Legal Abortion: Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Anthony Zimmerman
Published in 1965
in the Denver National Catholic Register.
Reproduced with Permission

(Editor's Note: Father Anthony Zimmerman, S.V.D., the author of "The Catholic Viewpoint on Overpopulation" (Doubleday, 1961) became interested in population problems when he first went to Japan in 1948, and has since written and lectured on the subject. Now professor of moral theology at Nanzan University, the Divine Word priest attended the First Asian Population Congress (Delhi in 1963) and the Second World Population Congress (Belgrade, 1965). Father Zimmerman believes that population problems in Asia and elsewhere can be attacked only be developing the economy and strengthening family life. When this is done, he believes, there will be a natural stabilization of population.)

A couple in one of our parishes in Japan decided not to abort the third pregnancy, as they had done to the second. While the husband was out working, the wife began to look for another apartment. Their present apartment allowed only one baby per family.

She went from door to door, but always got the same hard stare. One look at the two-year-old boy and another at her condition, and the case was finished.

A friend directed her to a relative who owned a large apartment. He was sympathetic. But when she saw the manager, he explained that the other customers would object.

After three weeks she found a place, but it was very expensive. It was also poorer than their present dwelling, and far from the husband's place of work. They decided to sacrifice their savings pay the exorbitant "key" money to enter: and to move. Then she had a miscarriage, after all the excitement. In utter loneliness they moved to their new quarters.,

Can it happen in America? Probably not in the same way. But are poor folks going to be free to bear their childrenif abortion becomes widespread? Or will health and welfare agencies drive them to abortion for economic motives?

In Japan the unusual situation of a critical housing shortage has made the unbelievable a reality: Millions of mothers know that they must abort any future pregnancies if they want to stay in their apartment.

Others abort them to "keep up with the Kimura's." After all, any respectable family has only one or two children, or at most three. And women do want to remain respectable.

In one village this conversation was overheard: "Just look at that family over there: they have one baby after another, despite what the officials have been telling us. Who do they think they are?"

A mother told me that she never knew how many neighbors and "friends" she had until it became apparent that she was pregnant for the third time. All had the same advice. They even offered to pay the cost of an abortion.

She came to the parish in tears. We couldonly encourage her to do what she knew in her heart she must. Leaving her "friends" behind, she moved in with her mother to bear her baby in peace.And the father was glad: The child was a boy! Then another boy! And the mother came home smiling and proud with the twins. But they decided that this hadto be the end. Four was the absolute limit.

Children at school are ridiculed if they have too many brothers and sisters. At PTA meetings the mustached health expert from Tokyo used to explain why the two child family is ideal, why large families are "out." And the hard stares of the women at any non-conformist did the rest. Women with three would hardly dare come to the meetings.

A pregnant woman went to her gynecologist with mixed feelings. A first question was inevitable: "Oroshimasho ka?" "Do you want it out?"

The government no longer encourages birth control in Japan today. In fact, Government TV programs now often feature the glories of a numerous family.

"Pills" are illegal in Japan, because it is feared they would aggravate the acute baby shortage problem. Prime Minister Sato has ordered a thorough study of the health damage from 2,000,000 abortions a year. The Labor Ministry is pushing for monthly child allowances because the pinch of labor shortages is hurting.

But this is not enough to free mothers from their "abortion treadmill" Hard economic realities, and the tyranny of public opinion forces them to visit the abortionist almost as regularly as the dentist, as one put it. Last year there were probably twice as many abortions as live births in Japan.

The government never really encouraged abortion in Japan. It merely made it legal under the following conditions: "When continued pregnancy or delivery is a serious threat to the mother's health because of physical or economic reasons."

Three doctors had to agree that such was the case before legal abortion could be performed, according to the law passed in 1948. After 1952 the judgment of one doctor suffices. Since 1957, no single prosecution for illegal abortion is recorded, despite the 2,000,000 operations per year.

And this abortion epidemic invaded Korea in 1961, when the government began to promote contraception. According to the latest count, the number of abortions increased over 700 per cent, and is rising still.

The same epidemic is now invading Formosa, Hong Kong, and Singapore, threatens India, is already virulent in some Latin American countries. Will America be spared?

Perhaps the number of legal abortions in America will never be great. Neither is this perhaps, the wish of the people who are powering the drive to legalize abortion. If only they succeed in giving an aura of respectability to abortions, their main purpose has been achieved.

The drive for legal abortions presents them with a superb opportunity to argue the abortion issue over the mass media. Once the question is aired so much, day after day, week after week, and by people who are considered to be respectable in the community, the line between legal and illegal abortion almost disappears in the minds of the masses.

Such at least is the case in Korea, where almost all the abortions are illegal. And in Japan where any reason can be construed as legal. The important thing is not so much what the law states, but what the courts do.

When a policeman brings a woman or a doctor to court for an abortion, he may feel like Galahad, a hero fighting for justice. But if the judge excuses them, he may leave the court with a red face, booed by the populace.

If the mass media also support the judge's decision, the police may as well forget about trying to bring another case to court. Illegal abortion then becomes respectable, and functions with only a slight pretense of secrecy.

And I fear that if abortions become respectable, whether legal or illegal, an increasing number of American girls and women will be compelled to visit the abortionist.

The unmarried woman will have to choose: A short trip to the abortionist before anyone notices, or bearing her child with all the dangers of public disgrace that go with it.

The woman on, welfare may feel compelled to comply with the pressures exerted by public opinion, if not by her personal welfare agent; a visit to the abortionist will be less hazardous than a visit to the maternity ward.

The respectable middle class woman can she jeopardize the social and economic standard of her husband and children by bearing another baby?

Americans should be watching statistics on illegal abortions with more interest than the insignificant number oflegal operations. In the wake of all this publicity on abortion, a real danger exists that illegal operations will no longer be prosecuted in courts, and will explode to epidemic proportions.

The Dr. Jekyll who rescued a few needy women in the daylight of legal abortions may become a Mr. Hyde, who murders a million fetuses in the twilight of illegal practices.

Rt. Rev. Matthew J. Smith, Ph.D.
Founding Editor.
Register System of Catholic Newspapers 1913-1960