Sample Case Study on the Topic of Abortion
Abortion has been a long discussed and studied topic. The subject is very sensitive yet it is important that it be discussed. The issue revolves around the well-being of the mother, the morality of not giving the fetus the chance to be brought into the world, the ethical views of those for or against abortion , and who makes the ultimate decision of having an abortion. This paper will discuss the factors that are usually brought up in talks about abortion.
What is Abortion
Abortion is defined as the termination of a pregnancy before the time of actual birth. There are many different ways that abortion is performed at present. The procedure that will be performed depends on how far along the pregnancy is. The procedures are generally safe, with only a few risks of complications, if the procedure is carried out with a method that is recommended by the World Health Organization.
However, not all countries have already legalized abortion. As of today, there are currently 56 countries in the world where abortion is liberalized or legalized. Studies have shown that there are lower abortion rates in countries where abortion is already legalized compared to the countries that still prohibit it.
The common problem that legislators face in passing the law is the concern for the health of the mother and the morality of abortion. A common ground still has not been reached on the issue. Even if more than half of Americans say that they approve of legalizing abortion, there is still quite a large number of people who think otherwise.
Abortion is a human right as every individual has the right to decide freely and responsibly in regards to attaining the highest standard of their very own sexual and reproductive health. Every year, thousands of women die due to the fact that they were forced to have an unsafe abortion – because having a WHO recommended method is not an option in their situation or location.
An argument that seems to always rise when talking about abortion is if the fetus is already considered alive when it is still inside the womb. Most religious people say that it is in fact already alive since the moment of its conception. Secular groups, on the other hand, believe that a child may only be deemed alive after its birth and that the mother’s well-being should be prioritized.
When is abortion considered as murder?
What is a Fetus
Some countries who have legalized abortion to some extent have placed gestational limits. Meaning a woman is no longer allowed to have an abortion if the time of abortion exceeds the gestation period. A gestational limit is usually placed around 10-14 weeks. Around this time, the conceived baby is no longer an embryo. The unborn child is now a fetus.
It is taught in biology class that the 10th week of pregnancy is the stage of growth and development of body parts and internal organs. Meaning the stage of forming all the important organs is now over, it all just needs to be developed.
The maximum gestational limit of 14 weeks is because the fetus then starts operating like an already born baby. It starts to hear their mother’s voice, develops sex organs and fat, build stronger bones, and they begin to suck and swallow. In addition, a 14 week old fetus is too big for a safe abortion procedure.
Most women get abortions within the first 8 weeks of pregnancy and 9 out of 10 of abortions happen within the first trimester, the first 12 weeks. In countries where abortion is not legalized, the rate of abortion is higher because effective contraception and safe abortion is limited or totally unavailable.
No country in the world is safe from unwanted pregnancies. Every year, there is a recorded 121 million unintended pregnancies worldwide. 6 out of 10 of these pregnancies end up in abortion. Up to 13% maternal deaths can be connected with unsafe abortions. Africa is the most vulnerable from this high number of maternal mortality rates due to abortion.
Although unintended pregnancies do not necessarily equate to unwanted pregnancies, it may lead to various complications for both the mother and the child especially if the mother is part of the population of a developing country. Unintended pregnancies may be because of skipping the use of contraception or not using contraception at all, rape, incest, or abuse.
Studies have shown that most women who are sexually active but wanted to delay or limit childbearing have stopped using contraception because they have health concerns or have fear of the possible side effects.
More than half of unintended pregnancies end up in abortion whether safe or unsafe. Unsafe abortions that resulted from unwanted pregnancies are more common in south and central Asia. Particularly, in the Philippines where 30% engaged in having unsafe abortions due to the unavailability of safe abortion.
Morality of Abortion
Despite the fact that countless mothers have died, the debate on the morality of abortion continues. Pro-life and pro-choice groups still have not reconciled their fundamental differences. Pro-life groups insist on two premises. The first premise being “murder is the killing of a human being” and the second “the unborn fetus is a human being,” therefore concluding that “abortion is murder.”
The line of logic followed by this assertion is correct, however its premises are not without controversies. This is where the sensitivity of the issue starts. Are the doctors performing abortion and the mothers having an abortion accomplice in the crime of murdering an unborn child? Pro-life groups say that it is. Pro-choice groups say that unborn fetuses does not necessarily count as a human being as it is still unborn.
