The moral question on both sides of the abortion argument is when a fetus achieves personhood and is awarded moral status thus granting it rights. Does the fetus have a right to life at the use of the mother or does the mother’s choice for autonomy over her body take precedence over the fetus? How do we begin to answer this highly debated question and what conclusions can be made that have the most logical ethical answer?
The difficulty in answering the issue of fetal personhood is that there is not one concrete indication of when that actually occurs in pregnancy. Pro- Life supports the position that personhood occurs immediately at conception thus granting the fetus full rights as a person born. In contrast Pro-Choice reinforces the mother’s rights to her own personhood and her choice to be autonomous from the fetus.
The main ethical issue up for debate is whether society can infringe upon a person’s right to personal bodily security for the purpose to save the life of another. Should anyone or any entity force a person to give up their decision to do what they seem fit with their own body? How would that affect a woman’s right to her reproductive liberty? What precedents does that set forth for the future for women?
IN SUPPORT OF PRO CHOICE
The nature of abortion rights can be broken out into three different perspectives; the protection of unwanted social parenthood; the unwanted genetic parenthood and the right to bodily autonomy. (Manninen 36)
The burdens of social parenthood weigh heavily on the woman who is forced to endure a pregnancy. These burdens can be detrimental to mental and physical health and psychological harm is likely to damage the child that is brought into a situation not fully embracing or prepared to care for its needs.
Through abortion, a woman has the right to prevent the existence of a child with her genetic characteristics. It is an essential part of her overall reproductive liberty to have either the right to or the right not to conceive children. (Manninen 37) However, once a child is born, then it becomes a moral subject with its full entitlement to personhood and you cannot kill a child with your genetic characteristics or to avoid the responsibility of social parenting.
Judith Jarvis Thomson’s thesis gives us a graphic description of a violinist who without your consent, is attached to you and relies upon you for his/her life. Are you morally obligated to submit to the unwanted bodily intrusion in order to support the life of another person? The clear answer to this question is “No.” A person is under no moral obligation whatsoever to use his body to sustain the life of another at the compromise of his own. The concept of forced violations of bodily autonomy is morally indefensible. This has nothing to do with the value of the fetus in general but the right not to be subject to the intrusion as the right to your body is exclusively yours.
To make abortion illegal is to force pregnant women to surrender their own bodies to provide another human being all its needs for survival. Using Kantian moral philosophy, with specific attention to the second principle of the categorical imperative that describes using people as mere means to an end; aren’t the pregnant women being used? (Manninen 40) The women essentially become hosts to the fetuses and are used to cultivate life. How can the forced use of women’s bodies be a moral act?
A blastocyst or a human zygote does not have the full characteristics of what human beings have. It cannot function on its own, communicate or have a consciousness attributed to it. It merely possesses the potential to form into personhood and ultimately a human life. If we cannot pinpoint the exactness of when a fetus achieves personhood, how can we correlate the crime of murder to something that hasn’t had a life? No actual person is harmed by having an abortion so there is no reason that the act in itself is morally bad.
IN SUPPORT OF PRO LIFE
Pro Life gains its understanding through what is commonly known as the substance view. This means that human life is valued for the type of thing it is from the moment of conception to its ultimate demise. Human beings are considered rational moral agents that are consistent with its original substance but possess capabilities that give it the ability to function. (Beckwith 33)
Since human beings are considered living organisms, as substances they maintain their identity throughout the process of their life regardless of the physical changes that occur. Thus human beings are always considered persons because of their potential to develop abilities. In addition, humans are also considered persons even if the potential never actualizes because their overall substance. (Beckwith 36)
The substance theory extends not only to the unborn fetus, but to other humans who for whatever reason are prevented from exercising their capabilities as a functioning person. These types of persons have similar parallels to the unborn because they have achieved personhood and full moral status simply because of being human. The rationale behind the substance theory is if it is permissible to kill the unborn fetus then it is equally permissible to kill a person unable to exercise their capabilities as a functioning person. Thus abortion is morally wrong.
Another argument in the abortion debate is the precise moment when personhood is achieved. The Pro-Life position stems from the moment of conception because the zygote contains all of the chromosomes for human life. Some of the chromosomes have not been used yet since human life is in its beginning stages and does not require all of them at this time. However, the zygote contains all of the chromosomes and or genetic instructions to form a human’s physical, psychological, emotional, needs from the moment of conception.
