Start Date: Thursday, April 10, 2003
Finish Date: Friday, April 11, 2003
The debate over Abortion is one that has been constantly raging, especially ever since the Supreme Court decision to legalize it. For many churches and religious organizations, it is a cause for conflict and campaign. At abortion clinics, these religionists will either set up tables to offer a Pro-Life perspective, or they will go to the extreme to picketing. Sometimes, they will even harass women who go into a Planned Parenthood Center. The debate over Abortion, though, I believe is unique. Not specifically because of the content, but because it is something that about half the nation of America is opposed to or supportive of. Furthermore, it is an ethical argument that people will take seriously and to far extents. There are even incidents of Direct Actions being committed against abortion clinics. This is not to paint an image of zealotry and ignorance around those who are Pro-Life, but rather to show that they hold deep convictions about their cause. The Pro-Choice side of the argument is equally devoted, as the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, went through numerous trials and countless warrants just to be able to publish her opinion on the matter. Many people who become interested in other issues first start by educating themselves in Abortion, and then forming an opinion on the matter. Abortion is unique for these reasons: it is a moral argument, it gives passion to those who are nihilistic in other matters, and there are as many people for it as there are against it.
The two primary positions on this matter are obvious: Pro-Life (against Abortion) and Pro-Choice (for Abortion). But it is not so simple. Many times, there will be those who think that Abortion is permissible under certain circumstances, such as rape, incest, or those unfortunate cases where the unborn is significantly deformed and has no hope of living a normal life. This is where the definitions of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice become mixed up. Some will claim that Pro-Life means that there are some situations where it is immoral to kill an unborn infant, whereas others will claim that Pro-Choice means that there are some situations where it is not immoral to kill an unborn infant. Still, moreover, the terminology used by both of these sides seems so mercilessly tilted towards one opinion, that it's difficult to listen to either position and hear an objective view point. I have seen some Pro-Life advocates refer to Pro-Choice individuals as "Pro-Abortion," but deservedly, they responded by calling the Pro-Life advocate "Pro-Battered Children." It is not an unborn fetus -- it is "a living, breathing, unborn child." People have allowed their passions to overwhelm their mental faculties, and they found that it is impossible to speak of Abortion from an objective viewpoint -- that is, to say, to speak of Abortion in a manner that is neither opposed to it or for it.
My position on Abortion is a unique one. I believe that there are three particular ethical conditions of Abortion: (1) where it is neither immoral nor moral to have an abortion, (2) where it is immoral to have an abortion, (3) where it is moral to have an abortion. The reason why my position on Abortion is unique is due to the fact that I do not make an ethical claim specifically to Abortion -- my position on Abortion is simply an expansion of an ethical theory. This is not entirely uncommon, though. When it comes to questions like "Why should we be moral?" and "Who are moral agents?" it is considered to be a question of Ethics, but when it comes to questions like war, abortion, feminism, racism, animal rights, it is then considered a question of Applied Ethics. The reason, however, why this paper may be considered unique in the question of Abortion is because I provide a foundation to judge the question of Abortion -- I provide a short introduction and defense of an ethical theory, that can be used to judge such Applied Ethics questions. I hope to provide an objective, reasonable argument -- for abortion in some cases, and against abortion in other cases. Some would call me Pro-Life and others would call me Pro-Choice, though I would probably lean closer to Pro-Choice.
The Value of a Conscious Being
Before one can honestly answer the question of "Is Abortion right or wrong?" one must first provide a foundation of how to determine right and wrong. Without such a foundation, answering the Abortion question would simply be unevidenced hypothesis. The foundation that I am proposing to use for the question of Abortion -- as well as any other social or ethical question -- is the value of a conscious being. When a being is capable of feeling pain, when an individual is not ignorant of suffering, not unknowing of misery, not unaware of cruelty, brutality, and viciousness; when a person has been forced to live in a world where it is commonplace in "civilization" to be forced to endure inhumane behavior, then this person will quickly come to a realization. They will either realize that brute force is brute force, and if that is the only way to acquire what one wants, then it is justified. If they do not come to this conclusion, then they will conclude that suffering, something they had to live with, they will come to this foundation, that suffering is a brutality, undesirable by every living creature, and to inflict such misery, is to make a grievous offence against the nature of truth. The scars left from previous events -- from perhaps a careless juggernaught whose appetite for superiority led to violence -- past events will confirm that when we were shaking in the palm of fear, perhaps inches from misery and suffering, from the most deplorable action; when we remember those times in our life where we went through intolerable pain and suffering, we are also confronted with how much we detested it, how much we hated it, in any form it took. To this end, when we think of suffering, it is such a strong and powerful emotion, that this person who suffered would never want to suffer again, and would never want anyone else to suffer. And the heroes among these men and women will sacrifice effort and time, to the end that those around them will not have to go through such misery.
