Abortion Ethics

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Applied Ethics

Abortion

1. Abortion is an “act which a woman performs in voluntarily terminating, or allowing another person to terminate her pregnancy”. (Mary A. Warren)

• The women’s liberation movement in the 1960s is a movement for independence of women from men, for equality of gender and for women’s rights. It leads to the debate over whether women should be given a right to abortion on demand.

• Is abortion morally permissible or impermissible, right or wrong?

2. Two theoretical positions on abortion:
a) For utilitarians, no taking of human life, be it abortion or euthanasia, is intrinsically wrong, since actions are wrong only insofar as they cause suffering or reduce happiness. For abortion, it is the consequence or effect on the mother, fetus (unborn baby), and others that matter, not person’s rights or moral status of fetus.

b) The second position relies on some theoretical concepts--human being, person or rights. Is the fetus a human being or person? If it is a human being or person, then does it have rights, especially right to life? What are the criteria for being a person? Is there any morally relevant dividing line along the biological process of development from the unicellular zygote to birth?

3. Conservative and religious view: This anti-abortionist or pro-life view takes the fetus as a human being. Abortion is morally wrong since the fetus is a human life, and since abortion is the taking of human life and the taking of human life is wrong. Thus, abortion is justifiable in only some special circumstances, say, if a pregnant woman gives birth to the baby, the pregnant woman will die.

3.1 Secular argument against abortion: The fetus continues to grow and develop during the 9-month pregnancy, and there is no significant dividing line in fetal development separating something is a human being from something is not. Hence the fetus is a human being from conception onwards. Since

It is wrong to kill a human being.
A human fetus is a human being.
Abortion is killing a human fetus.
Abortion is killing a human being.
Therefore, it is wrong to have abortion.

• The fertilized egg resulting from union of sperm and ovum, contains the entire genetic blue-print for the future development of the fetus, baby, child and adult. The actual physical constitution and appearance of the fetus, baby, and so on, is determined by the DNA of the fertilized egg.

• But is it always wrong to kill a human being? There are possible situations where the first premise could be questioned, say, killing in self-defense seems not wrong.

• The second premise could also be questioned since it is not at all clear whether fetuses are human beings, though they are of course members of the species of homo sapiens.

3.2 Religious argument against abortion:
It is the possession of a soul that matters morally and is what distinguishes human beings from other things. The human fetus is ensouled at the moment of conception. (Ensoulment requires a divine act.) It is wrong to kill an entity possessing a soul.

Therefore, it is wrong to kill a human fetus.

• Why can’t the ensoulment occur at birth? Since the process of ensoulment (if there were such process) is not visible to humans, there is no way to unlock this divine secret.

• Under the conservative view, abortion is justified only in rare cases where, without it, the mother will die or both mother and child will die. One is justified in killing another human being in order to preserve one’s own life. A woman would be justified in aborting if she did so to preserve her life, supposing that continuing the pregnancy or giving birth would kill her.

4. Liberal view: Abortion is an issue about women’s right and free choice. This pro-abortionist or pro-choice view takes the fetus as a part of the pregnant woman’s body. Abortion is not a morally serious matter, not a matter of taking human life, but simply removing a bit of living tissue...
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