Abortion is one of the most controversial issues faced by mankind and of applied ethics as well. There are those which argue that abortion is ethical while there are those which remain firm on their belief that abortion is unethical. This paper takes the stand that abortion, contrary to what others believe, is ethical depending on how an abortion is conducted. For example, if a woman suddenly decides to have an abortion out of a whim then one could not possibly argue that her action is ethical. However, one should take note of the fact that most women undergo abortion not merely out of a whimsical action but because they have good reasons for wishing to undergo the procedure. It is on behalf of these women that this paper claims that abortion is indeed ethical and this claim would be supported by a utilitarian perspective (Feldt, 2004).
Utilitarianism whose main proponent is Jeremy Bentham and J.S Mill is one of the most well-known ethical doctrines there is up to this point in time. Utilitarianism is also viewed as some kind of consequentialism because their main concerns are the consequences an action would bring. The main tenet being upheld by utilitarianism is “happiness for the greatest number of people”. Utilitarianism in contrast to Kantianism does not pay much heed on whether a person could use their reason for their belief is mostly founded on sentience or the ability of a person to feel pleasure or pain. Thus, in solving the dilemma of abortion, a utilitarian would not ask if a person is capable of reasoning or the like, rather the question would be if a fetus, or the others involved is capable of feeling pleasure or pain. If abortion then would prove to be advantageous or would cause greater happiness for the highest number of those people involved then utilitarianism would staunchly advocate the idea that it is morally acceptable to undergo abortion, hence abortion is ethical.
Among the many arguments against abortion the “right to life” of the unborn is the most well-known. According to this argument even a fetus or a clump of cell, which they claimed to have started when the egg cell of the mother met the sperm cell of the father, have a right to life. The pro-life arguments state that no one, not even the mother, has the right to take away a potential or an actual person’s right to life for the sake of conveniences. This particular argument is one of the fundamental themes used by those who are against abortion. But do believers of pro-life arguments against abortion really have a right to state that a woman does not have a right to undergo abortion?
For argument’s sake I would not debunk the claim that the unborn has a right to life. The problem I see here however, is the fact that the mother also has a right to life. Which right should override that of the other? This is the main question which we need to answer. Basically a right to life is a right given only to actual human beings and not potential. However, let us say that even potential human beings such as embryo or fetus were granted a right to life which of these rights overrides that of the other? Should the potential’s right override that of the actual?
I believe this should not be the case. Anyhow, to uphold my claim that abortion is ethical and that those who were against abortion often times act unethical, I would use the argument proposed by Judith Jarvis Thomson. Thomson gave a hypothetical scenario wherein a famous violinist was in danger of dying and the only one who could save him is you because you are the only people who have the same blood type as the violinist. According to the scenario after the period of nine months the violinist would then be safe from any disaster and thus he would no longer need to attach himself onto your body (Thomson, 1995). Based on this argument would you allow yourself to be encumbered by the violinist simply because he has a right to life? I believe the answer is no. The argument of the right to life does not necessarily entail that a person (whether actual or potential) has a right to use another person’s body simply because of his right to life. This is the same case as with that of a pregnant woman. The embryo within the woman’s body is similar to the violinist in that both are predators preying on the woman’s body in order to survive.
The woman has every right to decide whether she wants to loan her body to the embryo to ensure its survival or not. Should the woman choose not to loan her body one could not simply say that her action is unethical, it is her body after all. Just imagine a world wherein everyone is necessitated by other people’s right to life to loan their body to other people. Surely such a world would bring unease and a sense of apprehension for people. This in actuality would not produce what the utilitarians would rather have which happens to be greatest happiness for the greatest number of people and thus, such a world full of apprehension is what utilitarians would call “unethical”.
The second argument launched on the defenders of abortion is the claim that abortion is a murder committed by the abortionist to a defenseless human being. In this argument those people who are against abortion argues that abortion is immoral, even more so since it was the mother which order the termination of life of her baby. Surely, should this claim proves to be true, human beings would not rest easy if people were allowed just to go about butchering or murdering innocent and defenseless human beings and thus utilitarians would see fit to fight against abortion. However, I believe that abortion is not murder. Basically unborn embryos or fetuses were nothing more than a potential human being. To say otherwise would be the same as to claim that old people are nothing but undead corpse. There are many reasons why a woman chooses to undergo abortion. It could be because the unwanted pregnancy was caused by rape or it could even be that the said pregnancy poses as a threat to the life of the woman. Financial difficulty could also be one of the reasons behind abortion. To protect the said fetuses or embryos in disregard of the welfare of the woman is what one should consider murder, not the other way around. Those who are against abortion often go around using phrase such as “abortion is murder, “abortion is not pro-life” and the like.
