An Inquiry Into the Morality of Abortion

EssayAbortion
May 17, 2008

The abortion debate boils down to the morality of abortion . Despite the different types of arguments, from religious to political positions, the debates aim to answer whether it is moral to terminate a fetus or not. Since there are many approaches and sides to the argument, individuals on the same side can even have different ideas. Opponents of abortion perceive the act as immoral, however, there can be cases where they find it moral but still oppose its legalization. This  argumentative essay will take the side of the opponents of abortion and will try to refute the moral arguments of the supporters of abortion.

Morality Arguments from the Opponents of Abortion

Opponents of abortion tend to argue that the process of abortion is synonymous with killing a human being. Gordon (n.d.) presented the practical syllogism, “killing human beings is prohibited; a fetus is a human being; therefore killing a fetus is prohibited. In this logical statement, the author considers the fetus as a human being. This approach is another topic of debate in the matter which raises refutations regarding the merit of syllogism. Gordon (n.d.) then presented a modification where he changed the term “human beings” to “human life form”. Through this, arguments regarding the personhood of fetuses cannot apply to the syllogism.

From the modified syllogism, one can apply the legal and moral laws that prohibit anyone from killing another person or lifeform. Killing a person is murder and even killing certain animals, such as dogs and cats, can result in a prison sentence. Since a fetus is a “human life form” and will potentially become a person, then killing it is a legal and moral crime. Therefore, the act of abortion is immoral since it is equivalent to killing a “human life form”.

Another argument regarding the morality of abortion came from Donald Marquis in 1989 but is still a relevant argument today. Marquis (1989) argued that a fetus has a potential future and the act of abortion deprives it of this future. Put simply, the fetus will potentially grow into an adult and live a full life. The fetus will eventually become equal to a competent adult, therefore killing a fetus is equal to killing a competent adult. As mentioned earlier, abortion will also deprive the fetus of its future–preventing it from having a family, career, dreams, and purpose. From this perspective, abortion does not only kill a fetus but also the potential life it could have lived. One can even use the argument that if Leonardo Da Vinci’s parents terminated him, then he would never create the Mona Lisa and other masterpieces.

There is also the argument on the immorality of intentionally causing harm to a fetus. Hendricks (2018) argued that if intentionally giving a fetus fetal alcohol syndrome is immoral then abortion should also be immoral. Since intentionally giving a fetus disease is less severe than terminating it, then abortion must be more immoral. This argument challenges the approach of the supporters of abortion to the personhood and rights of a fetus. Some supporters claim that since a fetus is not yet a person, it does not have the rights of a citizen. If this is the case, however, then giving fetal alcohol syndrome to a fetus should not be an immoral act. Since many will agree that intentionally harming a fetus is immoral, then abortion–the act of killing a fetus, is immoral.

Morality Arguments from the Supporters of Abortion

One of the strongest arguments from the supporters of abortion is the conclusion of the Roe v. Wade case. In Roe v. Wade (1973), the court stated that a fetus is not a person and so it cannot have any constitutional rights. A fetus is only a “potential life” and can only receive the protection that the state provides. This conclusion led to the legalization of abortion in the United States, giving victory to the supporters of abortion. This argument makes abortion a moral act since it does not define a fetus as a person. It also challenges the practical syllogism regarding the concept of a fetus as a “human life form”. Even as a “human life form”, the fetus does not possess any constitutional right and so the act becomes moral through the eyes of the law.

Another pro-abortion argument approaches the topic from a biological perspective. Some supporters of abortion argue that the morality of abortion depends on the biological development of a fetus (Gordon, n.d.). They argue that during pregnancy, it is morally permitted to terminate a fetus and the act only becomes immoral after birth. From this, a fetus inside a woman does not have legal and moral rights until after birth. This argument defines existence as the condition after birth. One can also use this argument to challenge the idea of equating a fetus’ life to a competent adult.

Lastly, supporters of abortion argue that the opponents of abortion have inconsistent views. Abortion supporters question why the opponents of abortion do not fight for the welfare of fetuses that are victims of spontaneous abortion and those that are subjects of IVF (Simkulet, 2022). Supporters of abortion argue that if fetus life matters, fetuses that are victims of spontaneous abortion should also receive the support of the opponents of abortion. The opponents should fight for the rights of these fetuses as well as those frozen human embryos in IVF. This argument is a direct challenge to the views of the opponents of abortion and questions the bias in their ideologies.

Refutation

While the pro-abortion argument from the Roe v. Wade case conclusion is strong, both in legal and moral terms, one can apply Hendrick’s (2018) argument. If the court perceives the fetus as “potential life” and not a person, then it should be morally permissible to intentionally give a fetus fetal alcohol syndrome. With no constitutional and moral rights, then an individual can do anything they want to a fetus. For instance, a geneticist can extract a fetus from a woman and conduct various experiments on it without regard to moral laws. However, if the public perceives this as immoral, then terminating a child should also be immoral.

The biological development argument that separates a morality-protected life from an entity with no moral rights has a simple objection. According to Gordon (n.d.), there is no relevant difference between a child that is five minutes before birth and one that has been born, except for the physical separation from the mother. This physical separation is not evidence of the morality of abortion since it is not significant in a moral assessment. If there are no relevant differences, then the argument regarding biological development has no merit and is invalid in arguing the morality of abortion.

Lastly, various authors have contended that the inconsistency arguments challenging the views of the opponents of abortion are irrelevant. Colgrove et al. (2020) argued that all the inconsistency arguments are irrelevant when approaching the morality of abortion (cited in Simkulet, 2022). In the case of spontaneous abortion, one cannot prevent most of these events, hence the word “spontaneous”. Individuals can only help reduce the risks, which mothers will automatically prioritize to ensure their survival. Regarding frozen embryos, the opponents of abortion have a different approach to the topic and so as a collective, there is no one unified view. Additionally, the inconsistency arguments target the reasoning behind the anti-abortion position instead of the morality of abortion.

Conclusion

Supporters of abortion define a fetus as a potential life that possesses limited rights compared to humans after birth. They acknowledge that a fetus deserves a certain level of protection that must not deny women of their rights. Through this reasoning, abortion becomes a moral act that safeguards the health and rights of women. Alternatively, the opponents of abortion perceive a fetus as a human being and should be subject to the legal and moral rights that fully-developed humans possess. From this paper’s refutation section, one can conclude that abortion is an immoral act since any other harmful actions to a fetus are also immoral. Despite the different standings of individuals regarding the topic, it is important to note that  abortion can be moral in some cases and immoral in others.

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Reference List

Gordon, J. (n.d.). Abortion. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at https://iep.utm.edu/abortion/. Accessed July 11, 2022.

Hendricks, P. (2018). Even If the Fetus is Not a Person, Abortion is Immoral: The Impairment Argument. Bioethics, vol. 33(2). Available at https://doi.org/10.1111/bioe.12533. Accessed July 11, 2022.

Marquis, D. (1989). Why Abortion is Immoral. The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 86(4), 183–202. https://doi.org/10.2307/2026961. Accessed July 11, 2022.

Roe v. Wade. (n.d.). Oyez. Available at https://www.oyez.org/cases/1971/70-18. Accessed July 11, 2022.

Simkulet, W. (2022). The Moral Significance of Abortion Inconsistency Arguments. Asian Bioethics Review, vol. 14(1). Available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s41649-021-00189-9. Accessed July 11, 2022.

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