Alexander Izrailevsky, Ph.D.
April 16, 2012
The Moral and Legal Debate on Abortion
There have been numerous debates about the legalization of abortion. As with most debates, there are two sides to the abortion controversy, pro-life and pro-choice. Pro-choice argues that a woman should have the choice to get an abortion, because it is her body. Pro-life supporters believe that it is morally wrong to terminate a pregnancy, because they argue that life begins at conception. In addition, pro-life argues that women need to deal with their choices of getting pregnant. However, what if getting pregnant was not their choice? What if a pregnancy arises from nonconsensual sex, for example a rape or incest? This then begs the question, should it be legal for women to get an abortion from pregnancies arising from nonconsensual sex? This paper will examine both philosophical and scientific viewpoints of pro-life and pro-choice beliefs, relating to the thesis question above.
A philosophical viewpoint comes in three dimensions, liberal, conservative, and moderate, used to justify abortion from a moral status of the fetus. A philosophical view does not come from a place of black or white, right or wrong, however, it gives a perspective on the whole issue in its biological, psychological, moral, and societal intricacy (Hillar 1997).
One liberal view from Judith Jarvis Thomson argues that, “a woman has the right to abortion in cases involving rape, in cases where the woman’s life is in danger, and in cases in which the woman had taken responsible precautions to avoid becoming pregnant” (Hillar 1997). Mary Ann Warren, another liberalist claims that if the fetus is a person then there are many cases in which abortion should not be permitted, however, it all depends on the definition of a person. Therefore, Warren has built a set of the following personhood criteria that she believes will be accepted by both pro-choice and pro-abortion views. Does the fetus: 1) have the capacity to feel pain; 2) have the capacity to reason; 3) have self-motivated activity; 4) have the capacity to communicate; and 5) the presence of self-concept and self-awareness. Using these criteria, Warren concludes that until birth, a fetus does not have a right to life and is not considered a person (Hillar 1997).
The conservative view states that a fetus has full rights to life from the time of conception and conservative, John Noonan, does not agree with the liberal view of Thomson (Hillar 1997). Noonan believes that there are not developmental stages of a fetus; therefore, “the line can be drawn only at conception” (1997). Noonan believes that under any circumstances should a fetus be aborted, including a seriously defective fetus or a fetus resulting from a rape or incest (1997). The conservative view also believes that a doctor who intends to perform an abortion, therefore, intends to kill (Hillar 1997). This viewpoint believes that the only time abortion is allowable is “when the fetus is a danger to the life of the mother” (Hillar 1997).
Jane English holds a moderate viewpoint on abortion and questions Warren’s liberal concept as well as the conservative view and supports the view of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Wade vs. Roe (Deem 2007). English believes that Warren’s personhood criteria is not clear and concise, as well as argues that the conservative views, giving all rights to the fetus, is not accurate either (Hillar 1997). English believes that if the fetus does not resemble a person, then abortion should be allowed, however, when the fetus does resemble a person, then abortion should only be allowed if there is harm to the mother to carry the fetus full term, whether it be psychological, physical, economic, or social (Hillar 1997). This position is founded in the United States Supreme Court law of 1973, Roe vs. Wade.
Some question if science has anything to do with abortion, however, a study of embryology may reveal the answer to this question (Deem 2007). Pro-life argues in terms of “tissue” and “grams of material,” as it suggests that a “preborn human fetus is genetically a fully human being at the point of conception” (Deem 2007). In contrast, pro-choice concludes that the fetus belongs to the mother and the mother has a right to decide whether she wishes to carry the fetus full-term or abort (Lowen 2006).
Most abortions, about 88% take place in the first trimester, which is when the fetus cannot exist independently from the mother. It is a very safe procedure; they have less than 0.5% risk of serious complications (Lowen 2006). Women, who are forced to go through a pregnancy from either rape or incest, could cause psychological damage. In addition, critical to civil rights, is a woman’s choice of whether she wants to continue her pregnancy or not (Lowen 2006). These arguments do not consider abortion as murder.
Another pro-choice argument is that a woman who wants an abortion will have it done, whether it is legal or not. Before abortion became legal, women would get botched, underground abortions. Underground abortions are highly dangerous to women’s health and life (Henslin 2008). If women are going to get abortions no matter what, it might be good to make it safe for them. Pro-choice believer’s bottom line is, “without the right to choose abortion, any other guarantees of liberty have little meaning for women” (Michelman 1988).
