There are two opposing views on the question of abortion and these are the pro-life and the pro-choice. The pro-life argues that abortion is immoral and in fact constitutes murder because a fetus is already a human being from the time it is conceived.
The pro-choice, on the other hand, advocates that a woman has the right to her own body and should decide what is best for her. Those who propose to legalize abortion argue that a fetus is a mere tissue that becomes a human person only when it comes out of the womb of the mother.
My staunch on this issue is pro-life. I am going to defend that a fetus is a human being from the time of conception and thus deserves respect and should be provided help until it comes out of the womb of the mother to become a human person. I am going to present the arguments from the moral side and that the right of the unborn child supersedes the right of the mother to do what she wants with her body.
The question of the morality of abortion lies on the moral status of the fetus. The question now is: is the fetus a person? There are arguments and counter-arguments to this question. I am going to present first the different sides or the opposing views of the subject matter according to some authors, and after that I am going to take my side and provide my own arguments for the pro-life side.
There are terms we would like to clarify before going deeper in the discussion. The main topic is the morality and legality of abortion. Abortion is terminating the pregnancy by killing or removing the fetus from the womb of the mother. A fetus is also called the embryo, the single cell that has come out from the fertilization of the egg. A fetus is sixty days old from the time of conception. (Reiman 8)
There is a distinction between being human and being a person. A creature can be biologically human but sometimes cannot be considered a person, for example, someone who is terminally ill and in the vegetative stage. This creature is not anymore a person, according to an argument by pro-choicer. (LaFollette 60)
Warren and Marquis argued that the question is not whether the fetus is human but whether it is a person. A fetus cannot be considered a person because it is not yet born just as a person who is in the vegetative stage is not anymore a person.
This premise is based on the assumption that a creature can only be considered a person if he/she is whole and is not considered vegetable. Calling a person a human being is to state its biological status and not its moral status. (LaFollette 60)
Taking from this point of view, the term ‘vegetable’ figuratively means ‘useless’ (inutile). A person in a vegetative stage is useless, just as an unborn child, a fetus, is useless. According to this reasoning, both are human beings but are not persons.
The anti-abortionist theory states that any human being is a person. A fetus is a human being from the time of conception, it has a moral status of a human being, and thus morality dictates that the fetus deserves respect. Killing “it” is murder.
But Marquis and Warren’s argument states that there are human beings that are not considered persons (such as the one who is in a vegetative stage) and there could be non-humans who can be considered persons (such as aliens in other parts of the universe who could be caring). The point here is that being human is not a criterion of moral status.
Granting for the sake of argument that the fetus is a human being, humanity is not a criterion for moral status. If the fetus is a human being, it does not mean that it is a person. Killing the fetus is morally permissible.
Application of LaFollette’s Arguments to Subject Matter
There is a line of argument on the question of morality here. We have to determine the similarity or dissimilarity of an adult person and that of a fetus. A normal adult human being has a future and if you kill this human being, you deprive him of his future. That is murder.
A fetus has a future and if you kill it, you deprive the fetus of a valuable future. Therefore, a fetus has a moral status like an adult human being.
Authors and theorists meet and disagree at some point, that a fetus is a human being from conception and thus, it is immoral to terminate or abort it. Terminating is tantamount to killing.
The question is when is the right of the mother comes in? Some authors suggest that the mother has a “bundle” of rights while the fetus only has a right – the right to be born. But the mother too has a right to be alive, to defend herself, to choose what to do with her body.
At an early stage, a fetus acquires human characteristics. When it reaches the tenth week, the fetus already has limbs like arms and legs, fingers and toes, and a face.
We cannot argue so much in the physical characteristics of the fetus as a human person. Authors however establish arguments to defend that abortion can be morally permissible in some specific circumstances, for example unwanted pregnancy or pregnancy due to rape.
Critique and Transition
The criterion of moral status can also be applied to our responsibility to non-human animals and the environment. Some animals have a future like human beings and killing them without compelling reasons becomes immoral. This philosophical argumentation that is based on consistency can be applied on the fetus as a human being with a valuable future.
A fetus is a human person and has the right to life. The question is: How should the term “person” be defined? This controversial term can be defined according to the psychological characteristics. But pros and cons about the characteristics of a “person” also have come out, and this has become controversial.
Proponents of abortion argue that a fetus is not a person and is just a mere bit of tissue that will only become a person during birth. Oppositions to abortion also depend on the argument that a fetus is a full human person at the time of conception. Both are wrong in defending and opposing their arguments. There must be a deep examination of the arguments and facts on hand.
