Assessing Late Term Abortion Philosophy Essay

Today, the United States faces an array of controversial issues. Having recently elected the first, black president, in addition to dealing with an economic crisis, and not to mention our ongoing involvement with the Middle East, Americans constantly deal with not only political controversial issues, but also ethical controversial issues. While certain issues have been discussed more recently, other issues have been considered, or rather, debated, for decades. Abortion, for example, is one of those complex topics that both states and individuals have struggled with. Though abortion is often considered a “taboo” topic, late-term abortion is an even more controversial issue, primarily because the fetus is significantly further along in development. Is it ethical to abort a baby that is viable (fetal development at which the fetus may survive outside the womb)? Or rather, is it ethical to dictate someone else’s decision pertaining to their body-especially in extreme, but common, instances where rape is involved? Statements such as these are some of the many valid points brought up when asked the question; should later-abortions (abortions performed during the second trimester) be legal?

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“In its landmark 1973 abortion cases, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a woman’s right to an abortion is not absolute and that states could restrict or ban abortions after fetal viability” (Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health Worldwide, n.d.). In other words, states have the right to prohibit abortions from the time of viability and on, except on the occasion where the life or health (including mental health) of the pregnant woman is endangered (Mackinnon, 2009). As mentioned before, the term “viable” refers to a fetus that is developed enough to survive outside the womb, and while the exact definition of the term “later abortion” is somewhat debatable, it most often refers to an induced abortion procedure occurring between 17-24 weeks of gestation (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, n.d.).

A 2006 study found that 58% of women reported that they would have liked to obtain an abortion earlier. In accordance with these results, other studies have found that delays in locating an appropriate service provider can lead to the requirement of a later abortion (those studies also attributed reasons such as rape, diagnosis of fetal anomaly, and desire to end the pregnancy) (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, n.d). One study found that 87% of all U.S counties lack an abortion provider and the number of services providing later abortions are even more limited (Gross, M. L. 2002). An additional study published in 2008 found that inaccurate referrals and the time needed to collect money also delayed women’s abortions (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, n.d.). Ironically, physicians and health-providers that choose not to offer abortion services may simultaneously be contributing to the need for a later abortion.

Besides limited facilities, the cost of abortion, as mentioned briefly above, is also an important factor in abortion delay-especially for low-income women who make up the majority of abortion patients. The costs for an abortion go up significantly after the first trimester. At just 10 weeks an abortion costs on average of $413, however, the price increases to as much as $1,300 at 20 weeks. Furthermore, The Hyde Amendment prohibits Medicaid, the joint federal-state health care program for the less fortunate, from covering abortion care in almost all circumstances. Financial barriers such as these often play a significant role in terms of when a woman is able to access an abortion, again, contributing to the need of a later abortion (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, n.d).

In addition to limited service providers and financial barriers, many states require that minors get parental consent in order to have an abortion. Althaus (2006) stated in a study, “the number of states enforcing parental involvement laws has doubled since the early 1990s; minors now have to travel much greater distances to obtain an abortion. Given this situation, such laws may lead to higher rates of birth and delayed abortion among women younger than 18 (pg. 116-117).” As predicted, their results showed that women who became pregnant 3-6 months before their 18th birthday were more likely to get an abortion during their second trimester than were those who became pregnant after their 18th birthday (Althaus, 2006). Just as limited services and cost can result in the extreme outcome of no abortion versus the need for a later abortion, laws demanding parental consent can also lead to such undesirable outcomes.

