Abortion and Hard Cases

One of the most common arguments for the legalisation of abortion is the issue of the so-called hard cases. Invariably when a discussion of legal abortion is underway, the pro-abortionist will raise issues such as rape or risk to the mother’s health. How are we to understand such objections? Are they sufficient for the legalisation of abortion?

Rape and incest are two common excuses offered for abortion. However several comments are in order. First, these are certainly tragic cases, and should not be glossed over. They are of course traumatic incidents which we need to be sensitive to. But killing the child conceived in such circumstances is not the way to proceed. Here are some reasons why.

Regarding rape, the cases of conception are quite low. Pregnancy due to rape is fairly rare. This is because the rapist is often infertile, and normal ovulation is inhibited because of the psychological trauma. Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute has admitted that in America abortions for rape amount to one per cent of all abortions. Another researcher has found that cases of rape and incest make up only 0.08 per cent of all abortions in America.

And compounding one problem with another hardly is very helpful. Says one ethicist, “One wrong is not corrected by another wrong. One act of violence is not solved by another violent act.”

As one commentator puts it, “post-abortion trauma in many rape cases appears to be no less pronounced than post-abortion trauma in non-rape cases. Rape followed by pregnancy followed by abortion leaves three victims: the woman who was traumatized initially by the rape; the unborn child who is traumatized by the abortion; and, for a second time, the woman who is traumatized by her decision to have an abortion.”

While we can all sympathise with such difficult cases, we must be careful not to allow such concerns to result in sweeping changes to the law. The legal axiom, hard cases make for bad laws, needs to be observed here. Indeed, legalising something because of extreme cases is always problematic. As one author puts it, “To argue for abortion on demand from the hard cases of rape and incest is like trying to argue for the elimination of traffic laws from the fact that one might have to violate some of them in rare circumstances, such as when one’s spouse or child needs to be rushed to the hospital.”

Moreover, it needs to be recalled that when legalised abortion was first debated, it was for these very hard cases that it was proposed. But as concerned thinkers warned back then, this would be the start of a slippery slope. And that is exactly what has happened. As bioethicist John Wyatt puts it, “Over the past thirty years we have moved imperceptibly from abortion as an option in extreme circumstances, through abortion as an option on request, to a duty to abort”.

Again, the bottom line is this: regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception, a child is still a child. Consider this situation: “What if you found that your spouse or adopted child was fathered by a rapist? Would it change your view of their worth? Would you love them any less? If not, why should we view the innocent unborn child any differently?”

A third hard case often mentioned by the pro-abortionists, when the life of the mother is at risk, also needs to be examined. In some cases, such as an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy or cancerous uterus, something must be done. If not, probably both mother and baby would die. In an ectopic pregnancy, the baby is usually dead already or is pretty well guaranteed to die anyway.

Thus some action is necessary, to save at least one party, but this is not really an abortion. The intention is to save the mother, not kill the baby. So it is probably best not to even include this as a reason for an abortion, since the intent is not to kill a baby (which is exactly what abortion is all about), but to save the life of at least the mother.

Birth Defects

A fourth common example of hard cases concerns possible birth defects or abnormalities, such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle-cell anemia, Down’s syndrome (Mongolism). We have various tests for these conditions, such as amniocentesis.  But testing is often subject to error. I know of a number of women who were told by their doctor that the baby they were carrying was at risk of some defect or abnormality, and abortion was recommended. Many of these women rejected this advice, and to their delight delivered perfectly healthy babies.

But increasingly abortion is nonetheless being used when a parent is told a child may have a physical or mental disorder. Indeed, it is already becoming a method of sex selection.

However, a number of assumptions underlie this argument for abortion. One is that handicapped children are social liabilities. Who says so? Indeed, what is normal? Is a child with only one arm less than a person? Is a deaf child a social burden? Many handicapped or deformed children, along with their families, have shared of the rich and rewarding lives they have lived. If we decide that society cannot accept a child with Down’s syndrome today, what will we prohibit tomorrow? Redheads? Dwarfs?

Dr C Everett Koop has spent much of his life working with ‘deformed’ and handicapped people. He says that it is his “constant experience that disability and unhappiness do not necessarily go together. Some of the most unhappy children whom I have known have all of the physical and mental faculties and on the other hand some of the happiest youngsters have borne burdens which I myself would find very difficult to bear”.

Moreover, who decides who should live and who should die? Those who decide that certain handicapped children deserve to die may also decide that certain adults who are handicapped also deserve to die. Indeed, infanticide and euthanasia are logical outcomes of the arguments for abortion. Bear in mind that before Hitler started killing the Jews, he had 275,000 handicapped people murdered.

No one has the right to decide that another human being is not fit to live. This is especially true since a doctor’s diagnosis can prove to be incorrect. As mentioned, there are many stories of a mother being counselled to have an abortion to prevent the birth of an unhealthy child. Fortunately, the doctor’s advice was ignored and a very healthy baby was born.

