Happy Mothers Day: Choose Life.
On Mother’s Day I could very well write a cheery article about the joys of being a mother, or about the important role that mothers play in a child’s life, or even about all the fun things that Mums can do with their children to make this day special. But instead I have elected to talk about the grave responsibility that women have when they are faced with the precious prospect of being a mother. In today’s world women have a choice, and I humbly urge every one of them: Please choose life.
Yes, I am talking about the controversy surrounding abortion, which incidentally “continues to rage unabated” even during the current Coronavirus crisis.
Personhood of the Unborn Baby
The debate raging around abortion is often centred around determining when exactly the unborn child can be considered a human being. There is clear scientific evidence that life begins at conception, for the fetus is a human organism with its distinct DNA which under suitable conditions will grow by reproducing cells. However, even conceding this, the pro-abortion argument states that initially this living organism cannot be considered a person. Till the fetus reaches the point at which it is sufficiently developed it can safely be treated as a lump of tissue and the pregnancy can be terminated without any qualms. Unfortunately, there appears to be no consistent criteria for determining the point at which the unborn baby becomes a person.
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court verdict in Roe v Wade (1973) that granted women the freedom to choose to have an abortion, ruled that the government could prohibit abortions only after fetal viability. Fetal viability was defined as the point at which the fetus was capable of prolonged life outside the mother’s womb, with or without medical assistance. It was stated that beyond that point the state has a compelling interest in protecting the life of the unborn child. At that time, the court accepted the conventional medical wisdom that a fetus becomes viable at the start of the last third of a pregnancy, the third trimester, sometime between the 24th and 28th week. Moreover, it was stated that while states could prevent women from having abortions in the second trimester in some cases, they could not prevent a woman from having an abortion in the first trimester under any circumstances. It appears from their verdict that they believed that somewhere between the first and third trimesters the fetus develops into a baby worth protecting.
However, the reasoning is based on scientific facts which are constantly changing. For example, preterm babies born at 22 weeks of gestational age can now survive due to recent advances in medical science. Also, at 8 weeks ultrasound images clearly show the baby in its human form and his heartbeats can be heard. So, it is debatable whether scientific information should be used as a criterion to determine the personhood of an unborn child.
The ancient Vedic text, Srimad-bhagavatam, which was written in Sanskrit thousands of years ago and passed down from generation to generation in its unadulterated form, describes the life of a child within the womb. For example, it states: “In the course of a month, a head is formed, and at the end of two months the hands, feet and other limbs take shape. By the end of three months, the nails, fingers, toes, body hair, bones and skin appear, as do the organ of generation and the other apertures in the body, namely the eyes, nostrils, ears, mouth and anus.” (Srimad-bhagavatam 3.31.3) Several such details about the development of a fetus are given.
The description begins with the declaration that the soul enters the womb at conception: “The Personality of Godhead said: Under the supervision of the Supreme Lord and according to the result of his work, the living entity, the soul, is made to enter into the womb of a woman through the particle of male semen to assume a particular type of body.” (Srimad-bhagavatam 3.31.1) The Vedic understanding is that a living being is distinct from dead matter because of the soul within it. This is the reason that once the soul leaves, even the most sophisticated medical procedure cannot revive a dead man. Thus, the presence of soul at the time of conception confirms that life begins at that point. This refutes the argument that until it develops a brain, the fetus is simply a lump of matter that grows within the mother’s body, much like a tumour. Because of the presence of the soul, right from the time of conception, the unborn baby is considered to be an individual living being.
Some people argue that the mother should have the right to decide whether to keep the child or not because in one sense it is a part of the mother’s body and completely dependent on it. But, that is all the more reason for the mother to actually protect the child which is innocent and vulnerable. Just as self-inflicted injuries and suicides are not acceptable in society, similarly even if we consider that the child is an intrinsic part of the mother’s body, that does not give her the right to eliminate it at will. In Vedic scriptures, “destroying the embryo within the womb” is compared to killing a saintly person (Srimad-bhagavatam 9.9.31) and is considered to be a grievous crime.
Even if we cannot agree upon when exactly the fetus can be considered a person, we know that it is capable of growing into a kind and loving human being. Such an entity should be given all protection, by the state and particularly by his parents.
Caitlin Flanagan writing for The Atlantic reports feeling disturbed on seeing sonograms of fetuses inside the womb for they clearly looked like babies. However, she was reassured that most abortions happen in the first trimester when they don’t look remotely human. She was somewhat comforted until she looked at an image at the end of the first trimester. Flanagan writes:
“A picture of a 12-week fetus is a Rorschach test. Some people say that such an image doesn’t trouble them, that the fetus suggests the possibility of a developed baby but is far too removed from one to give them pause. I envy them. When I see that image, I have the opposite reaction. I think: Here is one of us; here is a baby. She has fingers and toes by now, eyelids and ears. She can hiccup—that tiny, chest-quaking motion that all parents know. Most fearfully, she is starting to get a distinct profile, her one and only face emerging. Each of these 12-week fetuses bears its own particular code: this one bound to be good at music; that one destined for a life of impatience, of tap, tap, tapping his pencil on the desk, waiting for recess.