If there needs to be any greater proof of this idea, that suffering is universally detested by those knowledgeable of it, then consider every pamphlet, every poem, every book written on behalf of some social cause. To read just one page is to read a world full of suffering. The Abolitionists never went into great detail on the biological or scientific makeup of African humans -- rather, they went into great detail on how much they suffer. Animal Rights activists do not labor upon scientific articles on the similarities between humans and non-humans -- instead, their pamphlets are full of pictures where the animals are suffering, without a doubt. Every social cause has been backed by this one premise: that a class of beings is in great misery, pain, and cruelty. The greatest argument against war is a picture of the devastation it causes. The greatest argument against eating meat is a picture of animals being abused in agribusiness. Understanding suffering and conscious beings is perhaps the greatest step a person can take in their own moral development. If anyone needs more proof of this, then consider the countless times a person has made the statement, "I wouldn't wish that upon my worst enemy," and then consider the sentiment behind that claim -- that suffering is a bad thing, and ourselves being knowledgeable of it, we wouldn't give it to those who have caused us the most suffering. Contrary to the idea that it is our nature to seek vengeance against those who have wronged us, in a very real way, we actually sympathize with those who are our enemies, and would desire no great duress or suffering to come to them. In our society, rape is rather unfavorable, in that it is a vicious brutality -- and rarely would we hear that it is wished upon anyone, even an enemy, because of the severity and cruelty of such a suffering. If someone had seen their enemy, and was wishing to put them to great suffering, and to finally see the tears in that person's eyes and to hear their whimpering, it would immediately move any person to mercy, to forgiving, because such sights of viciousness will work their way to the center of any heart.
It is on this principle, the value of a conscious being, that I am going to judge whether Abortion is right or wrong in particular instances. When we suffer, we are filled with such an animosity towards suffering, that it is rare to find genuine instances of wishing it upon another, with a clear frame of mind. Upon this premise, this truth which rings soundly in the heart of every creature, it shall be the foundation of how I judge the ethics of abortion -- whether it is immoral or not immoral or even moral to end the life of an unborn infant.
When It Is Not Immoral Or Moral
The first situation that I will deal with concerning an Abortion is when the act of it is neither immoral nor moral. The situation is this: when the unborn fetus is not a conscious being. In this case, the unborn infant is incapable of feeling pain or suffering. To say that it is immoral to destroy it is just as absurd as saying it is immoral to destroy a rock. Though it may seem cruel to compare a living, unborn infant with an inanimate rock, the comparison is justified. Both beings are incapable of thought, incapable of suffering, and incapable of emotion in general. But still, further investigation into the matter will simply confirm my position. Not only is an unborn infant incapable of emotion and thought, but this also renders it incapable of another thing: desire. Since an unborn infant is not capable of desiring anything, it cannot desire to live any more than it can desire to die. The position of the Pro-Life ideology, advocating the right of an unborn infant to live, is then almost meaningless. How can someone (or "something") have rights, when it is incapable of wanting those rights? But this raises an even more important question to those who advocate the life of the unborn: when the unborn do not want the right to life, just as they do not want the right to death, as they cannot want, then what is the point in defending their right to life? At this point, those who destroy unborn fetuses are doing as much a favor to them as those who try to preserve them.
The primary argument against the right to destroy an unconscious fetus is the Sanctity of Human Life: that human life, in whatever form, conscious or unconscious, deserves the right to life. This argument is antiquated, though it is relatively new. It is, in a way, a Humanist argument, claiming that humans hold value over all other beings. One hundred years ago, when it came to the rights of an unborn fetus, one would ask if it were male or female to determine whether an Abortion was justified -- not to claim that women were treated poorly, but their rights as individuals and conscious beings were bitterly downtrodden. Two hundred years ago, when it came to Abortion, one would ask what race the unborn was to determine whether an Abortion was justified. In all these manners, we find the actions defended by some argument or another based on Sanctity. We have the Sanctity of the Male Life, and the Sanctity of the White Human Life. All of these arguments defend one class of beings while holding that all other beings are undeserving of rights. But there is something more: while all Racist and Sexist ideologies are largely detested and hated in our own culture, they are based on the same argument and evidence that the "Sanctity of Human Life" argument is.
