NDU Term Paper | Human Though - Morality Of Abortion
M O R ALI T Y O F AB O R TIO N
Dr. Clovis Karam
Notre Dame University
June 6, 2006
Abortion is still one of the most debatable issues ever. Cases vary, and arguments also do.
My study mixes the scientific-social aspect of the issue with the religious-ethical ones, to
prove that each case should be dealt with separately and objectively. The conclusion this
study demands are: 1) Abortion is a complex topic with reasonable arguments to both
sides; 2) we should respect both sides of the argument; 3) it is impossible to hold a
standard pro-choice or pro-life position. Besides, abortion debates pertaining to the legal
ramifications of abortion laws, are often spearheaded by advocacy groups. These groups
tend to fall into one of two camps, with people in favor of legal abortion describing
themselves as pro-choice, while those against legal abortion calling themselves pro-life.
Both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are loaded terms designed to make the opposition
unappealing (anti-choice and anti-life). Individuals are also usually classified as either
pro-choice or pro-life, thus reducing what may be complex views to slogans.
To start with we have to see the moral status of the fetus, if the fetus has no rights, then
abortion is a non-issue, it is as easy to justify as an appendectomy. But, if the fetus has
rights, then abortion doesn't solely concern the freedom of women, since personal
freedom is constrained by the rights of others. The most prevalent argument that the fetus
has a moral status disallowing abortion is:
• A fetus is a member of the biological species homo sapiens (i.e., a human being).
• To destroy a human being deliberately is unethical (it's murder).
• Therefore, abortion is unethical (murder), since it constitutes the deliberate
destruction of a human being.
However, there are still doubts that this being has no sense of being a member of a
society, or person with rights. They argue that the fetus is just a living organ inside the
body that needs years and years to be a part of the society and has rights. This being is
also dependant on the mother for living, so she has the right to do whatever she wants
with her body and her organs inside her body.
Implicit in the claim that it is unethical to kill a human being deliberately is the idea that
we have rights because we are human beings. Therefore, the reasoning goes, a fetus has
rights, since a fetus is a human being. This idea has been rejected by some philosophers
(especially Michael Tooley, in Abortion and Infanticide). The alternative view is that
membership in a biological species is not morally significant in itself; that is, if most
human beings have rights, it isn't because they belong to a biological species that is
innately morally privileged, but because of some other feature or features that human
beings typically possess. Such features are usually held to be mental: self-awareness, self-
determination, etc. Exactly which features, and to what degree, a being needs in order to
have rights seems very complex, but it is reasonable to attach them to a capacity for self-
determination, on the grounds that self-determination is the individual right from which
others (such as the right not to be murdered) derive. Such features would be mental then,
e.g., a capacity for acting by choice (as opposed to reflex), for sustained interests and
thought, for having goals, and so on. In any case, the collective of mental capacities
needed to endow a being with rights is typically called "personhood"; the position that
mental capacities rather than biological specieshood determine an entity's rights is
sometimes called the "personhood" argument. We are thought to have rights not because
of our biological species, but because we are persons. The personhood argument has
some results that are intuitively appealing to many:
• It justifies letting a human being in a persistent vegetative state die, which is
difficult when the relevant moral criteria derive from being a homo sapiens rather
than being a person.
• It would explain the feeling that an animal's moral status varies according to its
typical ontological status: that it is more wrong to kill a dog for no reason than a
fly, that whales and other primates (but not shrimps and ants) deserve humane
treatment because they are "intelligent," and so on.
• It would explain rights in a way that avoids "speciesism." It seems true intuitively
that a non-human species that could talk, laugh, cry and aspire with us would
have the same rights that we have--a result not produced by the theory that being
a human is what causes these rights.
• It explains why spontaneously aborted zygotes (usually never even detected) are
not a great loss.
So according to the personhood view, the morality of abortion depends on the mental
capacities of the fetus. In normal human beings, none of the mental capacities generally
referred to as "higher" capacities, e.g., thought, are detectable until after birth. So it is
unlikely that a fetus or a neonate is a person, even granting considerable uncertainty over
which capacities, exactly, personhood requires. Pro-life advocates make the point that
brain activity occurs in fetuses, but their point has problems. The conventional pro-life
view needs to account for the zygote, not the fetus, and there is no brain activity in
zygotes; in fact, there is no brain in zygotes. So the conventional pro-life view can't
incorporate personhood criteria at all.
A popular justification for intentionally destroying a human being is self-defense, and the
principle of self-defense is widely advanced on behalf of abortion. But it doesn't justify
abortion. A claim of self-defense doesn't defend against a criminal charge when it comes
from the party who brought about the conflict. For example, parents can't invoke self-
defense and treat their (minor) children as trespassers, because parents bring it about that
there are children needing shelter. Parents also bring about pregnancy, so self-defense
can't justify ending pregnancy in ways that are normally criminal, such as killing a human
being. An occasional rebuttal here is that parents aren't responsible for the pregnancy if
they didn't intend it. But, responsibility for the consequences of one's actions isn't limited
to intended consequences. Causing accidents and gambling are two examples of how we
can be responsible for unintended consequences. Unintended, unwanted pregnancy due to
consensual sex is merely a lost gamble (or maybe an accident, if the possibility of
pregnancy was poorly understood). So in general, when liberties are in conflict, the rights
of the party that brought about the conflict--intentionally or not--give way. If it is granted
that fetuses have the "basic human rights", then the rights of the mother must defer to
those of the fetus, and the principle of self-defense doesn't justify abortion. Even murder
can be justified; for example going to war and shooting people around and killing
innocent people can sometimes be justified, thus aborting an unwanted baby can also be
justified under certain circumstances.
