“The emphasis must be not on the right to abortion but on the right to privacy and reproductive control.” ~Ruth Bader Ginsberg~ There comes a time in the lives of most women, when an ovum, fertilized with sperm, will implant itself into her uterine wall. This is nature’s first step in its attempt to continue the human race. To this day, when this implantation occurs, the woman has the right to allow the embryo to nourish itself into existence or to eliminate all chances of that embryo attaining life through abortion. How could something as ancient and fundamental as reproduction turn into one of the most controversial debates in history? In order to answer this question we must first examine the intellectual psyche of the human animal. Since we are currently the most intelligent beings on Earth, we use our critical thinking capabilities to selectively choose what should be morally acceptable and what should be deemed unacceptable.
To the best of our knowledge, we as humans are the only species in existence that wrestle with moral dilemmas. Absolute morality is extremely difficult to determine since each individual has the ability to decide for themselves what is morally acceptable. It is because of this decision that our American culture intensely debates issues of morality such as abortion. The debate over abortion puts the rights of an unborn fetus against the rights of a rational woman who want to control what happens to their body and their future. Does the termination of a pregnancy deprive a human of their right to life? Abortion ought to be morally permissible because it saves the lives of many women, a fetus is not yet conscious and, therefore, not a person, and it can prevent a dreadful future for the unwanted child. In this paper, I will discuss early termination of a fetus (abortion). I will not discuss partial-birth abortion, which was banned in 2003 by President George W. Bush in the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
This Act “outlaws abortions where a fetus is partially delivered for the purpose of killing the fetus, and is unconstitutional because it does not contain an exception to preserve the health of the motherÃ¢Â?Â¦” (“Partial-birth abortion act of 2003 unconstitutional.”) My first reason for supporting the thesis states that abortion saves women’s lives. From a historical perspective, the purpose of abortion has been undoubtedly to act as a life saver for both child and mother. In the two decades before abortion was legal in America, it has been estimated that roughly five to ten thousand women per year underwent illegal abortions. During this time five hundred to one thousand women died from complications.
These rough estimates are, of course, of recorded abortions and not those done in secret. Many women underwent “back alley” abortions done by people posing as physicians. According to abortion statistics from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, about 15,000 women have had abortions each year because they become pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Fortunately, for these women, the nation’s leaders were able to stop this butcher of women. A landmark Supreme Court decision in 1973 (Roe vs. Wade) stated that a woman and her doctor may freely decide to abort a pregnancy during the first trimester, state governments can restrict abortion access after the first trimester with laws intended to protect the women’s health, and abortion after fetal viability must be available if the woman’s health or life are at risk. In other situations, state governments have the right to prohibit abortions. Abortion became authorized in the United States because the court decided to preserve the right to choose an abortion as a constitutionally protected liberty. Abortion is not as harmful as its opponents claim it to be. Instead of viewing abortion as “murder,” society as a whole must consider abortion as a necessary alternative. Abortion can save a woman’s life, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Due to the technological advances in human society, abortion today is remarkably safe and reliable. As a matter of fact, abortion today is almost twice as safe as having tonsils removed and is safer than childbirth.
Furthermore, abortion is eleven times safer than giving birth up to the 18th week of pregnancy. Complications can occur with any kind of medical procedure. Fewer than five out of a thousand women having an early abortion will suffer serious complications. Until the late 1980’s, the only available methods for performing abortion were surgical, requiring instruments to remove to products of conception from the uterus. In this decade, the introduction of a new way to conduct an abortion was introduced. This was the RU-486 sometimes known as the “day after pill”. Unlike the vacuum aspiration or curettage, RU-486 does not involve insertion of instruments into the uterus and thus poses no risk of accidental perforation and infection from unclean instruments.
Furthermore, it does not require the same degree of technical skills as the surgical techniques used to terminate pregnancy. So, in this respect, a prescriptive method of abortion poses less risk to woman than previous alternatives. With the development of mifepristone, known as RU-486 or the ‘abortion pill,’ abortion has become reliable. According to abortion statistics from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 33% of obstetricians/gynecologists who do not perform surgical abortions say they would prescribe RU-486. In addition to the reduction of risk for pregnant women, it is easier for women to use. Women who have religious reasons for avoiding or restricting termination of pregnancy may use RU-486 after fertilization has occurred but before implantation of the embryo. Abortion can save thousands of lives of women and thus, ought to be morally permissible. My second reason for supporting the thesis states that the fetus is not yet conscious and therefore, not yet a ‘person’.
