It has taken a long time in life to learn some of the family history that does not often get talked about. Mainly, this has pertained to miscarriages. Stillborn children. Lives that did not make it much past the birthing process, or not at all. My mother had two children that did not survive. They had names. But they did not live to use them. The same held true with my mother-in-law. There is a grave for the child to which she gave birth, but did not survive.
This pattern is real, and it is painful. Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral for the daughter of a woman that I have known since she was born 20+ years ago.
All this infant carnage made me curious about how common it is for women to lose children through miscarriage, stillborn or otherwise naturally terminated pregnancies. What I found was stunning.
“Among females who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is roughly 10% to 20% while rates among all fertilisation is around 30% to 50%. About 5% of females have two miscarriages in a row.”
True to these statistics, I know many, many women that have had miscarriages. Some have persisted through these immense challenges in carrying children to term and now have families. Others tried repeatedly and ultimately accepted their chances for a healthy birth were minimized either through biology, advancing age or infertility issues.
Those moments of agony when losing a child may be relatively brief, yet they provide a lifetime of grief. The turbulent experience is like being involved in a shipwreck where lives are lost, like these lyrics from the Gordon Lightfoot song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald:
Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours…
Theologians warn us not to question the will of God, nor the love that supposedly abounds in all things. Yet those statistics about miscarriage are a haunting fact of reality. Because it’s true: Between 30-50% of all fertilization results in miscarriage.
Women may know this is going on, but many millions more will not. The numbers are still staggering to consider. If 20 million women per year come pregnant, that means between six million and ten million of those pregnancies terminate before or at the moment of birth resulting in lives lost.
This is human biology at work. It is a direct product of the big wheels turning in the process of evolution. Among all living things, fertility is evolved at a rate necessary to sustain the population. In any kind of living thing, the rate of fertility and reproduction must exceed the rate of mortality or the species will die out.
This is what makes it so sad to see the last living remnants of an animal species left on earth. Sometimes the last male or females of a species are incapable of breeding due to age or other fertility issues. Captive or artificial breeding can sometimes rescue species at risk of extinction from these factors. Successful artificial breeding programs have helped species such as the Whooping Crane and California Condor survive.
This paradigm also holds true for a human couple trying to create a family. Yet the process can turn into a caricature. Fertility treatments can produce entire litters of children, and human fascination with extreme fertility has produced TV shows such as Kate + 8 featuring a woman with octuplets. Yet the extremes of human behavior also includes tragic response to extremes in fertility.
The harsh reality is that infant or child mortality is a real thing whether it is driven by human biology or wrought by human hands. The Pro-Life movement is insistent that the act of conducting an abortion is a sin against God because it takes the life of an unborn child. Arguments against abortion focus on the idea that a child exists from the moment of conception. That would apparently be somewhere in the process from the moment a sperm penetrates a human egg to the point where that egg begins dividing on the path toward creating human tissue.
Arguing the point at which a fertilized egg constitutes a human in existence is difficult. But the raw and gutsy argument must also be made that between 30% – 50% of all fertilized eggs go to waste, as it were, according to natural law.
God the Control Freak
Depending on your belief system, that might mean God is directing the whole process. Which would also mean that God has little reverence for what we consider human life at all. If half of all the human lives conceived in this world naturally get dumped in a wave of blood from the female vagina, then what does the term Pro-Life even mean?
The numbers ratchet up even further when we consider that with relatively rare exception, women menstruate beginning at the age of 10-12 and continue through their fifties or so. With more than 400 eggs stored in their ovaries from birth, women have the choice to breed and turn those eggs into children, or avoid motherhood altogether.
That is first and foremost a woman’s choice. Regardless of belief systems, we are all faced with the reality of free will. Our choices are our own to make. To argue otherwise is to insinuate that God is a control freak and indeed, murders all those real or imagined babies by cause of natural process. Is God really such a murderer? Where does the love of God go when the big wheels of nature keep turning?
Number and rate of abortions
There’s a fascinating website titled numberofabortions.com that ostensibly tracks the rate and number of abortions in the US and worldwide. As of November 2016, an estimated 900,000 abortions have taken place in the US. That is .0027 of the total American population.
The Guttmacher Institute reports statistics on the number of women who are sexually active in childbearing years in America.
