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Self-defense abortion is a highly controversial moral issue that is open to different interpretations and definitions. It is unacceptable to Christians and pro-life activists. However, liberals and groups such as politicians and medical practitioners have different interpretations. Acceptance of self-defense abortion can be based on the doctrine of utilitarianism (Boonin 35).
Utilitarianism holds that individuals should make decisions that have beneficial outcomes and that do not promote suffering and pain (Shaw 64). As such, self-defense abortion is acceptable because it promotes the wellbeing of a mother who decides to abort. In addition, it protects the mother from danger and avoids exposing the unborn baby to future pain and suffering.
The practice has been debated for a long time among medical practitioners, religious leaders, law experts, and human rights activists. However, they have not reached a consensus. Self-defense abortion is moral and permissible because it protects mothers from risks of physical and non-physical harm.
Self-defense abortion is performed when conception occurs due to rape or incest, when the health of a mother is in danger, or when a mother is not willing to deliver the baby because of possible emotional or traumatic experiences she might possibly experience after delivery (Boonin 37). According to the utilitarian doctrine, there is no absolute right or wrong. The moral value of an action or act is solely determined by the outcome (Shaw 68).
A proponent of utilitarianism would first consider the question whether abortion would result in favourable outcomes or not. According to the doctrine, abortion is right in case a mother’s life is in danger, the mother is unable to take care of the baby financially or if the baby is malformed (Shaw 71). In addition, it is acceptable in case a baby’s birth would endanger either the physical or the mental well-being of the mother. Abortion is also permissible if birth of a baby would cause conflict among family members.
Abortion is moral and permissible if a fetus exposes the mother to risk of non-physical harm. Several situations validate acceptance of abortion as a necessary method of preserving the well-being of a mother. These include potential damage to the mother’s mental health, financial prospects, career, or family plans (Davis 177).
If birth of a child interferes with these aspects of a mother’s life, then abortion is permissible. Under these situations, self-defense abortion ignores arguments presented by religious leaders and biologists that a fetus has a right to live because even though small, it is a human being (Davis 178). It is unethical to allow a fetus to develop if a mother’s mental health is in danger.
Mother’s health is priority and if birth of the child would affect her health or life quality, then abortion is permissible. Two utilitarian philosophers, Bentham and Stuart Mill, taught that by following the utilitarian doctrine, individuals should yearn for creation or increment of happiness (Shaw 78). Bentham provided a definition of happiness as presence of pleasure and absence of pain.
Emotional, psychological, and mental disturbances are common outcomes of pregnancies from rape or incest. Abortion is permissible in case of rape or incest because a woman would be unable to live with guilt and shame of raising an incestuous child or a child from a rape ordeal (Davis 183).
If a woman was forced to have a child against her will, then she has a right to abort. On the other hand, the woman may not want the child or may not have financial ability to care for the child. Therefore, the baby would suffer because it would lack motherly love and care. Instead of exposing the child to a harsh life without love and care, it is better to abort it.
Abortion is also permissible if a fetus puts the mother in physical danger. For example, ectopic pregnancies put the mother’s life in danger of death if the fetus is not removed (Huffman 287). Ectopic pregnancy occurs when conception takes place in other places such as the fallopian tube instead of the uterus.
Medical practitioners usually recommend chemical abortions to women who experience ectopic pregnancies. Research has found out that those women who experience ectopic pregnancies usually die because of health complications that develop during development of the fetus (Huffman 288). Utilitarianism denies the argument that abortion is evil. Instead, it maintains that if an outcome is pleasurable or brings greater good, then it is justified (Shaw 76).
Utilitarianism holds that the end justifies the means. According to utilitarianism, a woman may abort under any circumstance or for any reason given that the outcome of the abortion brings happiness or promotes a greater good (Huffman 291). If self-defense abortion brings happiness to a woman, then a utilitarian would consider it justified and acceptable.
Opponents argue that despite the life of a mother being in danger of physical or non-physical harm, self-defense abortion is immoral, unethical, and impermissible. Even though it aims to protect the mother, it kills the unborn baby. Opponents present several arguments to validate the immoral nature of abortion.
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First, they argue that a fetus is a human being that has a right to live (McDonagh 49). Therefore, killing a fetus to alleviate a mother’s future suffering contradicts values of compassion and respect for human life. Rape and incest are not good enough reasons to allow abortion.
In addition, abortion is associated with stigmatization that makes life difficult for mothers (McDonagh 50). It exposes women to risk of developing emotional and psychological complications because of discrimination in the society. In many societies, women who abort are considered evil and outcasts. It is difficult for such women to live with guilt of killing in communities where they are discriminated and segregated.
To avoid such consequences, self-defense abortion should not be allowed because it has severe consequences on mothers. However, consequences of allowing birth of an unwanted baby are more severe. Research has shown that women who abort willingly do not develop emotional or psychological disturbances later in life. In addition, unwanted children go through a lot of suffering and hardship because their mothers abandon them later in life (McDonagh 54).
Second, they argue that abortion has severe health consequences on involved women. It causes irreparable damages to the mother. Research has revealed that abortion can affect a woman’s ability to give birth after an abortion. Examples of long-term effects of abortion include miscarriages, stillbirths, low birth-weight babies, and infertility (McDonagh 57).
On the other hand, procedures carried out during abortion expose mothers to several health complications that risk their lives and well-being. These include tearing of the cervix, fever and peritonitis, uterus perforation, thrombosis, and risk of infection during blood transfusion (McDonagh 59).
Other risks include increased possibility of tubal pregnancy and death from hemorrhage. These complications have been reported in cases where unqualified individuals conducted abortion. Abortions that are conducted by certified and experienced practitioners are safe and few cases of complications have been reported. Opponent’s arguments are not strong enough to explain why a mother should be exposed to harm by failing to conduct an abortion.
Abortion is a contemporary moral issue that is unacceptable in many societies. Self-defense abortion takes place in cases where birth of a child puts the life of the mother at risk of either physical or non-physical danger. In addition, it is acceptable in some societies on basis that a woman has a right to chose what is best for her. The utilitarianism doctrine holds that individuals should perform acts whose consequences result in beneficial outcomes.
From that definition, self-defense abortion is allowed if it results in gratifying outcomes that avoid painful consequences. It is permissible and ethical to save a mother from physical harm such as death, and non-physical harm such as mental, emotional, or psychological disturbances. Self-defense abortion saves many women from physical, emotional, and psychological suffering. Opponents argue that abortion is unacceptable and immoral.
They argue that self-defense abortion is murder and a fetus has a right to life. In addition, they argue that it exposes women to health complications such as sterility and miscarriages in future pregnancies. However, they ignore the fact that consequences of allowing birth of an unwanted baby are more severe than aborting it. Therefore, self-defense abortion is acceptable and permissible.
Boonin, David. A defense of Abortion. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.
Davis, Nancy. Abortion and Self-defense. Philosophy and Public Affairs 13.3 (2002): 175-207. Print.
Huffman, Tom. Abortion, Moral Responsibility, and Self-Defense. Public Affairs Quarterly 7.4 (2003): 287-302. Print.
McDonagh, Eileen. Breaking the Abortion Deadlock: From Choice to Consent. London: Oxford University press, 2004. Print.
Shaw, William. Contemporary Ethics: Taking Account of Utilitarianism. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. Print.