Regardless, the Sanctity of Human Life seems to be more of an Ethics rather than an Applied Ethics idea. It is not supported by evidence. It is not demonstrated with logic or reason. It holds no foundation, at least, no foundation other than Sexism or Racism. The fact still remains: it is heartless, cruel, and brutal to cause suffering to a conscious being. It is irrelevant if something unconscious is destroyed. Simply put, it is destroying the lives of women who were never desirous of the position of being mothers. If an ideology was developed, and claimed that no trees are to be killed or cut down, it would hurt the loggers and foresters -- or that stones and rocks are to be left untouched, it would hurt miners, and if it stated that the earth was not to be plowed or harvested, all people would suffer from not getting food. In all these cases, as ridiculous as they seem, the situation is not unlike that of Pro-Life advocacy: a class of beings suffers, for the sake of something that is incapable of suffering. In the case of Abortion, two beings suffer: the mothers, and the children (whom the parents may be unable to provide for, or never intended to have anyway).
There is still another aspect of the Sanctity of Human Life ideology I have left unexplored. One may inquire into the positive aspects of such a creed. After all, it advocates the rights of all human beings, some of which are conscious beings. However, the foundation for the rights of human beings -- according to the Sanctity of Human Life ideology -- is that they have human genetics, or human DNA. This is a rather disgraceful method of applying rights to human beings. I have never looked to a human being, held them close to me, shared my desires and loves with them, and then spoke graciously to them, "You are my companion, because you share similar DNA to me." To those men and women who are my allies and believe in the humane way, it must be equally revolting to hear that humans are valued for their genetic composition and not their individual value. To the believers of this Sanctity of Human Life, would they abandon their lovers if they had changed in DNA, would they curse their children if they came of another race, would they offer every insult they could to a being -- simply because they had different genetics? Such actions speak volumes of cruelty, and I cannot condone them. When I think of how vicious they are, of how unrelentingly thoughtless and brutal they can be, it makes me long for the company of a gentle touch, of an affectionate kiss. I believe that humans have rights, yes, but I do not grant them rights on such fickle things as genetics or DNA. A human has precisely as many rights as any conscious beings for the same reasons why any creature deserves rights: they are capable of emotion, they have suffered, they know what it is like to feel pain everyday, in their moments of life there is not ignorance of sympathy and kindness.
I oppose the idea of the Sanctity of Human Life for several reasons: (1) it is unsupported by evidence, (2) its foundation is equal to those of Racism and Sexism, (3) it causes beings to suffer on account of things which cannot suffer, (4) it degrades the rights of humans, stating that they only have worth because they have human genetics, (5) it degrades the rights of non-human animals, who are still capable of feeling suffering and desire -- though I will not expand upon this point in this paper.
Another common argument against Abortion is the claim that unborn infants, though perhaps not conscious beings or human beings, are potential conscious beings or human beings. Since I already dispelled the Sanctity of Human Life, the argument that being "human" grants you a moral status, we will take this argument for the potential to mean the "potential to be a conscious being." This is true, though, that unborn infants are potential to being a conscious being. However, it is equally irrelevant as it is true. In may foundation for ethics, defending the value of a conscious being, there is not one sentence that makes an argument on behalf of those who have potential to be conscious. There is only a defense of the rights of those who are capable of emotions and sentiments, those that science has called "conscious beings" and those who literature have called "objects of affection," whose lives are marked with scars of misery as much as they are marked with the experiences of joy. My duty will forever be in the service of those who have minds to think and hearts to feel -- whose past memories are full of those emotions we both loathe and love. Though it may be true that unborn infants are "potential conscious beings," this is also very true of almost anything. A rock, for example, is a potential conscious being. If science and technology were to advance to the point where creating a conscious being, they could use the materials in that rock to do so. The same may be said of a tree or a glass of water. There will be, though, that one person who will argue that it is incredibly unlikely that a rock will ever be a conscious being. I am not operating on hard facts in this hypothetical scenario -- rather, I am simply stating that it is possible for a rock to be conscious through chance or technology, and therefore it is a potential conscious being, equal in value to an unborn infant.
