Many ethical issues arise from abortion, however the main one’s to be discussed are regarding whether or not abortion is considered the taking of human life, and whose decision is it to determine whether or not they should be permitted.
Ultimately, the most significant concepts surrounding abortion relate to the Value of Human Life and The Principal of Individual Freedom.
The Value of Life refers to the idea that our lives are a basic possession. Every person experiences their own lives in a unique way, and no-one can truly live another’s life. Each individual must be treated as unique, however this does not discard the concept that ending of a human life cannot be justified, rather it is believed it should not be ended without very strong justification. Consequently, it is deemed morally wrong to end a person’s life against their will.
The Principal of Individual Freedom basically states that as individuals, we must possess the freedom to choose our own ways and means of being moral within the framework of the other four principals. Because no person or situation is exactly like another, there must be some freedom for those people to deal with these different circumstances in a manner that best suits them (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009).
Pro-Life and Pro-Choice
There are two extreme views concerning abortion, and these are the one’s of pro-life (against abortion), and pro-choice (permit abortion).
The first view is that of “Pro-Life,” who ultimately believes that the conceptus has an absolute right to life, and this is where the Value of Life Principal arises. There are certain key stages in the conceptus’s development which reinforce this belief, these include the following; By the third week, the embryo is developing various parts and a week later its heart begins to beat. Continuing to week five, divisions of the brain occur and the development of eyes and limb buds appear. By the seventh and eight week, sexual characteristics can be recognised, there is some lower brain anatomy and the fetus has developed some reflex reactions. Therefore, since ultimately their genetic view that life begins at conception, abortion is associated with murder, as it is the act of taking human life. Pro-life’s arguments are based on the value of life, that is, the right to life is absolute, especially the right of unborn life and its innocence. Thus, every unborn “child” should be regarded as human and receive all rights deserved from the moment of conception onwards (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009). Whether we believe that the fetus is a person or not, it’s debatable that a woman has some sort of ethical responsibility to the fetus. Also, abortions further along in the pregnancy are even more heavily concerned with the assumption of taking a human life because they feel there is something very human about the fetus as its development has continued (Ethics of Abortion 2010).
There are a number of other issues concerning abortion, for instance, the medical and psychological effects of abortion on women are harmful, the dangers of pregnancy are almost irrelevant because of technological advances therefore abortions are unnecessary, there are alternatives to an abortion such as adoption, and the belief that women must accept full responsibility for their actions and innocent life cannot be sacrificed if they fail to do so through their own carelessness. Even when it comes to rape, “destruction of innocent unborn human life is still not justified.” (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009, p262).
Pro-life believe that if women want complete control over their body, then control should include using contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Therefore, if a woman fails to use these measures and falls pregnant, she must bear the responsibility and consequences for her actions, rather than sacrificing human life (Women Issues 2010).
The second extreme view is that of “Pro-Choice,” who are greatly in favour of abortion on request by the woman. Pro-choice believe that “woman have absolute rights over their bodies, and the conceptus is part of a woman’s body until birth.” (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009, p272). Therefore, how can the conceptus be considered a human life before birth? This is where The Principal of Individual Freedom arises, where people should have a choice to determine what is best for them in their own circumstances.
The argument continues with concerns of those fetus’s which have been diagnosed with deformities, and therefore pro-choice believes that deformed children should not be brought into the world because of their burden on the health care system and ultimately society. This is also relative to children who are unwanted. Why bring a child into the world who is unwanted? What benefit does that place on the mother and also society? Especially if a woman is potentially an unfit mother, what kind of life would that leave for the child? (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009).
Adoption is considered an alternative to abortion by pro-life, however adoption is not always a solution and certainly are not as honourable as depicted. There are a number of adoption agencies that are down-right inhumane and surely no place for young children.
In addition, when pregnancy results from rape or incense, the woman should never have to go through the birth because of the circumstances of the conception. Forcing a woman to go through the pregnancy as a result of such a violent act will just cause more psychological harm, and the child may be neglected and a reminder of the trauma endured (Women Issues 2010).
It is difficult to relate to why people choose abortion if you don’t have personal experience, or are personally associated with someone who does, therefore who are you to say they cannot have one? Pro-life are basically asking us to “consider real life situations rather than vote on abstract potentially uninformed beliefs.” (The Sydney Morning Herald 2010). Ultimately, abortion must be totally a matter of the woman’s choice and private decision and no one else should be able to interfere (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009).
