The Abortion Issue
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Abortion has been a very controversial subject over these past few decades. Every time you pick up a paper or magazine it seems there is always some protest regarding abortion, whether it be for fetal rights or women’s rights. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica the definition of abortion is “the expulsion of a fetus from the uterus before it has reached the stage of viability (in human beings, usually about the 20th week of gestation). An abortion may occur spontaneously, in which case it is also called a miscarriage, or it may be brought on purposefully, in which case it is often called an induced abortion.” This paper will focus only on those abortions which are considered to be induced and will present the argument to both sides, considering both the argument for Pro-life as well as for Pro-choice.
Don Marquis states in his article Why Abortion is Immoral that killing someone is wrong because the killing inflicts the greatest possible loss on the victim. He says that it is not the effect on the murderer and the victim’s friends and relatives that makes killing an absolute wrong. Although killing does affect those close to the victim the ultimate harm done is on the victim himself due to their loss of future. Marquis states that killing is regarded as one of the worst crimes because it is depriving people of the value of their future. If this view were applied to abortion it would be easy to see how abortion could be considered wrong. By willingly ending the life of the fetus you are willingly ending their possibility of a future. The fetus has the possibility of having a future with emotions, experiences and activities that are the same as human beings and even closer to that of young children. This argument applies in most cases of abortion but not all. For example, to abort a fetus whose life will be filled with unbearable pain and anguish because of a physical or cognitive disorder could be justified because it could be said that the future of the fetus would be bleak and uncertain.
In ways it could be stated that the “means justify the end”. It must be noted however, that this acceptance would not apply to all situations of physical and cognitive disabilities; only the most severe cases would qualify. For example, there could be no way to justify inducing an abortion because it has been determined that the child would be born without a hand. With modern day technology there are many ways that would be able to help and assist this child throughout their life and help cope with the disability. Their possibility for a promising future would not be lost due to the fact that they were missing a hand. “Abortion, like ordinary killing, could be justified only by the most compelling reasons” (Marquis, p. 400). The biggest problem with this issue is where to draw the line between severe and bearable pain and disability. What one person might consider not worth living with may be very different from another person’s definition. What ends up happening is the development of a “slippery-slope” between permissible and not permissible abortions based on disabilities. There will always be disagreements on which disabilities could be considered to have an impact on a person having a good future.
Many people opposed to abortion rely on the fact that the fetus is a human being from the moment that they are conceived. At that moment a unique DNA is created and they argue that God places a human soul in that just fertilized Ovum (Robinson, p.1). This has seemed to be a continuing debate between both sides. Pro-life activists disagree with the argument that a fetal life becomes a person only when electrical activity begins in the cerebral cortex. They argue that at the time of conception all major decisions as to what that fetus will become have been determined. For example, whether it will be male of female, what height it will be, what build it will be, and what colour it’s hair, eyes and skin will be. In their views, this is enough to determine that a person is living inside the mother, even though there is no brain activity or vital organs formed yet. All people have a right to live and under the pro-life view this includes a fetus from the moment of conception.
Some argue that the unborn fetus has a right to its mother’s body if that woman voluntarily indulges in intercourse (Jarvis Thomson, p.405). They argue that when the women engages in sexual intercourse she is fully aware of the consequences and the possibility that she might conceive a child. For this they say she is responsible for that life that is living inside her. This argument gives the unborn person a right to the mother’s body and gives the mother a responsibility for the life because it is dependent on her (Jarvis Thomson, p.405). It should be noted however, that a fetus conceived through rape could not use this defence due to the fact that the sexual intercourse was not voluntary. Judith Jarvis Thomson in her article A Defense of Abortion has noted that pro-life activists have been so concerned with establishing the independence of the fetus that that have missed the fact that they could argue that the fetus is dependent on the mother and through this she has a special responsibility to it.
On the other side of the abortion issue are those who recognize the right of the woman to choose whether or not she wants to give birth to the fetus in her womb. There are both feminist and nonfeminist approaches to the pro-choice argument. The feminist perspective bases it’s ideas on the influence that the unwanted pregnancy has on the woman; whereas, the nonfeminist perspective bases it’s assumptions on the moral status of the fetus. Feminists acknowledge the fact that women have abortions for a wide variety of reasons (Sherwin, p.411). Some women are not financially stable to raise a child and have no other means to be able to support that child, some are diagnosed with AIDS and some are addicted to drugs. These are just a few reasons that a woman may not want to bring a child into this world with such disadvantages. Feminists recognize the fact that abortion is necessary for many women if they are to escape the oppressive conditions of poverty (Sherwin, p.411).
For women, being able to have the option of abortion helps them to have power over their own sexual lives. Women’s inferior role does not always allow them to stop men’s sexual treatment of their bodies. If women are not given the choice to end an unwanted pregnancy, the women become even more defenceless to men because having a child reduces their likelihood of advancement in the economic system. This results in women staying dependent on men for their economic advantages. Feminists argue that for women to steer clear of unexpected pregnancies by avoiding sexual intercourse shows no admiration for the empowering of women in sexual politics (Sherwin, p.412). This view encourages the fact that women should have no control over their sexual lives. A direction that feminists argue it not correct.
