The topic area of abortion contains such an enormous extent of views and sub-arguments it is simply not possible to dive straight into the topic without clearly planning the debate and the answer before hand. Below shows the brief structure of the essay, which areas are going to addressed, etc. By addressing each area individually and looking at all sides of the discussion we should be able to attain a coherent and concise conclusion for the question in hand.
Topic areas that need to be scrutinised carefully are as follows:
* About abortion and Public opinion, a brief overview of the subject
* Religious Aspects
* After Effects of abortion, both physical and metaphysical
* Moral justification for abortion
* Importance of consistency
First thing’s first, we need to know precisely what abortion is, what the various methods of the operation are, and just a general overview of public opinion on the subject. No matter who you are or what your religious background everyone has an opinion on the subject of abortion. It is from other peoples opinions that we tend to base our own opinions on. However, more often than not this does not take into account all of the other aspects of the subject, which should really be the overriding point that our opinions are be based on.
There are certain aspects of this subject that need to be clearly defined before we can go on to debate the main crux of the issue, which is as in the essay title. Examples of terms that are commonly associated with the subject of abortion are shown below, with a definition.
* Life: ‘The state or quality that distinguishes living beings or organisms from dead ones and from inorganic matter, characterized chiefly by metabolism, growth, and the ability to reproduce and respond to stimuli.’ (Collins English Dictionary, Millennium Edition, Harper-Collins Publishers)
* Human Life: ‘Any living entity which has human DNA. A spermatozoa, ovum, pre-embryo, embryo, foetus and newborn are different forms of human life. However, they are not al considered to have equal value.’ (http://www.religioustolerance.org/abo_over.htm)
The second of these two terms spawns a completely new debate on the topic of abortion, which is one that we will come back to later, that being; when does an embryo or foetus become a human life with the same rights as the rest of the human population, the right to live being the one of most concern.
* Human Person: ‘This is a form of human life which is considered to be a person whose life and health should be protected. No consensus exists about when this state begins.’ (http://www.religioustolerance.org/abo_over.htm)
We know what abortion is; it’s the termination of an unwanted pregnancy. There are many various reasons why a woman would want to have an abortion, and each different reason counts towards a different aspect on the view of abortion as a morally just practise. For example, a mother who wants an abortion because she cannot afford to provide an adequate quality of life for herself and the unborn child, and a woman who had become pregnant through rape have completely different reasons for wanting an abortion, and, therefore, the justification of the act of abortion in each case will differ dramatically.
The first decision on whether or not the abortion should take place is based completely on a personal level; it is after this stage that things can become complicated, the stage when other parties may become involved, such as ‘pro-lifer’s’ or pressure groups against abortions, and even the government due to the laws restricting abortion in certain cases. As well as restrictions due to laws another major factor influencing people on their opinion of abortion is religion, which will be looked at more closely later on in the essay.
Looking at public opinion there seems to be two main separate groups that most other people will look to to form their own opinion on the abortion debate. These two main sectors are shown below, with a brief description of each.
* ‘Pro-lifers’: this is the sector that believes that abortion is murder. That at the moment of conception a human life with it’s own unique DNA is created, and is therefore entitled to the basic set of human rights that the rest of the worlds population experiences. ‘They view an abortion clinic as a place where babies are murdered. Some pro-life groups and individuals have considered abortion clinics the ethical equivalent of a Nazi death camp. They feel that all or almost all abortions should be prohibited.’ (http://www.religioustolerance.org/abo_over.htm)
* ‘Pro-choicers’: This sector of the debate believes that human life begins later on in the gestation period, and that at the point of conception the embryo has no feeling and cannot be likened to any other live human being, so it does not have the same basic human rights. They believe that the choice whether or not to have the abortion is down to the mother of the unborn child.
According to American statistics the vast majority of abortions (in excess of 90%) are sought for personal reasons. Reasons include age, in fact most abortions occur are because the women feel that they are too young to have a child. Other reasons include economic status, marital status, not ready for the responsibility of having a child. The second smallest percentage from the U.S statistics for women having an abortion is because of medical complications, either relating to the baby, or the mother. The smallest percentage out of this study is related to ‘abusive sexual acts.’ Although it is only 1% out of 100 there are approximately ten to fifteen thousand abortions each year caused by sexual abuse.
Let us now talk briefly about laws that prohibit abortion both in this country. Although this may not seem to be intrinsically linked to the essay title it will certainly be possible to glean some information and insight into the debate that we are mainly concerned with, that being the case of abortion and considering whether or not it is morally justifiable.
In this country abortion was originally made illegal in the early 1800’s, although methods of abortion have been known to date back to ancient civilisations. In 1861 the ‘Offences Against the Person Act’ made it illegal to deliberately cause a miscarriage. It became a criminal offence to supply poison or to introduce any other method of causing an abortion, and if a person was found guilty of such an act they would be sentenced to life imprisonment, it is likely that the sentence is so because committing abortion is seen in some eyes as murder. (http://www.alra.org.uk/history.html)
ALRA: The Abortion Law Reform Association.