Judith Jarvis Thomson
The argument that a fetus has a moral status and therefore has a right to life can also be the basis of the argument that abortion can be legal and therefore morally permissible. Thomson states that the status of the fetus is not in question but rather the obligation of the woman who carries the fetus.
A woman has no obligation to carry the fetus if she does not want to; therefore we have no obligation toward the fetus. But we have an obligation to the woman – that her right to life should also be upheld. (Thomson 61)
We are not obligated to help others unless we volunteer to carry on that obligation. There is another question of morality here: how much are we obligated to help others?
The issue of morality in abortion is as questionable as the issue of legality because there are persons who argue that although they opposed abortion, they also do not want to legally forbid abortion.
Thomson agrees that a fetus is already a human person from the time of conception but she does not agree that abortion is impermissible. She does state that abortion is morally permissible in certain circumstances.
A fetus is a human being before birth and there is no line drawn wherein it can be said that it is a human being before this time or after that time. Since a fetus is a human being, it has a right to life and thus it is wrong to kill it. The mother’s right to decide for her body is superseded by the right to life of another person, the fetus.
Thomson provides an analogy of the violinist.
The analogy states that one day you wake up with somebody attached or plugged to your body. You are in a hospital and this someone who is a violinist, a well known member of an organization, is plugged into your body.
You were kidnapped by the organization and you just woke up with the violinist plugged into your body. They said that you were the only one who had the same blood type as the violinist and they had to use your kidneys to save the life of the violinist.
The doctor in the hospital said that they could do nothing because if they unplugged the violinist from your body, the violinist would be killed. It would only take nine months and the violinist would have recovered from his sickness. The doctor said that the violinist’s right to life far outweighs your right to your own body so that it is wrong to unplug the violinist for surely he will die.
This is an analogy of a pregnancy due to rape, Thomson says. Those who oppose abortion do not make a distinction whether one is a product of rape or not. The case is close for them, i.e. that it is wrong to terminate a fetus even if it is a product of rape.
Another instance is when a mother has a heart condition and that she will die if she will be pregnant for nine months. The fetus and the mother both have the equal right to life. Which one should prevail? Shouldn’t the mother have the right to decide for her own body?
Some premises can also be stated in this particular situation. According to Thomson, having an abortion is killing the child but doing nothing and let the mother die is not murder – you just let her die. Terminating the fetus is killing an innocent person because the fetus is already a human person from the moment of conception.
Critique and Transition
The following are some assumptions.
- Terminating the fetus is killing a human person, so that abortion should not be done.
- Killing a fetus is murder; murder is crime and immoral, therefore abortion should not be performed.
- It is morally wrong to kill a person, more wrong than letting a person die; therefore abortion must not be performed.
- In choosing the options of killing a person or letting a person die, the latter must be chosen, and thus abortion should not be performed. (Thomson 65)
Thomson says that all those premises are plausible simply because a mother, in some specific situations, does have the right to allow an abortion to save her life. Should she only sit and wait for her time to die when she can have the chance to save her life?
Thomson further cites the violinist analogy. Since the violinist is plug into your body, the doctor says that the situation has put a great strain on your kidneys but unplugging the violinist will kill him. So which option should be chosen?
This situation, according to Thomson, is the same as a sixteen-year-old victim of rape who is pregnant. It is not murder and it is not impermissible if you unplug yourself from the violinist, just as the pregnant rape victim can have abortion.
Pregnancy due to normal circumstances is not the same with pregnancy due to rape. Suppose a woman becomes pregnant with her own free will. This is different from the violinist analogy because the woman permitted herself to become pregnant. Abortion is in fact impermissible for this situation.
This is because the mother’s life is not in danger and her pregnancy is voluntary. And if the fetus is to be killed because the mother just wants to get rid with it, then it is unjustly killing a person.
Thomson’s argument goes back to the violinist. Suppose it would only take one hour for the violinist to be plugged into your body, then it is just and humane that you allow him to be plugged into your body. And also, if it will not cause much strain on your kidneys for only one hour, then you have the obligation as a human being to allow the violinist to be plugged into your body to use your kidneys.
Mary Anne Warren critiqued the violinist analogy saying that the woman only has the right to choose abortion when her pregnancy is caused by rape or when she is not morally responsible for it. In other words, it has to be determined first what causes the pregnancy before the woman can decide what she will do with her body.
In this case, before abortion is to be done, some other persons will have to determine first what causes the pregnancy. Pro-abortionists would not want this kind of reasoning. (Warren – “Moral Status” 75)
Warren argues that a fetus has not yet reached a point where it can be called a person and therefore aborting it is not deeply tragic.