While the laws pertaining to later abortion are crucial to consider when contemplating the ethics of whether or such services should be legal, one should also consider the scientific factors. When does the fetus become a life? And if or when it does-when do the rights of the fetus trump the rights of the woman? In the article, The Science, Law and Politics of Fetal Pain, the authors discuss the point at which a fetus feels pain stating, “[Scientific evidence supports] the claim that the human fetus may experience pain as early as the 13th week of development, probably experiences pain by the 20th week, and almost definitely experiences pain by the 28th week (Harvard Law Review, 2010, pg. 2010).” The article goes on further to explain that most scientists believe a connection between the thalamus and cortex is necessary for the human fetus to perceive pain, and such formations occur somewhere between the 20th and 24th week (Harvard Law Review, 2010). Does evidence such as this support not legalizing later abortions, or rather, imply that second trimester abortions should be legal as long as the procedure is preformed before the 20th week? On the other hand, is evidence such as this even relevant at all? To some extremists (from either end of the argument) later abortions is either deemed as unacceptable or acceptable-regardless of what scientific evidence has to say around the matter.

While laws and scientific evidence help to make compelling arguments, ultimately, the ethical issue of legalizing later abortion is still extremely complex-to say the least. Using three ethical theories, Subjectivism, Utilitarianism, and Kantianism, we will further explore ethical perspectives that can be diversely applied to the issue of later abortion.

Ethical Theories

Subjectivism rests on the understanding that everyone has his or her own set of morals-there is no one “right” way. A subjectivist would argue that a person’s view and choice regarding later abortion is personal and individualized to their specific situation. Having grown up in the predominantly liberal, San Francisco Bay Area, I frequently saw the bumper sticker stating, “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!” This statement is accurately in line with a subjectivist’s perspective regarding both abortion and later abortion. Ultimately, Subjectivism embraces the concept of “different strokes for different folks” and steers clear of having just one standard. Just as the people of this world are greatly diverse, Subjectivism accepts people’s diverse set of morals that only the individual can decide how best to abide by. While this theory is flexible and offers a way in which everyone can do what best suits him or her, it also leaves a sense of ambiguity and stresses individualism. Too much individual action can be harmful, especially amongst a nation that values the success and progression that can come from unity and cohesion. Overall, however, with a topic as complicated as later abortion, subjectivism offers a compromising solution, suitable to people’s varying beliefs.


Originally formulated by Jeremy Bentham and John Stewart Mill, Utilitarianism is known as the principle of utility, or more commonly named, the happiness principle (Makinnon, 2009). Utilitarianism theory seeks to bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people. According to Mackinnon (2009) Utilitarians believe that pleasure or happiness is the good to be produced-for all who are affected by an action practice. Additionally, Utilitarians argue that everyone (affected by the action) is to be treated equally and that no one person’s happiness trumps the importance of another person’s happiness. Mill stated, “A sacrifice which does not increase or tend to increase the sum total of happiness, [utilitarianism] considers as wasted (Makinnon, 2009 pg. 54).”

In regards to legalizing later abortion, a Utilitarian would seek to find the solution that best suits the greatest number of people. However, such a concept can be applied on either end of the spectrum. A pro-life utilitarian could argue that by making later abortions illegal, they are bringing the greatest amount of pleasure and happiness to all the fetuses that would have otherwise been aborted. A utilitarian with this viewpoint might also suggest this stance would bring happiness to the family members of the fetus as well-resulting in serving the greatest number of people. A pro-choice utilitarian, on the other hand, might argue that legalizing later abortions serves the pleasure and happiness of all the women needing them. Though an extreme scenario, what if the woman pregnant is in fact a young girl who was raped by a family friend. Too scared to tell anyone until it became physically apparent, she suddenly is in need of a later abortion. Instead of bringing an unwanted child into the world under ugly circumstances, and forcing a young girl to go through more trauma than she’s already been through (in addition to the pain and stress her family will have to endure) ending the pregnancy might be the better option for everyone involved. In this case, a pro-choice utilitarian would argue that not having the child serves the greatest number of people, including the fetus.

Critics of this theory question the utilitarian statement “the ends justifies the means.” Is it really justifiable to punish an unborn fetus in order to prevent the pain of other individuals involved? While the Utilitarian theory means to serve the greatest number of people, brining happiness and pleasure to all, the concept has its shades of grey. If everyone’s happiness is just as important and equal to one another, whose happiness matters more-the woman or the fetus?