A fetus is not a ‘person’; it is merely a potential person. Webster’s Dictionary lists a person as “being an individual or existing as an indivisible whole; existing as a distinct entity.” (“Person”) It is quite obvious, then, that something else must occur to make one human being different from another. There must be something else that happens to change a DNA-patterned body into a distinct person. The defining mark between something that is human and someone who is a person is consciousness It is the self-aware quality of consciousness that makes us uniquely different from others. This self-awareness, this consciousness is also what separates us from every other animal on the planet. In his article “Abortion and Infanticide”, Michael Tooley tackles two important questions about abortion. The first is, “What properties must someone have in order to be considered a person, i.e., to have a serious right to life?”(46) Tooley answers that anything which completely lacks consciousness, like ordinary machines, cannot have rights
If a being does not desire something such as consciousness, it is impossible to deprive that being of his or her right to it. In other words, Tooley argues that since a fetus does not show outward desires to have life, it is morally permissible to abort that fetus. The second question addressed by Tooley is, “At what point in the development of a member of the species Homo sapiens does the organism possess the properties that make it a person?”(316)
The law in America currently implies that the fetus possesses the properties that make it a person when it reaches the third trimester or the sixth month of its germination inside the uterus. Is this a reasonable assessment of when a fetus has a right to life? Tooley says “No”. An organism does not have a right to life unless it possesses the concept of a self as a continuous being of mental states. This definition of possessing a right to life can be applied to newborn babies that do not yet have a concept of a self as a continuous being. Therefore, it is morally acceptable to deprive them of their right to life, for they don’t show desire for life. Mary Anne Warren also examines the morality of abortion in her article titled “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion”.
She attempts to address the question “how are we to define the moral community, the set of beings with full and equal moral rights, such that we can decide whether a human fetus is a member of this community or not?” (DeGrazia, D and Mappes, T.A. 434-440) To accomplish this definition, warren lists five major criteria she believes are most central to the concept of personhood. They are: 1. Consciousness so that the being is capable of feeling pain 2. Reasoning in order to solve relatively complex problems 3. Self-motivated activity dependent of genetic or external control 4. The capacity to communicate 5. The presence of self-awareness (434-440) A being does not need to hold all five of these attributed in order to be considered a human being. If these criteria are acceptable requirements for a being to be considered human, then a fetus is definitely not human since it possesses none of these characteristics. Warren says the one exception to an entity being given human status even though they do not meet the above five criterion is someone whose “consciousness has been obliterated” (434-440), through trauma, stroke, etcÃ¢Â?Â¦ Warren classifies such a being as a defective human, not a person. These people may gain consciousness again so their right to live should not be taken away. For these reasons, abortion should be morally permissible.
My third reason for supporting the thesis states that the future of an unwanted child is sometimes, but not always, negative. Women often feel forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term; the result is an unwanted child, or children. A woman who is forced to carry out an unwanted pregnancy may be at risk. She has a greater possibility of depression and of being physically abused because she is less likely to seek early prenatal care and is more likely to use such harmful substances as tobacco and alcohol. Also, her relationship with a partner is at greater risk of dissolution. Furthermore, the mother and her partner are more likely to suffer through economic distress and fail to raise the child successfully. Some, but not all, of these children, are among society’s most tragic cases, often uncared for, unloved, brutalized, and abandoned. Of course, these are the worst case scenarios, however this is reality. When these children grow up, some will live disadvantaged lives and could possibly live a life inclined towards brutal behavior to others. This is not good for the family, their children, or for society as a whole. Why should a child that is not wanted nor loved be brought into this world?
The life of an unwanted child is not fulfilling. First, the child of an unwanted conception tends to be at greater risk of being born at low birth weight, dying in the first year of life, and lacking sufficient nutritional resources for healthy development (Luunneborg 138). Second, an unwanted pregnancy, in some cases, seems to cause impairment of social development and psychological health. An ongoing study comparing persons born as a result of an unwanted pregnancy to persons born from an expected, wanted pregnancy revealed significant differences in matched controls between the two groups on six of ten psychological adaptation measures. It was also found that these negative developmental effects persisted even almost thirty years later. When quality of life is at stake, ending a life or ending what will be a painful existence is preferable.
