by William Cutrer, M.D., and Sandra Glahn, Th.M.

Are you against abortion in any circumstance? What about these:

If a sonogram reveals the growing baby has anything from Down syndrome to cleft palate?
If the pregnancy occurred due to rape or incest?
If the physical life of the mother is at risk?
If the mother is on death row, scheduled for execution before delivery?
As we established in our last column, abortion takes the life of a human being, a person, uniquely created in God’s image. Is there ever justification?

Physical “abnormality”

How do we define normal? What type of “abnormality” would be of sufficient magnitude to be worthy of death?

Dr. Robert Pyne, who teaches theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, writes in his book Humanity and Sin, “People have inherent dignity and unique value because they have all been made in the image of God. Since every person has been created according to the divine image, every human life becomes sacred…so we should not murder (or even curse) those who have been made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9). Our oldest son, Steve, had open heart surgery when he was just eight months old. Unfortunately, some countries, doctors, and even some parents would not have allowed him to have that operation, even though it was necessary to save his life. Steve has Down syndrome, and too many people think that lives like his are not worth saving. [Yet] his life was worth saving because he has inherent dignity as a human being in the image of God.”

Case of rape and incest

Pregnancies due to rape and incest require special consideration. Is the life of the mother at stake in these cases? No. Does killing the infant “unrape” the mother—a victim of a horrible crime? No. Is the child conceived in these cases still fully human? Yes. So an abortion would make the mother complicit in the murder of her unborn child. She changes from being guilt-free victim of crime to being guilty of taking the life of her own, innocent child. This baby will have just as much of her genetic material as any child she will ever have. Rape or incest are terrible tragedies, and the church can and has stepped up to specially assist women in these situations, both through the pregnancy and in helping her decide either to raise the child or to make an adoption plan for him or her.

The life of the mother

Can the life of the mother be truly at stake in an ongoing pregnancy—not just her emotional health, or the inconvenient disruption of her life circumstances, but her physical life? In other words, can a woman die, or substantially increase her risk of dying by continuing a pregnancy? Yes, though admittedly this is rare, representing only a tiny fraction of the abortions performed.

These are rare circumstances, indeed, but it is the foolish or inexperienced physician that would suggest this can never happen. In my own practice, I (Dr. Bill) have seen cases of artificial heart valve failure, liver failure, and systemic immune failure that clearly jeopardized the mother’s life such that abortion was a consideration.

Abortion was never a requirement, because a woman can choose to put her own life at extreme risk in attempt to carry a pregnancy to viability. Yet I’m not certain that such heroism—one life for another—is required. In cases where the mother chooses to give her life for that of the child, both lives may be sacrificed. In life and death cases—when the physical life of the mother is at stake—perhaps it would be ethical to sacrifice the life of the one to save the life of the other, particularly in the instance where not doing the abortion would likely cost both lives. Here there is full recognition of the dignity and value of both lives, and in reverence one life is given to preserve the life of another.

If we define humanity as being made in God’s imagine and thus having the “rights of personhood from the one-cell stage,” we have a compass that helps us find our way through the forest filled with such difficult paths. Once we have established human personhood as “being” rather than “function,” we can see more clearly to make wise decisions even in the most difficult of cases.

However, once we understand the need to value life from the one-celled stage, we must ask ourselves a tough question: “What am I doing to help those choosing to do right in these painful circumstances?”

Here are some suggestions for how we can each make a difference:

Pray. Ask God to help you help others. And pray for them, too.
Give of your time and resources. Consider volunteering your time, money, maternity clothes, diapers, or baby items to Pregnancy Resource Centers or other pro-life ministries.
Volunteer. If you have time to volunteer, become involved…with an adoption agency, as a foster parent…anything that will support the defenseless members of society.
If you are uniquely gifted to provide legal or medical advice, donate some of your professional skills to aid others.
James 2:16 warns against merely praying for someone in need without doing what we can to help. It is not enough to be “against” abortion…we must also show in tangible ways that we stand “for” life.