And handicapped people certainly do not support abortion. There is not one “national organisation for parents of handicapped children that is on record as favouring abortion for the handicapped. In short, it is not the handicapped (or their parents) who want abortions for those who may be handicapped; it is those who are not handicapped. But should not the handicapped be allowed to speak for themselves?”

A well known story is worth repeating here. A medical school professor gave his students a case study in whether or not to advise an abortion: The family is very poor, the husband is alcoholic and has syphilis; one of their numerous children is mentally deficient, and there is a strong family history of deafness. The wife, who had tuberculosis, finds she is pregnant again. What should she do? A student quickly advised an abortion. Thankfully, two hundred years ago the woman did not have that option, and the world has been immeasurably enriched because of the child she bore, Ludwig van Beethoven.


Finally, it is worth noting that all four of these hard cases (rape and incest, risk to the life of the mother, and possible birth defects) make up only a tiny fraction of all abortions. One study put the four as comprising just 0.68 per cent of all abortions. Thus the overwhelming majority of abortions (over 99 per cent) have to do with other than these hard cases so often brought up by the pro-abortion camp.

As mentioned, hard cases make for bad law. Legalising abortion in order to deal with less than one per cent of all abortion cases is neither ethical nor sensible. And as has been noted, except for a genuine threat to the life of the mother, there really is no need to kill an unborn baby.

In cases such as rape or incest, if the mother really cannot cope with the child, then it can be given up for adoption. But killing the baby is surely not the answer. Since the overwhelming majority of abortions are really cases of after-the-fact contraception, legalisation is not required. And since abortion kills a tiny member of the human race, there is no compelling moral or philosophical justification for legalised abortion.

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14 Replies to “Abortion and Hard Cases”

  1. A society, such as our own, whose behaviour used to be based on the Ten Commandments, of tolerance and trust and which put the needs of others ahead of its own, that resulted in a proliferation of charitable organisations (and which are increasingly coming under threat of closure from Stonewall) did not require legislation telling us to whom we could and could not incite hatred. We did not need to be told that it is permissible visit violence on all sections of society except the orphan, the homeless, the aged, infirm, the insane, the left handed, ginger haired, height challenged and the obese the overweight. It was taken for granted not do those sorts of things.

    With the arrival of the Equality and Human Rights Outfit however, we will all have to compete and register as who is and who is not deemed to be human. How soon will it be before we have an evolutionary ladder of rights to protection, with maybe foxes, giant pandas and whales above the old, infirm, insane and with Christians at the bottom. One can only assume that violence may be legitimately visited on those, whose human rights card has expired? Sadly for seven million British citizens who have never had any human rights, the best start in life is to have been aborted, like the 200,000 babies last year, under the government’s SureStart Programme: http://www.surestart.gov.uk/

    David Skinner, UK

  2. The fact that the pro-abortion crowd so often argue on the basis of “hard cases” only goes to highlight the fact that they have no other arguments to offer.
    Peter Coventry

  3. Robert Doolan has written: “Norma McCorvey, who under the pseudonym of ‘Jane Roe’ in 1973 prompted the landmark United States Supreme Court case Roe vs Wade (which decided in favour of abortion) announced in August that she now believes abortion is wrong .” Further to this information, ‘Roe’ has confessed that the claim she was raped was a lie to conceal her sexual promiscuity. This so called ‘hard case’ which was nothing of the sort has led to tens of millions of deaths world wide and the open slather of ‘abortion on demand’ for any or no particular reason. This is an inconvienient truth to contemplate. In little less than 45 years, just one so called”fertility control clinic’ in East Melbourne has killed 250000 unborn members of the human family.

    Abortion: an indispensable right or violence against women? by Lita Cosner: http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/4851/

    “The 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade is a good time for us to pause and reflect. Our nationwide policy of abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy was neither voted for by our people nor enacted by our legislators— not a single state had such unrestricted abortion before the Supreme Court decreed it to be national policy in 1973. But the consequences of this judicial decision are now obvious: since 1973, more than 15 million unborn children have had their lives snuffed out by legalized abortions. That is over ten times the number of Americans lost in all our nation’s wars. Make no mistake, abortion-on-demand is not a right granted by the Constitution. No serious scholar, including one disposed to agree with the Court’s result, has argued that the framers of the Constitution intended to create such a right. Shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision, Professor John Hart Ely, now Dean of Stanford Law School, wrote that the opinion ‘is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.’ Nowhere do the plain words of the Constitution even hint at a ‘right’ so sweeping as to permit abortion up to the time the child is ready to be born. Yet that is what the Court ruled.”
    Written by Ronald Reagan 1983 at http://www.humanlifereview.com/reagan/

    Reagan’s words again: “Abortion concerns not just the unborn child, it concerns every one of us. The English poet, John Donne, wrote: ‘. . . any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life—the unborn—without diminishing the value of all human life.”

