Aristotle supports abortion when writing that "when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun; what may or may not be lawfully done in these cases depends on the question of life and sensation" (Politics, 7:16) The issue of abortion involves a reflection on the reasons for or against terminating the life of a fetus. Much has been written on the issue of abortion both in the popular press and in the philosophical literature. The debate focuses on two distinct issues: (1) whether a human fetus has a right to life, and, if so, (2) whether the rights of the mother ever override the fetus's right. Often the issues are discussed independently of each other. Abortion is an issue that stirs up, on all sides, very strong feelings and judgments and very heated allegations. The most radical formulation of the anti-abortion or "pro-life" side of the debate views abortion as the murder of unborn children, and so as the equivalent of out and out infanticide, making the legal use of abortion since Roe v. Wade, at a rate of around 1.5 million a year in the United States, into a holocaust of the innocent fully comparable to the Nazi genocide against the Jews.
Pros of Abortion
I. Right of a Woman to Decide
Some women want abortions. The woman who is pregnant due to rape may feel devastated by the idea of carrying and giving birth to the child of the man who violated her. The woman whose health is already at risk may not want to undergo the increased risk that carrying the fetus to term would impose on her. The woman who has already had several children, and has now been deserted by the man she lived with, may believe herself unable to supply a decent life for yet another child. A woman may discover that the child she will deliver will be horribly deformed. A woman who is preparing to embark on a career that requires hard work and single-mindedness may prefer to wait until she is in a position to give a child the attention a child needs.
However, if abortion were murder, all that would amount to little. Suppose that a fetus is a product of rape, or that allowing it to develop would constitute a threat to the woman's health or make it impossible for her to supply a decent life to other already existing children, or that it is deformed, or that allowing it to develop would interfere with plans that are central to her life. If Killing the fetus were murder, the woman would have to carry it to term, despite the burden on her of doing so. Morality, after all, does not permit us to commit murder in the name of avoiding such burdens. You certainly may not murder your five year-old child just because it is a product of rape, or because its demands on your attention get in the way of your career According to Ronald Dworkin (Dworkin, 1994), however, opponents of abortion do not really mean it. In his interesting recent book on abortion and euthanasia, Dworkin argues that opponents of abortion do not really believe that the fetus has a right to life, but only something weaker, namely that "it is intrinsically a bad thing" when a fetus is deliberately destroyed.
II A View of the Majority
A majority of Americans are "pro-choice" in the sense of believing that abortion should be legal far beyond cases of rape and incest; but a majority also regards abortion as in some sense "wrong" and endorses various obstacles to abortion, including waiting periods, counseling, parental consent, etc. Indeed, a New York Times/CBS News poll, reported in the January 16, 1998, Los Angeles Daily News, reported that 50% of Americans actually believe that abortion is murder, though only 22% believe that abortion should not be permitted. This division is only possible if a substantial number of people see responsibility, not "right to life," as the decisive issue. From the poll, we might say that the 45% who...