The issue of abortion is one of the most contentious, and emotive dilemmas faced by modern societies. The question is whether one should allow the termination of a pregnancy. For some, the question is even more fundamental: at what stage is the embryo or fetus in the uterus to be regarded as a child? At fertilization? At birth? Or, maybe somewhere between. The battle-lines are drawn between strict, religious ('pro-life') arguments (that it is never permissible), and those ('pro-choice') that emphasize the woman's right to choose as the primary concern. While abortion has been legal in America since the land-mark Roe vs. Wade case in the early 1970s, this is by no means a reflection of universal agreement
Not only is banning abortion a problem in theory, offending against a woman's right to choose, it is also a practical problem. Enforcing an abortion ban would require a quite degrading and inhumane treatment of those women who wished to have their fetus terminated. Moreover, if pregnant women traveled abroad, they would be able to have an abortion in a country where it was legal. Either the state takes the draconian measure of restricting freedom of movement, or it must admit that its law is unworkable in practice and abolish it. The middle way of tacitly accepting foreign terminations would render hypocritical the much-vaunted belief in the sanctity of life. The demand for abortions will always exist; making abortion illegal, will simply drive it underground and into conditions where the health and safety of the woman might be put at risk.1
Example: Polish women, living in a country with extremely restrictive abortion laws often go abroad to the Netherlands, Germany and Austria for abortions.2 Women who are not lucky enough to live in environments such as the EU may be forced to go to foreign countries and undergo underground, unsafe abortions.
Practical considerations should not influence the legislation of an issue of principle.
Many laws have difficulties pertaining to implementation, but these do not diminish the strength of the principle behind them: people will kill other people, regardless of your legislating against it, but it does not follow that you shouldn't legislate against it. Even though the Netherlands had more liberal drugs' laws than in England, this did not lead, and nor should it have led, to a similar liberalization here.
As far as underground abortions are concerned, the problem is one of the implementation of the law. If the law were properly enforced, underground abortions would not be offered in the first place.
Women should have control over their own bodies; they have to carry the child during pregnancy and undergo childbirth. No one else carries the child for her; it will be her responsibility alone, and thus she should have the sole right to decide. These are important events in a woman’s life, and if she does not want to go through the full nine months and subsequent birth, then she should have the right to choose not to do so. There are few – if any – other cases where something with such profound consequences is forced upon a human being against her/his will. To appeal to the child’s right to life is just circular – whether a fetus has rights or not, or can really be called a ‘child’, is exactly what is at issue. Everyone agrees that children have rights and shouldn’t be killed; a fetus is not a life yet.
Excluding cases of rape, the woman exercises any right to choose in causing conception initially. Afterward, even if a woman has a right to her body and to "choice", this right is overridden by the fetus's right to life. And, what could be more important than life? All other rights, including the mother's right to choice, surely stem from a prior right to life; if you have no right to any life, then how do you have a right to an autonomous one? The woman may ordinarily have a reasonable right to control her own body, but this does not confer on her the entirely separate (and insupportable) right to decide whether another human lives or dies.
Women, and in some cases girls, who have been raped should not have to suffer the additional torment of being pregnant with the product of that ordeal. To force a woman to produce a living, constant reminder of that act is unfair on both mother and child.
In cases where the rape victim cannot afford or is not ready to have a child, abortion can do both the victim and the unborn baby a favor. There are cases where school students are impregnated through rape. Pregnancy itself is a constant reminder of the sexual assault they underwent and might cause emotional instability, which will affect their studies, and subsequently their future. Babies born to unready mothers are likely to be neglected or would not be able to enjoy what other children have, be it due to financial reasons or the unwillingness of the mothers to bring up the "unwanted children".
Denying someone life because of the circumstances of their conception is unfair. They had no say in these circumstances, and were, instead, simply given life. It does not matter what the conditions of this life were. It is still wrong to kill life, particularly an unborn baby. The child has a right to life just as much as that woman had the right to not be raped. The rapist violated her rights. Aborting the child would be violating the child's right to life. In 2004, only 1%1 of women cited rape as their reason for abortion, so this is more an exception than a reason for legalizing abortion.
There are cases in which it is necessary to terminate a pregnancy, lest the mother and/or the child die. In such cases of medical emergency and in the interest of saving life, surely it is permissible to abort the fetus.
Also, due to advances in medical technology it is possible to determine during pregnancy whether the child will be disabled. In cases of severe disability, in which the child would have a very short, very painful and tragic life, it is surely the right course of action to allow the parents to choose a termination. This avoids both the suffering of the parents and of the child.1
What right does anyone have to deprive another of life on the grounds that he deems that life as not worth living? This arrogant and sinister presumption is impossible to justify, given that many people with disabilities lead fulfilling lives. What disabilities would be regarded as the watershed between life and termination? All civilized countries roundly condemn the practice of eugenics.
