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Jehovah’s Witnesses


AWAKE! 1993-05-22

Abortion’s Tragic Toll

Abortion’s Tragic Toll

FROM 50 million to 60 million unborn babies perish each year by abortion. Can you comprehend that number? It would be like sweeping the entire population of the Hawaiian Islands off the map every week!

Exact figures are difficult to gather because most governments do not keep careful records of abortions. And where abortion is restricted or illegal, experts can only hazard a guess. But the global abortion profile looks something like this:

In the United States, abortion is the second most common surgical procedure, next to tonsillectomy. Annually, over 1.5 million abortions are performed. The clear majority of the women are unmarried—4 out of 5. Single women terminated their pregnancies twice as often as they gave birth, while, on an average, married women gave birth ten times as often as they had an abortion.

In Central and South America—largely Catholic—abortion laws are the most restrictive in the world. Nevertheless, illegal abortion abounds, presenting serious health hazards to women. Brazilian women, for example, underwent about four million abortions last year. Upwards of 400,000 of them had to seek medical treatment due to complications. In Latin America about one fourth of all pregnancies are terminated.

Across the Atlantic on the continent of Africa, the laws are also stringent. Injuries and deaths are common, especially among poor women who seek the aid of illegal practitioners.

Throughout the Middle East, many countries have strict laws on the books, but abortions are still widely sought and obtained by those women able to afford the high fees.

Most of Western Europe permits some abortions, Scandinavia being the most liberal. Britain’s National Health Service has kept track of abortions ever since the procedure was legalized in 1967. It observed a doubling of the number of abortions along with an increase in illegitimate births, sexually transmitted diseases, prostitution, and a host of reproductive disorders.

Eastern Europe is currently in a state of flux, and so are abortion laws there. In what was the Soviet Union, abortions are estimated at 11 million annually, among the highest number worldwide. With contraceptives scarce and economic conditions poor, an average woman in that region may undergo from six to nine abortions in her lifetime.

Throughout Eastern Europe the trend is generally toward liberalization. A dramatic example is Romania, where the former regime actively proscribed abortion and banned contraception in order to encourage population increase. Women were compelled to bear a quota of at least four children, and by 1988, Romanian orphanages were overflowing with abandoned youngsters. Thus, since the revolutionary government of 1989 dropped these restrictions on abortion, 3 babies of every 4 are aborted, Europe’s highest ratio.

Asia accounts for the largest number of abortions. The People’s Republic of China, with its one-child policy and compulsory abortions, leads the list, reporting 14 million  per year. In Japan women decorate tiny statues with bibs and toys in memory of their aborted children. The public has high anxiety about birth-control pills, and abortion is the primary method of family planning.

Throughout Asia, and particularly in India, medical technology has created an awkward predicament for female-rights activists. Such techniques as amniocentesis and ultrasound can be used to determine the gender of a baby at earlier and earlier stages of pregnancy. Oriental culture has long valued sons over daughters. So where both sex-determination procedures and abortion are easily available, female fetuses are being aborted in large numbers, unbalancing male/female birth ratios. The feminist movement is now in the paradoxical position of, in effect, demanding the female’s right to abort her female fetus.

In Asia, where male children are preferred, doctors abort thousands of female fetuses

What a Mother Feels

As with other medical procedures, abortion carries with it a measure of risk and pain. During pregnancy the mouth of the womb, or cervix, is tightly closed to keep the baby safe. Dilation and insertion of instruments can be painful and traumatic. The suction abortion may take 30 minutes or so, during which some women may experience moderate to intense pain and cramping. With saline abortion, premature labor is induced, sometimes with the aid of prostaglandin, a substance that initiates labor. The contractions may last hours or even days and may be painful and emotionally draining.