Compared to a woman who is a complete person, a fetus does not have moral status. A woman has basic moral right than a fetus. The following are the necessary characteristics where an entity can be considered a person:
- Sentience – this refers to an entity’s capacity to experience particularly those which pertain to pain and pleasure;
- Emotionality – the capacity to feel through the senses, like being able to feel happy, sad, or angry, etc.;
- Reason – the capacity to use the mind to solve problems;
- Communication – the capacity to communicate;
- Self-awareness – being aware of oneself as a person and as a member of society;
- Moral agency – the capacity to follow moral principles. (Warren – “Moral Status” 76)
Warren said that it is not necessary that an entity should have all of the six characteristics to qualify to be a person. A fetus does not have any one of the six characteristics and so it does not qualify to be a person. Since it is not yet a person it does not have rights that persons do. (Warren – “On the Moral and Legal” 10)
But as it grows, a fetus can have a stronger right to life. Warren accepts the fact that a seven-month old fetus can already feel the pain and respond to light stimuli.
Warren explains this in her book, Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things, when she says that an embryo or a fetus is not like a born child who has a moral status like other adult human beings who have one or all of the characteristics mentioned above.
The philosopher Don Marquis explains in his article, Why Abortion is Immoral, the various arguments of both the anti-abortionist and pro-choicers. There are ambiguities and standoffs in the two opposing views. For example, the anti-abortionists cannot clearly explain that a fetus is a full human being.
The question of humanity and personhood are explained but questions remain. There is ambiguity when the anti-abortionist says that a fetus is a human being in the first trimester period, or there has to be a process of development before a fetus can be called a human being. (Marquis 7)
While there is ambiguity on this argument, the pro-abortionists also have ambiguities in their arguments. The pro-choicer finds reasons for killing infants or severely retarded individuals.
Warren explained that a person has the characteristics of: sentience, emotionality, reason, communication, self-awareness, and moral agency. (Warren – “On the Moral and Legal” 76)
The anti-abortionists claim that the biological character makes a person but the pro-choicer claims that being a person can be determined through the psychological criteria. Both groups can demand explanations and there is no end to their arguments.
Abortion is killing. Killing is murder and offers a grave consequence because one’s future is deprived. The fetus has a future. It can have a set of experiences, valuable activities and worthwhile living. The gravity of the crime (or sin) in killing a born infant is the same as killing a fetus, an unborn infant. (Marquis 11)
There were two issues raised by Don Marquis which Ann Cudd did not agree: the issue whether a fetus has rights of which society has obligations to adhere to and the issue whether these rights are “prima facie” or absolute. Marquis had conflated the two issues.
Marquis did not present arguments proving that society’s obligations to foetuses are absolute. Cudd called this philosophically irresponsible, saying that foetuses did not grow in the garden and society’s obligation was to decide what to do with them: bury them or let them grow. (Cudd 15)
The question of abortion involves the lives of the mother and the fetus, but there is a “compelling bundle of rights” on the part of the mother. Ignoring the rights of the mother is the same as killing any other adult human being.
The mother has the justified right of self-defense. Since abortion is not justified because the fetus has a future just like any other human being, then the principle of killing by self-defense is also not justified. (Cudd 16)
Even in considering abortion, we also have to look at aspects like the woman’s privacy, health, and medical care. Issues on abortion have not even considered much of the rights of the woman. If abortion is killing a being that refers to the fetus, then is it not also killing the mother if we allow it to live inside the mother for nine months? (Cudd 16)
The anti-abortionists and the pro-choicers have conflicting views in many ways, but they do meet at some point. Abortion is permissible in instances like unwanted pregnancy or pregnancy due to rape.
Don Marquis finds the tasks of both anti-abortionists and pro-choicers as no easy tasks in explaining to the world why and why not abortion is immoral. There are disagreements to their arguments. For example, the term person has to be clearly defined before the moral status can be clearly established. But explanations and evidence vary.
Reiman says that if we have a duty not to be cruel to animals even if animals have no right, we also have a duty to the unborn even if we consider that the fetus is not a human being and has no right to life (9).
Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and almost all the other religions speak of the right of the fetus, of the unborn, as an absolute right. The Christian view holds that human life is sacred and is an expression of who God is. The fetus is human life and an innocent life at that. (Walter and Shannon 151)
The Catholic doctrine on human life stems from the time of St. Thomas Aquinas who advocated the teaching of Aristotle, which states that human life starts when a soul is infused into the “animal soul” (MacGuigan 36). This changed during the time of Pope Pius XI who advocated that life begins at the time of conception.