In addition to the scientific perspective to the pro-life position is the religious perspective that a higher power, God, created all life and humans do not have a right to take the power of God in their hands and destroy it. People who have this theory base it off the teachings of Scripture contained within the Bible. An example passage is:
Psalm 139 again makes clear that the fetus (unborn baby) is a human whom God loves. And God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5). God had plans for Jeremiah even while he was in his mother’s womb.
Pro-life supporters interpret these biblical passages to be God’s direct and absolute view of the validity when human life begins thus giving a Divine definite determination that personhood is achieved at conception. Therefore since the fetus is considered a person, abortion is considered murdering a person and is ultimately wrong in the eyes of God.
When it comes to the topic of Abortion, my views align with the moderate view. I neither condemn nor condone abortion but my belief aligns itself with the reasoning that a woman has a right to choose what happens in her own individual body. The mother’s rights to autonomy must be preserved at all costs. No woman should be forced to surrender her body in order to provide another human being its needs to survive.
Without this fundamental protection securely in place, it sets a dangerous precedent for the abuse of women. It can be argued that if a woman must give up her body to sustain the life of another when it comes to reproductive rights, what about the means of other bodily rights such as organ donation, bone marrow extraction and other harvesting means? To reverse the pro-choice decision is reducing women from being independent beings to being merely hosts and have less rights then the potential for a human has.
In addition, no woman should be forced to continue with a pregnancy she does not want, can cause her medical harm, or is a result of a violent crime. The physical and psychological damage that can be inflicted from forcing women to continue with unwanted pregnancies is too horrible to consider.
As a mother to three children, I certainly do know the varying physical changes as a result of pregnancy. I can say that with my first child, I hardly noticed that I was pregnant. I did not experience any negative side effects and continued with my daily activities as if nothing ever happened. It wasn’t until I was able to hear the heart beat or see the fetus on the ultrasound screen did the potential for the pregnancy became real for me.
I use the word potential because until the child is born, many things can go wrong with the pregnancy resulting in natural miscarriage. There has to be a certain environment with favorable variables for a pregnancy to progress into a full born infant. Science does not have the capability to determine if a pregnancy will be 100% successful but it does give a great success probability. As such, it was important for me to keep in perspective that although I was deemed pregnant with a child, that child is not fully realized until it is born and I am holding it in my hand.
If, for whatever reason a woman chooses not to continue with her pregnancy, then I believe it ideally would be best to perform the abortion as early as possible most certainly before 12 weeks. There are many tests that can be performed to detect if the fetus has any genetic defects that could affect its overall life. Plus the timeframe is more than sufficient to personally determine if the pregnancy should continue. My choice for a timeframe has nothing to do with the determination of when a fetus achieves personhood with moral status, but more of a compassionate opinion in that by aborting earlier, the mother doesn’t develop a strong attachment to the potential of the fetus.
My opinion does not mean to allow for a woman to use an abortion as a means to birth control. I believe that since a woman has the reproductive capability to cultivate potential life, with that capability encompasses a tremendous amount of responsibility. There should be available and economical birth control measures put in place to prevent the abortion procedure entirely. Abortion should be used as a last measure towards preventing an unwanted pregnancy.
RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS
Since the early 1980s, groups opposed to abortion have attempted to document the existence of “post-abortion syndrome,” which they claim has traits similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) demonstrated by some war veterans. In 1989, the American Psychological Association (APA) convened a panel of psychologists with extensive experience in this field to review the data. They reported that the studies with the most scientifically rigorous research designs consistently found no trace of “post-abortion syndrome” and furthermore, that no such syndrome is scientifically or medically recognized.
The panel concluded that “research with diverse samples, different measures of response and different times of assessment have come to similar conclusions. The time of greatest distress is likely to be before the abortion. Severe negative reactions after abortions are rare and can best be understood in the framework of coping with normal life stress.” While some women may experience sensations of regret, sadness or guilt after an abortion, the overwhelming responses are relief and happiness.