Though much more uncommon, there is the argument that we have no right to destroy any living being. This is easily defeated by showing the contradiction of such an argument: bacteria are living, vegetables are living, animals are living -- yet people today show no remorse in killing and even consuming such beings. But with the way our ecology is set up, there is an option for us. We don't have to kill and consume conscious beings. Fortunately, this earth is capable of providing us with non-conscious life forms that are nutritious and healthy to consume. We don't have to eat animals since we have a plethora of vegetables and fruits. However, this paper is not on Animal Rights but Abortion. Still there is some thought on this argument. It may be true that the position of "you cannot kill any living being" is contradictory, if at least uttered by any life form, but that does not necessarily dispel it. A person will be a hypocrite, in utter contradiction, when they state that to cause suffer is immoral and then purchase animal flesh to be consumed -- as they are responsible for suffering by supporting an industry founded on suffering. Regardless, I would still agree with their statement that to cause suffering is immoral. They are themselves a hypocrite and in contradiction, but that doesn't defeat their argument. Similarly, if someone states that it is immoral to kill and consume any living being, they themselves would be a hypocrite and in contradiction, but that doesn't necessarily defeat the argument. My response to such a position is as follows: I do not believe that living beings have a right to life -- the only beings who I value and believe have rights are those which are capable of feeling suffering and joy, beings whose minds have discovered imagination, whose hearts have discovered affection. There is no reason to value living beings beyond what they can be used for to further the interests of conscious beings, but I provided a strong defense of the rights of conscious beings in the previous section.
Before I close on this section, on where it is neither immoral nor moral to have an Abortion, where such an action is a preference, I must save some space for a few words on those who have undergone this procedure. These women who have been pregnant and aborted their unborn, from every pulpit and every podium, they have received cruelty in the form of words -- brutality forged in defamation. They have been given every insult that the iniquitous minds of our world can think of. There are fewer procedures more straining on the soul, on the conscience than that of an Abortion. These women who have had an Abortion, because they knew that they could not provide for their child, because they knew that there was no place for a child in their heart at that time -- these women have demonstrated great strength, bravery, boldness, courage; in a way, they are to be commended, because they knew what had to be done, and they were willing to put their bodies through such a draining experience. The price of adhering to truth's simple principles was great to their hearts, but the world is a better place for it. For every woman who is strong enough to know that they need to have an abortion, there will be one hundred more insults to the struggling free souls, but there will be one more reason to be proud to live among such people. An Abortion may feel like it is ripping apart the heart, tearing at the very fibers of the soul, and on top of this, there are the words that stab, spoken by every religionist, delivered by every vicious and unfeeling tyrant. To those women who have endured an Abortion, I can only say this: your battle to live in our society has been hard, but your sacrifice has been something admirable, in that it needed doing and you were strong enough to do it.
When It Is Immoral
One of the other cases of Abortion, at least as far as my ethical foundation is concerned, is when it is immoral to kill the unborn infant. It is neither immoral nor moral when the unborn infant is not a conscious being. However, Abortion is immoral when the unborn infant is a conscious being. The reason for this is the same as the reason why it is immoral to take the life of any conscious being: it is ending happiness, taking away a person's existence. In one way, it deprives an individual of their own life, but in another way, it deprives the Universe of another soul -- making it just a little bit lonelier to walk at night. It is immoral to kill a conscious, unborn infant, because it violates the principle of valuing a conscious being. Since those beings which are capable of feeling emotion more often prefer life than death, to end one's existence without their consent is to offend a grievous wrong.
There are some arguments, though, just as there always will be against any opinion, that women still deserve the right to abort the fetus when they so desire, regardless if it is a conscious being or not. One such argument takes form in the Feminist argument, that a woman has a right to her body as one of her rights as a person. Insomuch that a woman has a right to her body, she has the right to exterminate an unborn fetus, whether or not it is a conscious being. The flaw with this argument, though, is that Feminism is not about granting women the right to end the existence of a conscious being when it so offends them, but giving them the right to participate in society, economy, and politics just as much as the other gender. I am sure that the activists of the Suffrage Movement did not have in mind the right to murder when they advocated freedom of the sexes. A conscious being, whether it is born or unborn, is still capable of emotions and desires -- the suffering of one is not at all unlike the suffering of the other. It is this premise that has been at the front of every humane movement, the center of every creed to support kindness in place of inhumanity, affection in place of aggression -- every virtue that has heralded civilization to a saint and every vice that has served as an obstacle to happiness and peace, but when I speak of civilization, understand that I am speaking of happiness and peace.