Utilitarianism Applied to Abortion
Utilitarianism refers to the ethical theory that “everyone should perform that act or follow that moral rule that will bring about the greatest good (or happiness) for everyone concerned.” (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009, p42). When concerning abortion, it would seem to best apply the “rule-utilitarianism,” which refers to setting up a series of general morals and rules which can be applied to every moral question based, and when followed, yield the greatest good (Abortion: Ethical Analysis 2010).
When this is applied to abortion, it can be argued that abortion is a completely ethical entity that will provide the most amount of happiness for the majority of people. This is reinforced by the statistics from the related newspaper article, which states, “A survey of 1050 Australians investigating attitudes to early and late abortion published in the Medical Journal of Australia shows remarkably strong public support for women being able to access abortion at all stages of pregnancy, including after 24 weeks.” (The Sydney Morning Herald 2010). An example of this view, is relative to a woman who may end up being an unfit mother to a child. If a 16-year old drug-addict were pregnant, would it not be in everyone’s best interest protect the child from the possibility of psychological and physical abuse, and ultimately a suffering lifetime?
Pro-life views the situations concerning the fetus, where an abortion causes pain to the fetus and ultimately results in killing. However, from a utilitarian viewpoint, this focus on the fetus is unnecessary because it’s believed that the suffering involved can be avoided by an early abortion, that is before the fetus can develop the capability to undergo pain. Generally, the suffering of the fetus cannot be considered a strong argument against abortion (Utilitarian Org. 2010).
In contrast, another view of utilitarianism is that the future life of the fetus would have had a probable balance of happiness over suffering, which is a definite argument against abortion, although not a dominant one. Another contrasting aspect is concerned with population size. If population decreases, utility will prescribe reproduction in order to increase it once again. This would create a shift will create the greatest of happiness to the most people. In this case, utility will generally oppose abortion. As a result of the views of a utilitarian, a general prescription either for or against abortion is extremely difficult to justify, as each case has its own significant and specific features (Utilitarian Org. 2010).
Kant’s Categorical Imperative
Kant’s Categorical Imperative basically emphasises that “an act is immoral if the rule that would authorise it cannot be made into a rule for all human beings to follow.” (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009, p58).
This is the belief that an act is considered to be moral solely because it adheres to a rule, therefore creating some sort of moral authority (Inquisitive 2010).
A relative aspect of this theory concerns killing another human being. According to Kant, a person cannot kill another person being without violating a moral absolute. Therefore, killing is immoral and contradicts the Categorical Imperative, because essentially the meaning of life is to live (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009). Kant also believes there must a universal morality that must be capable of being applied to every situation without exception (Inquisitive 2010).
When Kant’s Categorical Imperative is applied to abortion, it is looking for the moral authority. According to this theory, Kant would state that, “abortion is murder,” rather than “if you have an abortion, you are committing murder.” However, Kant also believes in “Good Will,” which emphasises in doing the “right thing,” and consequences are irrelevant (Inquisitive 2010).
Therefore, who is it to say that abortion is not doing the right thing under certain circumstances? In a number of different circumstances, as noted before, there are a number of situations where abortion may be the best and/or right thing to do.
This may be relevant to women who are in danger if they continue with the birth, and the safer option would be to have an abortion. However, through this theory it is believed that if we condone abortion, then we are ultimately suggesting that killing is moral. Consequently, Kant is in favour that killing is moral and only under extreme consequences can it be justified (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009).
In conclusion, the issues surrounding abortion are vast and there will always be those strongly opposed and in favour of the practice of it. With Kant’s Categorical Imperative, if everyone considered that abortion is moral, then we are condoning that essentially “murder” is moral. However, this encroaches on the rights we have as humans. Ultimately we believe we have control over our own bodies, therefore, who is it to say what we choose and believe is the best in our own interests?
In my personal belief, I am ultimately on the side of pro-choice, as there could be detrimental effects if it ever became illegal. From a moral view, it is seen to be killing another person, however, there are certain circumstances that abortions are necessary or would be the best option concerning those involved. Especially with the circumstances of rape, I believe no one has the right to force an unwanted pregnancy that resulted from a traumatic experience. In addition, The Principal of Individual Freedom has the most effect as we all have our individual lives and what we consider to be most beneficial to us, should ultimately be established and not influenced or forced otherwise.