In reality, both pro-choice and pro-life are too simplistic to encompass the full
complexity of the debate. A person may be personally uncomfortable with, and morally
opposed to, abortion (thus being pro-life) while believing the option of abortion should
remain legal (thus being pro-choice as well). Furthermore, individuals often place
different value on the lives of zygotes, embryos and fetuses at different points in
gestation, putting different methods of abortion in different moral lights.
The "pro-life" argument is that an embryo (or, in later stages of development, a fetus) is a
human being — entitled to protection — from the moment of conception and therefore
has a right to life that must be respected. According to this argument, abortion is
homicide. Many take it a step further and say that, unless this homicide is somehow
justified, perhaps because it is necessary to save the life of the woman, then abortion is
Pro-life advocates often argue against comprehensive sexual education on the grounds
that it encourages extramarital sex and thus sends mixed signals to teens, especially girls.
Some pro-life advocates also say that there is a positive correlation between widespread
comprehensive sex education in schools and an increase in teen sexual activity. While
there is some scientific research to support this, claims that sex education results in a
rising rate of teen pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases are not
supported. Pro-life advocates also promote maintaining strong families and community
advocacy of abstinence until marriage.
The "pro-choice" argument is that a woman's right to control her pregnancy outweighs
any right claimed for the embryo or fetus (which pro-choice advocates do not see as
having the full rights of a person). This was the essential holding in the landmark
Supreme Court of the United States 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, and it is accepted by
most in the pro-choice community.
Pro-choice advocates regularly argue in favor of comprehensive sex education in high
school, contraceptive use, and greater involvement by parents in the lives of their teens as
the three best ways to reduce unintended pregnancies and therefore the need for
abortions. They may not necessarily endorse teen sexuality, but pragmatically recognize
that it will exist even under "abstinence-only" sex education. They also note that teens
taught only abstinence are less likely to use forms of contraception should they have sex,
and therefore are more likely to become pregnant and develop STIs.
Most orthodox religious groups are opposed to abortion, some viewing it as murder.
• Christians, including both the Catholic Church and evangelical Christian
churches, usually hold this position. Some Christian churches that have become
more theologically liberal in the last century hold a pro-choice stance.
• Buddhists also usually take an anti-abortion stance, citing the Pali Canon which
states that life begins at conception. Moreover, in Buddhism killing of, say, a
mosquito, would be a direct breach of the precept which forbids destruction of
life. However, they also consider that abortion is preferable if the woman's life is
• Islam generally has the stance that if the woman's life is at stake, abortion is
permissible under the principle of Shari`ah, the lesser of two evils. Moreover,
there are a number of traditional scholars which state that quickening is a sign that
the soul has entered the fetus. Otherwise, there is a wide range of positions within
Islam. Abortions are usually not prohibited through the fourth month.
• Judaism traditionally holds life (including the life of a fetus) as sacred, and does
not permit abortion on demand. However, it sanctions (or mandates) abortion
under some circumstances, namely when the woman's life is threatened.
A number of churches and religious groups in the United States of America support the
limited right of women to obtain a safe, legal, medically supervised abortion. A partial
list of those organizations.
Historically, it is unclear how often the ethics of induced abortion were discussed, since
few ancient writers wrote about childbirth. Abortion and infanticide are thought to have
been commonplace. Among ancient writers opposed to abortion are Hippocrates of Cos
and the Roman Emperor Augustus. The early Christian churches generally opposed
abortion, drawing upon early Christian writings such as the Didache (circa 100 A.D.).
Since ignorance about pre-natal development prevailed, bans against abortion were in
many western countries directed only to the period after "quickening" (the time when the
fetus begins moving around, approximately the second trimester). By the mid 19th
century, abortion was illegal in the US and much of Europe. In the 1960's, laws against
abortion began to change in some parts of the world, but in Germany and Spain abortion
is still illegal even in the first trimester, although prosecution is rare. Abortion is legal,
and even sometimes encouraged in China and India. In a few countries, such as China,
the government sometimes forces women to have abortions.
It is not easy for most people to reject the standard pro-life argument without rejecting
other beliefs they have, such as the belief that infanticide is wrong, or murder isn't
justified to serve society. Most people cannot disprove the pro-life position without also
disproving some other strongly held belief.
Pro-life people has there valid arguments but I personally go with the Pro-choice. There
is no fixed rule that apply to everything. In law there are always exceptions and special
cases, and I guess in this issue its all about dealing with each case separately. I say that a
fetus sometimes may be like a cancer that will hurt the body if it is not cured and the only
way to cure it is by abortion. I know this might seem horrible, but if you think about it in
the way that this cancer will hurt your body mentally, socially, and economically
sometimes, then its better to save the patients life from a complete mess. Remember that
the major role of doctors is to protect the life of their patients, that means that if your arm
will hurt you for ever just because it exists, then its better to take it out of your life. Same
logic applied on abortion. If you don’t want the baby, if the baby will mess up your life,
and if the baby is still in your body and you control his life then it’s a part of you. It’s an
organ like any organ in your body, and if you feel that this organ will ruin your life, you
should demand the right to abort and save your life a big trouble.