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Relativism and the Moral Acceptance of Abortions

Abortion is the act of killing a fetus that is still in the womb. Women choose to abort their baby/babies for many reasons, and according to the law in Texas, women can abort their babies up until they are 20 weeks old. People who are directly opposed to abortion being legal are known as pro-life, and people who approach the topic with free choice are known as pro-choice. This ethical issue can be dissected using the moral theory called relativism. Relativism “… claims that the correct moral standards are those endorsed by each individual.

” (Shafer-Landau, 293) After thinking about this claim by relativism, the all in all truth is that any individual can think something is right or wrong, and it be morally correct or incorrect. There is no set moral code in relativism. This meaning if an individual believes murder is morally right, then murder is morally right. If relativism is true, the act of aborting a fetus is morally correct, and the opposite view of this is also morally correct.

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If relativism is true, “… each person’s moral standards are equally plausible.” (Shafer-Landau, 293) I will expose the instability of the theory of relativism by going into depth about abortion and its opposing views. According to theory of relativism, both the view of pro-life and pro-choice are morally correct, but in this paper, I will provide an argument that shows that pro-choice is a more suitable position due to the basic human need of autonomy.

Before Roe vs. Wade, laws throughout The United States differed from state to state drastically.

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In 1967, Colorado was the first state to allow abortions in certain circumstances. After this change, many states followed in Colorado’s footsteps by having made specific regulations regarding allowing abortion including but not excluding: how far along a pregnant woman was, mental and physical health of woman, or in circumstances with rape or incest. One major story which did not carry a court case, is the story of Sherri Finkbine from 1962. Sherri Finkbine is a woman from Arizona who was taking a sleeping pill called thalidomide. This sleeping pill at the time was known to leave developing fetuses with major deformities. After her doctor advising her to get an abortion due to the very likely chance of her baby being born with deformities, she put a petition in with the medical board of her hospital. While waiting on confirmation of her ability to get an abortion legally, Finkbine contacted the media to inform citizens of the dangers of this drug and pregnant women. When the medical board caught wind of the media scandal, they denied Finkbine the right to an abortion. Finkbine was forced to find a doctor to perform the abortion out of the country, and after visiting many places throughout Europe and Asia, she came across a doctor in Sweden to do the abortion. Finkbine’s journey was seen to put a start to the American Abortion Reform Movement and inevitably leading to the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. (Norman)

“The U.S. Supreme Court issued the Roe v. Wade ruling on January 22,1973. This ruling allowed women legal access to abortion services and placed the abortion decision in the hands of the woman and her physician. The court ruled that at no time could a state intervene during the first trimester of pregnancy; however a state could adopt some regulations during the second trimester only for the purpose of protecting the maternal health of the woman. From the third trimester on, a state could control access to abortion services as long as the life and health of the woman were still taken into account.” (Bahoh, Carolyn)

Roe v. Wade is the standing decision for the United States on abortion.

Pro-choice is the view of abortion that the mother should have the choice whether to get an abortion. The main idea of Pro-choice is the idea that it is the woman’s body therefore it is the woman’s choice. This is known as a woman’s bodily rights, and if a woman is denied the right to abort a fetus in their own body, they are being denied their bodily rights. (Ethics-Abortion). The argument is: a woman can say what she does with her own body, a woman carries the fetus, a woman can decide to keep fetus or abort fetus, therefore a woman has the right to abort the fetus if she feels the need to. (Ethics-Abortion) Another argument for the view of Pro-choice is that taking away a woman’s ability to have an abortion is detrimental to equality among men and women. Since men are not able to get pregnant, they do not have to worry about taking care of a child. “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” (, Ethics – Abortion: Arguments in Favour of Abortion)

There are other people who do not believe abortion should be allowed, and these people’s views are known as Pro-life. The argument for Pro-life is that the fetus is an individual different from its mother, so the mother should not have a say in whether the fetus will live or not.

Patrick Lee formulates the ‘pro-life argument from substantial identity’: (1) we are essentially human organisms; (2) human organisms begin to exist at conception; (3) we essentially have a right to life; so (4) our right to life begins at conception. (Stretton)

It is argued that it is morally wrong to kill a fetus because they deserve the same rights as someone who is already born starting the day they were conceived. The right to life is the only logical argument for Pro-life views without involving religion or personal opinions.

Relativism is the view that everyone has their own set of moral codes, and these codes are morally correct. Each individual, according to relativism, has their own set of values, and this is where their moral codes are stemmed from. Each person has their own depiction of what is right and wrong, and ultimately their view is correct. There are no moral truths according to relativism, so the morally accepted fact that murdering people is wrong, in other ethical theories, would be subjective to everyone. “Ethical subjectivism is a doctrine of moral equivalence; everyone’s basic moral views are as plausible as everyone else’s.” (Shafer-Landau, 296) With relativism there is no possible way to judge any moral claims that anyone makes. All positions when being related to relativism, are equal, and neither are righter or more wrong than the other. This is the main problem with relativism, for it will not resolve any ethical debate. Each side of the ethical debate is right according to relativism. One criticism of relativism is that no person can make moral progress. We make moral progress “…when our actions become morally better than they used to be.” (Shafer-Landau, 297) This has happened throughout history, for example, the better acceptance of gay rights and a person’s right to autonomy. A relativist cannot measure moral progress, for there is no basic moral codes to base growth off. To a relativist moral rules are determined by everyone’s values. (Shafer-Landau, 297) If relativism is true, then there has been no moral growth in society when we have become more accepting of gay rights. We are still the same morally as we were when homosexuals were being persecuted. To see society as the same as it was 100 years is impossible, and it makes accepting relativism very difficult.

Since a relativist claims that what is right or wrong is determined by each individual themselves, someone who’s values contribute to the belief that pro-choice is right then it is right; also, someone who’s values contribute to the belief that pro-life is right then it is right. Relativism cannot resolve this ethical dilemma, for each belief is correct due to each person’s outlook. When pertaining to relativism, I cannot ethically resolve any debate. I will argue why the view of pro-choice is more right compared to pro-life.

We should be pro-choice because everyone deserves the right to privacy and the right to autonomy (pursuing life with one’s own will). This extends to women who become pregnant and do not wish to have a child. With a child being forced onto a woman, this directly disturbs her ability to actively choose what she does in her life. This with many women adds extra burdens to her life such as not being able to continue: school, working, or anything a child would not be appropriate accompanying the mother. This could easily push a woman into poverty while trying to maintain a child and her already existing life. Women are naturally held responsible when they get pregnant, and most people seem to forget that men also play a very important role in conception. If a woman gets pregnant, and they are forced to keep the child, they are held responsible for that child. It is common for a man to be an absent father, and as terrible as it seems, socially acceptable. Since this is the case, women should have the right to determine if they have a baby or not.


  1. Bahoh, Carolyn. Examining the Experiences of Women Who Underwent Illegal Abortions Pre Roe v. Wade. Order No. 3358384 Alliant International University, San Francisco Bay, 2009 Ann ArborProQuest. 12 Oct. 2018
  2. “Ethics – Abortion: Arguments in Favour of Abortion.” BBC, BBC, 2014,
  4. Norman, Abby. “How One Woman’s Struggle Opened The Door For American Abortion Rights.” All That’s Interesting, All That’s Interesting, 18 Dec. 2017,
  5. Stretton, Dean. “Essential Properties and the Right to Life: A Response to Lee.” Bioethics, vol. 18, no. 3, 2004, pp. 264–282., doi:10.1111/j.1467-8519.2004.00394.x.

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Relativism and the Moral Acceptance of Abortions. (2021, Mar 18). Retrieved from

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