This was formed in 1936, and started as a small group of people who were appalled at how many women were suffering and dying as a direct result from trying to procure illegal abortions. From the official ALRA site on the Internet gives much information on all aspects of law on abortion in this country. The quote below comes from the section of the history of abortion law in the U.K and shows perhaps one example where people can see that abortion can be morally justifiable.
“In 1938 a leading gynaecologist called Dr Aleck Bourne tested the law by openly inviting the police to prosecute him for performing an abortion on a 14 year old girl who had been raped. In court, the judge acquitted Dr Bourne on the grounds that he had acted in good faith to preserve the life of the woman who might otherwise have become a ‘physical and mental wreck’.” (http://www.alra.org.uk/history.html)
At this point in history where women were expected to conform to all laws and not speak out, a number of organisations led by women supported the Dr in his act and called for a reform of the laws on abortion. This was the first time since the laws had been written in the 1800’s that the physical and mental health of the woman in question had been accepted as grounds for the abortion to go ahead.
Perhaps the major turning point in this country on abortion laws came in 1967 when the Abortion Act was passed, which meant that women could now legally have an abortion, but only under certain specified guidelines. This law does not apply to Northern Ireland, however, and ALRA are campaigning to change the law there. Over the course of a year many thousands of women come overseas from Northern Ireland to seek a legal and professional abortion. Since the act was passed there have been attempts to restrict the law, but none have been successful.
Since the law there has only been one major change to it, this being the upper time limit for an abortion to go ahead. It was 28 weeks because it was thought that a baby could be born alive at this time. It has since changed to 24 weeks because of the same reason.
Moving on now to religious aspects and other areas of society we will begin to see that it is this area of the subject that will show the most opposition to the subject. Many religions are completely against any notion of abortion. Opposition to abortion is more commonly found in the below religions and other areas of society:
* Evangelical Protestants
* Orthodox Jews
* Older People
* Less educated people
Those religions and areas of society that are not opposed to abortion are:
* Reform Jews
* Younger people
Although these are only very basic generalisations on the subject we can begin to build up a picture of the kind of sides that develop the debate in question. The religious side to the debate is based largely on the fact that those religions opposed to abortion are so opposed because of the restraints put upon them because of their relationship with the religion. In layman’s terms, if the religion says that abortion is wrong then the feelings of the person adhering to the religion will concur with those of the religion. There are exceptions of course, and this is where we can see an issue concerning inconsistency, in that people do not always follow their religion as strictly as possible. Views are changing in the world; roughly 50 years ago it was almost illegal to be a homosexual in this country, yet now, since views have changed, people are much more tolerant on this subject. It may not be a completely perfect comparison to the debate on abortion but it’s a start. Younger generations are now becoming more educated on issues concerning sex and relationships, and therefore are becoming more tolerant in their views on subjects such as homosexuality and abortion, to name just two.
One of the hardest things about coming up with a coherent and reliable close to the debate on abortion is that it is generally down to personal preference and opinion. Whether one person believes it is right or wrong is completely down to him or her, and their own personal beliefs. However, this is not the answer to the question we are looking for. What we need to know is whether or not abortion is a morally just practise. For this we need to look closely at the human rights issue that is buried in the abortion debate.
The main concern with the human rights issues is based on at what point the embryo, foetus or baby becomes a human being with human rights. Most pro-lifers would say that a new human life comes into existence at the point of conception, when a new unique DNA is created. Some people believe that it is ok to have an abortion up to a certain point in the pregnancy because the foetus has not developed enough to have a consciousness, i.e. it does not realise that it is alive. It is impossible to tell at which point during the pregnancy the unborn child develops a consciousness and it is for precisely this reason that there is so much ambiguity over the subject.
By terminating a pregnancy is a murder being committed? Does the quality of life of the unborn child bear any relation to whether the abortion is justified? Would it be better to save the mothers life by having and abortion if having the baby would kill the mother during birth? There are so many aspects and different circumstances to consider when looking at the justifiability of the subject. It is quite similar in that respect to the debate on euthanasia, and also about animal testing. Is it justifiable to perform tests on animals for the benefit of human kind despite the fact that we know the animals will be harmed during the process? Here is where the main question of inconsistency lies. Do people who believe abortion to be morally wrong believe that euthanasia and animal testing are intrinsically wrong for the same reasons? This however is beginning to touch on a different debate altogether, but it would be interesting to find a pro-lifer scientist wishing to further the human races knowledge through experimentation and see what his point of view on the subject would be. You would imagine that one who was so against abortion would be against euthanasia also because of the loss of human life. The thing is that it’s not just a question of life, but also a question of quality of life.
Who makes the decision? Should it be down to the mother, the doctor, or the priest? If a woman becomes pregnant through rape is there justification for an abortion to be performed?
The answers to some of the questions above will be different for each individual. There is no straightforward answer on the subject, just personal conjecture. Personally, I feel that there are certain circumstances where abortion is morally justifiable, such as in cases of rape, or when there are health complications with the pregnancy. Because the law says that abortion is legal, people will continue to have them for their own personal reasons. Before we can say whether abortion is a morally justifiable practise we need to know what the circumstances are. As each case is individual it is impossible to give a yes-no answer to the question. It is the circumstances of each abortion that will determine if the act is morally justifiable, and not the practice itself.