Most abortions are performed entirely voluntarily by women that have the means to raise a child, but simply don't want to. While emergency abortions or abortions under trying circumstances such as rape are held out as reasons to continue to have abortions, they are infrequent and serve more to provide cover for voluntarily "life-style" abortions. This is wrong. For example: In 2004, only 7% of women in the US cited health risk as the reason for abortion. Most had social reasons, i.e. were not ready, did not want a baby, a baby would interfere with their career etc.1
Women do not "want" abortions. They find themselves in a position in which abortion is the less bad between bad alternatives. This argument is important in explaining that abortion is not about a malicious desire to "kill babies" or even to express their right to choose; it is about allowing women to make the best choice.
Abortion shouldn't be a form of birth control when other forms are readily available. With contraception being so effective, unwanted pregnancies are typically a result of irresponsible sexual behavior. Such irresponsible behavior does not deserve an exit from an unwanted pregnancy through abortion. In Mexico City, a year after abortion was legalized, the frequency increased.1
The assertion that obtaining an abortion is always the result of irresponsible behaviour is disrespectful to every woman undergoing an abortion. Using birth control is a completely different decision from getting an abortion. Besides, contraception, though effective, is still not accepted, available or affordable for women in certain countries. Moreover, even when legalized, abortion will only be a last resort in the cases where the quality of life of the baby or mother or both will be in danger.
Every life presents an inherent value to society. Every individual has the potential to contribute in one way or another, and taking the child's life before it has even had a chance to experience and contribute to the world undermines that potential. Even more, the underlying philosophical claim behind abortion is that not every life is equally valued and if a life is 'unwanted' or 'accidental' it is not worth enough to live. That kind of thinking goes directly against the life-affirming policies and philosophies of most countries, and peoples themselves.
Yes, our societies do strive to affirm life as much as possible, and to make the quality of life of our citizens as high as possible. Foetuses do not apply here because they:
a) are not lives, are not human until fairly late
b) if they are born as unwanted children, and the mother is effectively forced to give birth, the quality of life of both the child and the mother will be lowered, and that is what really goes against the principle of life affirmation.
It is unquestionable that the fetus, at whatever stage of development, will inevitably develop the ability to feel and think and be conscious of its own existence. The unborn child will have every ability, and every opportunity that you yourself have, if you give him or her the opportunity. The time-restrictions on termination had to be changed once, when it was discovered that feeling developed earlier than first thought, so they are hardly impeccable safe-guards behind which to hide: In the UK, the restriction was moved from 28 weeks to 24 weeks in 1990, due to scientific discoveries.1 Human life is continuum of growth that starts at conception, not at birth. The DNA that makes a person who they are is first mixed at conception upon the male sperm entering the female egg. This is when the genetic building blocks of a person are "conceived" and built upon. The person, therefore, begins at conception. Killing the fetus, thus, destroys a growing person and can be considered murder. Ronald Reagan was quoted in the New York Times on September 22, 1980 saying: "I've noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born." in the 1980 presidential debate.2
Are we really talking about a 'life?' At what point does a life begin? Is terminating a foetus, which can neither feel nor think and is not conscious of its own 'existence,' really commensurable with the killing of a 'person?' There rightly are restrictions on the time, within which a termination can take place, before a foetus does develop these defining, human characteristics. If you affirm that human life is a quality independent of, and prior to thought and feeling, then you leave yourself the awkward task of explaining what truly 'human' life is. A foetus is not a life until it fulfils certain criteria. Before 24 weeks, a foetus does not feel pain, is not conscious of itself or its surroundings. Until a fetus can survive on its own, it cannot be called a life, any more than the acorn can be called a tree.
Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2005, 37(3):110–118
PRO-Life Information – “Medical reasons for abortion” Accessed on 25.05.11 from http://www.prolifeinfo.org/medical-reasons-for-abortion.html
SECASA – “Pregnancy following rape” Accessed on 25.05.11 from http://www.secasa.com.au/index.php/survivors/4/151
http://www.abortionrights.org.uk/ Accessed 25.05.1
Norval Morris and Gordon Hawkins, The Honest Politician's Guide to Crime Control, 1970
Judith Jarvis Thomson. "A Defense of Abortion". Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1971) -
James T. McMahon, American Medical News (July 5, 1993)
Pope Benedict XVI, homily (May 7, 2005)
George H.W. Bush (January 23, 1989)
Geoffrey Sher, Virginia Marriage Davis, Jean Stoess, In Vitro Fertilization: The A.R.T. of Making Babies (New York: Facts On File, 1998):
Kathy Ireland, a supermodel, appearing on Bill Maher's television show Politically Incorrect, 2/28/2000