Table of Contents
Over the years, there has been a controversy surrounding abortion. As scholars and philosophers explore the issue of abortion, it has become evident that the moral status of the fetus is of critical importance in informing the discussion. Undoubtedly, considering the moral status of the fetus shifts the focus from the mother to the fetus. The objective of establishing the moral status of the fetus is to determine whether the rights of the mother have the capacity to surpass the rights of the fetus (Steinbock 54). The issue of abortion has proven to be the most sensitive aspect of discussion in the contemporary world. There have been controversies surrounding the specific point in which the fetus is a human being. Establishing the moral status of the fetus has not been an easy task and has involved numerous uncertainties. However, this paper will explore the most recent arguments regarding the moral status of the fetus.
The Supreme Court made a ruling that allowed women to exercise their right to choose whether they want to procure an abortion or not. In many states, the state does not intervene in abortion cases during the first trimester. However, the second and third trimesters pose certain issues that need critical addressing before a woman can procure an abortion (MacKinnon and Fiala 102). However, the debate on the moral status of the fetus introduces a new perspective in the discussion regarding the moral justification for abortion. Many scholars have tried to define the concept of moral status. There are varying opinions from different philosophers when it comes to the aspect of moral status. Five aspects; namely, reason, self-motivation, self-awareness, ability to communicate, and cognizance, define personhood, which relates to a person’s moral status.
The most critical issue has been to establish the specific stage of pregnancy when the fetuses acquire moral personhood. Notably, acquiring moral personhood denotes the presence of a special moral worth that the mother and other individuals must recognize. All individuals with moral personhood have specific duties and rights that govern the personhood. Other individuals must respect the rights of the individual without any form of compromise. For this reason, establishing the moral status of a fetus seeks to determine the unique rights that the fetus must enjoy. Critics of abortion have argued that the fetus must enjoy the right to life (Watt 28). As a result, it is possible to conclude that these critics are of the view that a fetus must have a recognizable moral status. However, various factors have affected the clarity and certainty with which the moral status of a fetus lies.
The potentiality argument posits that the fetus should enjoy a right to live due to the self-awareness and rationality that it can exhibit even when in the uterus. There is evidence that a fetus has the potential to exhibit a great deal of self-awareness as well as rationality. For this reason, it is explicit that women who consider the option of an abortion must recognize that the fetus has a right to life. However, the potentiality argument only highlights the potential of the fetus to exhibit self-awareness in the later stages of development or after birth. Such a perspective leaves a critical debate on whether a fetus should enjoy the right to life before it can eventually exhibit self-awareness and rationality (Steinbock 72). Particularly, the first and second trimesters have been areas of focus in this discussion. Particularly, the fetus may not be able to exhibit any distinguishable features or notable self-awareness. As a result, there is a controversy on whether the fetus should enjoy the right to life in the early stages of development.
Some philosophers believe that the fetus in the early stages of development does not have rationality. As a result, they believe that it may not enjoy the rights associated with moral personhood. Critics of this view argue that it is wrong to reduce the human value to the basis of functional attributes. Abortion opponents have made it clear that the fetus should enjoy the right to life immediately after conception (MacKinnon and Fiala 88). There is an emphasis on the need to place value on the forming fetus irrespective of the functional attributes. There has been a debate on the specific moment on which conception takes place. Based on the recent understanding, it is clear that scholars are yet to define conception as an easily understandable process. The process of conception takes days, a factor that makes it difficult to ascertain a specific point in which the fetus should begin to enjoy moral personhood.
Other arguments have their basis in the fact that many embryos are subject to death during the first trimester. As a result, many of the formed embryos lead to miscarriages during the first trimester. Based on such understanding, some scholars have questioned the moral status of the fetus during the early stages of development when there is a significantly higher chance of death. In the view of other philosophers, it is clear that the fetus denotes the embryo that is 13 weeks old and above (Watt 33). For this reason, understanding the moral status of the fetus should give attention to the second and third trimesters. There is evidence that the fetus in the second trimester registers significant growth and can exhibit some forms of movement. In the third trimester, numerous processes take place that govern fetal development until the maturity of the fetus. By the 35th week of pregnancy, the fetus exhibits the maturity required for birth. With such an apprehension of what a fetus denotes, it is imperative to analyze the perceived moral status.