    “Abortion argument unravels. How the unborn child defends itself against its mother, confirming that he/she is a separate human being from the start.” by Alexander Williams: http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/4633/

    Jennifer Parfenovics

  4. I absolutely agree one wrong does not make a right. Perhaps we need to open up the adoption debate again and allow childless couples the joy of raising their own child even if it is perceived to have come into the world unwanted. Someone always wants to give a home to a child.
    Human life is sacred to God and to me. I vote for the right of the child to live.
    Ilona Sturla

  5. Bill, in your article I don’t understand the reference to the infertile rapist. Do your mean the rape victim being infertile most of the time?

    Stunningly beautiful Rebecca Kiessling was concieved as the result of a brutal rape at knife point. Her web site is here: http://www.rebeccakiessling.com/Othersconceivedinrape.html
    Note that even in the horrific case of rape (which two evolutionists claimed is in our genes so rapists are not responsible, and wrote a book about it), there is no justification for capital punishment for the child of the rapist. See “Conceived by Rape” for examples of people — such as Rebecca Kiessling, a family law attorney — happy that they weren’t executed for their father’s crime.

    In Rebecca Kiessling ‘s words: “I was adopted nearly from birth. At 18, I learned that I was conceived out of a brutal rape at knife-point by a serial rapist. Like most people, I’d never considered that abortion applied to my life, but once I received this information, all of a sudden I realized that, not only does it apply to my life, but it has to do with my very existence. It was as if I could hear the echoes of all those people
    who, with the most sympathetic of tones, would say, ‘Well, except in cases of rape. . . ,’ or who would rather fervently exclaim in disgust: ‘Especially is cases of rape!!!’ All these people are out there who don’t even know me, but are standing in judgment of my life, so quick to dismiss it just because of how I was conceived. I felt like I was now going to have to justify my own existence, that I would have to prove myself to the world that I shouldn’t have been aborted and that I was worthy of living. I also remember feeling like garbage because of people who would say that my life was like garbage — that I was disposable.”

    Jennifer Parfenovics

  6. Thanks Jennifer

    Both is the answer. The rapist is often infertile, and the rape victim often is unable to conceive because of the trauma. And thanks for Rebecca’s moving story.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. I am still weeping over this new bill.

    Abortion is at odds with the theory of Evolution. If evolution is true then the evolution of the human race is dependant upon evolved genes being expressed in each generation. If more and more generations are unable to mature to full sexual maturity – evolution is hindered.

    Abortion is at odds with environmentalism. If the evironmentalists say that it is the unnatural intervention of man that is the cause of the demise of the plannet, then introducing metal surgical sissors to carve up an unborn fetus definatly fits that description.

    Abortion is at odds with vegitarianism. If vegitarians say that they refuse to eat meat on the grownds that it is the unnessesary killing on animals for human taste pleasure. Abortion is the elimination of the natural process starting with intercourse and ending with the birth of a human being.

    Abortion is at odds with all Theistic religions, Bhuddism and other religions.

    The only worldview where abortion fits the model, is in socialism where the health of the collective superseeds the rights of the individual. This world view also leads to Euthanasia, ethnic and religious cleansing and could be better known as the worldview of the Nazi party in Germany.

    I’m deadly serious (no pun intended)

    Joshua Ferrara

  8. I totally agree with your view on the issue at hand, you see as a christian and as a law student i believe that it is unlawful for another person to decide who lives and who doesn’t, The Bible states that we should be fruitful and multiply who are we to destroy when God has given us this chance to multiply. The Lord bless!

    Mlonique Fagon, Jamaica W.I.

  9. A doctor advised my mother to have me killed because her health was poor (bi-lateral cardiac valve impairment). Today my mum is in her 70s and doing very well indeed.

    Annette Nestor

  10. Hi Bill,
    Not sure if it is too late to post on this article.
    What are your thought on this issue:
    if a lady becomes pregnant, but the doctor’s are 100% sure that if she “goes through” with the pregnancy, it will end her life?
    Jeremy Hopwood

  11. Thanks Jeremy

    But I already cover this above in my article. If both will die, something must be done to save lives, or at least one life. But that is not an abortion. The aim is not to kill but to save life. So in taking steps to deal with something like an ectopic pregnancy, I would not even call it an abortion.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Hey Bill,
    I am a student in a high school in North Carolina, and I would like to tell you I appreciate this article. It’s going to help me a lot in my presentation in Logic class. Is there any way if I have questions that I can e-mail you or something? I would appreciate if I could.
    Once again thank you, this is very encouraging to my thesis on abortion.
    God bless,
    Coty Flynn

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