‘See these young sitting in the houses like the figures of dreams, children killed by their dear ones…’ (Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, from the Speech of Cassandra, ll.1217-9).
THE TERM ‘ABORTION’ is understood in this book to refer to the destruction of human life within the mother’s body in the phase between conception and birth. It is thus understood to refer both to deliberate abortions, such as surgical abortions, and to abortions which are not deliberate such as many of those resulting from the use of ‘contraceptive’ pills (see below). In conjunction with abortion, will be considered the destruction of human life outside the mother’s body in the first nine months of its existence. Such destruction may either be deliberate as in the case of the destruction of ‘surplus embryos’, or not deliberate as in the case of the death of embryos occasioned unintentionally by in vitro fertilization.
As an introduction to this topic we shall consider in this chapter the nature of the unborn, the principal types of abortion practised, and the law in England which governs its practice.
1. The Unborn
The following information on the nature of the unborn is taken from the document ‘The First Nine Months’105: ‘Day One: Sperm joins with ovum (egg) to form one cell – smaller than a grain of salt. The new life has inherited 23 chromosomes from each parent, 46 in all. This one cell contains the complex genetic blueprint for every detail of human development – the child’s sex, hair and eye colour, height, skin tone. Days 3-4: The fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube into the uterus, where the lining has been prepared for implantation. Days 5-9: During this time, the fertilized egg implants itself in the rich lining of the uterus and begins to draw nourishment. Days 10-14: The developing embryo signals its presence through placental hormones, preventing the mother from menstruating. Day 20: Foundations of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system are already established. Day 21: The heart begins to beat. Day 28: The backbone and muscles are forming. Arms, legs, eyes and ears have begun to show…Day 35: Five fingers can be discerned in the hand. The eyes darken and pigment is produced. Day 40: Brain waves can be detected and recorded. Week 6: The liver is now taking over the production of blood cells, and the brain begins to control movement of muscles and organs … Week 7: The embryo begins to move spontaneously. The jaw forms, including teeth buds in the gums. Soon the eyelids will seal to protect the embryo’s developing light-sensitive eyes… Week 8: At a little more than an inch long, the developing life is now called a foetus… Everything is now present that will be found in a fully developed adult. The heart has been beating for more than a month, the stomach produces digestive juices and the kidneys have begun to function. Forty muscle sets begin to operate in conjunction with the nervous system. The foetus’ body responds to touch… Week 9: Fingerprints are already evident in the skin. The foetus will curve its fingers around an object placed in the palm of its hand. Week 10: … The foetus can squint, swallow and wrinkle its forehead. Week 11: At this time, the foetus is about two inches long. Urination occurs. The face has assumed a baby’s profile, and muscle movements are becoming more coordinated. Week 12: The foetus now sleeps, awakens, and exercises its muscles energetically – turning its head, curling its toes, and opening and closing its mouth. The palm, when stroked, will make a tight fist … Week 13: Fine hair has begun to grow on the head and sexual differentiation has become apparent. Month 4: by the end of this month, the foetus is eight to ten inches in length and weighs a half pound or more… The ears are functioning, and there is evidence that the foetus hears …the mother’s voice and heartbeat as well as external noises… Month 5: …The foetus is about 12 inches long. The mother has definitely begun to feel movement by now. If a sound is especially loud or startling, the foetus may jump in reaction to it. Month 6: …If the baby were born in this month and given the proper care, he would survive. Month 7: the baby now uses the four senses of vision, hearing, taste and touch. He can recognize his mother’s voice. Month 8: The skin begins to thicken, with a layer of fat stored underneath for insulation and nourishment… Month 9: Towards the end of this month, the baby is ready for birth.’
2. Principal Types of Abortion
We may categorize abortions/destructions of the unborn into three types: abortion during the earliest period by means of ‘contraceptive’ pills (whether ‘the pill’, the mini-pill, or the post-coital pill) and by means of vaccines, implants, and the intrauterine device; the destruction of the unborn in connection with in vitro fertilization and embryonic and foetal experimentation; and abortion during a later period whether by chemical or by surgical means. Let us now consider each type of abortion/destruction of the unborn in turn.
Now contrary to popular belief, the ‘contraceptive pill’ known colloquially as ‘the pill’, has a capacity to act not solely in a contraceptive manner, but rather has a capacity to act in three distinct manners: ‘The Pill may suppress ovulation; or it may alter the mucus in the neck of the womb (the cervix) and discourage the passage of sperm into the womb; or it may act on the lining of the womb and disturb the implantation of the already fertilized egg (the embryo). (‘The Pill and Sex Risks to Health and Fertility’ by the Medical Education Trust). The third manner of acting is of course abortifacient. The mini-pill, by contrast, has a capacity of acting in two distinct manners: ‘The mini-pill… acts on the mucus in the neck of the womb, and on the lining of the womb. This reduces or prevents implantation of the embryo.’ (ibid.) The second manner of acting is abortifacient. The post-coital pill, the so-called ‘morning after pill’, equally has a capacity of acting in two distinct manners: it may suppress ovulation or it may act on the lining of the womb and prevent or disturb implantation. The second manner is abortifacient. It may be noted that all these forms of abortion have been labelled simply as ‘contraception’, the third form of abortion as ‘emergency contraception’. Implants and vaccines effect abortion by chemical means: implants by methods comparable to the methods outlined above, vaccines, regardless of the dangers seen all too clearly in the A.I.D.S. epidemic, by attacking the immune system of the body. The intrauterine device has the capacity to act in a contraceptive or abortifacient manner. In the latter case it effects abortion by intervening between the womb and the embryo.
