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Panel Debates Enovid, U.S. Laws on Abortion, Moral Problems of Sex

By Joel E. Cohen

"The problems of sterilization, abortion, and contraception have in common the tension between making love and making babies," began Dr. Joseph Fletcher, professor at the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, in last night's Law School Forum at Sanders Theatre.

Fletcher appeared on a panel with the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation and one of the inventors of Enovid (an oral contraceptive). The three debated possible changes in sex mores and discussed the social, legal, and moral problems that would result.

In his opening statement, Fletcher said, "In the past people have been victimized by Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic naturalism," that is, the belief that God's will determines whether or not children arrive.

Now, Fletcher said, theologians--Catholic and non-Catholic--are coming to realize that "sex in itself is a divine human good."

The possibility of scientific control of procreation raised three moral questions, to which Fletcher offered answers. First, on whether birth control should be used at all, there is no longer great disagreement. Catholics (who approve the rhythm method) and non-Catholics alike endorse the practice.

Second, Fletcher found that "sterilization for social or medical reasons can be a conscientious practice." Although this position is disputed, Fletcher observed that the bishop who denounced a Virginia hospital for offering voluntary sterilization got little support. Fletcher called pills such as Enovid simply a form of temporary sterilization.

Finally, Fletcher said, "I see nothing wrong with abortion." Out loud, practically nobody favors abortion to prevent life, he said, "but a lot of this is hypocrisy: look what happens when Mr. and Mrs. Pious Stuffed-Shirt discover that their own daughter is in trouble."

"Christians are learning," he concluded, "that there is no absolute prohibition except that against contempt or neglect for suffering."

Moderator Louis Jaffe then called on Dr. John Rock, clinical professor of Gynecology, Emeritus, to present the Catholic position and to reconcile it with his invention of Enovid. Enovid is a steroid compound, commonly known as "The Pill," which prevents ovulation.

The steroid compounds, Rock explained, are simply adjuncts to nature: the physiology of the safe period, marked by the production of progesterone, is identical with the effects of Enovid. Just as a woman's body has cycles to protect its offspring, a woman has an intellect to safeguard her marriage. "It may even be immoral," Rock said, "to refuse to use the intellect."

Dr. Alan Guttmacher, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation, talked about the law. In 43 of the jurisdictions of the United States, abortion is legal only to preserve the life of the mother. Thus, for 1000 births, there are only two legal abortions. In Hungary, however, there are 920 legal abortions for every 1000 births, and abortions in Japan outnumber births. The highly restrictive U.S. laws Guttmacher concluded, unfairly favor those with the sophistication and money to get around them.

Guttmacher then proposed that abortion laws should be altered to permit abortion for the preservation of either the life or the health of the mother. They should permit badly deformed offspring to be aborted. They should allow abortion when conception occurred during rape or incest. And they should open the possibility of abortion under extenuating social circumstances

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