Monday, July 22, 2024
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On Abortion – A Genuine Moral Dilemma (II)

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By Deepa Majumdar

This article is dedicated to the neglected and abused child.
Both Nature and History are asymmetrical in their apportionment of the burdensome aspects of child-bearing – with women bearing the brunt of it all. It is therefore understandable if women reject biological motherhood and the ideologies associated with it. But how do men feel about child-bearing by their partners? Unfortunately, not all men understand the full depth of labor pain or the risk to the life of the mother. The sexual act, which to them is pleasure, to the woman can lead to something, which, in ideal circumstances, is far higher – namely, motherhood. The womb, therefore, can serve as an altar and instrument of transcendence of the pleasure-principle to the unselfishness of parenting. Once the child is born, good-hearted fathers mature to fatherhood and dispense the responsibilities thereof. But even these fathers do not necessarily understand the labor pain, physical sacrifice, and risk to life that mothers endure in giving birth. If men understood this better, they would overcome the pleasure principle and insist on having fewer children. They would cook for and serve their partners during pregnancy. They would serve as the main breadwinners, with their partners returning to work only when they feel ready to. Immediately after birth, they would take care of their infants, letting the mothers rest. Above all, they would be grateful to their partners for risking their lives and undergoing labor pain to give birth to their children. Today, thanks to righteous forms of feminism, some men, I am sure, understand childbirth better and act as ideal partners. But not all. I shudder to think of the cosmic punishment awaiting those men who abandon their pregnant partners in their hour of need – especially men who abandon their partners for being no longer attractive, on account of pregnancy. I cannot forget a former student whose boyfriend left her for being “fat” – because she was pregnant with their child.
I have often wondered if conservative men who seek to use public authority to control the womb, identify too closely with the fetus, because they fear women’s power to abort male children – a strident form of misandry, carried to an extreme. This fear, if it exists, cannot be swept off by feminist rage alone. It is understandable (but not justifiable) if men fear women’s power over the very existence of the fetus. To be able to decide whether or not a helpless being like the fetus should be born is a terrifying godlike power over life itself. But the solution cannot lie in coercing rape-survivors to bear children they do not want. Nor can the solution lie entirely in the pro-choice slogan, “My body, my choice!” For, every right comes with enormous responsibility. In the case of child-bearing, this responsibility should rest squarely with both parents. Moreover, responsible reproductive conduct presupposes responsible sexual conduct – by men and women alike.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade (on June 24, 2022) is all the more troubling because it happened amidst a sexual revolution still rife and showing no sign of abating. Had it happened after the sexual revolution waned historically, it would have had different implications. Upholding the pleasure principle far above child-bearing, this dangerous revolution has destroyed all norms of self-control. The fetus should not have to pay the enormous price of not being born – at the altar of a reckless pleasure principle. It should not have to pay this price for rape either. But this agonizing decision – whether or not to abort a fetus conceived through rape, should be left primarily to the mother – not to the state. In fact, the state should have no right to intervene in matters of the body – whether sexuality or reproduction – except to enforce democratically-created laws that prevent body-related crimes.
Abortion becomes a dubious form of eugenics when used to destroy fetuses that belong to unwanted cohorts – female feticide in India being one example. A later-term abortion becomes euthanasia when a fetus with serious health problems is denied life. For some, fatal birth defects, such that the fetus will die immediately after birth, are perhaps the only criteria that justify early abortions. But even this raises serious questions. Should we be playing God and terminating a life just because it is, according to human judgment, terminally sick? Given that its birth defects are fatal, do we not owe the fetus greater love, respect, and care? Is the fetus a product to be disposed of just because it is sick? Do we not owe more care to those who are more seriously sick? The cosmic principle of motherhood inspires mothers to love their children unconditionally – to love them all the more, when they are sick, helpless, and dying. To deny a fetus the chance to be born only because it has serious (even if fatal) birth defects is among the most revolting forms of abortion. But it becomes hypocritical for the state to refuse abortion to such mothers without caring for them or for the fetus once it is born. This beautiful saying – “every child born brings his loaf of bread with him” – is seriously challenged in the case of a child with special needs. Here faith helps a lot – trust in a divine providence that will provide for the child and its mother. But not every mother has such faith. Nor does every mother have the family or community support she needs to raise her baby. The role of the state, therefore, becomes crucial in providing for children with special needs.
Notwithstanding our advancements in technology, abortion, therefore, remains a tragic moral dilemma – one that can spur other tragedies and dilemmas, like eugenics and euthanasia. No fetus should have to forfeit its life at the altar of a pleasure principle. At the same time, no rape-survivor mother should have to forfeit her dignity and well-being at the altar of a harsh pro-life law. No mother should have to suffer rape, or conceive her fetus through violence, or be forced to carry her unwanted fetus to term.
There are therefore no easy solutions to the dilemma of abortions. Not even the ultimate panacea of returning to the life-saving ascetic norm of chastity – by overcoming the sexual revolution, through conscious forms of sublimation and self-control – is easy. History is yet to deliver this return to the higher self. Its time has not yet arrived. At the level of realpolitik, however, abortion bans may force reluctant self-control at least in women. But this will lead to puritanism – not true chastity, which alone has the power to overcome the so-called sexual revolution.
Abortion proves that modern man has grown too clever for his own good. Having succumbed to what Swami Vivekananda called intelligence without holiness – a characteristic of modernity – he traps himself in existential quagmires that demand of him godlike powers that eclipse divine providence. Having abandoned the life-saving ascetic norms, he has descended into the body and sunk into an egotism that no longer heeds providence. Driven by science, he feels omnipotent – with godlike powers over life and death, but without divine intelligence, or self-control. Blinded by the opacity of the corporeal – through the twin barbarisms and trenchant claws of inordinate body-consciousness and materialism – he traps himself in a quagmire of his own making. Using endless argumentation to compensate for his loss of wisdom, he does not even know he is trapped. Abortion is perhaps the most tragic aspect of this quagmire, for which, the fetus pays the ultimate price. (Concluded)

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