In vitro fertilization leads to the elimination of ‘surplus embryos’, or, as Cardinal Ratzinger puts it in ‘Human Life under Threat’: ‘frequently becomes the occasion for selective abortion (e.g. choice of sex) when there are undesired multiple pregnancies.’ Statistics show that 96-97% of all embryos generated by in vitro fertilization are destroyed or perish in the course of the treatment.
The best known form of chemical abortion in the later period is effected by the pill known as ‘RU486’. This pill is administered typically in the second month of pregnancy. The information in this paragraph is taken from ‘Medical Abortion – The Ugly Truth’ by Dr. Peter Doherty (though let us note with regard to the title of this pamphlet that the term ‘medical abortion’ is unfortunate because it would imply that the unborn must be treated with medicine, and is therefore a form of malignant growth). RU486 when taken in insufficient doses has caused multiple malformations of the unborn. If, as is sometimes the case, it is only partially effective, it must be followed by surgical abortion. As the president of its manufacturing company states: ‘It is not at all easy to use… the woman has to ‘live’ with her abortion for at least a week.’ In addition to this psychological trauma, its side-effects include for the woman extensive bleeding leading in some cases to serious haemorrhage, severe pain, and even heart-attacks.
The pamphlet referred to in the previous paragraph concludes with the following quotation from the writings of Gonzalo Herranz, a leading bioethicist from the University of Navarre. The passage affords a fitting commentary on the practice of late chemical abortion.
‘The significance of this type of abortion is extremely important. It will establish as an admitted social fact that the human embryo is a mere product of debris. Not only is the embryo made into a thing, stripping it of all its human value; it is reduced to the negative condition of an excrement. In the same way that a laxative is capable of freeing sluggish colon of its fecal contents, the new pill will enable the gestating uterus to free itself from the embryo growing within it. Disconnected from the mother by a clean mechanism of molecular competition between anti- hormones and hormones, and catapulted towards the network of sewage systems through the action of specific stimulators (prostaglandins) of the uterine myosins, the embryo ends its existence in an unspectacular fashion. The transmission of human life, mankind’s supreme capacity to co-create that sharing in God’s creative power, will be converted into a function of the same physiological, psychological, and moral level as micturition or defecation.’ Surgical abortion is effected by poisoning the child, or by cutting him or her to pieces, or by crushing or by mutilating him or her to death by a vacuum machine. An additional method of late abortion, which has recently gained popularity amongst abortionists on account of its speed of execution, is the so-called ‘partial birth abortion’ whereby the body of the child is pulled out of the womb, feet first, up to the neck, and then, after the extraction of the brain by means of a vacuum machine and the consequent implosion of the head, is pulled out in its entirety. This type of abortion, as has been noted by others, is largely infanticidal, whereas certain other practices commonly described as ‘abortion’ are in fact wholly infanticidal, as when developed crippled children are born by means of induced labour, and killed by starvation, poisoning, drowning, or by the removal of live brain tissue required for the treatment of certain medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Here infanticide masquerades as abortion just as abortion masquerades as contraception above.
It is difficult to gauge the number of abortions performed per year worldwide, although the World Health Organization estimates a figure of 40-55 million for clinical abortions, and an equally high figure might be estimated for abortions resulting from the use of the intrauterine device and for the destruction of the unborn resulting from in vitro fertilization. As for those caused by pills and chemicals in the earliest period (abortions of the first category discussed above) one might reasonably guess that their numbers amount to hundreds, thousands, or millions of millions per year. Such numbers of human lives destroyed each year make the genocides of Hitler (an estimated six million) and Stalin (an estimated ten to twenty-five million) seem almost insignificant and without any doubt whatsoever exceeds the numbers of human lives destroyed by any other method in the history of mankind. What is perhaps most remarkable about these numbers is not their sheer magnitude, but the mercy of God in allowing the world to continue to exist in the light of them.
3. The Law on Abortion
Vaccines and implants are not currently available in England. ‘The pill’, the mini-pill, the post-coital pill and the intrauterine device may be freely obtained from a medical practitioner, although where the young woman in question is less than sixteen years of age, the provision of these pills is subject to the doctor’s discretion, and the provision of the intrauterine device is, in practical terms, unlikely. The destruction of the unborn in connection with in vitro fertilization and research is permitted up to the fourteenth day by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990. Abortions in the later period, whether by chemical or by surgical means, whether wholly abortive, or partly abortive and largely infanticidal, and the infanticide which masquerades as abortion are governed by the Abortion Act of 1967 as amended by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990:
Abortion is legal up to 24 weeks gestation (in other words up to 5 1⁄2 months from conception):
If the ‘continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family.’
Abortion is legal up to birth:-
(1) If ‘the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman’.
(2) If ‘the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated.’
(3) If ‘there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.’
Suffice it to say in commentary on these provisions that the vagueness of the concept ‘risk to the mental health’ gives ample grounds for legally justifying abortion up to 5 1⁄2 months from conception, and not insignificant grounds for justifying it up to birth.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.