Some claim that even if abortion of a conscious fetus is illegal, women will go to great lengths to abort it regardless. The claim is that, no matter what the law says, some will break it, and in place, go to a less skilled, unqualified medical practitioner to have the procedure, thus endangering their own lives. I do not deny that it is true, and I am not making a suggestion in this matter for the law, but what it fails to do is make a moral claim for the abortion. This paper has not been about the enforcement of Abortion laws and such, but rather, it has been a moral inquiry into the rights of those beings who are unborn. Though there certainly ought to be laws to defend them -- such laws as decided by a Democracy and not a government -- the question I am proposing is, "Do unborn infants have moral rights?" My vague answer to the question of Abortion has been: sometimes it is neither immoral or moral, sometimes it is immoral, and sometimes it is moral. The problem with the argument that women would have abortions of conscious infants regardless of the law is that it fails to answer the question, of whether an abortion is immoral or not, or under which cases we would apply either term. It simply states that women, some women, would have an abortion, even if the law prohibited it. I know this fully well. But the same can be said equally of any law. Murder will still be a part of the streets of America -- and we shouldn't erase that law from the law books (though a great deal of reform is necessary in the prison system), just so that when death does come, we can allow it in a humane way, not dissimilar to that of Euthanasia.
There are, though, some serious, deeper arguments on this matter to consider, beyond the fickle Feminist and legal arguments brought to the case of Abortion. (Alas, I know the tyranny of writers, and I only hope that they do not quote me as saying, "fickle Feminist... arguments.") For example, it would be just to compare the situation of an unborn infant and the pregnant woman to the situation of a pair of conjoined twins. In both instances, both beings are physically connected and reliant upon the other to complete the basic tasks of day-to-day life. Would it be justified for one conjoined twin to kill the other twin, on behalf of some plea for self-interest? Certainly not. In such a situation, where one being cannot live without the effort of the other -- where their fate is determined by the actions of their companion -- it would be difficult to find a philosopher who argues that one has the right to kill the other. Similarly, in the situation of the unborn infant and the to-be mother, we find that it is not entirely different. Both the unborn and the pregnant woman are sharing the same body, using the same nutrients, and living in a state of connectedness. Where one goes, so does the other -- much like the case of the conjoined twins.
Of course, there is one primary difference between these two cases which will throw the light of the argument into an entirely new perspective. Whereas the conjoined twins work together to produce what is needed to sustain themselves, the to-be mother must work alone to support herself and the unborn child. Any woman who becomes pregnant will confirm that their appetite increases enormously. The difference then is that an unborn fetus does not do anything to help the duo acquire their needed sustenance. Though the comparison of two conjoined twins to an unborn and the carrying woman is quite convincing, it is inaccurate in this one extremely relevant point: the unborn fetus does nothing to support itself or the carrier. A better comparison, though still somewhat inaccurate, would be to compare the unborn infant and the carrying mother to a leach and a host. This comparison is more accurate, in that a leach does nothing but live off the work of the host. But, in many other ways, it is inaccurate. The unborn infant can hope to be independent one day, decades after it is born -- and it does not necessarily become independent, but it becomes productive in society, as a worker, and to the family at younger ages as a helper. Though this may be true, still, for a great deal of time, the unborn infant and the leach seem equal, in that they are supported solely by the efforts of the host or carrier. And it may be true that a leach is disgusting and revolting to the minds of people, it does not eliminate the fact that a human baby still is essentially doing the same thing.
So, the conclusion to this really is this: whatever moral actions we grant to that of the unborn human infant, we must grant to that of the leach, and vice versa. If it is immoral to abort a conscious unborn human infant, then it is also immoral to tear off a tick or a leach. If it is morally acceptable to tear off a tick or a leach, then it must be morally acceptable to abort a conscious, unborn baby. The two cases are inseparable in this way. As far as all of my philosophizing and thinking on this matter has been, it is drawing conclusions in the most liberal manner, as I am forming any conclusions, but simply proposing various "ifs" and different thoughts to the possibilities of whether it is moral or immoral. Yet when it comes to an answer, I will say this: a person has a moral right to destroy a leach that is sucking away their nutrients, just as a woman has a moral right to destroy an unborn, conscious fetus that is taking away her nutrients. But, there are more sides to it than this. It is obvious that I would praise a woman who supported her unborn, conscious baby, providing it with nutrients and care till the day it could stand on its own -- and it is true that society should be equally considerate of such a woman. Yet, it is a truly a woman's body and her own decision to make. If any reasonable person had a tick sucking their blood, they wouldn't think twice about tearing the tick off and killing it if necessary. What this person did is not at all any less reasonable than what a woman with a conscious, unborn fetus would do.
