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Abortion has been the source of considerable debate for many years. Most people feel strongly one way or another, which makes it a pretty heated topic of conversation. The fight between pro-life and pro-choice is an ongoing battle and the ethical dilemma within this controversy is far more complicated then it appears. Most people believe in one of two things; either they believe it is an immoral act to kill a baby regardless of the situation and they prescribe to the pro-life platform or they believe it is a woman’s body and therefore, she has the right to do what she wants with it, to which these people would prescribe to the pro-choice platform.
An individual’s opinion on the complex ethical, moral, and philosophical issues, such as abortion, is often related to his or her value system. People act for many reasons; but for whom, or what, do or should they act – for themselves, for God, for others or for the good of the planet?
In this paper I will attempt to describe two different ethical issues: Egoism and Divine Command Ethics.
I will discuss how egoism is all about one’s own self interest but not always what one wants and how divine command ethics is based on God, religion and the devices we get our spiritual advice from, like the Bible. I will also discuss how these two ethical issues are drastically different in deciding right from wrong and therefore create a lot of gray area between the two of them when it comes to creating a value system to live by.
I will talk about how these two ethical theories would look at abortion and where they would fall on the scale of right and wrong in my opinion. And lastly I will discuss my own personal view on the issue of abortion.
First let’s take a look at abortion from an egoism point of view. Ethical egoism is faced with one concern when it comes to the topic of abortion and that is looking out for number one. In the words of Barbara MacKinnon (33) 1, “I ought to look out for my own interests. I ought to be concerned with others only to the extent that this also contributes to my own interests.”
Ethical egoism does not, however, require you to harm the interests and well-being of others when making a moral resolution. Individuality allows for others’ interest and well-being to be disregarded or not, as long as what is chosen is capable of satisfying the self-interest of person making the decision. Ethical egoism also does not necessarily mean that by pursuing self-interest, one should always do what they want, when they want. For example, fulfillment of the short-term desires may prove detrimental to the self in the long run. Fleeting pleasure, then, takes a back seat to prolonged happiness.
Abortion is a tricky ethical issue when it comes to doing what’s best for the mom. Of course it’s not all black and white. The obvious reason to have an abortion according to ethical egoism is if the mother’s life would be at risk to deliver the baby. But then there’s the not so obvious; the emotional stability or financial security issues that arise. For instance, if a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, would it do more harm to keep the baby and re-live the rape several times over or to have an abortion which has plenty of psychological side effects in itself? Or if it’s a teenager that would be put out on the streets if she decided to keep the baby, would it be better for her to find her own way in life and struggle to make ends meet for herself and a baby or would it benefit her to have an abortion. Some people seem to come through an abortion unchanged. While others, according to Dr. Martha Shuping2, deal with the psychological after affects of abortions that can range from feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, helplessness, grief and/or remorse; uncontrollable crying; feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment; feelings of distrust and betrayal; lowered self-esteem; avoidance of babies, small children, or anything to do with pregnancy; fear of future pregnancies or, alternatively, a desire to have a “replacement” baby; flashbacks to the abortion experience; nightmares or sleeping disorders; depression; sexual dysfunction; eating disorders; substance abuse; self-destructive behavior; broken or abusive relationships; problems bonding with other children; suicidal thoughts or tendencies; and other problems.2
Therefore when faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to have an abortion or not, according to egoism, one must first ask themselves several questions to do a self assessment to find out exactly what is the best path for them in the long run. Questions like; Am I ready to put my personal goals on hold to care for a child? Am I attached to this unborn child in any way? Do I ever want to have kids? Would I be a good parent without the support of others? Or can I live with my decision for the rest of my life? Knowing the right course of our lives isn’t always clear. Therefore egoism is not a concrete method for decision making, as far as I’m concerned
These questions bring me to my next topic, Divine Command Theory. This theory is based on something other than needs or wants of the self. It is based on rules put in place by God. With the use of the Bible we are taught these rules. The Bible does not use the word “abortion.” But the Bible does let us know that every life is precious to God. “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)3
Although the Bible does not use the terms “abortion” or “pro-life,” does that mean God doesn’t care about abortion? Not at all. There are countless wrong things that are not mentioned by name in the Bible. But rather than list everything that would be against God’s will, the Bible gives us guidelines and principles that we can apply to the issues that come up in our lives. If we have set rules to follow, would that make determining our self interest easier?
Let’s go back to the woman who has to make the very difficult decision of whether or not to abort her unborn child. If she followed the Divine Command theory she might have done things differently. She might not have based her decision on self interest, nor on consequences, but rather on something higher, like God. This woman might feel as if she became pregnant for a reason and that God has given her this child as a blessing. Therefore it wouldn’t be a hard thinking process of determining what’s best for you as much as it being positive impact on her life. It’s meant to be, so to speak. Much like all theory’s, we are still faced with a criticism, for example; how can we base a life altering decision on the belief that there is a higher power? Or what if the person in the situation does not believe in a higher power?
Both of these situations determine very different outcomes and very different viewpoints, but how do we know which theory can be considered ethically moral? There are glaring reasons for why one might think abortion is the answer; for instance, imminent harm to the mother, being raped, or not having the resources to start a family. It is also obvious why some may consider abortion to be morally repugnant, whether the reasons are based on religion, and the value of life or anything else for that matter. The truth is that each one of us must ultimately decide how we feel about abortion. So, the question remains, pro-life or pro-choice?
I personally feel that it should be illegal to kill an unborn child. I believe that having a baby is a gift from God and that if you are sexually irresponsible an abortion should not be an escape from taking responsibility for your actions. In certain scenarios, like impending detriment to the mother, being faced with having a child be born with an abnormality or having to have the child of a man who raped you, I will concede that I understand why there would be a dilemma but I still believe that killing the child is not the answer. If you can’t handle it then give the baby up for adoption but murder is murder regardless. What about those who act carelessly because they know in the back of their minds that they have another alternative if something should go unplanned? For example; there are many teens that become pregnant because of carelessness. If these young girls knew that if they became pregnant, they had no option but to keep the child, would they be more careful? Absolutely! Personally, I think that’s what’s wrong with the world today; people have too many ways of getting out of a hard situation and no longer have to take responsibility for their actions.
Ethical Egoism is a theory that allows us to put our own interests first, it allows us to have a second chance, or consider an alternate life. Divine Command theory does the exact opposite, it opens our eyes to the blessing that a new life is, it leads us to believe that morality is based on God and the child was given to us as a gift. It also allows us to believe that if our child had an abnormality of any kind, that it was meant to be and that that is what makes our child special. It forces us to believe that abortion would be wrong or immoral because the child was sent to us for a reason. So can abortion be ethical? In my opinion, no, there is never a reason that would make it ethical.
In conclusion, my research leads me to believe that while we have many different theories to agree or disagree with, abortion is a controversy that will continue to be around for a very long time. As long as there are people on this earth there will be opinions that differ from one another. Some are held quietly in our inner most thoughts, while others we feel are important enough to stand up and fight for.
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