The father of the moral philosophy, Kantianism, was a German philosophy professor, Immanuel Kant. Kant aimed to address the question, “What ought I do?” (Mackinnon, 2009). In doing so, Kant had two categorical imperatives that he based his ethical principles on. First, we should never use a person as a means to an end. Unlike Utilitarianism, where focus is placed on the greatest number of people, Kantianism focuses on the person and the respect that they deserve as an individual. Second, Kant believed that ethics should be approached as a universal law. In other words, would we apply one rule to everyone? (Mackinnon, 2009). Kant also believed that a person’s intention was of greater importance than the result of their actions. He argued that because we live in a world with uncontrollable elements, as long as a person’s moral intent was good, they were not at fault for a bad result (Mackinnon, 2009).

In terms of later abortion, Kant might have asked the question, “Does the fetus deserve respect?” Placing value on the individual or person requires one to view not only the woman (and the other individuals involved) but also, the fetus as well. On the other hand, one could simultaneously argue that while a great deal of people may be against later abortions, the woman desiring one deserves respect-and a choice. One would also need to consider the universal rule factor, should later abortions be illegal for everyone-including those who were raped, unable to gather money in a timely fashion, or unaware of their pregnancy until much later? Or on the other hand, if later abortion were made legal and available to everyone, would people have room to be lax about obtaining a procedure?

Personal Argument

Like many people, I find myself in a conflicting position when it comes to the topic of both abortion and later abortion. However, having been adopted I have a somewhat unique perspective-different from those “many people.”

I do not believe life starts only when a baby physically enters the world, but rather, when a baby is created. To me, it’s not whether or not the fetus is a life-it’s whether or not the fetus is given a chance at life. I believe that even the tiniest fetus is a life, a real person with a hopeful future and I thank God that when I was only the size of a tiny grape inside my birthmother, she gave me a chance to live with my family that was ready for a child.

With that being said, I am in fact pro-choice. I don’t doubt that a fetus is a life, but I do believe that a woman should have a choice in regards to carrying that life. While the idea of a woman getting an abortion, or worse, a later abortion merely because she was inconsistent with her birth control is horrifying to me; I consider myself a realist and accept that some people deservingly need the procedure. With my sister in women’s health, I’ve heard numerous horrific scenarios including twelve-year-old girls being raped by their stepfathers, women with abusive husbands, and even incest. My sister has also shared the sad stories of older, women; thrilled with their miracle pregnancy only to find out (during the second trimester) that their baby has developed without a brain or spinal cord. Ultimately, for every person that obtains an abortion due to reckless or preventable reasons, I truthfully believe there is a person obtaining one for a valid reason.

I personally stand behind the statement, “if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one” though I hope my previous statements shed light on the fact that I do not make that statement lightly. I often question why, with a baby so far along in development, the woman can’t go just a few more months and put the baby up for adoption. With that said, I do not know everybody’s personal story behind their reasoning, and while I respect the potential life to be lived by the fetus, I ultimately believe a choice should be available-deserved or not.

My stance on later abortion is this; it should be legal, however, I think a series of steps and changes should be made so that there are less, abortions and later abortions. First and foremost, I believe that sex-education (or at least some type of health class) should be taught at an earlier age and more thoroughly. While we cannot prevent women from being raped or deformities forming in a fetus, we can contribute to society’s sex-education and help prevent unwanted pregnancies. Furthermore, I believe the availability to facilities that offer abortion services should be easier to get to, in addition to the funds required to obtain an abortion. Though some believe not offering services helps to stop abortions from happening all together, the reality is it often prolongs the time in which a woman can get an abortion-resulting in a second trimester, or later abortion.

As stressed previously, both abortion and later abortion are extremely complex and serious issues. While boarder control, government spending, and our involvement in foreign affairs are hot topics today, their important status may or may not be the same 10 years from now. Later Abortion, on the other hand, will most likely remain as controversial as it is today, just as the great divide between those who are pro-choice and pro-life will also most likely exist. My hope is that with open minds, creative innovation, and compromise, America can one day make its way to lessoning that divide.