In 1973, there was a famous case known as the Roe vs. Wade that shook the nation. Jane Roe (pseudonym), who was a single pregnant woman, was denied of an abortion and filed a lawsuit arguing that women should have the right to terminate their pregnancy. The Supreme Court came to the conclusion that the Constitution protects the citizen’s right to privacy, and that would include the woman’s right to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy or not (Oyez, “Roe vs. Wade”). Although abortion has been legalized for decades, people are still debating whether this is ethical or not. There are two sides to this debate – pro-choice and pro-life – depending on their worldview and value system. Pro-choice is the side that argues that abortion should be legalized to protect the mother’s safety and her right to autonomy. Pro-life argues that abortion is an act of murder and should not be legalized. The big question that is being asked is “is abortion killing an innocent life?” If not, there is no ethical problem to be dealt with. But if it is, it is morally wrong and cannot be justified. While these two opposing views argue that that they are right and the other side is wrong, relativists would say that they are both right. This view stating that truth is subjective is called relativism. In their world, abortion can be right and it can also be wrong; however, that is not true in reality. By examining the ethical issue surrounding abortion, I will present the argument of relativism as flawed and illogical.
Abortion is “the removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy” (Dictionary.com, “Abortion”). Abortion was an ongoing activity even before it was legalized in 1973. In the 1800s, it was widely practiced and was legal before “quickening,” which is a when the mother first detects the fetus’ movement. Then, in 1821, with Connecticut passing a law restricting abortion, there was a movement throughout the 1900s, led by the American Medical Association partnered with religious groups, to outlaw abortion at any stage of pregnancy, except when the mother’s life was at risk. This was an effort to eliminate competition with midwives and homeopaths (Origins, “From Commonplace to Controversial”). This restriction did not stop abortion. Instead, pregnant women sought out more dangerous methods or “back-alley” abortion to terminate their pregnancy. It is reported that about 15,000 women died each year from abortion because safe procedures were not available to them (Truthout, “Abortion is as old as Pregnancy”). When the danger and the negative effects the restriction on abortion have been more widely known, women began to fight for their right to abortion more actively. Finally in 1973, through the Roe vs. Wade case (mentioned in the previous paragraph), abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy was legalized (Findlaw, “How did Abortion Become Legal?”). But, the ethical issue of abortion is an ongoing debate even to this day.
People defending the right to abortion are known as pro-choice. Their focus is rights and the wellbeing of the women. Many women decide to have an abortion because they cannot afford to have a child, as 75% of the women having abortion are poor or low-income, having a child would interfere with their education, work, or other responsibilities, or they did not want to be single parents (Guttmacher Institute, “Induced Abortion in the United States”). Pro-Choice America says, “The right to choose abortion is essential to ensuring a woman can decide for herself if, when and with whom to start or grow a family. We’ll never stop fighting to protect and expand this fundamental human right” (NARAL Pro-Choice America, “Abortion Access”). Pro-choice activists believe that abortion will allow women greater freedom and control over bettering the quality of their lives. To defend their stance, they have argued against the accusation that abortion is murder saying that a fertilized egg is not a human being. They claim that a fetus cannot feel pain until it is at least 24 weeks old because their brain and nerves have not been fully developed and cannot sustain its own life (Harper’s BAAZAR, “Abortion Is Not Murder”). Therefore, they concluded that abortion is not equivalent to killing a human life.
Opposing this view is the pro-life group, fighting to protect the unborn life. They believe abortion is an immoral act that is taking away human life. Pro-life is not an anti-feminism movement that is against women. It is a group that advocates for the fetus, a small and undeveloped human being that cannot defend itself. Many people think that those who take on anti-abortion stance are religious people, but religious people only make up a portion of this group. Pro-life argues that human life begins at conception because the zygote contains genetic material that is able to be developed into a full human being (Family Research Council, “The Best Pro-Life Arguments”). Another support is that “it fulfills the four criteria needed to establish biological life: metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.” If a zygote is human life, then clearly, abortion would be equivalent to murder, which is undeniably wrong. Randy Alcorn’s quote summarizes this stance saying, “Something nonhuman doesn’t become human by getting older or bigger; whatever is human is human from the beginning” (Human Coalition, “Human from the Beginning”).