- There are 61 million U.S. women in their childbearing years (15–44). About 43 million of them (70%) are at risk of unintended pregnancy—that is, they are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they and their partners fail to use a contraceptive method correctly and consistently.
Given the known rate of miscarriage in America, the number of pregnancies ending by s0-called “natural causes” each year could be as many as 30.5M. Whether these are known or unknown terminations due to miscarriage or other causes, the numbers are still quite compelling in context with what constitutes our understanding of the relative preciousness of human life.
Beyond the numbers
Again, we must return to the emotional component to understand the harsh costs of these statistics. Women bear the brunt of emotional scars from terminated pregnancies, natural or otherwise. There is a very real effect in having lost a child no matter what stage it occurs in a pregnancy. Some might argue that the effects are far worse the later one gets into a pregnancy term. And yet, who is to determine that for a given women, or her given circumstance?
So the arguments for and against a woman’s choice to have an abortion must take all these factors into account. Yet the one factor that is seldom mentioned, if ever, in the debate over abortion is the natural mortality rate of human conception, the effective rate of miscarriages and stillborn children. All these factors define the context of human fertility and medical ethics surrounding the rate of abortion in America and worldwide.
Blaming Planned Parenthood
Castigating organizations such as Planned Parenthood for conducting abortions is, therefore, an inaccurate reflection of the greater reality with what happens in pregnancy and women’s health in America. Recall the Guttmacher statistics above, and the fact that some 70% of women capable of bearing children in America have inadequate access to birth control. If more women were given access to birth control services to prevent unwanted pregnancies, the rate of abortions could go down dramatically.
And yet, abortion opponents attack Planned Parenthood over the effects, not the cause of unwanted pregnancies. This is truly putting the cart before the horse. Stop and consider the name of the organization in question: Planned Parenthood. Isn’t that a rational notion, that planning your pregnancy is the best option of all?
The wrong blame
It is false moralization to simultaneously accuse women of wanting abortions when efforts to defund organizations such as Planned Parenthood are often led by Pro-Life politicians and their supporters. This is all done on the supposed higher moral grounds that people should not be having sex outside the bonds of marriage. But that is not the law of the land in America. There are no laws in the Constitution suggesting that people cannot have sex anytime or with anyone they want. The Founding Fathers had no interest in such concerns.
So it is a false notion that America is bound by such moral confinements as the claim that abstinence is superior to birth control. The Catholic Church has fought that battle for years, advocating the Rhythm Method as a supposedly moral alternative to wearing condoms or taking birth control pills. And yet 97% of Catholic women apparently ignore dictums of such as patriarchal nature. And why shouldn’t they?
Because if you want to get literal and technical about your religion at the same time, you could make the very legitimate argument that God is the ultimate abortion doctor. If you compare the number of abortions conducted in America each year (about 1 million) to the number of terminated pregnancies directed by God, the ratio is about 1:10 or higher.
What would Jesus do?
So we should stop with all these Pro-Life claims on religious grounds that abortion should be illegal. Life is much more complicated than the Yes or No option to have an abortion. There is yet another layer to these issues as well. If abortion opponents were to ask Jesus Christ if it was the law that mattered, or ministering to the women who were considering abortion as an option, what do you honestly think the Son of God would say?
It is clear that Jesus never felt that the human race should depend on laws to effect change in the hearts of those facing challenges in their lives, of any sort. Jesus castigated the chief priests of his day over their dependence on law to define moral behavior and gain the approval of God. The same lesson had to be learned again when Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church to emphasize grace over law, thereby launching the Protestant Reformation.
And here we are again in history, fighting the same battles over laws such as Roe vs. Wade that are not borne of religious freedom at all, but center on a woman’s own right to determine the outcome of her pregnancy.
But let’s remember, if you truly believe that God has a say in all this, then you must consider the painful results of so many miscarriages on the lives of so many millions of women. This is the honest examination of the abortion issue.
Because how is it for you to judge that these outcomes are any less painful than the rational choice to end a pregnancy that might have been the result of forceful or desperate circumstances? And who are you to decide what is the more moral choice? To plan parenthood, or not? Those are not your decisions to make for a woman. Not at all.
And if you disagree, then you should take it all up with your apparently meddlesome and murderous God. Because that is the one you obviously worship.