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Women Must be Free to Choose Abortion
There comes a time in the lives of most women when an ovum,
fertilized with sperm, will implant itself into her uterine wall. This is
nature's first step in its attempt to continue the human race. Currently,
when this implantation occurs, the impregnated woman has the right to allow
the embryo to nourish itself into existence or to eliminate all chances of
that embryo attaining life through abortion. Every species of plant and
animal on earth reproduce in one way or another. How could something as
ancient and fundamental as reproduction turn into one of the most hotly
contested moral debates in history? The question can only be answered if
we first examine the intellectual psyche of the human animal.
Since we are currently the most intelligent beings on earth, we use
our critical thinking capabilities to selectively choose what should be
morally acceptable and what should be deemed unacceptable. To the best of
our knowledge, we as humans are the only species in existence that wrestle
with moral dilemmas. Absolute morality that will be agreed upon by the
majority of a society is extremely difficult to determine since each
individual has the ability to decide for themselves what is morally
acceptable. It is because of this decision that our American culture
intensely debates issues of morality such as abortion. The debate over
abortion pits the rights to life of an unborn fetus against the rights of
rational women who want to control what happens to their own body. Does
the termination of a pregnancy deprive a human of their right to life?
Should our government be allowed the power to regulate what a woman can and
cannot do with her own body? These are two of the questions which will be
deliberated over throughout the course of this paper.
In his article "Abortion and Infanticide", Michael Tooley tackles
two important questions about abortion. The first is "what properties must
someone have in order to be considered a person, i.e., to have a serious
right to life?" Tooley answers that anything which completely lacks
consciousness, like ordinary machines, cannot have rights. If a being does
not desire something such as consciousness, it is impossible to deprive
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that being of his right to it. In other words, Tooley argues that since a
fetus does not show outward desires to have life, it is morally permissible
to abort that fetus. There are three exceptions to this rule that need to
be clarified. First, if the being is in a temporary emotionally unbalanced
state, such as a deep depression, he should still be allowed rights to life.
Secondly, if the being is unconscious due to sleep or some sort of trauma,
he should not be deprived of his rights to life. Finally, if the person has
been brainwashed by a religious cult or any similar institution into
wanting death, he should still be given a right to life.
The second question addressed by Tooley is "at what point in the
development of a member of the species Homo Sapiens does the organism
possess the properties that make it a person?" The law in America currently
implies that the fetus possesses the properties that make it a person when
it reaches the third trimester or the sixth month of its germination inside
the uterus. Is this a reasonable assessment of when a fetus has a right to
life? Tooley says "No". An organism does not have a right to life unless
it possesses the concept of a self as a continuous being of mental states.
This definition of possessing a right to life can be applied to newborn
babies that do not yet have a concept of a self as a continuous being.
Therefore, it is morally acceptable to deprive them of their right to life,
for they don't show desire for life. According to Tooley, the fetus does
not have a right to life at any time therefore, the mother of that fetus
should have the right to terminate her pregnancy as she so chooses. Tooley
implies that until the fetus reaches the age of about three weeks outside
the uterus, it does not show signs of wanting life. Only when the child
shows signs of desiring life should the child be given a right to life.
These arguments are controversial to say the least. However, they contain
a rational opinion of when an organism should be given a right to life.
Mary Anne Warren also examines the morality of abortion in her
article titled "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion". She attempts
to address the question "how are we to define the moral community, the set
of beings with full and equal moral rights, such that we can decide whether
a human fetus is a member of this community or not?" To accomplish this
definition, Warren lists five major criteria she believes are most central
to the concept of personhood. They are:
1. consciousness so that the being is capable of feeling pain
2. reasoning in order to solve relatively complex problems
3. self-motivated activity independent of genetic or external
4. the capacity to communicate
5. the presence of self-awareness These criteria could be used to
decide whether or not an alien person from another realm of existence
should be considered a person, and therefore given human rights. However,
a being does not need to hold all five of these attributes in order to be
considered a human being. Warren says possessing only criterion (1) and
(2) would be sufficient for personhood. If these criteria are acceptable
requirements for a being to be considered human, then a fetus is definitely
not human since it possesses none of these characteristics. Warren says
the one exception to an entity being given human status even though they do
not meet the above five criterion is someone whose "consciousness has been
obliterated", through trauma, stroke, etc... Warren classifies such a
being as a defective human, not a person. These people may gain
consciousness again so their right to life should not be taken away.