When it comes to abortion for nonfeminists they argue that abortion can be tolerated because the fetus lacks full personhood (Sherwin, p.413). Many argue that a woman should be allowed to make her own decisions and have full control over her body. Nonfeminists argue that the fetus becomes a human much later in pregnancy and that before this point a woman should be able to end her pregnancy if she is fully aware of the consequences and she has a safe abortion. Those who defend abortion argue that the fetus is not a person, but only a bit of tissue that will become a person at birth (Jarvis Thomson, p.403). However, many pro-choice do not agree that a woman should be able to have an abortion at any point in her pregnancy. They recognize that after some point in the pregnancy the fetus could be considered a person and to abort this child would be unjust.
There is no disagreement between defenders and opponents of women’s rights that “the difference between a late-term fetus and a newborn infant is ‘merely geographical’ and cannot be considered morally significant” (Sherwin, p.414). The biggest problem with this argument is that there is large uncertainty of where to draw the line of when an abortion is appropriate and when it is not. Many argue that before the 20th week the neural structures necessary to register and record sensations of pain are not functioning. Also before the 20th week they argue that the fetus does not contain an individual human personality (Carrier, p.6). Given this information, pro-choice activists argue that abortion causes no immediate harm to the fetus because it lacks both perception of pain and individual personality.
Pro-choice activists also argue that abortion can be a benefit to society. “The harm to a society that is caused by an excess of unchecked population growth is severe and well-document” (Carrier, p.6). There are very few countries in this world that outlaw abortion that are not having excessive overpopulation problems. They argue that abortion allows nations to maintain a stable population with nearly zero population growth. Abortion can also be an advantage for the woman. The risks of death and permanent disability are significantly greater than for a woman who aborts before her third trimester. The social and financial pressures that result from motherhood can be a serious harm, especially for those women who will be raising a child on their own. Although some of this could be relieved by adoption, free medical care for pregnant women, and social assistance for women unable to work because of pregnancy, these solutions are not always as easy as they sound, and they are not so universally available as many people think (Carrier, p.6).
My Personal Argument
When it comes to the issue of abortion there does not seem to be any middle ground. It must be noted that neither the pro-choice or pro-life arguments are homogenous; neither side can agree fully when a woman should have access to an abortion. When it comes to my opinion as to whether abortion is right or wrong, I often find myself fluctuating between both sides of the issues. I agree that abortion is wrong after the 20th week when the neural structure starts to develop and the fetus can start to feel pain. Since the introduction of modern technology, such as the life support system and pacemakers, the definition of death has had to be refined. Death can no longer be defined as being occurring when both the heartbeat and breathing cease, because with the introduction of the pacemaker a machine can make the heart beat and with the introduction of the life support machine a person can breath with the constant assistance of a machine. Death is now generally defined as when the brain “flat-lines” which means that there is no central nervous system activity and there is no detectable electric activity in the brain’s cerebral cortex. After the 20th week a fetus has both these functions which means abortion could be considered death.
I do not see any possible reason for aborting a fetus after the 20th week unless the life of the mother was in serious danger and there was an extreme risk of death to the mother if she was to carry the baby to term. I agree with the fact that a woman should be able to have an abortion if she cannot give birth to the child because of financial or health reasons. It does not seem morally correct to bring a baby into this world that has a high chance of contracting HIV from it’s mother or risk both the mother’s and the baby’s lives because the mother is not financially stable enough to get the proper and informed care for herself and her baby during her pregnancy. I do not agree with the argument that abortion is good because it helps maintain a zero population growth. In Canada, our population is constantly decreasing as people are choosing to have fewer or no kids at all. With this declining population rate the argument that abortion lowers the population rate does not seem viable, at least not in Canada where we are in need of a population increase.
I disagree with Don Marquis argument that abortion is wrong because you are killing the fetus and depriving it of the possibility of a future. It is impossible to say what could happen from the time of conception, maybe the fetus could be discarded by a miscarriage or the mother could die before the birth and as a result also kill the fetus. With this uncertainty it is not possible to say that by having an abortion you are depriving the fetus of a future because the only way that this could be determined is on the day that the fetus is born. Another strong argument for the pro-life activists is that the fetus is a human being from the moment they are conceived. I cannot agree with the fact that God places a human soul in the just fertilized ovum because this is something that can never be scientifically proven. Without any evidence to this support this, I find it to be a very weak argument. Although it is true that at the moment of conception unique DNA is created this is not proof that the fetus is a human being. I do not believe that a fetus can be considered a human being until the neural structures have formed and the brain is functioning.
When analyzing both sides of the abortion issues, it is evident that both sides provide both strong and weak arguments. Abortion will always be a controversial issue in society and there will always be disputing sides to the matter. Each person must make their own decisions based on their beliefs and factual evidence. Both sides must learn to be open-minded to the other side and learn to respect the fact that they have different thoughts and views.
“Abortion.” Encyclopaedia Britannica – Online. 1 Oct. 2000.
Carrier, Richard C. “Abortion is not Immoral and Should not be Illegal.”
Internet Infidels. 1 Oct. 2002
Jarvis Thomson, Judith. “A defence of Abortion.” Gender Basics. 2nd Ed.
Anne Minas. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Inc, 2000. 402-409.
Marquis, Don. “Why Abortion is Immoral.” Gender Basics. 2nd Ed.
Anne Minas. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Inc, 2000. 398-401.
Robinson, B.A. “Abortion.” Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 3 Jul 2002.
1 Oct. 2002
Sherwin, Susan. “Abortion.” Gender Basics. 2nd Ed. Anne Minas.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning Inc, 2000. 410-417.