Supporters of abortion are of the view that the fetus lacks moral personhood because it does not qualify to be a person. Such a view eliminates the moral obligation of protecting the life of the fetus. In a normal pregnancy, expectant mothers take different measures to safeguard the life of the fetus. Taking such measures depicts a sense of moral obligation to the fetus irrespective of whether it has a moral status (Steinbock 62). However, opponents of abortion place emphasis on the fact that the moral status of the fetus mandates the mother to have a moral obligation of protecting its life. On such a basis, having the free choice to undertake an abortion means that the move is unethical. The controversy surrounding the ethical justification of abortion has introduced critical questions. If the fetus has a moral status that calls for measures to protect its life, then it is imperative to determine whether the rights of the mother can surpass the rights of the fetus to life. When the life of the mother is at risk, many states support abortion with the core objective of saving the life of the mother. In such an instance, it is apparent that the rights of the mother surpass those of the fetus.
The relevance and significance of fetal personhood become an issue of interest when the pregnancy can trigger the death of the mother. Although the mother has an obligation to protect the life of the fetus, there are circumstances in which the rights of the mother are significantly important than those of the fetus. An abortion based on medical complications has resulted in an ethical debate that seeks to determine why the rights of the mother have to surpass those of the fetus if both have a recognizable moral status (MacKinnon and Fiala 78). It has proven difficult to address this issue satisfactorily because a pregnancy affects the life of the mother in numerous ways. There is evidence that the pregnancy alters the physical and emotional state of the mother, an aspect that should enhance the right of self-determination for the mother. It is extremely difficult to establish the proper balance between the mother’s rights and those of the fetus if accorded a recognizable moral status. The recognizable moral status means that the fetus must enjoy the full right to life from conception to birth.
As philosophers and scientists seek to address the issue of fetal personhood, the issue becomes more complicated. There are certain areas of uncertainty that make it difficult to determine whether the fetus should enjoy the full value of life from conception to birth. Some philosophers conceive that the fetus has all the aspects and the potential of becoming a human being upon development. On this basis, the moral status of the fetus has its basis on the principle that each human being must enjoy a right to life irrespective of age and other factors (Watt 61). Under this principle, the international law on human rights prohibits discrimination based on age. For this reason, the principle makes it clear that the fetus should enjoy the right to life just like other human beings and should not be subject to discrimination because of age. Philosophers who promote this view have a strong conviction that the fetus needs time to exhibit every feature of a human being. Other philosophers cite the need to provide legal protection to a child before and after birth. The concept of before birth demonstrates that the fetus must enjoy the right to life and therefore have a moral status.
Evidently, the issues surrounding abortion have become critically important to the modern day. Philosophers have been making efforts to determine whether the fetus should enjoy the right to life from conception to birth. Critics have argued that the fetus only enjoys the right to life in the second and third trimesters. Different perspectives emerge when addressing this issue. There must be a proper balance between the rights of the mother and those of the fetus. Balancing these rights may compel some mothers to opt for protecting their lives while compromising the right of the fetus (Steinbock 41). Unique circumstances surrounding abortion need proper analysis before determining the ethical justification. Based on the international law on human rights, it is rational to conclude that the fetus must enjoy the right to life throughout pregnancy without any form of discrimination or bias.
- MacKinnon, Barbara, and Andrew Fiala. Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues.Boston, MA : Cenegage, 2018. Print.
- Steinbock, Bonnie. Life Before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Fetuses. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.
- Watt, Helen. The Ethics of Pregnancy, Abortion and Childbirth: Exploring Moral Choices in Childbearing. London: Routledge, 2016. Print.