Abortion: A Personal View - by Dr. Alice Bush

Editor's note: Dr Alice Bush was an early member of the New Zealand Family Planning Association (NZFPA). From 1943 until 1947, she served on the national executive of the NZFPA. In 1960 she became chair and convener of the NZFPA's medical advisory committee and the association's president.This paper was dated August 1971, and was distributed by the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) in their fight to legalise abortion in New Zealand.
As a Christian, a doctor and a mother, I am constantly having to make choices. Sometimes one is concerned as to which is the greater good, but all too often the choice is between two evils.

One must have guiding principles and the Commandments of the Old Testament were woven into the fabric of my developing personality. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not covet. Thou shalt not commit adultery. These are all basic rules of great value in society, to be ignored at the people's peril. Yet, ignore them we do and when men decide that someone threatens their way of life, they order out the soldiers and killing becomes a respected profession.

Indeed the history recorded in the Old Testament suggest that this was considered acceptable in the sight of God, and that He aided and abetted the killing of the right people.

The New Testament with its more positive commandments: Thou shalt love thy God and thy brother, places a heavier responsibility of choice because it allows much greater freedom of action. There are fewer negative rules. The teaching of Christ enlarged the meaning of some of the Commandments, but it also clashed with some.

He said, for example, that a man should consider his wife ahead of his parents and He also said that it would be better to put a millstone around a man's neck and put him in deep water, than to leave him to cause a little child to stumble. His life, His work, and His words were all concerned with the quality of life and the unimportance of death.

Our society is even less inclined to follow literally the teaching of the New Testament than that of the Old. When specifically instructed to attempt to reclaim the wrong-doer with kindness, we continue to demand retribution. Though reminded of the obstacles to the good life posed by many possessions, we place increasing emphasis on material things.

Indeed, if one has any deep feelings about being a Christian, one is forced to work out one's own sense of values about life and death, and to accept that these may differ from the convential standards of the society in which one lives.

I believe that all persons should consider themselves bound by the law, for without the law we would have chaos. If a sufficient number of people consider that a law has ceased to be effective, or to express a principle which serves to encourage good rather than evil in society, then responsible citizens should encourage a change in the law.

Laws are man-made. They vary from one country to another, and in any one country, from one generation to the next. No system of laws is perfect. Some include strange anomalies. I would consider myself bound by the present abortion law in this country, which states that a pregnancy should be terminated only when it endangers the life and health of the mother, but I do not think that this is a good law and I would like to see it changed.

I don't like killing and I think war is tragic. It's results are saddest for those who survive, but I am not a pacifist, and feel strongly that continued life under certain regimes is a worse fate than death.

I have experience of people whose early life has been such that they reach adult life incapable of responding to anything good. They are cruel, tyrranical and completely egotistical, and our society has no power to alter their way of life; neither the legal machinery to detain them nor the techniques of therapy to alter their attitudes. They remain unhappy in themselves and a menace to the happiness of others. Some unwanted children will grow up to be psychopathic personalities of this kind.

I do not advocate abortion as the easy remedy to our present problem of an excess of illegitimate babies but I do want to draw your attention to what these "helpless infants" are likely to do to our society as they grow up. Many of them have been so erratically cared for in their tender years, that they have never developed a conscience or any understanding as to why they should accept the laws of our society.

If ever there could be a "Holy War" for the preservation of good and the prevention of evil, selective termination of pregnancy would qualify to be so called.

It has been said, by whom I do not know, that a baby brings into the world the love it needs. When you have been a Paediatrician as long as I have, you know this to be nonsense. There are some fortunate people, both men and women, whose love is called forth by a helpless infant. This emotion matures as the child grows. It becomes love and respect that is a response to that child when it is no longer helpless, and indeed, it becomes stronger when the child becomes an adult.

But there are others less fortunate whose emotions can never be really involved with another person, either old or young, and even the cry of the infant arouses, not maternal love but punitive aggressiveness. Their babies are beaten and battered from the early months.

Less dramatic, but far more common than the truly battering mother, is the one who can never forgive a child for coming, unwanted. Such a mother may well leave the nursing home tenderly carrying her baby, but as that baby gets older she finds it harder to forgive it for being in the way of the life she wants to live.

