In the coming decades, we will hardly find a single viable resolution to the ever lasting debate about the morality of abortion. It seems that our society has divided itself into the two equal parts. The one promotes abortions along with the freedom of choice and personal civil rights, while the other views abortion as absolutely unacceptable. Thesis: abortion is morally permissible as long as the state is not able to provide pregnant women with all necessary social, economic, and cultural conditions to give birth to that child.
I will first try to explain my thesis. I will then come to discussing my thesis in the light of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s A Defense of Abortion. To start with, I do not promote abortions. I simply try to look at the current situation more objectively. I clearly realize that abortions will exist as long as humanity lives. Historical experience has shown that putting a legal ban on abortions does not lead to anything but dramatically increased female mortality due to illegally made medical operations.
I am sure that we have to finally decide, whether abortion is morally permissible. None of the existing philosophers, sociologists and other professionals has ever produced a single and generally acceptable theory or argument for or against abortions. This is why we keep arguing whether it is morally right or wrong to make an abortion. I think that abortions will not disappear in the nearest future.
Thus, if we are not able to eliminate the notion of abortion from our lives, we have to look closer at the conditions and circumstances which push a pregnant woman towards killing an unborn child. “Abortion is, except possibly in rare cases, seriously immoral… it is the same moral category as killing an innocent adult human being” (Don Marquis 2006, p. 186). Yes, I view abortion as a murder. Yet I also see that it should have place in our society under certain social and economic pressures, when the state is morally and socially incapable to help a pregnant woman keep her child.
In many instances, I cannot agree with Thomson (2006), although in many other instances she is very objective and truthful. The truth is painful, but we have to accept it in order to improve the existing situation with morality of abortions in our society.
“It is concluded that the fetus is or anyway that we had better say it is, a person from the moment of conception. But this conclusion does not follow. Similar things might be said about the development of an acorn into an oak tree, and it does not follow that acorns are oak trees.” (Thomson 2006, p. 175)
Although I view abortions as morally permissible under a limited list of social and economic conditions, I cannot agree with this Thomson’s statement. When we say that fetus is not a live person, this does not mean that we can no longer consider abortion a murder. I have already said that I still view abortion as a murder, and nothing will change my viewpoint. I only accept this murder when a woman finds herself in stressed conditions, and when the state in which she lives cannot improve her situation to help her keep the child.
It is even wrong to reject fetus as a living creature. Of course, we do not have any exact medical criteria which would help us decide whether a fetus is a small child who feels pain. We don’t have any scientific proofs that fetus starts his life from the moment of conception. Simultaneously, the societal belief that fetus is a living creature promotes the understanding that abortion is a murder, and this understanding possibly saves many future mothers from making a mistake.
However, when a woman has been raped, or she lives in stressed social and economic conditions, can we justify the morality of such abortion? I think that each case is individual and should be discussed individually, but it is still possible to make certain generalizations. As long as the state cannot improve the life of its society, and the women in it, it has no right to claim that abortions are immoral.
When a woman is raped, she hardly realizes the risks of this action, and she cannot objectively evaluate the possible consequences of this crime. We may suggest that the act of rape actually conceives a woman with negativity, and not with fetus. A future child risks being forever blamed for having been brought into this world. In such circumstances abortion may be morally permissible. A loving family is the critical element of the child’s success in life. Without any family attachment a child will hardly become a full member of the society in which he lives.
Thomson (2006) describes such situation in different colors: “I suppose we may take it as a datum that in a case of pregnancy due to rape the mother has not given the unborn person a right to the use of her body for food and shelter” (p. 180). Thus, she implies that the child has the right to live only when he is desired and expected. I cannot agree with this statement. The fact that the pregnancy was unexpected, even if it was the result of a violent act, does not mean that such pregnancy does not have the right to exist.
This is where the state and its social capabilities come into action. The state should persuade a woman that her pregnancy is positive; the state should promote social policies to economically and psychologically support pregnant women who have been raped. In any other case, the state and the society do not have the right to judge an act of abortion. As we speak about the freedom of choice, we can promote this freedom only with the help of the state. When the state does not give us any legal instruments to make this choice real, abortion becomes morally permissible. When a woman is completely unprotected, she will hardly recover from the moral and physical shock caused by the rape. A woman in a socially and economically weak state cannot be sure that she will be able to satisfy the basic needs of her child. This is why in such situation abortion becomes morally permissible.