The quality of life is as important, if not more important, than the act of being born. Rather than a life that is destined to live a deplorable one, it is better for that life not to live one at all. The child shouldn’t have to suffer and endure such pain and tribulation. For these reasons, abortion should be morally permissible. Some pro-life activists would argue that a fetus does not become a person when he or she is conscious, self-aware, or self-motivated. They would state that a fetus is a “person” from the moment of conception. Richard Werner argues for the fetus’ right to life in his article titled “Abortion: The Ontological and Moral Status of the Unborn”. He uses the continuum argument that states “If you and I are human beings, then there is every reason to believe and no good reason to deny that the unborn are also human beings.”(201-202) Werner believes that one is a human being from the moment of conception onward and that all previously proposed cut-off points for determining when one is a human are unacceptable.
Werner says these cut-off points are unacceptable because there is no clear line that can be drawn in the human’s development from conception to adulthood that can be used to say a being does not have a right to life before that point. According to Werner, since there is a hazy period in the embryological development of a fetus where it gradually becomes a human, the fetus should be considered a human from the moment of conception onward. Since the fetus will eventually reach personhood if it is allowed sufficient time to develop, it should not be denied its opportunity for life. Many, but not all, conservatives would agree with Werner’s position. “The conservative position states that because fetuses are full human beings, abortion is never justified, except perhaps to save the mother’s life.” (Pojman 108). To strengthen his position, Werner uses the comparison of an acorn to a fetus. He states that “admittedly an acorn is not an oak, nor is an ovum or sperm cell a human, but an acorn germinating in the soil is indeed an oak and so is the impregnated ovum a human.” He uses this comparison to illustrate when he believes life begins, both for an oak tree and a human being. After the sperm and egg unite, a human is formed, just as an oak tree is formed as soon as the acorn begins to germinate. This analogy poses a difficult problem for the intelligent critic.
The acorn did not require any thought or planning to fall onto the ground and begin germination. Ideally, when a woman has unprotected intercourse, she is aware that she may be planting a seed in her uterus which may turn into a fetus. The woman has the choice to not get pregnant through abstinence whereas the acorn lacks all abilities to make a decision about whether or not to germinate. The anti-abortionist argument can be very well refuted because many professionals say the “biological” or “life” argument the anti-abortionist use is wrong. According to embryologist Charles Gardner, “The Obiological argument that a human being is created at fertilization contradicts all that we have learned in the past few decades.” (Podell 64) Another embryologist, C.R. Austin notes, “fertilization does not confer genetic uniqueness-this is achieved as a consequence of the first meiotic division, which takes place just before ovulation.” (Kamm 212) Although necessary DNA unequivocally exists for the first time at conception, C.R. Austin informs us that, “the information required to make an eye or finger does not exist in the fertilized egg. It exists in the positions and interactions of cells and molecules that will be formed only at a later time.” (Kamm 231)
Besides, if anti-abortionists are claiming that “ensoulment” takes place at conception, then what happens when identical twins are born? They grow from the same zygote, have identical DNA, and develop in the same maternal environment. So must one of every pair of identical twins lack a soul? If ensoulment were to occur at conception, there is a dilemma of one human possessing two souls. On the whole, the zygote is clearly not a prepackaged human being. Since it is quite obvious that the anti-abortionist does not have a feasible argument or if he or she does, it can be very well confuted. I believe each woman should be given the means by which they can get a safe, legal abortion if they so choose. Whatever promotes the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of already living woman should be promoted by the government. The State should not place restrictions on the woman’s right to govern what she does with her own body. Women who are desperate enough to seek an abortion are not going to abandon the idea simply because the government has declared it illegal.
They will seek out “back alley” abortions which would be unsanitary, dangerous, and possibly life threatening. The health of women cannot be put in jeopardy simply because a few bureaucrats have a moral dilemma with abortion. Because abortion is legal, it does not mean a woman is forced to abort her fetus. If a woman chooses to carry her child to term, that option is still available. However, the morality of one person should never be forced upon another. Allow people the right to be individuals and establish their own morality. If the government were to step in and attempt to regulate morality in this case, it could create an avalanche of laws concerning moral issues. This country is based on the premise of freedom, it should stay this way. “The National Organization of Woman and many radical feminists hold that since a woman has an absolute right to her own body, on which a fetus is dependent, she may do whatever is necessary to detach the fetus from her, including putting it to death.” Louis P. Pojman