Richard Werner argues for the fetuses right to life in his article
titled "Abortion: The Ontological and Moral Status of the Unborn". He uses
the continuum argument that states "if you and I are human beings, then
there is every reason to believe and no good reason to deny that the unborn
are also human beings." Werner believes that one is a human being from the
moment of conception onward and that all previously proposed cut-off points
for determining when one is a human are unacceptable. Werner says these
"cut-off" points are unacceptable because there is no clear line that can
be drawn in the human's development from conception to adulthood that can
be used to 'say a being does not have a right to life before that point.'
According to Werner, since there is this hazy period in the embryological
development of a fetus where it gradually becomes a human, the fetus should
be considered a human from the moment of conception onward. Since the
fetus will eventually reach humanhood if it is allowed sufficient time to
develop, it should not be denied its opportunity for life.
To strengthen his position, Werner uses the comparison of an acorn
to a fetus. He states that "admittedly an acorn is not an oak, nor is an
ovum or sperm cell a human, but an acorn germinating in the soil is indeed
an oak and so is the impregnated ovum a human." He uses this comparison to
illustrate when he believes life begins, both for an oak tree and a human
being. After the sperm and egg unite, a human is formed, just as an oak
tree is formed as soon as the acorn begins to germinate. This analogy poses
a difficult problem for the intelligent critic. The acorn did not require
any thought or planning to fall onto the ground and begin germination.
Ideally (not always), when a woman has unprotected intercourse, she is
aware that she may be planting a seed in her uterus which might turn into a
fetus. The woman has the choice to not get pregnant through abstinence
whereas the acorn lacks all abilities to make a decision about whether or
not to germinate. Because of this fact, the woman should be held
responsible for her actions, nor should she be compared to an acorn.
In the essay titled "A Defense of Abortion", Judith Jarvis Thomson
uses her violinist argument to show why abortion should be legal. The
argument follows: you wake up one morning and find yourself hooked up
intravenously to a famous violinist who is unconscious. You discover the
violinist has a fatal kidney ailment and your blood type and kidneys alone
are the only things that can save his life. If you choose to unplug
yourself from the violinist, he will most certainly die. You were
connected to this person against your will and had you known this was going
to happen, you would have never given consent. If you choose to stay
hooked to the violinist, he will recover form his ailment in nine months
and then go on to live a healthy and productive life. The question of
"does this person's right to life supersede your right to decide what
happens to your own body" comes into play at this point. Thomson equates
choosing to unattach yourself from the violinist to deciding to have an
abortion. She then goes on to state that your actions would most certainly
be justified if you chose to disconnect yourself. According to Thomson,
regardless of the fact that the violinist will die if you unplug yourself,
your right to decide what happens to your own body outweighs his rights to
There are a few problems that arise when Thomson's argument is
closely examined. First of all, the fetus is never older than its mother
whereas the violinist may be. The "right to life abortionists" focus on
the premise that you are taking the life of a child who has its whole life
ahead of it. The violinist may have already lived a fulfilling life.
Secondly, the woman was involuntarily hooked to the violinist whereas (in
this example) a pregnant woman generally gets pregnant because she chooses
to do so. The pregnant woman does not directly give the fetus permission
to implant itself in her uterine wall however, she does give it the means
necessary to attach itself. If this premise is followed, the pregnant woman
chose to impregnate herself, voluntarily. There are exceptions to this
premise such as, rape or molestation, which may result in pregnancy that
require special attention. However, for the sake of brevity, the ideal case
where the woman chooses to have intercourse in order to give a fetus the
necessary means to implant itself will be followed for this argument.
Finally, the violinist is not the woman's child whereas the fetus is. A
woman has no biological ties to the famous violinist. Half of her fetuses
genetic makeup comes from her chromosomes. This biological link can be a
strong bond for the mother to her fetus. The woman connected to the
violinist has no personal ties to this person therefore, she may feel no
obligation to sacrifice part of her own life in order to save a strangers.