However, in a society, moral applications of certain ethics vary. For instance, those discomforts of the life of a pregnant woman -- morning sickness, extreme appetite, perhaps work for the poorer -- if these discomforts could be removed, then I would see it as being an unethical action of the carrying woman to destroy her unborn infant. How is it possible that such discomforts can be removed? If a society were so willing, they would provide what was necessary to aid in the successful birth of any unborn, conscious being. In a society, a free society that was founded on just laws and the will of the people and not dictators or representatives, in such a society, there would be programs and institutions to help with the survival of those unable to work. I am a Socialist and an Anarchist -- I believe in the will of the people and their right to earn fair income. But further more, I believe that a society should turn its back to those currently unable to perform productive work, be it the elderly or the disable, just like I do not believe a society should turn its back to those things which go on beyond its border. Of course, by the time we have reached such a grand society, chances are that the technology will provide incubators, or artificial wombs, where an unborn fetus can live out the rest of its development perhaps in much better conditions than in that of a real womb. But, philosophy is not predicting a world where our problems are all solved, but asking questions and confronting the problems that no one likes to answer. A good society will provide the necessary sustenance for an unborn, conscious being, where it is necessary.
There may be a case, though, where regardless of the aid given to a mother carrying an unborn, conscious infant, she is still distraught simply at the thought of having on unborn being living inside of her. For whatever reason, whatever psychological cause, whatever haunting memory or sleepless fear -- whatever it is, this pain and agony will manifest itself in her tears, in those endless nights of worry and misery, in the reflection of herself that makes her scream. As her conditions worsen and worsen, seeming as though she is not responding to any comforts given to her, and she finds that the unborn infant is a source of suffering and pain for her -- and as every day turns into a struggle, every moment of life just one that she wished she wouldn't remember, and as she looks into the future with a dim hope, she will know that she is suffering for no other reason than the fact that the unborn being inside of her is causing the suffering, in a very psychological reason. I am not saying that it is likely for such a psychological condition to occur. In fact, I imagine it is greatly unlikely, and if it occurs, very temporary or at least unrelated to the pregnancy. I am saying that it is very possible. And it is also very possible for an unborn, conscious fetus to be living inside of a mother who is being given no support from her society, no aid from her family or community. In these dreary conditions, where life is but pain again and again, I will say that we must do the humane thing, and euthanize the unborn infant -- it is but the only option in such an optionless case.
But, if I condone the killing of even an unborn, conscious being, in those proper circumstances, why is it that I have labeled this section, "When It Is Immoral"? The reason is this: in a very real sense, I believe that morality may just be limited to the consideration a person gives to those conscious beings around him. A poor man has no less heart than a rich man, yet it may be a rich man who donates a wealthy portion of funds to research -- even though the poor man may have been just as willing, or even more willing. That is a scenario of Ethics where a positive effect is rendered, but what of those negative effects that must be rendered, that no one enjoys thinking about? What if someone has the option of living two lives: working a grueling, 14 hour day in a factory, in unsafe and hazardous conditions, or working only 2 or 3 hours a day working in a crime syndicate? The crime syndicate would pay much more nicely, but this person does not want to have anything to do with crime -- yet, when the only other option is a grueling, cruel working condition, can they honestly be blamed for taking the easy way out? I am not providing an answer, just a question. And if the answer is yes, then what if the only other option was a 16-hour workday? Or an 18 or 20 or around the clock 24 hour work day? What if their happiness is reliant upon criminality? Their decision would not necessarily be immoral, as it is something that any rational person would decide; perhaps the theme I am trying to demonstrate is that a person will be good and kindly, only insomuch that it does not tear at their soul, and offering consideration in their actions to others is maybe the only way to be ethical -- but there is no room in this essay to expand upon such concepts, especially when Abortion is the question at hand, and not Ethics.
When It Is Moral
I have expounded upon two cases of Abortion: those cases where it is a preference and therefore not immoral or moral, and those cases where it is immoral. The final case of Abortion is this one: where the Abortion is moral. By this, I mean that the destruction of the living fetus is a duty, an honorable and admirable act, very praiseworthy. If a mother knows that her unborn infant is going to be born into a world of poverty and crime, where no night street is safe to walk, where work consists of a repetitive, hazardous condition, where there is no star of hope in the sky of life and no reason besides affection to live. If a woman understands that she is afflicted with a disease that will deprive her son of a mother, that will give her daughter nothing more than a pillow to fill with tears -- if a mother knows that she is breeding children so that they may be fodder for cruelty and brutality, without a single defender, then it is but the honorable and admirable act of this mother to destroy her unborn, and deprive from them the ability to see the scorching pain of misery. And as cruel and brutal as this may sound, it is a much better consequence that filling this planet with battered children.
When Is It Conscious?
All throughout this essay, I have answered the question of Abortion in so many instances, but the primary factor in determining the ethical conclusion has been the consciousness of the unborn. An argument focusing on the consciousness of the unborn would be incomplete if it didn't include a scientific explanation of when the unborn become conscious....
