Abortion is a serious topic that has been debated over for much time. Some people look to an abortion as a way out of a mistake, while others are in desperate need for the procedure. What exactly is an abortion? An abortion is any spontaneous expulsion of an embryo or fetus before it is sufficiently developed to. The real question that needs to be answered when looking at abortion cases is when can a fetus actually be classified as a living being and is it morally right to “kill unborn fetuses?”
Even though life is a term that we are all familiar with but the actual start of life, is an area that is extremely hard to define. What exactly is life? There really isn’t a definite answer to this. According to the Webster’s dictionary, life is “the cellular biochemical activity or processes of an organism, characterized by the ingestion of nutrients, the storage of and use of energy, the excretion of waste, growth and reproduction.” But this doesn’t really explain what life is and when it starts.
The start of life is a whole argument evoked by pro-life movement. When can a fetus actually be classified as an alive being? Most people in the pro-life camp believe that this happens at conception. That is, a just-fertilized egg is a
full human being and should be protected as such. Some people argue that the life starts with gestation, and others argue that life is begun when a brain is formed or when the fetus becomes viable, (i.e. able to live outside the womb). Still others suggest that life begins with the start of consciousness. Husserl claims to be able to “trace the genesis of the life-world in consciousness” (Rosch, 224). Scientists have found hints of consciousness in 7-month-old fetuses and measured brain-wave patterns like those during dreaming at 8 months gestation. Still some believe that the fetus becomes a human being only after it has been delivered and is breathing on its own. These suggestions can be considered and argued about with good cause. Life really has no definite starting point.
With the lack of a definite starting point of life, it is difficult to put rules on abortions. If a fetus is deemed to be alive as soon as conception occurs, then the Pro-Life movement has a point in saying that abortion at any point in the pregnancy is murder. Under these standards no abortions at all would legal be allowed to occur, even in extreme cases of rape, incest, and when the health of the mother is at risk. Looking at the opposite side, if the fetus is alive, then what signs of personhood does it posses. According to one leading Philosopher,
“We must consider what “person” stands for; which I think, is a
thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times
and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking” (Locke, 349).
Consciousness is the essential part of what makes a person and a fetus in the womb does not experience life in the conventional sense. Therefore, life cannot start until the fetus is outside of the womb and experiencing life as a person.
Abortion is a moral choice to make. In most cases of abortion the woman did use her free will in having sex. The unfortunate part is that most of these women use contraceptives and try not to get pregnant. There are no fail safe methods of birth control, except for abstinence. 43% of unintended pregnancies occur in women using birth control (Savoy, 1993). Mistakes do happen. Condoms do break; women sometimes forget to take their pill. Whatever the reasoning, women do get pregnant unintentionally. And when these pregnancies occur, the woman should have the choice over the different options she has to handle the pregnancy. After all the pregnancy is occurring inside the woman’s body, so she should have some choice over what is happening. Women who want to have abortions, have such a need to terminate the pregnancy that they will do so at any cost. “Many women, good mothers, who become unwillingly pregnant, speak of the fetus as an invader, a tumor, a thing to be removed…Whatever moral status may be ascribed to an unborn child-alien invader, innocent human being, or a person with a right to life-no one has the right to use another’s body as a life support system without her consent.” (Savoy, 1993).
There can be psychological breakdowns associated with these women who are denied abortions. These women rarely give up their unwanted babies for
adoption. They usually wind up resenting the child and therefore these children are more likely to be troubled, depressed, drop out of school, commit crimes, and to generally express a dissatisfaction with life.
About 1/3 of women in a survey in Toronto confessed that they had strongly negative feelings towards their children. In another study, 34% of the women who were denied abortions confessed to feeling angry and rejecting towards the unwanted child, describing it as a burden they frequently resented. As a result, these women did not breast feed or cuddle much with their child as much as wanted children are. In Sweden, a study followed 119 unwanted children to age 21. It turned out that 18% had been reported to welfare boards for delinquency. 14% had only a slight amount of higher education and 40% had been arrested for drunken or disorderly conduct. This is based on the fact that these children were unwanted and therefore got lesser care by their parents.
Although the pro-life camp will easily say that “this unborn segment of humanity has a right not to be killed at least.” (Alvare, 1993). That the fetus is not in sense part of the mother but is a separate and distinct human being. And therefore should have its own rights. According to sociologist, Phillip Abbott
“There are very few general laws of social science, but we can offer one that has a deserved claim: the restriction of the concept of humanity in any sphere never enhances a respect for human life. It does not enhance the right of slaves, prisoners of war, criminals, traitors, women, children, Jews, blacks, heretics, workers, capitalists, Slavs, or Gypsies. The restriction of
the concept of personhood in regard to the fetus will not do so either.”
This means that through out time, people’s rights have been denied in one way or
another, and we should not think that it is appropriate or right to denies unborn fetus’ their due rights. To the anti-choice group, the fetus’s rights reside over the mother’s rights to her body. The fetus is a living being, and should not be taken for granted.
As it has been stated before, abortion is a serious issue in our country. The issues are emotionally charged and politically explosive. In matters of giving birth and raising children, we all have opinions and we are all instant experts. In our definition of human life and personhood, wa all have beliefs. However, in addition to, and sometimes even more important than these often conflicting views and values are facts, realities, and consequences- individual and societal- that demand consideration.
Alvrae, Helen, M. “A Pro-Life R.S.V.P.,” America, January 30, 1993.
Savoy, Paul. “The Coming New Debate on Abortion.” Tikkun Magazine September/October 1993.