The Mother’s Well-being
Another aspect of the abortion debate is the consideration of the mother-to-be’s well-being. The pro-abortion argument states that if a woman is forced to have a child she does not desire, she will lapse into all sorts of mental problems such as depression. However, this often depends on the narrative surrounding childbirth. If we value motherhood and accord mothers the respect and care they deserve, women will rightly view childbirth as a happy event in their lives. Instead of allowing women to terminate their pregnancy, we need to examine what we as a society are doing wrong that women feel so much fear and anxiety about giving birth. We also need to bring back values that do not encourage frivolous sexual conduct resulting in unwanted pregnancies.
More importantly, women need to be made aware of the fact that having an abortion may seem a convenient thing to do in certain circumstances, but its long-term psychological effects may be far more damaging than most people realize. According to the American Pregnancy Association, post-abortion emotional effects range from feelings of guilt and regret to severe depression and suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Emily Bazelon wrote an extensive article on post-abortion syndrome. She talks about Rhonda Arias, now an abortion-recovery counsellor, who admits that her life rapidly spiralled downwards after her first abortion in 1973, the year Roe v Wade gave women the freedom to do so. She blames her thoroughly unhappy life filled with depression, drinking and drugs, an attempted suicide, a miserable marriage and several more abortions, on the initial wrong decision she took to abort for the first time.
While academic reports continue to claim that abortion does not increase the risk of depression, drug abuse or other serious psychological problems, the ground reality, exposed by Bazelon in her article, seems to be somewhat different. Weekly support groups and retreats for women suffering from post-abortion trauma organized by groups such Rachel’s Vineyard were growing in numbers. Norma McCorvey – ‘Jane Roe’ of Roe v. Wade, regretted her role in legalizing abortion and sought to overturn the ruling. In order to support her claim that abortion is harmful to women, Operation Outcry was launched, under which hundreds of women submitted signed affidavits testifying that they regretted their abortions. Exhale, a volunteer-staffed hotline set up to counsel women undergoing an abortion, received an average of 300 calls per month.
The South Dakota Legislature banned abortion in 2005, based on a state task-force report, which said that women cannot end their pregnancies without “suffering significant psychological trauma and distress,” because “to do so is beyond the normal, natural and healthy capability of a woman whose natural instincts are to protect and nurture her child.”
Even those who may be abortion advocates acknowledge the need for counselling post-event. Peg Johnston, an abortion provider, wrote a 90-page pregnancy-options workbook, which tried to help her clients deal with these feelings of fear and shame. Ava Torre-Bueno, a social worker who was the head of counselling for 10 years at Planned Parenthood in San Diego, writes in her book Peace After Abortion about the pain some women feel on the anniversary dates of their abortions, the spiritual conflict to which abortion can give rise and the hurt caused by keeping it secret.
Although because of the current propaganda that reduces the unborn child to an inconvenient mass of tissue, there may be many women who undergo an abortion without significant feelings of regret, those who are more conscientious suffer lasting pain and sorrow. Either way, the decision to have an abortion is never an easy one.
The last resort of the pro-abortion argument is to point out exceptional cases such as when pregnancy occurs due to rape or incest. Claiming that the woman is already traumatized, they recommend ending this connection to the perpetrator of the crime. Unfortunately, the connection happens to be an innocent living being. To end its life would just be adding another victim to the horrid affair. Even though carrying the child may be a painful reminder of the violent act, the woman should be compassionate after what she has gone through and tolerate the burden for some time, at least until the baby is born. Afterwards the child can be adopted by a couple who want to have a family but are unable to conceive. As for the claim that abandoned children are often neglected and grow up to be disturbed individuals, it would be better to clean up the system of orphanages and adoption, rather than advocating ending the life of the unborn child just to prevent the possibility of him growing up to be a criminal.
What about when the doctors can predict that the child will have serious physical defects such as heart or kidney problems? Again, if we accept that the child in the womb is an individual with all the rights of a human being, the question would not have to be debated. Just as no parent would think of killing their baby even if he is born with some deformities, they should similarly protect their unborn child under all circumstances, instead of deciding whether he ought to live or not based on some information given by medical diagnostics.
There are also cases where doctors declare that the mother’s life is at risk due to pregnancy. Apparently, it is a no-brainer that in that situation the pregnancy must be terminated. However, if a woman is likely to die and her death can be prevented by killing a defenceless child, would the state allow it? So why should the tiny living entity in the womb, who is unable to protest, be treated any differently?
Experience the Joy
The fact is that these cases are few and far between. The vast majority of women opting for abortion feel that they cannot take the responsibility of raising a child. But, if they are somehow dissuaded from taking the drastic step of abortion, they may feel that they took the right decision when they hold their precious little baby in their arms.
Cherie Carter-Scott, Ph.D., author of The Gift of Motherhood: 10 Truths for Every Mother writes:
“Becoming a mother is a profound and unique adventure. Motherhood is an experience unlike any other on earth. There is nothing as profound, nothing that will stretch you so far beyond anything you previously imagined. It is remarkably challenging, yet uniquely rewarding at the same time. Other life experiences may bring you joy or fulfilment, or encourage you to grow, but none are on the same scale as becoming a mother.”
For me being a mother has been the most wonderful experience. I remain amazed at the instinctive bond that I share with my daughters and the unselfish joy I get from seeing them content. Being a mother makes me want to be a better person and a better devotee. I am grateful to Lord Krishna for sending me two endearing, mischievous and thoughtful souls to take care of.
Happy Mother’s Day. I wish that all women would choose to be happy mothers.