Although I suppose that some circumstances make abortion morally permissible, I do not agree with Thomson (2006) in her discussion of female health and the health risks pregnancy may cause. Thomson (2006) says that “nobody is morally required to make large sacrifices, of health, of all other interests and concerns, of all other duties and commitments, for nine years, or even for nine months, in order to keep another person alive” (p. 182). I am afraid to imagine how our society would change if everyone followed this principle of non-sacrifice.
We may state that there is no legal obligation to save someone’s life, but when it comes to a mother and child self-sacrifice is inevitable, and it is actually a part of normal mother-child relations. When a woman decides to keep her pregnancy, it is already the self-sacrifice for which she will be forever rewarded. When a woman’s health is threatened by the mere fact of her pregnancy, the abortion can become morally permissible only if there are absolutely no medical means to save the life of the future mother.
This situation, however, can be re-considered from a different perspective. The state is involved into developing and implementing social strategies towards the orphans. It is also involved into promoting the highest quality of medical assistance to all social layers of the society. Even if a woman is dying, she may consider keeping her pregnancy when she knows that her child will be cared for by the state. Moreover, the quality of medical services determines woman’s chances to stay alive. As a result, if the state cannot provide the child of a dying mother with social and economic guarantees, and when the state cannot provide pregnant women with the required medical assistance, abortion may become morally permissible.
When we make abortions morally permissible, it is critical that we distinguish self-sacrifice from what Thomson (2006) calls being “the Good Samaritan”. “It may be said that what is important is not merely the fact that the fetus is a person, but that it is a person for whom the woman has a special kind of responsibility issuing from the fact that she is its mother” (Thomson 2006, p. 184). To be the Good Samaritan does not mean to produce a special kind of attachment towards the child. When the state cannot create favorable social conditions for a woman to be pregnant, and when a woman cannot step over her moral principles and commit a murder of her unborn child, the state actually pushes this woman towards being the Good Samaritan.
In the relations between the woman and her future child such moral and social position is simply unacceptable. By turning the woman into the Good Samaritan, the state deprives the child of any real spiritual attachment which a woman should feel towards this child. Self-sacrifice is the reasonable choice of a woman. There is no pregnancy without self-sacrifice: we sacrifice our bodies, time, even health to produce a new life.
When the state does not socially encourage pregnancy, it turns pregnancy into the act of the Good Samaritan. Such acts are more connected to the feeling of pity, than to the feelings of real love, responsibility, and attachment towards the unborn child. Pity is completely incompatible with the principles of mother-child relations. When a woman views her pregnancy as the act of the Good Samaritan, and when she is socially and economically stressed to develop any reasonable and real attachment to the unborn child, abortion becomes morally permissible.
Judith Jarvis Thomson (2006) ends her work with the following statement: “A very early abortion is surely not the killing of a person, and so is not dealt with by anything I have said here”. In this essay I mean all abortions, regardless the stage of pregnancy at which such abortion is performed. I was trying to persuade the reader that abortions are morally permissible when the state cannot provide pregnant women with the conditions favorable for this pregnancy and the life of the future child. Although Thomson (2006) defends abortions, her line of arguments is completely different from mine. In many instances I disagree with Thomson (2006).
I still suppose that the society should take the fetus as a living creature. I cannot agree with the idea that self-sacrifice is not morally justified. Although I accept abortions as morally permissible, I keep to the thought that abortion remains the act of murder. When Thomson (2006) says that “we need to be shown […] that abortion is unjust killing” (p. 185), I cannot but disagree because killing can never be just. Abortion is morally permissible, but it is always unjust towards the child, especially when the woman is compelled to it by unfavorable external conditions.
Marquis, D. (2006). Why abortion is immoral. In B. MacKinnon, Ethics: Theory and contemporary issues, 5th edition, University of San Francisco, p. 186-193.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. (2006). A defense of abortion. In B. MacKinnon, Ethics: Theory and contemporary issues, 5th edition, University of San Francisco, pp. 175-185.