"The part of the brain associated with sensations of pain, and more generally with consciousness, is the cerebal cortex. Until 18 weeks of gestation, the cerebral cortex is not sufficiently developed for synaptic connections to take place within it -- in other words, the signals that give rise to pain in an adult are not being received. Between 18 and 25 weeks, the brain of the fetus reaches a stage at which there is some nerve transmission in those parts associated with consciousness. Even then, however, the fetus appears to be in a persistent state of sleep, and therefore may not be able to perceive pain. The fetus begins to 'wake up' at a gestational age of around 30 weeks." [Practical Ethics, by Peter Singer, pages 164 to 165. Original Resource: My account of the development of fetal sentience draws on research carried out by Susan Taiwa at the Centre for Human Biotheics, Monash University, and published as "When Is the Capacity for Sentience Acquired during Human Fetal Development?' Journal of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, vol. 1 (1992).]
The Ethics of Abortion
When it comes to the question of Abortion, my first question is the same question on any ethical matter, "Is the being in consideration conscious? Are they weary of the world's blights? Do they know the ecstasy of affection? Or are they ignorant, insomuch that such knowledge has not reached their mind, has not touched their heart?" Upon answering this question, I will be able to formulate my opinion on the case much better, but still not entirely. In those cases where the unborn fetus is not conscious, it is not at all immoral or moral to destroy it, but those women who had the courage to carry out their wishes, despite the strong opposition of their instincts -- such women are deserving of our cheers and praise. And to those women who saw a bleak future for their unborn children, they did themselves and their children a favor by exterminating before they knew what humiliation and pain were -- before they had been touched by the disease of sadness, famine of life, and poverty of society that destroyed the soul. In those cases where the unborn infant is a conscious being, capable of feeling emotions, their moral status is equaled to that of a leach, and society ought to aid the to-be mother in sustaining the conscious baby. But, if there is no society to offer comfort, or even if such comfort did little to help, and the unborn infant is causing such great duress to the mother, then it would be only the humane option to euthanize the unborn infant. This is my opinion on the matter of Abortion, so much as it is the most humane and rational opinion I could develop.
Author: Nathan Nobis
Word Count: 1000
Abortion involves the intentional killing of a fetus to end a pregnancy. These fetuses are human, biologically.1 It seems that fetuses are beings, albeit completely dependent beings: what else would they be? So, abortion involves the intentional killing of a human being. Killing human beings is often deeply wrong, so is abortion wrong? If so, when? And why? In this essay, we’ll look at some potential answers to these questions.
1. Human Organisms?
Fetuses are not just biologically alive, like cells or organs. They are lives; each is a human life. Some argue that this is because they are organisms: while hearts are parts of beings, the being is the whole organism.
Fetuses seem to be “beings” on this definition: they are complex and developing. Some thinkers argue that our being human organisms physically continuous with fetuses who were human organisms makes abortion wrong.2 They seem to argue that since it is wrong to kill us now, i.e., we have properties that make it wrong to kill us now (prima facie wrong to kill: wrong unless extreme circumstances justify the killing), it was wrong to kill us at any stage of our development, since we’ve been the same organism, the same being, throughout our existence.
While this argument is influential in some circles, it is nevertheless dubious. You are likely over three feet tall now, but weren’t always. You can reason morally, but couldn’t always. You have the right to make autonomous decisions about your own life, but didn’t always. Many examples show that just because we have some property or right now, that doesn’t entail that we’ve always had that right. This argument’s advocates need to plausibly explain why, say, the right to life is an exception to this rule.3
2. (Human) Persons?
We, readers of this essay, are human beings or lives (unless there are any extraterrestrial readers!), and it is prima facie wrong to kill us. Is the reason why it wrong to kill us because we are human beings or lives?
Perhaps not. It is wrong to kill us, arguably, because killing us prevents us from experiencing the goods of our future: accomplishments, relationships, enjoying our lives and so on. Many philosophers describe these capacities needed for experiencing our lives, present and future, in terms of us being persons.4 A theory present from at least the time of John Locke can be expressed roughly as: persons are beings with personalities: persons are conscious beings with thoughts, feelings, memories and anticipations and other psychological states. (When people insist, mistakenly, that fetuses aren’t human beings, they might be claiming that they are not human persons). If we die or even become permanently comatose, we cease to be persons, since we permanently lose consciousness.
