This article is a continuation of the series complex issue of abortion. Words matter, reflecting our reality and they create our reality. In these reflections, I will be using inclusive and gender-neutral language. I will also use the word ‘termination’ as opposed to ‘abortion’, which is the word used in South African Law.
Termination of pregnancy is a sensitive and painful matter – and it is not to be taken lightly. Terminating a pregnancy should be a carefully considered act and it should have a medical consultation.
We recognise that women who want to start a family but cannot, they feel a deep sense of personal pain at not being able to conceive a child. At the same time, there are women who, for whatever reason, choose to not want to complete a pregnancy – in the case of failed family planning and contraception, of rape, incest and sexual abuse, or for medical reasons – either personal health concerns or a poorly formed foetus.
We have also considered the high rates of sexual abuse, exploitation and rape as reasons a woman may not want to bring a particular child into the world. We considered that poverty, education and economic hardship play a huge part in women’s healthcare – or lack of it. In desperate situations, women should not have to give birth to another mouth to feed (Namibian Sun, 8 April 2021)
There are numerous biblical texts that can offer us guidance – even though none of them directly deals with the issue of abortion in a systematic manner. The Bible is directly silent on the issue of termination and all we can see is that in some circumstances, fetal life and survival was not seen as special nor necessary as often as less valued than a birthed baby.
We also need to understand that some forms of contraception prevent fertilisation – either by chemically preventing the release of the ovum or by a physical barrier (like a condom). Other forms of contraception prevent the zygote from implanting in the lining of the uterus. A zygote here is a fertilised oocyte.
Most morning after pills also prevent the zygote from implanting, thus prohibiting pregnancy from continuing. I mention this only to point out that it takes pregnancy to mean a gestation event, beginning from the moment of fertilisation. However, this is nit-picking a physical and biological event, since a zygote is simply an oocyte that has joined with a spermatozoon – and a whole lot needs to happen for it to become a viable pregnancy. In fact, we must look it this way; it is premature to call a zygote life – let alone a human being or even a pregnancy.
In many cultures around the world, one is not considered pregnant until the start of the second trimester. It is only after this milestone that a woman will announce to her family that she is pregnant because it is only after this that viability of the foetus can reasonably be expected. We should be wary of those using a sensitive issue to divide people politically to elicit political support.
We should, however, walk lightly on this issue, since none of us has all the answers, If anyone says ‘well, the Bible has the answers’, then perhaps we need to read the Bible again. For many people, the Bible doesn’t provide answers – it provides questions! “Search me, O God ….” is a question, for it is us that scripture questions.
Therefore, we also need to walk alongside those who struggle with these issues. This is pastoral accompaniment. Women in our communities come to discuss these very issues with us – and to find relief for their burdens.
We cannot presume to know what experience made a woman feel when she wants to terminate her pregnancy. That’s why we shall not presume to judge her for it. The church community should be a place of healing for all.
Healing is when the church walks alongside the lonely women on the road to hospital. It means offering to care for her children within the faith community – and it means offering a place of respite and refuge from a cruel world.
It also means that those who presume to be judges should make the first offer of adoption of the child. If a commitment to the unborn does not lead us to that point, then our talking loses credibility in the situation because screaming ‘murderer!’ at some poor woman is hardly the help God requires us to offer. If we want to make a difference, then we must offer to adopt.
If we want to reduce terminations, then we are going to have to find a way to care nurture and rear children whose mothers don’t want to be mothers. We cannot say we want children to be born unless we are willing to take the responsibility for that decision by providing care for those unwanted children. Shouting about termination of pregnancy is too easy; it requires zero commitment from the shouter in doing so.
Termination of pregnancy is a sensitive matter that directly affects a woman and concerns her health and well-being. Women should have control of their personal healthcare choices as far as possible. Forty-seven thousand women dying from backroom abortions are too many avoidable deaths (New Era, 15 February 2021). Women need access to safe, modern personal healthcare procedures and services (Confidente, 4-10 March 2021).
I believe it is in this context the debate in the National Assembly must be centred around. We need to be aware of it if we are to make informed decisions on the matter. I leave you with the following view on abortions by President Bill Clinton, “That they be safe, legal and rare”. In pursuit of the latter, we need to ensure the former.