Seen by his mother as an enemy, this child is likely to grow to swell the ranks of those who occupy our gaols or mental hospitals; indeed, often alternating between the two.

To think of all parents as loving, and all children as growing up to be loving parents in their turn, is to shut ones eyes to the facts of life. Vast numbers of parents, both mothers and fathers, have no concept of what a good parent should be. They don't want a child and having one thrust upon them doesn't alter their basic outlook.

To express a pious hope, that if they don't want a child they shouldn't go through the motions which will produce one, at least without adequate precautions, is to ignore the way the world was made as surely as did the courtiers of King Canute. A couple of bottles of beer will make any risk seem infinitesimal and quite out of proportion to the need for immediate satisfaction of a compelling urge.

Who do we penalise by insisting that every ill-conceived pregnancy shall go to term? In the long term analysis, it is not the partners to the act of unlicensed sexual intercourse, not even the innocent child. The real loser is our society as a whole.

It is my personal belief that the quality of life is more important than the quantity of it. I believe that under certain conditions life is worse than death. I hope I die before I lose the power of thought and action which makes me the person that I am. I would not want to bring into the world a child for whom I have no love, nor one who would be so handicapped that it could not lead a human life.

Severe mental defect deprives a human being of the ability to make choices or to live as a human as opposed to any other kind of animal. When mental defect can be diagnosed in the early months of pregnancy, I would consider the making of this diagnosis a proper indication for termination of pregnancy.

There is an increasing number of severely crippling congenital abnormalities which can be diagnosed before the fourth month of pregnancy. Mongolism and Fibrocystic disease are the best known examples. Routine screening of all pregnant mothers is not feasible, but if abortion in the interests of the birth of a healthy child were legal, at risk families might well consider taking the risk of having another child, if they knew that one doomed to ill health and an early death could be prevented from being born.

Once a couple have had one child with fibrocystic disease of the lungs and pancreas, the chance that any subsequent pregnancy will produce a similarly handicapped child is one in four. Many parents prefer not to take this risk. It is hard to think that offering the test and abortion as indicated, so that a healthy child may be born, is anything other than a humane application of medical science.

Conception in a mongol mother, which has a 50/50 chance of producing a mongol child, should be an indication of the performance of the test, which should finalize the diagnosis of the child's condition. This sort of risk should, I believe, be prevented by the timely sterilisation of the mother, but if this has been neglected then the pregnancy should be terminated once the diagnosis of mongolism in the foetus has been established.

I feel I must stress that if abortion is indicated for preserving the health of the mother, it must be done speedily and safely. Three months of waiting in uncertainty may well prove as traumatic as a completed pregnancy, and once the child has quickened, the mother's view of it as an unwanted event which provoked no maternal feelings whatsoever, gives way to an awareness of a new life, so that termination of pregnancy after the 16th week may well prove a most traumatic experience to the mother.

Doctors are often impatient that a woman who has begged that a pregnancy be terminated may suddenly, just when all the arrangements have been made, go cold on the idea. It is usually because the quickening suddenly makes this a much bigger decision than she is prepared to face. It is like accepting defeat in a battle. But often an empty victory for the conqueror, the foetus.

To summarise, early terminations of pregnancy is not killing a child. It is preventing a child. A child is a human being in its own right with a seperate existence of its own.

The death of a human ovum, even unfertilised, is a tragedy to the woman wanting to become a mother. Spontaneous abortion at any stage of pregnancy is also a tragedy when a child is desired, and more traumatic because of the hopes that have been built up around the thought of the arrival of a child.

When an unwanted pregnancy threatens the welfare of a family, or the cherished plans of a woman past the time of being prepared to devote herself to motherhood, the conceptus is not a child in any respect, it is not a loved object, its destruction is a gesture of self defence as surely as the actions of a member of the armed forces, only the threat is individual rather than communal; the decision is an individual responsibility.

The foetus can do no wrong. In some people's philosophy, it is ensured eternal life if it dies, but the born unwanted child is a stumbling block to us all, it has human needs but no human satisfactions. If we are concerned with the preservation of the life of the unborn, let us first be concerned that what we can ensure for it is a human life and not just an animal existence with no knowledge of the Grace of God.