When the issue of contraceptives is brought up, a whole new
argument arises. For instance, most devout anti-abortionists agree that
the use of the birth control pill is an acceptable form of contraception.
These people are ignorant hypocrites. They are either unaware of the fact
that the pill works by not allowing the fertilized egg to implant into the
uterine wall or else they just choose to ignore it. Therefore, every time
a woman has intercourse while she is on the pill, there is a chance she may
be causing the death of a 'child". If the right-winged anti-abortionists
were educated in the physiology of the birth control pill, they would have
to declare its use immoral. The I.U.D. is a birth control method
comparable to the pill. It is a small, Y-shaped piece of plastic that is
inserted into the uterus. Whenever a fertilized egg attempts to attach
itself to the nutrient-rich uterine wall, the harsh plastic of the I.U.D.
scrapes it off. This method also ends a potential life but you don't hear
the anti-abortion extremists protesting its use. Woman who use the I.U.D.,
could be convicted of mass murder if the Supreme Court were to outlaw
abortion. If "right-to-lifers are to be consistent in their beliefs,
people who strongly believe in a fetuses right to life should only use
birth control methods which do not allow implantation of the embryo. The
include the male/female condom, diaphragm with foam, the rhythm method, or
abstinence. These types of child prevention are not supposed to allow
sperm and egg to unite. Other forms of birth control actually end the
germination process of an embryo which should be labeled morally
unacceptable by anti-abortionists if they are not to be declared hypocrites.
A justification for the woman's right to have an abortion comes
from the potentiality argument. The argument goes: "Jon once was a fetus.
Now Jon is a human. It does not follow from this that Jon is now a fetus."
Jon will never again be a fetus therefore, human rights given to Jon should
not be given to the fetus simply because Jon was once a fetus and is now a
human. If fetuses were to be given human rights simply because they will
one day be a human then we as logical beings would have to alter our entire
way of thinking. We could never drop a piece of fabric, for it may one day
be sewn into an American flag. We must not scratch a piece of metal, for
it may one day be the fender of a Rolls Royce. The list could go on and on
and as it did, it would get more and more ridiculous. The fact that the
fetus will one day be a human should not be given consideration when
debating abortion because of the potentiality argument.
Abortion is an issue that the majority of Americans have a definite
opinion about. It can usually be broken down into religious groups. Those
who believe strongly in "the word of God" are the ones who admonish
abortion and all who practice it. Some of these extremists would deny a
woman the chance for an abortion even in the case where she has been
impregnated because of a rape or incest. They site one of the Ten
Commandments which states "Thou shalt not kill" as their guiding light.
This is ironic since these very people have been known to murder Doctors
who perform abortions. Most anti-abortionists are not so drastic. They
would allow abortions to be legal under certain circumstances such as
pregnancies that occurred because of rape, molestation, or incest. Are
these moderates being hypocritical by taking this view? Regardless of who
the father is or how the mother got pregnant, half the genetic make-up of
the child still belongs to her. If you are going to take an anti-abortion
stance, you should not allow these victimized women to have an abortion.
On the other hand, people who support the woman's right to choose whether
or not to have an abortion are typically liberals who don't affiliate
strongly with any one religion. They generally don't deny that a potential
human is being destroyed when an abortion takes place. However, they
believe the life and desires of the already living woman outweigh any
rights the fetus may have.
Since I am an Epicureanist, I believe each woman should be given
the means by which they can get a safe, legal abortion if they so choose.
Whatever promotes the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number
of already living woman should be promoted by the government. The State
should not place restrictions on the woman's right to govern what she does
with her own body. Women who are desperate enough to seek out an abortion
are not going to abandon the idea simply because the government has
declared it illegal. They will search out back alley abortions which would
be unsanitary, dangerous, and possibly lethal. The health of women cannot
be put in jeopardy simply because a few bureaucrats have a moral dilemma
with abortion. Because having an abortion is legal, does not mean anyone
is forced into aborting their fetus. If you choose to carry your child to
term, more power to you. However, don't enforce your morality onto others.
Allow people the right to be individuals and establish their own morality.
If the government were to step in and attempt to regulate morality in this
case, it could create an avalanche of laws concerning moral issues. This
country is based on the premise of freedom, let's keep it that way.