Pro-Life supporters agree that abortion is considered murder since they believe life begins at conception (Lowen 2006). A scientific view states that, “human beings are not constructed in the womb, they develop” (Deem 2007). In addition, 21-24 days after conception, there is a measurable heartbeat (Deem 2007). Because most women do not know they are pregnant within that time frame, most abortions “stop a beating heart” (Deem 2007). Most societies would punish those who murder or intentionally harm another human being, so pro-lifer’s conclude, “why should abortion be any different?” Pro-life supporters believe that if a woman does not want her baby, then the only alternative is to carry the pregnancy full term and then put the baby up for adoption (Lowen 2006). There are millions of families that are looking for a baby to adopt and would be able to create a much better environment for the baby to thrive. Pro-life views also believe that women who become impregnated from rape or incest and then chose abortion to relieve psychological harm, may in fact, become more psychologically damaged by having an abortion, than if she would have kept the baby full term and then given it up for adoption (Alcorn 2010). Also there are risks of complications if you have an abortion such as, ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, and pelvic inflammatory increases (Lowen 2006). It is a fact that minors and young women are the ones who are pro-abortion, only because they don’t have a lifestyle for a baby. After they are old enough to realize what they have done, usually there are regrets, psychological pain, and stress, (Lowen 2006). Therefore, it is important that these young women become educated beforehand on the consequences of abortion.
Changes in Abortion Law
The Guttmacher institute says that there are fourteen thousand abortions per year, only one percent of all abortions, resulting from rape or incest (Alcorn 2010). In addition, some women often say that they got pregnant by rape just so they can avoid ridicule. Norma McCorvey, who is also known as Roe in the Roe vs. Wade case which changed abortion law, claimed she was a rape victim in order to justify her abortion, then years later, she admitted that she lied about being raped. Sometimes there is no way of knowing if a pregnancy occurs due to rape. Then again, if a woman is truly raped and becomes pregnant, should she have to go through with the pregnancy? In some cases, it could take months to find out if the rapist is guilty.
People who are against abortion say that human life begins at conception, however, that would mean in vitro is human life as well (Lowen 2006). In vitro involves inserting a fertilized egg and the eggs that are not used are merely thrown away. Scientifically, throwing fertilized eggs away is murder; because most abortions occur in the first trimester, where the embryo cannot act independently. All those who are against abortion might as well be against in vitro.
After Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme court granted abortion legal, therefore, a large number of individuals were displeased. Many began their own campaigns to change the law. Antiabortion groups tried to persuade states to restrict the Supreme Court’s ruling (Henslin 2008). These groups “succeeded in eliminating federal funding of abortions for military personnel and their dependents, federal prisoners, and workers with the Peace Corps” (Henslin 2008). Anti-abortion groups were also instrumental in making sure that health insurance does not cover abortion of federal employees. In 1976, these groups persuaded congress to pass the Hyde Amendment, excluding Medicaid funding for abortions unless the woman’s life is in danger (Henslin 2008). Antiabortion groups also put together a “Crisis pregnancy center for woman who can call “Pregnancy hotlines” and are offered free pregnancy tests and if tests are positive, women are then directed to counselors who encourage them to give birth (Henslin 2008). Women who test positive for pregnancy are also informed about fetal development, financial aid, social support available during pregnancy, and how to find adoptive parents (Henslin 2008). Anti-abortion groups have been accused of using extreme measures to stop abortions, such as throwing blood on the walls of abortion clinics, setting off stink bombs, burning down clinics, calling women who have had abortions and playing recordings of babies screaming, and even killing abortion doctors.
Other cases that have caused changes in abortion law since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision are, Webster vs. Reproductive services, clarifying that states do not have to finance abortion and individual states can ban abortions at state hospitals and refuse to fund counseling services for women who are considering abortion (Henslin 2008). Another case, Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, explains: 1) a wife has no obligation to tell her husband she is having an abortion; 2) a women must obtain the consent of at least one parent if they are under 18 years of age; and 3) Before an abortion can be performed, there must be a 24 hour waiting period (Henslin 2008).
Murder is morally and legally wrong, no matter how one looks at it. There is no reasonable debate or argument that can conceivably convince another that murder is within the bounds of law and moral conduct. If there is scientific proof that human life begins at conception, then abortion should be considered murder. In this case, should a woman who becomes pregnant because of rape or incest be allowed to have an abortion? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, if having the baby will truly cause psychological and physical harm to the mother and it is determined that the woman is telling the truth and has been educated on all consequences of abortion. No, if it is determined that the woman is lying about being raped or if it is determined that psychologically she will be better off having the baby, rather than an abortion. The answer to this question is an extremely difficult one to answer, as empathy is felt on both sides of the debate. It is no wonder that this debate continues to be very much a part of society and probably will be for many years to come.
Alcorn, Randy. ‘Is Abortion Right When Pregnancy is Due to Rape or Incest?” Eternal
Perspective of Ministries. 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2012 from (http://www.epm.org/
Deem, Rich. “Science and Abortion: The Scientific Basis for a Prolife Position.” July 23, 2007.
Retrieved April 10, 2012 from http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/Science
Henslin, James M. Social Problems: A Down-to-Earth Approach, 10th ed. Boston: Pearson,
Hillar, Marian. “Philosophers and the Issue of Abortion.” American Humanist Association. Eds.
Marian Hillar and F. Prahl. 1997, pp. 131-140. U of Houston. Retrieved April 10, 2012
Lowen, Linda. “10 Abortion Arguments: 10 Arguments For Abortion, 10 Arguments Against
Abortion.” Guttmacher Institute. May 2006. Retrieved April 10, 2012 from
Michelman, Kate. National Abortion Rights Action League Pamphlet (NARAL). 1988:1.
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