The encyclical of Pope Pius XI mentions the Code of Canon Law that states that “the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children”. Contraception should be rejected and there should be strong sexual ethics in marriage.
Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. Killing the unborn child is killing God. The church stresses the right of the unborn child. The primary end of marriage is to raise a family.
Who can be considered a human person? The Catholic Church does not say explicitly that a fertilized egg is already a human being (MacGuigan 36), but the sacredness of the person must be upheld.
According to the Catholic view, a human person is a product of billions of years of evolution. God created the human person unique from other animals on earth.
Every person has unique DNA, unique finger prints, and unique and distinct individuality from all the other human persons. Christians and those who belong to other religions believe that God is in every human person and every person is capable of doing good and deserves respect.
The popes’ encyclicals and the Holy Bible point to the goodness of God when he appointed man to be a pro-creator; he commanded Adam and the generations to “go and multiply and replenish the earth”, never to destroy his creation, and never to kill.
Many authors provide arguments sometimes with evidence and sometimes not. When they touch delicate subjects as humanity and personhood and other philosophical subjects, they try to avoid religious views. But when we speak of morality shouldn’t we consult what religion can say? Our views of morality are influenced by our religious beliefs.
From what have been discussed in this paper, authors and theorists offered explanations and most of them are conflicting explanations. They are not clear and offered ambiguities, or if they offer valid arguments, most of them are logical and can be considered as valid reasoning.
But there are standoffs to their points of views. For when can we say that a fetus is a human being, or a human person, or a person with the characteristics like adult human beings? Opinions have become arguments and arguments are sometimes supported with evidence. Anyone can argue against the other side.
Another question is: when can the mother choose what to do with her body? Is the right of the fetus absolute?
The question of the right to life of the fetus goes deeper to the question of killing. A fetus has a right to life and therefore should not be killed. Again there are standoffs but I would like to consult what our religion, the past and the present literature, the teachings of the church, can tell us. (Segers 290)
The Holy Bible and the popes’ encyclicals have stood over centuries by the doctrine that a fetus is a human being from the time of conception and thus killing “it” is morally wrong and against the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is an absolute right of the unborn. (Hehir 9) But if the right to life is absolute, the right of the mother should also be considered in special circumstances.
When the church speaks, nobody can refute it, and it is for this reason that philosophers, theorists and authors seldom speak of the church when they debate and argue of the morality and legality of abortion.
When doctrines dominate the debate, it is a question of belief. When beliefs dominate the scene, nobody wins, nobody loses. But is abortion a question of belief? Logic and reason have had their place in the debate over abortion and there is still a standoff. Nobody wins.
The question of legality still hangs in the air. There are states that uphold abortion, but many oppose it. While many of the countries “believe” the morality of abortion, they are not prepared for it. Perhaps, in some cases, abortion has to be done.
Cudd, Ann. “Sensationalized Philosophy: A Reply to Marquis’s ‘Why Abortion is Immoral’.” Moral Issues in Global Perspective: Moral Issues, Second Edition. Ed. Christine M. Koggel. New York, USA: Broadview Press, 2006. 15-17. Print.
Hehir, J. Bryan. “1. Murray’s Contribution.” The Catholic Church, Morality and Politics. Eds. Charles Curran and Leslie Griffin. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2001. 5-10. Print.
LaFollette, Hugh. “Abortion.” Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. Ed. Hugh LaFollette. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2002. 60-62. Print.
MacGuigan, Mark. Abortion, Conscience and Democracy. England and New York: Hounslow Press, 1994. 36-40. Print.
Marquis, Don. “Why Abortion is Immoral.” Moral Issues in Global Perspective: Moral Issues, Second Edition. Ed. Christine M. Koggel. New York, USA: Broadview Press, 2006. 5-13. Web.
Pope Pius XI. Casti Connubii: Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Marriage, 1930. Web.
Reiman, Jeffrey. Abortion and the Ways We Value Human Life. Oxford, England: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999. 1-10. Print.
Segers, Mary. “Abortion Laws.” The Catholic Church, Morality and Politics. Eds. Charles Curran and Leslie Griffin. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2001. 289-296. Print.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “A Defense of Abortion.” Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. Ed. Hugh LaFollette. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2002. 63-70. Print.
Walter, James, and Thomas Shannon. Contemporary Issues in Bioethics: A Catholic Perspective. UK and USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005. 147-157. Print.
Warren, Mary Anne. Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 10-11. Print.
—.“On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion.” Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. Ed. Hugh LaFollette. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2002. 72-81. Print.