The Abortion Debate

Abortion has always been a perennial problem in normative ethical theories. The complexity of this moral dilemma generates conflicting views not only among academics but also between and among individuals in the larger society as to whether or not the act of abortion is morally permissible and thus, may be said to be justified. The issue on abortion continues to take hold of Americans dividing the body politic on issues of control of women’s body, rights to privacy, fetal viability, etc.

(Ginsburg ix). This paper seeks to explore this complex issue with the hope of arriving at a fuller understanding of abortion and the primacy of choice in terms of assessing the moral permissibility of the act. For the purposes of this paper, it is imperative to provide a working definition of abortion so as to be able to set the parameters of the issue at hand. Abortion refers to the termination of pregnancy before the fetus can survive. Consequently, there are two types of abortion.

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It may be either spontaneous also known as miscarriage or induced, when it is a deliberate termination of pregnancy. As it is significant in the purposes of this paper, the type of abortion that is discussed is the second type; that is, induced (unless otherwise stated). In what follows, I will be presenting three arguments for the pro-choice position in the abortion debate. First, it is important to note that human beings are autonomous beings. This is because of the fact that we are capable of rational deliberation and rational choice because of the faculty of reason.

The reason why we respect and value the choice of an individual is precisely because we know that such choices are products of a person’s rational deliberation. Two important aspects should be considered in making this point. We put value on an individual’s choice given these preconditions: (1) the individual making the choice is in the position to make the choice (that is, the individual has the capacity to make sound judgments), and (2) the individual is presented with legitimate choices (that is, to ensure that the individual’s act is not coerced but free).

Whether or not abortion is morally permissible, given the first argument, is then the choice of the woman who carries the fetus in her womb. If the preconditions stated earlier are satisfied, we ought to respect the choice of the woman to abort or not to abort the fetus because it is her right to decide what to do and what not to do with her body. The second argument which may be raised in support of the pro-choice positions in the abortion debate is far complicated than the first.

The second argument questions the moral status of the embryo in the woman’s body. This argument, as far as the debate is concerned, puts into interplay three disciplines; history, philosophy and the law. From the point of view of argumentation, if the moral status of the embryo in the woman’s womb is in itself questionable, how can we proceed and declare that abortion is outright wrong? What needs to be settled first is to eliminate the ambiguous status of the embryo prior to determining whether abortion is right (or wrong).

For the most part, history, philosophy and the law cannot prove the moral status of the embryo beyond reasonable doubt (Luker 3). To further this point, Kristin Luker wrote the following: With respect to history… it is true that the early Christian church denounced abortion… but it is also true that the church’s sanctions against abortion were almost never as severe as the penalties for the murder of an adult person. In philosophy too, the status of the embryo has been ambiguous.

For most of the last two thousand years, the embryo, like a child or a woman, was not considered a legal person. (3) The foregoing passage from Luker’s book points out that clarifying the moral status of the embryo will shed light on the abortion debate but, until such requirement is fulfilled, it is difficult to arrive at a consensus with regards to the rightness (or wrongness) of abortion. Luker continues: In the Anglo-American common law it is certainly true that embryos have certain legal rights – the right to inherit property, for example.

But is is equally true that the embryo must generally be born alive in order to benefit from them. Thus, these rights are not invested in the embryo per se but are held in trust, as it were, until the embryo becomes a newborn child. (4) To wit: it is only by clarifying the moral status of the embryo can the rightness (or wrongness) of abortion be settled. Such being the case, those who declare that abortion is outright wrong is not warranted in their claim. The third argument for the pro-choice position in the abortion debate is more or less, a pragmatic one.

By the term pragmatic, what I mean is practical. The abortion issue creates a divisive atmosphere in many parts of the world. It is a problem then which needs to be solved not haphazardly of course, but with the utmost concern for its implications. Now, if we are still in the dark with regards to the moral status of the embryo, it does not mean that we have to stop from looking for solutions for the problem at hand. The pro-choice position takes an active role in helping women especially the poor who need safe, clean and legal abortions (Luker 7).

The point is that, in point of fact, women get pregnant for different reasons and some of these reasons are merely forced upon them. The legalization of abortion proves to be of help to women and the ensuring of their reproductive health which could not have been the case if pro-life positions merely had their way. In the final analysis, a pro-choice position puts premium on the idea that human beings are autonomous beings; who, because of their rational faculty are capable of making sound judgments which concern how he/she ought to live his/her life.

For the aforementioned reasons, we respect and value an individual’s choice even in the case of abortion (provided that the preconditions outlined at the earlier part of this paper are fulfilled). Unless the moral status of the embryo is clarified, the abortion debate is here to stay. Works Cited Ginsburg, Faye. Contested Lives. US: University of California Press, 1998. Luker, Kristin. Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. US: University of California Press, 1985.

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