I recently started looking closer into the abortion ethical debate. I started off with a mild pro-abortion stance, mostly due to this forum. Since then, I’ve come across a few quite strong anti-abortion arguments that are rather convincing, and that I really can’t dismiss or get around. I read the chapters of David Boonins "A Defense of Abortion" relating to these arguments, but I did not find his rebuttals convincing at all. As a result, I am pretty surprised to say that I now sit in the anti-abortion camp. I would like to put these arguments to you, and see what you think of them.
In this post I’ve tried to be as respectful as I can, and hope that we can have a respectful discussion.
To start, from some of the other abortion threads I’ve looked through, things can devolve into low-effort and circular posting. As such, I will provide a list of common low-effort pro-choice arguments that you may feel the need to post to try to get me to change my view, which really don’t add value to the discussion. Please don’t make them when replying, unless you think it relates to what I’m talking about, which is the ethics of abortion.
- Not governments job to define morality/tell me what to do with my body
A. Yes it is, if that morality is hurting another person, like anti-abortion people believe.
- Late term abortions are so rare, it doesn’t matter.
A. From the perspective of someone who believes that a foetus’ life is equivalent to that of you or I, then of course they would have a problem with the practice.
- People who are pro-life stop caring once the infant is born.
A. This is not an argument for or against abortion. Personally I care a lot about what happens to all children when they are born. I would be very happy to increase social services, adoption funding, etc.
- You’re a man, you have no right to talk about women’s issues.
A. This is not an argument for or against abortion. A man does have that right if he believes that a serious wrong is being inflicted on a separate entity.
- Religion is the real reason for the argument.
A. None of my arguments have anything to do with religion. Please don’t bring it up.
- A miscarriage would be murder if abortion was illegal.
A. Unintended miscarriage is clearly out of your control. Murder requires intent.
- “I had/didn’t have an abortion. Etc.”
A. Anecdotal accounts don’t really add to the discussion, and just make the discussion more tense.
- Abortion is okay because there are too many people already
A. This isn’t an argument on whether abortion is morally right or wrong.
- Abortion is okay because it would be better off for the unborn child to not grow up in a broken home/poverty.
A. From the perspective of someone who believes that a foetus’ life is worth protecting, this sounds more like an argument for killing orphans and homeless people, because their lives aren’t worth living. Also it states that the life will certainly lead to despair, which is not true.
- The social system would collapse with all the unwanted babies
A. I’m trying to figure out if abortion is moral or immoral, not if it is practical.
- Illegal abortions would drive the abortions underground and women would die from failed and unsafe abortions.
A. This is not relevant to the morality of abortion on its own.
The theory is two-fold. Firstly, relating to the rights of the foetus to life, and secondly, how that relates to the rights of the woman to choose.
The right of a foetus to life - The future-like-ours argument
This argument revolves around a fundamental reason that killing is bad. Killing is bad for lots of reasons depending on the entity, but one reason which is seemingly universal is that killing denies that entity a future that they desire or value, or will come to desire or value. If this future is comparable to mine in quality (a future-like-ours), it is wrong to kill it. This means that even if we don’t regard an entity as a person, for example, a visiting alien from mars, it would be wrong to kill them as it would deny them their future. An insect does not have a future, or desires, comparable to ours, so it is not as immoral to kill an insect compared to a human.
Now you might say a foetus might have a future, but it doesn’t have any desires. I agree, but he/she will do in time. Similarly a newborn only has behaviours, not desires, and we all agree it’s not okay to kill newborns.
Some have argued that because a foetus doesn’t have bodily autonomy, its life is less valuable than that of a newborn. I don’t think this is true at all, a newborn, or even a newborn on life support equipment, has similar levels of autonomy to a foetus. It only has a different environment to its lack of autonomy. It also attempts to sidestep the original argument that killing something with a future-like-ours is wrong.
Note that this argument doesn’t apply to unfertilised eggs or sperm as they, as entities, have no future. Only when they come together to create a new entity which has a future. Also note that this argument might justify the abortion of terminal, or severely disabled foetuses, as they will certainly have a significantly reduced future.
The responsibility of a mother to not harm the foetus
The next point of contention is that many will claim that it doesn’t matter if the foetus has a future, is alive/conscious or not, or a person, or anything else. It has no right to the woman’s body, and the woman can choose, for whatever reason, to abort at any time. The rights of the woman to her own body supersede that of the rights of some foetus to life.
A common pro-abortion analogy brought up relating to this, is that of the famous violinist who is very sick. This violinist needs the use of your kidney as you have a rare compatible organ, and so his fan club kidnap you, and hook you up to the violinist such that you are acting as a human dialysis machine. If you chose to disconnect from the violinist, he will die. This option is clearly a choice which is available to you, though some may question the ‘niceness’ of it, without it being considered murder. Even though the violinist is a full blown person, the life of the violinist is not your responsibility and you have a choice what to do with your body.
The issue with this argument is that it considers the case where a person is abducted and had the procedure performed against their will. As such, this argument is only really applicable to abortion in the case of a rape. However, what if it was agreed by all parties beforehand? It is no longer non-consensual, and thus things aren’t as clear.
The crux of the matter is; does the woman have a duty of care to the unborn foetus?
To preface the argument, this following quote relates to how a duty of care could be acquired (legally in the UK), and the implications of that duty of care.
Source wrote:when a person has created or contributed to the creation of a state of affairs which he knows, or ought reasonably to know, has become life threatening, a consequent duty on him to act by taking reasonable steps to save the other's life will normally arise.
During cases of consensual sex, with or without contraception (because it is well known that contraception is never 100% effective), if the woman becomes pregnant, her actions contributed directly to the existence of the foetus. She may not have intended to become pregnant, but nonetheless she bears responsibility for the existence of the foetus. As it is well known that foetuses will die without the life support from their mothers, and the woman still voluntarily had sex, she is also responsible for the foetuses neediness. Thus, given that the foetus is a valuable entity which has a future-like-ours, she has a duty of care to the foetus. She 'owes it' to the foetus to keep it healthy until she can transfer responsibility for its neediness onto another. Be that through adoption, or some future artificial womb.
Note here that in cases of rape, the woman is not responsible for the existence of the foetus, and so does not have a duty of care in that situation. Abortion would be an ethically acceptable action.
Now some have argued against this saying that though you are responsible for a foetus’s existence, you are not responsible for its neediness. Thus abortion is an acceptable outcome, even in non-rape cases. I strongly disagree with this as if this were the case, once the foetus is born, you would still not be responsible for its neediness. Some have further argued against this by saying that at birth you could put the child up for adoption, so you are not responsible for its neediness. But adoption is merely transferring responsibility from yourself to another for the neediness of the child, not saying that you never had it in the first place. If a woman truly didn’t have a duty of care to the unborn child, then the following scenario would become acceptable.
A woman delivered her own baby herself at home, after cleaning herself up, she leaves the newborn unattended to die while she goes to the airport on holiday. She is not responsible for the babies neediness.
This is clearly unethical.
To summarise, I would say that ethically, abortion in the case of consensual sex is wrong.
Given that outcome, or even if you disagree with me, there are plenty of things that could be done to help reduce the need for abortions. I would be in favour of hugely increasing funding for free child support, childcare, adoption, schemes to enable women to maintain their careers during child birth, free contraception, increased education surrounding contraception, etc.