture which does not understand the logic, and the miracle, of life.