The moral issue of abortion is one of the most challenging largely because the human fetus cannot be likened to other individuals and the relationship between a mother and the fetus is unlike any other relationship. This has made the debate on morality of abortions more controversial where the perspective of each side is completely at odds with the perspectives of their opponents. Although the number of abortions in the country has been steadily decreasing in the last couple of decades according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), abortion is still prevalent especially among unmarried women who are particularly in their twenties. Different reasons are given to justify abortions such as the conception being a result of rape, fetal health problems or abnormalities, interference with the woman’s career or education, the pregnancy poses a threat to the physical and psychological health of the woman as well as social and economic reasons. An American citizen has the right to abort, the legality of which is protected under the Fourteenth Amendment and upheld by the U. S Supreme Court. This legality has led to the effective assimilation of abortions into contemporary life. Nevertheless, it still remains an ethically contentious issue. This paper discusses the moral permissibility of abortion and the ethical considerations of abortion.
The moral permissibility of abortion and the determination of which stage an abortion can be carried out is highly dependent on the moral status of the fetus itself. It involves determining whether a fetus can be accorded the same moral rights as a human being, whether full or partial based on its potential to form into a fully moral individual. Most religious perspectives postulate that a fetus attains the moral status at conception as this is the time when the soul enters the body hence should be accorded the right to life while for others it is when the fetus makes independent movement while still for others it is the emergence of the brainwaves as this signifies their ability to develop consciousness and to fell pain (Lotz 3). Viability is another premise, which refers to the availability of skills and resources to survive outside the womb. As the fetus develops, it gains the capability of surviving independently. Hence, the wrongness of an abortion increases as the fetus’ moral status and individuality increases. If the fetus has the right to life that is equivalent to any other human being, then the society and the government alike have a responsibility to protect it.
However, at the early stages of fetal development, it is argued that a fetus has not yet attained the status of a personhood as it has not developed characteristics like consciousness, reasoning, self-motivation, self-awareness, and communication. Due to the absence of these features in fetuses, they cannot be considered to be persons and hence cannot be accorded a moral status or rights equivalent to other human beings such as the right to life. This also means that the moral permissibility of abortions is not dependent on the stage of pregnancy. This is referred to as the personhood criterion where only the rights of actual persons, that is those who possess the aforementioned characteristics, are capable of being upheld and respected. Since the woman carrying the pregnancy is a fully-fledged person, her rights, preferences, and interests outweigh those of the fetus in the determination of the moral permissibility of the termination of the pregnancy.
Another ethical argument is based on the rights of the pregnant women to decide whether or not they want to carry the pregnancy to term. Based on the woman’s perspective, it may be argued that it is her life and body and hence she has the freedom and moral right of deciding what will happen to it (Chaloner 47). The rationale is that the woman is an autonomous individual whose wishes, decisions, and interests ought to be respected and should not be forced to act against their wishes. These elements ought to be considered in determining whether the termination of a pregnancy is ethically justified. A fundamental foundation of the feminists’ perspective is the ability of the woman to control her own body in order to gain sexual and economic equality with men. In most societies, the woman is the primary caregiver and further it is in her body that the pregnancy occurs hence she should have the right to decide whether or not she is willing or able to carry the pregnancy and have a child (Pregnancy Advisory Centre 3). Hence, a woman should be able to prioritize her interests and values over those of other people based on her current circumstances.
Based on the good samaritanism, initially proposed by Judith Jarvis Thomson, a fetus is a person and hence has the right to life and that a woman also has a right to control her own body. She gave an analogy in which an individual A finds himself hooked by medical equipment to an unconscious violinist who is suffering from kidney failure and the only way he can survive is if he is connected to A who is of the same blood type. If A decides to unplug himself, the violinist dies but if he stays for nine months, he will not endanger his life and the violinist will fully recover (Lotz 9). The issue arises on whether by unplugging himself he will have violated the right to life of the violinist. Jarvis argues that there is no conflict between the violinist’s right to life and A’s decision to unplug himself even though his survival is dependent on A’s kidneys.
Similarly, in determining the moral permissibility of an abortion, the right to life of a fetus should not conflict with the biological mother’s right to control her own body. This is because the right to life of the fetus does not include the right of provision with the necessary means to survive (Boonin 137). Based on this argument, the right to life of the fetus does not take precedence over the right of the woman to control her own body. This is because a fetus has no just claim over the body of its mother the same way the violinist has no claim over the kidneys of A. This perspective attacks the rights-based approach that bases its moral impressibility of abortion on the premise of the right to life of the fetus against all other considerations.
The nature of abortion and the decision-making process involved has many sensitive ethical issues surrounding it. Contrary to popular belief, this debate is not as simple as the pro-life and pro-choice perspectives as it involves weighing of options and careful calculations on the individual’s ability to be a parent under their current circumstances. This means that there may be continued philosophical arguments without a mutually acceptable conclusion. Although abortions are legalized, a moral position must be individually constructed in determining whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Whichever decision that a woman adopts ought to be respected and not mirrored on the societal standards that makes abortion synonymous with carelessness, promiscuity, and selfishness.
- Boonin, David. A Defense of Abortion. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.
- Chaloner, Jones, Ethics of Abortions: the Arguments for and against. Nursing Standard, 21(2007), 37.
- Lotz, Mianna. “Ethical Arguments concerning the Moral Permissibility of Abortions”, nfaw. n. d. Web. Jan 26, 2017 <http://www.nfaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Ethical-Arguments-Concerning-the-Moral-Permissibility-of-Abortion-Dr-Mianna-Lotz.pdf> accessed January 26, 2017.
- Pregnancy Advisory Centre. “The Abortion Discussion: Abortion and Ethical Considerations”. Sahealth. n. d. Web Jan 26, 2017 <https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/83a92880452d4a61835cd3005ba75f87/Abortion+Ethicical+Considerations+June+2014+PAC.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=83a92880452d4a61835cd3005ba75f87> accessed January 26, 2017.