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Laws, compassion and common sense

by Jim Elliott
| February 29, 2024 12:00 AM


Remember the Biblical story of the Judgement of Solomon (I Kings 3:16-28)? That’s the one where two prostitutes, living together, have babies three days apart. On waking one morning one of the women finds that her baby has died and places her dead infant next to the other woman who is still asleep and takes the other woman’s live baby as her own.

Wanting her live baby back the woman asks that King Solomon make things right. Solomon listens to the women, each of them claiming that she is the child’s mother. Solomon then has a sword brought to him. His decision is that the child will be cut in half and one half given to each woman. The woman falsely claiming to be the mother of the live child agrees with Solomon’s decision, thinking perhaps that if she can’t have the child, neither of them should. But the mother of the live child implores Solomon to give her child to the other woman instead of killing it, so that her baby might live. Of course, that is the woman Solomon awarded the baby to.

So, let’s think for a minute about law, compassion and common sense. Recently, controversial issues about abortion have made headlines. In one case, in Texas, doctors at one hospital had refused to perform an abortion on a woman with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy because they feared being prosecuted under Texas’ strict abortion laws. Fortunately for the mother, doctors at another hospital felt saving the mother’s life was more important than facing a lawsuit.

This is not what you could call “elective surgery.” An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the egg is fertilized but then attaches itself to the fallopian tube where it begins to grow rather than travelling to the uterus. Unlike the uterus, or womb, which expands to accommodate a growing fetus, the fallopian tube doesn’t expand, and as the fetus grows it will rupture the fallopian tube causing life-threatening internal bleeding and infection in the mother’s lower abdomen.

The usual procedure is to remove the fetus and the fallopian tube. This is an abortion to some and a life-saving procedure to others. Regardless of treatment, the fetus will die. Without treatment, the odds are also good that the mother will die as well. So, you make the moral call.

In another case, also in Texas, a woman who was 20 weeks into her pregnancy found that her fetus had a fatal abnormality which would result in its death either in the womb or shortly after birth. Here, too, there was considerable risk to the mother’s life as well, not to mention irreparable harm to her reproductive system which would not allow her to have another pregnancy. A Texas court intervened and allowed a doctor to perform an abortion.

The mother had been thrilled when she found she was pregnant and devastated to have to terminate the pregnancy because both she and her husband wanted the baby. Notwithstanding humanitarian concerns, Ken Paxton, Texas’ Attorney General, opposed the woman’ abortion, writing to Texas hospitals saying that the judge’s decision would not protect them from criminal charges.

I am not writing an article supporting or opposing abortion. This is about being thoughtful and compassionate in upholding the laws of the land.

We write rules and laws to make things clear and fair, but it is impossible to write a rule or law that solves every problem fairly, so we allow exceptions to the rules to cover difficult situations. We do that, realizing that not every – maybe no – rule is in itself fair.

But people form strong opinions about what is right and wrong, and they think that these rules should not be relaxed under any circumstances. Often, people who have no real stake in a situation feel that their own moral certainty of rightness or wrongness should apply to everyone else without exception. The question to ask is how would they act if they were the ones who they were judging.

When God appeared to Solomon in a dream God offered him anything he wanted. Solomon asked to be given wisdom. He did not ask for power or long life. He asked for the wisdom to do the right thing.

But then there’s politics, where wisdom and compassion are seen as weaknesses.

Montana Viewpoint has appeared in weekly and online newspapers across Montana for over 25 years. Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.