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Abortion the Pope and Peter Singer

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Abortion is one of the most controversial issues today. It has become a question

of not only ethics, but morals. In the 1973 case of Roe v Wade the Supreme Court ruled

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that a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy by abortion within the first six

months of the pregnancy. However, conservative Presidents have changed the legislation

enough to allow states to restrict abortion in various ways (Practical Ethics, Peter

Singer). In the following paper, I will summarize the views on abortion of Pope John

Paul II and philosopher, Peter Singer.

These two men have very conflicting opinions

This argument is very adamantly against abortion. It is also a religiously based

argument. He uses exerts from the Bible and other religious documents and quotes many

different clergymen and priests to help defend his position.

He starts by explaining how you must follow the ten commandments to live a

good life and have eternal life. “Jesus replied, ‘If you would enter life, keep the

commandments’” (Mt 19:17). The first of these ten commandments is “You shall not

kill”. On the contrary, you should ‘love respect and promote life’ (The Gospel of Life,

Paul II). In order to do this, one must carry out God’s plan of procreation with love and

intentions to multiply. By having an abortion, one is doing the exact opposite. Not only

are they killing an innocent human being, but they are killing a child of God. Also, man

is not the final judge in matters such as life and death, he is only a ‘minister of God’s

Paul II goes on to explain how human life is ‘sacred and inviolable’. Life is

sacred because it is a gift from God and man was created in the image of God. God

overlooks our lives from birth to death, and no one else has the right to destroy an

innocent human being, especially one as innocent as an unborn child. Man is suppose to

be the defender of the innocent, not the destroyer. He explains how the man who kills

the innocent is one who has been deceived by the Devil, because only Satan delights in

“You shall not kill” represents the extreme limit which cannot be exceeded. It is

meant to encourage man to see life with respect and lead to the promotion of life with

love. Along with the teaching that one shall not kill another, is this, as stated in the

Didache, the most ancient non-biblical Christian writing: “you shall not put a child to

death by abortion nor kill it once it is born … The way of death is this: … they kill their

children and by abortion cause God’s creatures to parish … they are filled with sin.” As

time goes on, the Church will continue to teach the undeniable value on the first

commandment. Even in the first centuries, murder was considered one of the three most

serious sins. This should not come as a surprise. To kill something that was created by,

and in the image of, God should be considered a serious sin.

The most important case involving the first commandment of ‘You shall not kill’

is when it refers to innocent human beings. This is especially so when it refers to

defenseless, weak, human beings such as an unborn child or infant. The taking of an

innocent life, especially at it’s beginning or end, is gravely immoral. This direct and

voluntary action will always be regarded as morally evil and can never be considered as

necessary, either as an end, or as means to a good end. “Nothing and no none can in any

way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, and

infant of an adult … no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for

him/herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care … Nor can any authority

legitimately recommend or permit such an action” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the

Every innocent human being has a right to life. Every man, woman and child is a

person worth protecting, not just an object to be used. Of all crimes possible, abortion

and infanticide are defined as “unspeakable crimes” by the Second Vatican Council.

When such crimes are accepted by much of the population and permitted by lawmaking

bodies, it is a dangerous sign that the moral line between good and evil is getting

obscured. This is especially dangerous because the right to life is at stake.

The decision to have an abortion is often painful and tragic to the mother. Not

only is she ridding herself of the fruit of life, but a part of herself, too. It may be that the

mother’s health, or the child’s welfare after birth is a factor in this decision. However,

“these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the

deliberate killing of an innocent human being” (The Gospel of Life, Paul II). This

decision is, in the end, completely up to the mother. But she may be influenced by many

others on the way. The father of the child, either by coercing her or by leaving her alone,

can lead her to such a decision. Also, the family and friends of the mother may be to

blame. The blame is also put on the legislation which allows the abortion, foundations

which encourage the legalization of abortion, and those who promote sexual behaviors in

“No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act

which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in

every heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church” (The Gospel of

Throughout Pope John Paul II’s whole argument, he refers to a fetus as an

innocent human being. Singer, however, does not agree that a fetus is a human being.

He explains how there are stages to determine when a fetus becomes a human being.

The earliest of these stages is the onset of consciousness, then comes quickening,

Quickening is when the mother first feels the baby kick. Traditionally, this was a

religious sign that the baby had a soul. Without such religious doctrines, quickening is

not a strong dividing line to determine that the fetus is a human. Ultrasounds have shown

that a baby makes movements not felt by the mother as early as six weeks after

conception (Practical Ethics, Peter Singer). If movement constitutes life, then when are

Viability is the stage of the pregnancy when the fetus can survive outside the

womb. In most cases, this is at the beginning of the third trimester. But, in other cases,

this may not be until the fetus is born, depending on the medical facilities available.

Therefor, viability cannot distinguish between a fetus and a human being, because

viability happens at a different time for each woman.

Birth, obviously, is when the baby is born. This means that a fetus is not a human

until it leaves the mother’s womb. But should the location of the fetus really matter? Do

those few seconds, or in some cases, hours, while the baby moves down the birth canal

make the distinction between a fetus and a human?

Since none of these stages can determine when the fetus becomes a human being,

there is no dividing line. Therefor, one cannot say whether a fetus is to be considered a

human being, or just a fetus, and what rights to life this fetus has, if it is not a human

Singer also believes that there is a difference between being a human being as a

‘member of the homosapien race’ and being a ‘person’. People are self-conscious, they

have feelings about themselves and others. They have the ability to be rational and to

make decisions. A person has interests and a desire to live. People are valuable. Is a

fetus a person, or just a member of the homosapien race? If they don’t have these

characteristics, in Singer’s view, they are not people. “Since no fetus is a person, no

fetus has the same claim to life as a person” (Practical Ethics, Singer).

This brings up the question of immoral actions. To commit an immoral action,

you must be harming others. Harm to others is either physical or emotional. Emotion, or

psychological harm is harm to one’s personhood. If a fetus has no personhood, and

cannot feel pain, it cannot be harmed. Therefor, the act of killing a fetus, or having an

abortion is not immoral. However, an abortion does take away the fetus’ potential for

life. But this ‘potential life’ is different from the actual life.

Paul II’s argument against abortion is based completely on religious morals and

writings. The first commandment “You shall not kill” has no religious meaning to

Singer. His whole argument shows the answer to the question of abortion “within the

bounds of non-religious ethics” (Practical Ethics, Singer). Therefor, the arguments of

Peter Singer, Practical Ethics
Paul II, The gospel of life

Cite this Abortion the Pope and Peter Singer

Abortion the Pope and Peter Singer. (2018, Jun 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/abortion-the-pope-and-peter-singer-essay/

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