This theory of personhood has explanatory power: it helps us understand why we are persons and how we (or our bodies) can cease to be persons. It justifies a growing belief that some non-human animals are (non-human) persons. It explains why rational space aliens, if there are any, would be (non-human) persons. It explains why divine or spiritual beings are or would be (non-human) persons.
On this theory of personhood, early fetuses are not persons. This is because their brains and nervous systems aren’t sufficiently developed and complexly interconnected enough for consciousness and personhood. The medical and scientific research reports that this developmental stage isn’t reached until after the first trimester, or, more likely, until mid-pregnancy.5 Nearly all abortions occur very early in pregnancy, killing fetuses that are not yet conscious, and so are not yet persons. Any later abortions, affecting conscious fetuses who are persons or close to it, would likely be wrong unless done for a justifying medical reason.
3. Potential Personhood?
But just because something (or someone) is not a person, that doesn’t obviously mean that it is not wrong to kill them.
If fetuses aren’t persons, they are still potential persons. (And merely potential persons are never actual persons). Does that potential give fetuses, say, the right to life or otherwise make it wrong to kill them?
If potential things have the rights of actual things, then potential adults, spouses, criminals, doctors, and judges would have the rights of actual ones. Since they don’t, it is plausible that potential personhood doesn’t yield the rights of actual personhood. At least, we are due an explanation of why it would, since potentiality never does that for anything else.
4. Valuable Futures?
Doesn’t abortion prevent a fetus from experiencing its valuable future, just like killing us does, even if it is not yet a person?6 But aren’t our futures plausibly valuable because we can, presently, look forward to our futures? Fetuses can’t look forward to their futures, and this is one important difference between their futures and our futures.
Further, a sperm-and-the-egg-it-would-fertilize arguably has a future akin to that of a fetus. Contraception (even by abstinence!) keeps this future from materializing.8 But contraception and abstinence aren’t immoral. Thus, it is not wrong to perform some action that prevents such a future from materializing.
5. The Right to Life?
Finally, suppose these arguments are all wrong and all fetuses are persons with the right to life. Does that make abortion wrong? Not necessarily. Judith Thompson famously argued in her 1971 “A Defense of Abortion”9: If I must use your kidney to stay alive, do I have a right to your kidney? No, and you don’t violate my rights if you don’t let me use it and I die. This shows that the right to life is not a right to bodies of others, even if those bodies are necessary for our lives. Fetuses, then, might not have a right to the pregnant woman’s body and so she doesn’t violate their rights by not allowing a fetus to use it. So until fetuses can be removed from women and placed in new wombs, abortion may not violate the rights of fetuses and may be permissible.
The philosophical issue of the moral status of abortion is complex. These are just a few philosophical arguments concerning the moral status of abortion. Each is worthy of further discussion and reasoned debate.
1 Unless we are doing veterinary ethics and are thinking about aborting feline or canine or other non-human fetuses.
2 This argument is developed in Beckwith (2007), and in George and Tollefsen (2008).
3 This response is developed in Boonin (2003) and in Nobis (2011)
4 This influential theory of personhood is developed in Warren (1973).
5 Lee, Susan J., et al. (2005) and Benatar and Benatar (2001)
6 This argument is developed in Marquis (1989).
7 For development of these arguments, see McMahan (2002).
8 For development of these arguments, see Norcross (1990).
9 Thomson (1971)
Beckwith, Francis J. Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case against Abortion Choice. Cambridge University Press, 2007
Benatar, David, and Michael Benatar. “A Pain in the Fetus: Toward Ending Confusion about Fetal Pain.” Bioethics 15 (2001): 57-76
Boonin, David. A Defense of Abortion. Cambridge University Press, 2003
George, Robert P., and Christopher Tollefsen. “Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.” (2008)
Lee, Susan J., et al. “Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence.” Jama 294.8 (2005): 947-954
Marquis, Don. “Why Abortion is Immoral.” The Journal of Philosophy 86.4 (1989): 183-202
McMahan, Jeff. The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life. Oxford University Press, 2002
Nobis, Nathan. “Abortion, Metaphysics and Morality: A Review of Francis Beckwith’s Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice.” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 36.3 (2011): 261-273
Norcross, Alastair. “Killing, Abortion, and Contraception: A Reply to Marquis.”The Journal of Philosophy (1990): 268-277
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “A Defense of Abortion.” Philosophy & Public Affairs(1971): 47-66
Warren, Mary Anne. “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion.” The Monist(1973): 43-61
About the Author
Nathan Nobis is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA USA, and author of many articles on topics in bioethics, including abortion. He also does a lot of home remodeling projects. Website: http://www.nathannobis.com