In another study, researchers surveyed a national sample of 5,295 women, not all of whom had had abortions, and many of whom had abortions between 1979 and 1987, the time they were involved in the study. The researchers were able to learn about women’s emotional well-being both before and after they had abortions. They concluded at the end of the eight-year study that the most important predictor of emotional well-being in post-abortion women was their well-being before the abortion. Women who had high self-esteem before an abortion would be most likely to have high self-esteem after an abortion, regardless of how many years passed since the abortion.
Psychological responses to abortion must also be considered in comparison to the psychological impact of alternatives for resolving an unwanted pregnancy (adoption or becoming a parent). While there has been little scientific research about the psychological consequences of adoption, researchers speculate that it is likely “that the psychological risks for adoption are higher for women than those for abortion because they reflect different types of stress. Stress associated with abortion is acute stress, typically ending with the procedure. With adoption, as with unwanted childbearing, however, the stress may be chronic for women who continue to worry about the fate of the child.” (Abortion Myths)
ETHICAL POSITION CONSISTENT WITH MY PERSONAL POSITION
I believe that my ethical position is in agreement with Judith Jarvis Thomson’s Feminism perspective in support of the rights of the mother over the rights of the fetus. She brilliantly explains in a rational and logical way that the mother deserves her status of personhood and bodily autonomy over that of the fetus.
The only entitlement that the fetus has is the claim over its own body and not the mothers. “The pregnant woman owes no such duty to the fetus, unless she has affirmatively assumed the responsibility of carrying it to term, in which case she has assumed duty to avoid harming that fetus. Until that point, however, there is no duty, and the pregnant woman cannot be said to have breached a duty by aborting the fetus.” (Flicker 2) [pic]
Since women posses the exclusive right to cultivate a potential life inside their bodies, it deems an increased level of responsibility to protect the possibility of that happening. Thompson thus argued that if a woman takes reasonable steps to avoid pregnancy she should not be held responsible for the pregnancy, and has the right to choose and have an abortion. I believe that to be true as well. With all the options for contraception available to women, responsible methods can be used for the prevention of pregnancy. Since nothing but abstinence is 100% effective and women are entitled to enjoy the healthy aspects of sexual intercourse, if an unwanted pregnancy does occur and responsible measures failed to prevent the pregnancy, then a woman is absolutely entitled to make informed decisions about the use of her own body and chose abortion.
My perspective also coincides with Preference Utilitarianism which defines the moral course of action is the one that results in the most preference satisfaction. With regards to abortion, fetuses do not possess the ability for preferences, therefore only the mothers have that ability thus their rights to personhood and bodily autonomy outweight the interest of the fetus. Thus abortion is morally allowable.
Manninen, Bertha Alvarez. “Rethinking Roe V. Wade: Defending The Abortion Right In The Face Of Contemporary Opposition.” American Journal Of Bioethics 10.12 (2010): 33-46. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 June 2012.
Beckwith, Francis J. “The Explanatory Power Of The Substance View Of Persons.” Christian Bioethics: Non-Ecumenical Studies In Medical Morality 10.1 (2004): 33-54. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 June 2012.
Thomson, Judith J. “A Defense of Abortion, “From Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1971): 47-66 Copyright © 1971 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Reproduced by permission of Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Flicker, Lauren Sydney. “Pregnancy Is Not A Crime.” American Journal Of Bioethics 10.12 (2010): 54-55. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 June 2012.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. Worldwide: Biblicia, 2011. Print
“Abortion Myths.” National Abortion Federation, n.p. 2010 Web. 26 June 2012. ———————–
 American Psychological Association. “APA research review finds no evidence of ‘post-abortion syndrome’ but research studies on psychological effects of abortion inconclusive.” Press release, January 18, 1989.
 Adler NE, et al. “Psychological responses after abortion.” Science, April 1990, 248: 41-44.
 Adler NE, et al. “Psychological factors in abortion: a review.” American Psychologist, 1992, 47(10): 1194-1204.
 Russo NF, Zierk KL. “Abortion, childbearing, and women’s well-being.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 1992, 23(4): 269-280.
 Russo NF. “Psychologicalaspects of unwanted pregnancy and its resolution.” In J.D. Butler and D.F. Walbert (eds.), Abortion, Medicine, and the Law (4th Ed., pp. 593-626). New York: Facts on File, 1992.
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