By Bradford Lyttle
Ver. 082804

People’s positions on abortion seem to stem from two different ways of looking at the world. One is religious, in the sense that people believe that what is right and wrong has been established by God, and essentially is expressed in the Bible. The other is scientific. People who take a scientific approach usually are interested in the perceptible consequences of actions.

The religious approach usually assumes that a human being comes into existence as soon as a human egg is fertilized. The fertilized egg has a “soul,” and a distinct moral personality. Such a perspective produces the view that all abortion is murder, no matter at what stage of the development of the embryo. The scientific approach tends to hold that a human being is the result of at least two factors, genetic inheritance and social conditioning. It views an embryo as part of the pregnant woman’s body, and that it remains essentially part of that body, and unconscious, until it is born. After birth, it becomes conscious, interacts with other human beings, and develops a sense of self-consciousness. From that time on it is a human being. The scientific perspective does not regard abortion as murder. However, it recognizes that abortion may have harmful psychological consequences for the woman who undergoes it, and should be avoided, if at all possible.

Regardless of which viewpoint is the most valid, both imply that it is wise to avoid unwanted pregnancies. If unwanted pregnancies can be prevented, the questions generated by the prospect of abortion will not come up. There are various ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies. One is abstinence; to abstain entirely from intimate sexual relations. This is the way recommended by some religions. Many people follow it. On the other hand, there is a large body of evidence that suggests that abstaining completely from sexual relations can be psychologically harmful to some people. For example, there is an unfortunate history of pederasty or child molestation among certain religious celibates. Also, some psychologists have argued that the orgasmic experience, that is part of most intimate sexual relations, contributes to the integration of the human personality, and creativity in artistic, literary, and scientific fields. Under all circumstances, because of the power of the sexual drive, abstaining completely from orgasmic sexual activity is quite difficult for most people.

The “rhythm method” is a contraceptive approach recommend by some people with the religious view. It is based on the fact that women are fertile only at certain times. If intercourse takes place outside of these times, conception will not occur. A difficulty with this approach is that it is unreliable. It is difficult to tell exactly when a woman is fertile and when she is not.

Contraceptive devices offer another way to avoid unwanted pregnancies. These are chemical, such as the “pill,” or mechanical, such as the condom and diaphragm. All of these devices work to a high degree, but all also have some failure possibility. This failure possibility needs to be understood by people who are considering using the devices. Whenever intercourse takes place and one or both of the partners is using a contraceptive device, the device reduces the chances of pregnancy. Most of the devices reduce the chances greatly. For example, it is claimed that using a condom will reduce the chance of pregnancy to one-in-one-thousand. Literature about contraceptive devices sometimes is not clear about exactly what this means. For practical purposes, and as an example, it can be said that, if a man uses a condom when engaging in intercourse with a woman who is fertile, the chance of the woman conceiving is about one-in-one-thousand. This may seem like a very low probability. However, a problem is that, if intercourse is repeated under the same circumstances, the probability of the woman conceiving rises. This does not mean that the probability of conception is greater each time intercourse takes place, rather it means that, over the multiple instances of intercourse, the probability is greater. In fact, if intercourse is repeated indefinitely, the probability of conception approaches 100%, or certainty. This is a probability principle. It is studied by a mathematical science called “stochastic research.” Stochastic research has to do with exploring how probability is related to time. This stochastic principle explains why some couples, even if they carefully use contraceptive devices, find that the woman has become pregnant.

The reliability of contraceptive devices can be greatly improved by using at least two together. For example, if the woman uses the pill and the man a condom, the probability of conception will be greatly reduced. It will never be reduced to zero, but the number or instances of intercourse necessary for pregnancy to become probable (more than 50%) can be made quite large (Actually, that probability can be calculated quite precisely by mathematical equations if the failure probability of each device is known). If people want to prevent pregnancies by using contraceptive devices, they would be wise to use at least two at once.

Still another way to engage in sexual activity and avoid contraception is masturbation. Masturbation is self-stimulation of the sexual glands. It can produce orgasms and relief from sexual pressure. Masturbation is condemned by many religions, and many people do not like to talk about it. However, as far as I know, there is no scientific evidence that masturbation is physically or psychologically harmful.

If an unwanted pregnancy occurs, a woman may decide to carry the fetus to term, and place the baby up for adoption. There are many agencies devoted to finding loving homes for babies that are the result of unwanted pregnancies. As far as I know, there is no evidence that children raised in such homes are psychologically damaged.

If an unwanted pregnancy occurs, and the woman wants an abortion, it is important that the abortion take place as early as possible. This is mainly for the psychological health of the woman. Just after fertilization, a human egg bears no resemblance to a human being. A person could look at its removal as just the removal of a tiny piece of tissue. However, after the egg has developed for some time, it comes to look more and more like a human being, and, in late stages of development, begins to move around, indicating that it is alive. If abortion takes place at these times, the woman, regardless of whether or not she has a religious outlook, may feel that she has killed a human being.

A recent addition to the ways in which women living in the United States can achieve early abortions is through the prescription pill RU-486 (4mifepristone; Mifeprex). This pill will produce an abortion in 92-97% of the cases in which it is used. It can have uncomfortable and unpleasant side effects.

Regardless of the position that a person ultimately takes on abortion, all people should be thoroughly educated in sexual matters. A great deal of unhappiness results simply from ignorance about sex. Sex is a profound part of our bodies and personalities and is complicated physically and psychologically. Everyone should study the subject. If they cannot read, they should talk with experts at family planning clinics. If they can read, there are many well-written, helpful books. One of the best is The New Our Bodies Ourselves, by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Most good bookstores carry it. The information in it can be greatly helpful to men as well as to women.

Because of these considerations, the United States Pacifist Party supports extensive sex education for all people, family planning agencies, adoption agencies, making contraceptives inexpensive and easily available, and inexpensive and wide availability of the RU-486 pill. It does not recommend that abortion be criminalized.