One way to look at this issue is through an ethical theory called relativism. Relativism says that truth is relative and subjective, meaning, morality is defined by each individual. There is no absolute truth, or a point of reference to what is right and wrong. Relativists say, “morality is a human construct – we make it up – and like the law, or like standards of taste, there is no uniquely correct set of rules to follow” (Shafer-Landau, 293). Just as someone might prefer chocolate over vanilla, one can prefer stealing over purchasing an item. If one person says that murdering an innocent person is morally wrong and another person says that it is morally right, they would be both right because truth is personal and subjective. The moral standard each person set up would be infallible because there is no basis of evaluating truth. Basically, anything goes and nothing can be wrong.
Relativism may appear as a peaceful, tolerating, and freeing view, but the problem with relativism is that its illogical argument only creates conflict by removing boundaries. First problem to note is the contradiction of this worldview. Relativism states that there is no absolute, but this statement itself is an absolute, which opposes the fundamental idea of relativism. It is self-defeating and unreasonable, unable to formulate a logical argument for this. Another problem is the contradiction with reality. Without much analyzing and by just observing the world, people, even little kids, have an idea that there is a clear right and wrong. That is because they understand the inherent value of people. For example, people will agree that murdering an innocent person is morally wrong because it is undermining a human’s inherent value and life. “This is the Achilles’ heel of ethical relativism—it leaves us with no standards, only conflicting opinions and subjective value judgments” (Noebel, 129). Not only is it frustrating, but it is also very dangerous to apply this idea in our society. Our hands can either build or destroy. It is absurb and dangerous to let momentary feelings, convenience, preferances, and limited perception determine the consequences of our action. Relativism not only allows any action but also says that it is right if the person chooses to believe so. Relativism is threatening the wellbeing of our world by blurring the line of right and wrong and justifying immorality. Tolerance and obscurity will only tear down and destroy our society.
If there is no absolute, then those who are for abortion and against it are equally right. Relativism is unable to evaluate the two sides of the argument because there is no standard to compare and weigh the value. Abortion cannot be both right and wrong at the same time just as stealing, murder, or rape cannot be. This issue, then, will not be settled with truth, but be a matter of preferences. If a pregnant women does not want her baby and believes that it is right for her to terminate her pregnancy, then she could get an abortion at any stage. Even the big question of “when does human life begin” would not matter because the only thing that defines what is right or wrong is one’s choice. It would be foolish and impossible to attempt to support any kind of ethical issue with relativism.
Abortion is a matter involving the most precious yet most vulnerable beings in our society – babies. Both pro-choice and pro-life group have scientific claims to back up their arguments, but the argument for pro-life seems more well constructed and trustworthy. Abortion stems out of selfishness and irresponsibilty. It is not that I do not take the situation of the women who have had abortion into consideration. But it is true that they have chosen their life over another – the one they have created. The implication of justifying abortion can be more detrimental than what we think. In China and other eastern countries, female babies are aborted to promote their patriachal value. Iceland have been known to have “cured” Down Syndrome, but the ugly truth behind that news is that they are aborting babies with this abnormality to alleviate the parents from the burden of raising a child with disability (America Magazine, “Iceland isn’t Eliminating Down Syndrome”). Many American news and people have criticized Iceland’s inhumane method of “curing” this disorder, but Americans are aborting their babies for the same reason – their convenience.
Margaret Sanger, who is a praised birth-control activist and founder of Planned Parenthood, was a eugenist, aiming to “cleanse” America by lowering the birth rate of African Americans ( The Washington Times, “The Planned Parenthood Founded on Racism”). Today, it seems as if abortion is to protect women and their autonomy, but looking back at the history of abortion, it was never for women. Women were victims of evil agendas being manipulated and controlled. If abortion is an essential right of a woman, when is it “right” to have an abortion? For what reasons? Where do we draw the line? Devaluing the smallest and the most fragile form of human life speaks of how one views other humans, seeing them as being disposable and an inconvenience.