They often go their ways appealing to other people’s pity by using such phrases as the ones mentioned above. This tactic is very contrary to what logic states and because of these advocate anti-abortions often commit a certain fallacy “appeal to pity”. By describing abortion in such a grotesque manner they fail to realize that abortion is not really murder. Murder is what some anti-abortions do such as bombing of abortion clinics and letting pregnant women die through back alley abortions, which in the end did not save anyone, whether the child or the woman. One should accept the fact that even if abortion is not legalized these women who are determined not to continue their pregnancy for various reasons would still seek abortion and this is basically the reason why many women dies through back alley abortions. Another factor is to say that abortion is murder is indeed wrong. If one claims that abortion is murder then the argument against abortion would already be terminated since no one on his right mind would support a murderer or murderess. However, fact is, abortion is not murder. Murder is the intentional killing of a human life. Since an embryo could hardly be considered a human life and since it is nothing more than a parasite to the mother, then abortion could not really be considered as murder. An actual person is completely different with a potential person as was already explained earlier thus the termination of pregnancy by an actual human being, the mother, could not be considered as a murder since the one who was considered to be murdered was nothing but a mere potential (Tucker).
The third argument against abortion is the claim that potential human beings have human rights. Basically a potential person should have full human rights by all means. This is unless of course if the potential person’s existence hinders with the right to life, freedom, and happiness of an actual human beings. Does when “overridingness” becomes a necessity, the right of the actual person should always come first before that of a potential human being. This argument also leads to the conclusion that a gestating fetus does not have any full rights until it was born. Meaning to say that if the woman decides to forego her own rights in order to ensure that a potential person would become a potential then she could do so by all means. In the same manner, should a woman decide to protect herself from the risks which accompany pregnancy then she should also be allowed to do so in the virtue that the happiness of the actual is more important than that of a potential. Basically, two entities could not have the same amount of right over one body and since a fetus is merely a prey on the woman’s body it necessarily follows that the woman be allowed full choice regarding what she wish to happen on her own body. After the child was born even though it still does not have enough consciousness to categorize it as a full and actual human being, it would be given by law the rights given to every actual human beings in the jurisdiction since it no longer serves as a threat to the happiness, liberty and right to life of the mother who happens to be an actual human being (Boonin, 2002).
Utilitarianism as could be remembered upholds greatest happiness for the greatest number of people and since potential human beings could not really be considered as an actual human being, their potential happiness is of little concern to a utilitarian in contrast to that of an actual. Sentience or the ability to feel pleasure or pain is the main foundation on which utilitarianism is grounded. The happiness or the well-being of the greater number of people should be better considered than the happiness and well-being of the minority. Thus, in the issue of abortion the well-being of the most number of those people involved is taken more into consideration by a utilitarian. The happiness of the mother then as the primary person concerned is more of a priority especially if the deliverance of the unborn fetus would only cause nothing but misery for the mother. Say, a woman decides to have an abortion because she was raped and a child without a father would only cause humiliation to her and her family. In this regard the happiness of the victim and her family goes first than the happiness of the potential human being. The same could be said with a woman who decides to undergo abortion because she does not have enough money to support another child. As was already stated earlier abortion could be ethical depending on the issue it faces. Thus, since abortion is not really murder, and since it is not really anti pro-life, depending on the circumstance, abortion could be ethical.
Boonin, D. (2002.) Defense of Abortion: Cambridge University Press.
Feldt, G. (2004). Behind Every Choice Is A Story. University of North Texas Press.
Thomson, J. J. (1995). Abortion [Electronic Version] Retrieved November 5, 2007, from
Tucker, R. P. Why Abortion Is Not Murder? [Electronic Version]. Retrieved November 5,
2007, from http://web.tampabay.rr.com/hawcf/tuckerabortionarticle.pdf.