There is no doubt that groups from both sides would not debate but instead agree on the value of morality and human life. Both would not take into consideration taking a human life especially not an innocent one. The premise confirms that as long as one is not a breathing human being, it cannot be considered as murder. Pro-choice groups side with this argument.
The pro-life groups’ answer to this is the unborn child has become human being at the moment of conception and therefore should be considered alive and breathing. Pro-choice groups, however, argue that the unborn fetus cannot yet be considered an actual human being, but a potential human being. To say that the unborn fetus is a human being is also to saying that it has the same rights as another human being, for instance the woman carrying it. With that said, a potential human being does not have the same rights as an actual human being, the right to life.
Mary Anne Warren on Abortion
Mary Anne Warren is a notable philosophy professor, famous for her arguments on the issue of abortion. In her 1973 piece, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion, she laid out a few criteria for what constitutes a human being. Some say that consciousness, the ability to reason, imagine, and communicate, to act independently, and the ability for self-awareness are the criteria for a human being. These characteristics mean that the being has “moral personhood” and not just have the genetic code that make up a human.
Still on the subject of what makes a human being, the criteria provided by Mary Anne Warren are perfectly met by the woman who is carrying the fetus. The woman is an actual human being, and therefore has full human rights. Thus, in cases where the doctor has to choose between the woman and the fetus, it is clear that to choose the fetus over the woman would constitute a murder, but the opposite would not.
On the First Premise
Pro-choice groups argue that the fetus does not become an actual human until it becomes viable to live outside the womb. It also follows that the fetus is made up of cells that is the start of a life, which may or may not survive. Therefore, it cannot have full human rights. Given these criteria, the fetus cannot be considered an actual human being, and therefore abortion cannot be considered murder, following this logic.
In the event that the doctor would be choosing the underdeveloped fetus over the mother, a full human being in Warren's criteria, is to be considered murder. More than that, to allow the woman to die would mean that the fetus, should it survive and live, would grow up without a mother. The child’s life would not be as bad if it had a loving father present or other relatives, but what if there is no one else? Then, this potential child’s life would only be full of misery and sufferings.
Naturally, if the woman were the victim of rape or abuse or if she may die due to the pregnancy, or if the infant is seriously sick or deformed, then it is really a matter of right to life. In such a case, the woman’s right to life should be given more importance than the unborn fetus, which is not yet a full human being.
On the Second Premise
On the other hand, pro-life groups fight for the conservation of life of all human beings, therefore including the life the baby will have once born. In order to prove or disprove if a fetus can be considered a human being upon conception, one must first look at the fetus, in particular at its personhood.
Many pro-choice persons would say that the fetus becomes a human being when it is born, while many pro-lifers say that a fetus becomes a person at the time of its conception. Still, others say that it happens at other stages of its pre-natal development, such as when it starts to have brain waves.
Mary Anne Warren presents the 5 attributes associated with being a person, in an attempt to settle the debate about a fetus’ personhood. These are consciousness, ability to reason, autonomy, ability to communicate, and self-awareness. A person does not need to have all 5 attributes, but at least 3 or 4 are necessary.
For her, a fetus becomes a full-fledged part of the moral community once he acquires at least 3 or 4 of these attributes. The conclusion of this argument basically states that a fetus is not yet to be called an actual human being. Nevertheless, pro-life supporters would disagree and insist that the fetus becomes a full-fledged part of the moral community from the moment of its conception.
Pro-life and pro-choice groups may never come into agreement in the matter of abortion. Specifically, when the fetus can be considered as a human being. However, it has been inferred that the life the child will have once born should put into consideration. The living condition the mother is currently in should be put into the equation.
Will pro-lifers still not support the decision of a mother to have an abortion fully knowing that the child will be born into an abusive family? Will pro-choice supporters advocate for the child to live if they knew that the mother only wants to abort the child due to selfish reasons like the fetus isn’t the gender she was expecting.
In any case, the mother’s position should be put in highest consideration in telling if an abortion is moral. A medical professional’s opinion is definitely called for especially if the mother’s life is in danger because of the pregnancy. Both pro-choice groups and pro-life groups should set aside looking at the bigger picture and instead focus on the mothers as an individual who has rights and medical needs.
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World Health Organization. (n.d.). Abortion. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/abortion
World Health Organization. (2020, September 25). Preventing Unsafe Abortion. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/preventing-unsafe-abortion