Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When mothers refuse life-saving abortions, how should we respond?

I just finished reading Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Trumps Modern Medicine by Dr. Paul Offit. The main focus of the book is religious refusal of life-saving medical treatment for one's children. However, Dr. Offit does devote a chapter to abortion.

He does an admirable job handling the subject; unlike Bill Nye, he fully acknowledges the science of prenatal development and does not dismiss concern for the unborn child as a foolish superstition. Rather, he focuses specifically on religious disagreements about abortion when the life of the mother is in danger. Secular Pro-Life, recognizing that it is better to save one life than zero, does not oppose such abortions, so I have little to add to Dr. Offit's thoughts. But I want to highlight one passage that I found thought-provoking:
Furthermore, while [Catholic] church officials claim that the life of the fetus and mother are equivalent, their actions speak otherwise. In the eyes of the church, the fetus is an innocent; the mother isn't. No story has made the Church's preference for the unborn clearer than that of Gianna Beretta Molla, a thirty-nine-year-old pregnant woman who suffered from uterine cancer. In April 1962, rather than remove her uterus to save her life, Gianna chose to take her pregnancy to term. "If it is a question of choosing between me and the child," she said, "do not have the least hesitation. Save it!" Gianna gave birth to a healthy baby girl and died several days later. Her ultimate sacrifice led to her beatification. "Gianna Beretta Molla knew how to give her life in sacrifice so that the being which she carried in her womb could live," said Pope John Paul II. "She was aware of what awaited her, but she did not flinch before the sacrifice, thus confirming the heroic nature of her virtues. We wish to pay homage to all brave mothers who devote themselves unreservedly to their families and who are then ready to make all sacrifices. We thank you, heroic mothers, for your invincible love!"
When pro-lifers applaud mothers who go to their death refusing abortion, is this an indication that we value the baby more than the mother?

Molla and two of her four children
I don't think that necessarily follows. After all, society routinely applauds people who sacrifice their lives for others. Fallen police officers are an obvious example. Memorializing fallen police officers certainly doesn't imply a judgment that police officers have less moral worth than the people they save.

But I also get where Dr. Offit is coming from, because the statement he quotes is way too cheerful. So cheerful it's creepy, if you ask me. A person's death may be heroic, but it's still a tragedy, not a cause for celebration and thankfulness. Maybe I feel this way because I don't share the Catholic belief in an eternal paradise, which may be assuaging their grief... but I don't think that's the sole thing discomforting me here. I'm having a hard time putting it into words.

What say you? Is this problematic?

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