Examine and comment on a philosophical approach to the moral and religious issues raised by the practice of abortion.
Abortion was not legalised in the UK until the 1960’s. However, even though it was legal, it was still viewed as socially unacceptable and many women who had abortions were stigmatised. Today, almost 50 years later, many contemporary views have changed, as a fair proportion of society has become more accepting of abortion as a ‘necessary evil’, however, many still do not accept it and the debate continues.
From a moral perspective, the first point to take into consideration is that the foetus, no matter how small, or how young it is, is still a living being, some philosophers, such as Lee Patrick, consider the life of a person to begin the moment conception takes places as it is the first point where it begins to grow and develop, so is the beginning stage on the path to sentient life.
It can also be considered wrong as the foetus is guiltless and has no purpose to be aborted, so is taking the life from an innocent. As said by the philosopher Mary Ann Warren. But should this be a punishable act?
Other philosophers argue that abortion is morally wrong because it deprives the foetus of a valuable future, on this account, killing an adult human being is wrong because it deprives the victim of a future containing highly valuable or desirable experiences and enjoyments. If a being has such a future then according to argument, killing that being would rob it of a valuable life and hence would be seriously wrong. But since a foetus does have a future, the overwhelming majority of deliberate abortions are placed in the same moral category as killing an innocent adult human. However, not all abortions are unjustified according to this argument.
However, the foetus may still have a consciousness, (or at least the capacity to feel pain) reasoning, self-motivation, the ability to communicate, and self-awareness, as displayed in many different medical cases.
Therefore, other people offer or propose a criterion, or a set of rules, to mark personhood.
The philosopher Mary Ann Warren suggests a being need not exhibit all of these criteria to qualify as a person with a right to life, but if a being exhibits none of them (or perhaps only one), then it is certainly not a person.
This concludes that as the foetus satisfies only one criterion, consciousness (and this only after it becomes susceptible to pain), according to Warren, the foetus is not a person and abortion is therefore morally permissible.
Other philosophers, like Ann Davies, apply similar criteria, concluding that a foetus lacks a right to life because it lacks self-consciousness, rationality, and autonomy. These lists disagree over precisely which features confer a right to life, but tend to propose the necessities of various developed psychological features not found in foetuses.
But these criteria can then equally apply to the severely disabled, comatose patients or human infants, which assumes their life is of as little value as a foetus and can therefore, have their lives taken as well, but obviously this is not the case as defenders of the proposed criteria may respond that the reversibly comatose patients do satisfy the relevant criteria because they still retain all their unconscious mental states.
This concedes that infants are not ‘persons’ by this proposed criteria, and on that basis it can concede that abortion therefore would be morally acceptable under some circumstances (for example if the infant is severely disabled or may cost lives).
Others argue that even if the foetus has a right to life, abortion is morally permissible because a woman has a right to control her own body. The best known variant of this argument draws an analogy between forcing a woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy and forcing a person’s body to be used as a dialysis machine for another person suffering from kidney failure. It is argued that just as it would be permissible to ‘unplug’ and thereby cause the death of the person who is using one’s kidneys, so it is permissible to abort the foetus (who, similarly, it is said, has no right to use one’s body against one’s will).
There are though, many cases where at first glance one might disregard abortion, however upon closer inspection one might give serious consideration to it. Some of these cases include if there is a serious medical problem such as if the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the mother, there are too many foetuses in the womb for them all to survive or the foetus is so defective that it will die later in the pregnancy or shortly after birth.
Or cases where the child will suffer from some mental or physical abnormality that the parents think will very seriously damage its quality of life.
But who is to decide that this quality of life is one the fetus cannot adapt to, or even recover from?
This can also apply to cases where the pregnancy is entirely unintentional like pregnancy caused by rape, pregnancy caused by failure of contraception where the potential parents are not to blame, and pregnancy caused by an unprofessional vasectomy .
Further cases where the pregnancy is unintentional but where a risk was taken such as pregnancy caused by failure of contraception within the known risk that contraceptive method, pregnancy caused by carelessness in the use of contraception, pregnancy caused by failure to use contraception.
Also, cases where the pregnancy has lifestyle consequences such as having a child would prevent the mother achieving some life objective, the mother is incapable of looking after the child, there is not enough food to support the child, having another child would result in criminal proceedings against the parent, and coping with the child’s disability would damage the family’s lifestyle.
Situation ethics can be applied to such cases as these. This is a Christian ethical theory, some developed by Joseph Fletcher, which states that sometimes moral principles can be ignored if following the approach to find the most loving outcome, so therefore in the case of abortion depending on the mother and father’s situation, and if having the baby would produce more love by keeping it, then it would be the right choice not to abort it.
However, some of these cases, it could be said, do not all have to result in a abortion, as the parents must feel some other moral obligation to take full responsibility for their actions.
From a religious point of view, for most Christians, abortion is considered morally wrong no matter what because it is killing one of Gods children so is classed as murder, going against the Ten Commandments, (“Thou shalt not murder”) which are the absolute law Christians should follow.
There are very few direct references to abortion in the bible. It does include two phrases which can be applied to abortion though, these are;
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.
These suggest that as God created the baby in the mother’s womb, to kill it would be denying God.
None of the Christian Churches believe that abortion should be encouraged and most agree that it should only be used in the most serious circumstances.
The Roman Catholic Church however, believes it is never justified, although it accepts that a pregnancy may end as the result of a necessary medical treatment given to a woman, named the double effect.
The Roman Catholic teaching that the foetus is a human being from the moment of conception, and that its rights to life are equal to that of the mother’s, is based on two theories. The first is Ensoulment. In the 13th century Thomas Aquinas argued that the male foetus becomes a human being at 40 days and the female at 90 days after conception. The second is Quickening. This is the time that the baby first moves in the womb. It is supported by the experience of John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth, described in the Bible; “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit”
In early 2007, the Pope declared that Catholics should not have abortions under any circumstances as every pregnancy is planned as a result of God, and he believes that life begins at conception so is classed as murder. However, some Catholics do believe that abortions must be allowed in some situations.
The Church of England does not agree with abortion. It does however, accept its necessity under some conditions (such as if the pregnancy was caused by rape, if the pregnancy will endanger the life of the mother or if the child will be born handicapped), it can be considered the less of two evils.
The United Methodist Church upholds the idea that church doctrine should not interfere with secular abortion laws. In light of grave or socio-economic circumstances, the Methodist Church believes in the right of the mother to choose whether to have an abortion, and is thus often regarded as pro-choice. Therefore, Methodists also do not agree wholly with abortion, however, they do agree with it in certain circumstances (such as, if the pregnancy will affect the life of the mother, if the child will be born handicapped or under social conditions, such as if the birth would severely reduce the living conditions of existing children), most of which are similar to those considered acceptable by the Church of England.
Other Churches such as the Anglican Church and the Religious Society of Friends, believe that although abortion should not be encouraged, they feel that under certain circumstances it can be justified. Such as if the pregnancy would threaten the life of the mother, where the mother has been raped, where the foetus is at risk of being seriously handicapped.
Overall from a religious point of view, abortion is only considered right under very severe circumstances, or not considered at all.
In conclusion, there are very few differences in view on abortion, from a moral and religious perspective, and both points of view consider abortion as an unacceptable action, unless the reason for doing it produces the least pain or is the best moral outcome.
However, the religious view of abortion is much more strict than that from a moral perspective as the moral view tend to sympathise with the mother a lot more, whereas the religious outlook is that abortion is still murder, which is going against God, so must be not be taken lightly.