Immediate complications from abortion include hemorrhage, damage or tears to the cervix, puncture of the uterus, blood clots, anesthesia reaction, convulsions, fever, chills, and vomiting. Danger of infection is especially high if parts of the infant or placenta remain in the womb. Incomplete abortion is commonplace, and surgery may then be necessary to remove decaying tissue left behind or even the uterus itself. Government studies in the United States, Britain, and the former Czechoslovakia suggest that abortion greatly increases the later chances of infertility, tubal pregnancy, miscarriages, premature birth, and birth defects.

Former U.S. surgeon general C. Everett Koop observed that no one had done “a study on the emotional reaction or the guilt of the woman who has had an abortion and now desperately wants a baby that she cannot have.”

 Studies of abortion should have included in their control groups chaste young Christians who remain virgins out of respect for life and God’s laws. Such studies would have found that these enjoy healthier relationships, greater self-esteem, and lasting peace of mind.

What an Unborn Baby Feels

How does it feel to an unborn baby to be nestled securely in the warmth of its mother’s womb and then suddenly be assaulted with deadly force? We can only imagine, for the story will never be told firsthand.

Most abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks of life. By this stage the tiny fetus practices breathing and swallowing, and its heart is beating. It can curl its tiny toes, make a fist, turn flips in its watery world—and feel pain.

Many fetuses are wrenched from the womb and sucked into a jar by a vacuum tube with a sharp edge. The procedure is called vacuum aspiration. The powerful suction (29 times the power of a home vacuum cleaner) tears the tiny body apart. Other babies are aborted by dilation and curettage, a loop-shaped knife scraping the lining of the womb, slicing the infant to pieces.

 Fetuses older than 16 weeks may die by the saline abortion, or salt poisoning, method. A long needle pierces the bag of waters, withdraws some of the amniotic fluid, and replaces it with a concentrated salt solution. As the baby swallows and breathes, filling its delicate lungs with the toxic solution, it struggles and convulses. The caustic effect of the poison burns away the top layer of skin, leaving it raw and shriveled. Its brain may begin to hemorrhage. A painful death may come in hours, though occasionally when labor begins a day or so later, a live but dying baby is delivered.

If the baby is too developed to be killed by these or similar methods, one option remains—hysterotomy, a cesarean section with a twist, ending life instead of saving it. The mother’s abdomen is opened surgically, and almost always a live baby is pulled out. It may even cry. But it must be left to die. Some are deliberately killed by smothering, drowning, and in other ways.

What a Doctor Feels

For centuries physicians have embraced the values expressed in the venerated Hippocratic oath, which says in part: “To none will I give a deadly drug, even if solicited, nor offer counsel to such an end, and no woman will I give a destructive suppository [to produce abortion], but guiltless and hallowed will I keep my art.”

What ethical wrestlings confront doctors who terminate life in the womb? Dr. George Flesh describes it this way: “My first abortions, as an intern and resident, caused me no emotional distress. . . . My discontent began after many hundreds of abortions. . . . Why did I change? Early in my practice, a married couple came to me and requested an abortion. Because the patient’s cervix was rigid, I was unable to dilate it to perform the procedure. I asked her to return in a week, when the cervix would be softer. The couple returned and told me that they had changed their minds. I delivered their baby seven months later.

“Years later, I played with little Jeffrey in the pool at the tennis club where his parents and I were members. He was happy and beautiful. I was horrified to think that only a technical obstacle had prevented me from terminating Jeffrey’s potential life. . . . I believe that tearing a developed fetus apart, limb from limb, simply at the mother’s request, is an act of depravity that society should not permit.”

In the United States, 4 out of 5 women seeking abortions are unmarried

A nurse who stopped assisting with abortions told about her job in an abortion clinic: “One of our jobs was to count the parts. . . . If the girl goes home with pieces of the baby still in her uterus, there can be serious problems. I’d take the parts and go through them to make sure there were two arms, two legs, a torso, a head. . . . I have four children. . . . There was a huge conflict between my professional life and my personal life that I couldn’t reconcile. . . . Abortion is a hard business.”