Bioethics

Hard Case of Abortion in Egypt

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Author Alan Shlemon Published on 08/18/2015

Egyptian Christians are typically pro-life. Many, however, struggle with being consistent, especially in the case of rape. This is a vexing problem in any part of the world, but it becomes more complex in Egypt. Part of the problem is the unique circumstances created by Islam, particularly in some rural areas of Upper Egypt (far south of Cairo).

For example, if a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, she is faced with a dilemma. Adoption is not allowed in Islam, so she can’t carry the child to term and then ask a loving couple to raise her son or daughter. Orphanages exist in Egypt, but my contacts there tell me the conditions are horrendous. The other option—to parent the child—is also problematic because both a raped woman and her child are treated like trash. Many times people try to kill her if she doesn’t have an abortion. If they succeed, both mother and child lose their life.

It’s this situation that troubles many pro-life, Arab Christians. Shouldn’t a pregnant woman have an abortion when her life and the life of her unborn child is in jeopardy? If she doesn’t have an abortion, both she and her child die. If she has an abortion, then only the child loses his life. It’s a greater good that one lives than two die.

In the past (although I can’t find the specific post), I think I conceded that abortion could be allowed in such a scenario. I mistakenly compared this situation to an ectopic pregnancy. In this life-threatening condition, the child is growing in a location (e.g. fallopian tube) not suitable to gestate a child. If the pregnancy is not stopped, the growing child will rupture the fallopian tube, cause bleeding, infection, and the death of the mother. Both mother and child lose their life. The alternative is to terminate the pregnancy (resulting in the death of the child) to save the life of the mother.

Typically, pro-lifers agree that medical action is morally appropriate in an ectopic pregnancy. The reasoning is based on the greater good. It’s better that one person should live (the mother) than two persons should die (both mother and child). The child is going to die no matter what course of action is taken (indeed, the child often dies even before medical action is taken because its life can’t be sustained without implanting in the endometrial lining). There’s currently no medical procedure where we can transplant a child from the fallopian tube to the uterus. Therefore, it’s a greater good to preserve one life when it’s impossible to preserve two.

While I agree with the moral reasoning of taking medical action in an ectopic pregnancy, I think I was wrong to compare it to the situation women face in Egypt when they are raped and become pregnant. Admittedly, there is some similarity. In both cases, having an abortion would result in one person surviving, and doing nothing likely results in two persons dying. That’s where the parallels end, though.

There are some key differences. In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the child is going to die as a result of a medical problem. His or her death is certain. The child conceived through rape, though, has the possibility of living. Although wicked people might attempt to kill the mother and child, this is not an inevitable outcome. The would-be killers might not find out about the pregnancy, may not care enough to kill, or the mother might run to seek help from people who would care for her and her child.

There’s a second difference. No one is morally culpable when a child dies as a result of an ectopic pregnancy. However, intentionally killing a healthy child (albeit under dire circumstances) is morally problematic.

Consider the following hypothetical situation (this is the “Trot Out the Toddler” tactic for those familiar with this approach). A terrorist breaks into your home and demands you murder a two-year-old child sitting on your sofa. If you don’t, he will kill you and the child. Would you do it? Are you justified in murdering an innocent child to save your life? I submit it would be immoral to use a child as a shield to protect yourself.

The woman facing pressure from Muslim culture to abort or be killed faces a similar moral dilemma. I don’t think abortion would be the right thing to do.

I’m not saying I would come down hard on a woman who chose abortion under such a circumstance. I think I would understand if a woman made that choice. But I believe the consistent pro-life view would be to not abort. Perhaps she could flee and seek Christians who would take her in and provide her with shelter. That would give her and the child a chance to live.

Besides, trying to preserve your life at all costs (especially by killing an innocent child) doesn’t reflect a Christian worldview. It presumes that this life (this side of the grave) is the only life that matters and that the afterlife is not real. The Christian worldview, though, rejects that notion. Yes, our earthly lives matter, but they are merely a precursor of more significant things to come.

Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). After all, Jesus reminds us 10 verses later, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). Difficult words, to be sure, but true nonetheless.