There is no question that abortion is one of the most debated topics of the last 50 years. Women all over the United States tend to feel passionately over one side or the other, either pro-choice or anti-abortion. Not one to shy away from controversial subjects, I chose this topic to shed light on both sides of the ethical and moral decision of this important issue surrounding a termination of pregnancy. There is no question the gravity of this decision, both personally and to society as a whole, and should not be taken lightly.
Abortion has been legal in the United States since 1973 (MacKinnon,2018). Despite the legality, both pro-lifers and pro-choice advocates have stood on opposite ends of the issue. Those who are passionate about either side have valid points to the moral issue at hand. What this really boils down to is who has more rights-the women who wants to decide for herself when she wants to reproduce or the unborn fetus? The fetus does not have a voice; therefore, pro-lifers speak for them. Pro-life advocates stress that termination should never be an option. However, should there be exceptions in certain circumstances or is abortion so immoral that it SHOULD be illegal? Those who are pro-choice believe women have a right to make decisions regarding their own body and her rights supersede those of the unborn fetus. Ultimately, can there be a right or wrong answer when a woman is faced with a decision of an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy?
Our book, Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues states that, “the scientific stages of fetal development are important for our analysis because many ethical discussions about abortion take into account such factors as the fetus’s heartbeat, its ability to feel pain, and the ability to survive outside the womb” (MacKinnon et al, 2018). Knowing the stages fetal development is the first step in understanding the reason viability and the moral consequences behind the decision have been the subject of political and religious debates. To summarize viability, as each state of pregnancy progresses, as well as the methods of abortions that are used, can have profound effects morally, ethically and legally.
The term “viability” is an important word in terms of determining if a fetus could live outside the womb and changes its moral status. Knowing a fetus could potentially survive outside the womb, even if it is with continuous medical intervention, does this change the moral code of abortion? Some say yes and that gives the fetus more rights to life. Others feel that most development would take place after the birth and the fetus is still completely dependent on others for survival outside the womb. Either way, this is a tricky formula when we base decisions regarding “potential,” as this can have varying degrees in each circumstance.
Let us put ourselves in the shoes of the woman who is faced with a pregnancy that can put her emotional, physical or financial health at stake. Both consequences have serious lifelong effects. The first option, giving birth to a child, requires at least 18 years of commitment to successful parenting and providing to the needs of another human being that she may not be equipped for. Alternatively, there can be a lot of social and human service resources for women who need help, but that may not be enough. Regarding the decision to terminate or abort the pregnancy, there can be an emotional cost. Living with the decision can weigh heavily on her emotions and may always wonder “what if” had she decided to have the child. In some cultures, and families, if they were to be aware of the pregnancy, can very well ostracize her for going against social and religious rules. Having the stigma of a terminated pregnancy in her past may continue to haunt her depending on who she meets and disagrees with her decision. There may also be a physical toll. Some abortions can cause complications in future pregnancies with either low birth weight or premature births, putting a viable pregnancy at risk in the future (Tobah, 2017). So how is this woman supposed to ethically problem solve?
For any pregnant woman faced with the challenge of this decision, first, she must learn about ethical problem solving and explore the three primary ethical schools of thought, consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics. Not one is better than the other, the fact is, one must decide for themselves which one is better served for their own individual goals. Consequentialism bases the decision on consequences. It asks the question, what would provide the greatest outcome for the greatest number? It also evaluates if immediate harm is outweighed by future benefits. Deontology bases decisions on individual motives and morals rather than consequences. It is essentially the opposite of consequentialism by the way this thinking determines the moral fiber of the actions themselves. Virtue ethics incorporates both Consequentialism and Deontology together when it comes to emotional and intellectual problem solving. It takes both short-term effects and consequences into factoring a decision. It focuses on being rather than doing.
To apply the consequentialism school of thought regarding abortion, a woman will examine the consequences. If a woman who decides this is the right decision for her, due to their circumstances, will they be branded for life having terminated a fetus and be judged harshly by society and/or feel the emotional toll fair to be too much? Will she always wonder what if she hadn’t undergone the procedure and what this child be like had he or she been born? To the contrary, what consequences would she face not having an abortion and giving birth to a child without emotional support, the finances or being ill equipped to raise a child? Would bringing a child into the situation be detrimental to the well-being of the mother and the child in this situation? These are all questions one asks when thinking in a consequentialist school of thought.
The Deontology school of thought is the opposite and just focuses on the act itself. This could come from family upbringing or from a religious standpoint. Based on our background and our place in society we may have rules of conduct we live by, despite any legality behind it. This could result a woman believing that regardless of the circumstances, abortion is wrong.
The last school of thought is virtue ethics and incorporates elements of both consequentialism and deontology. A woman using the virtue school of thought will want to utilize duty as well as consequences in what would be the most virtuous decision. What decision would one come to while embodying the most desirable characteristics? What outcome would generate, bring out and reflect ones’ inner morals?
When a woman is faced with the challenge of abortion, she may also use one of the five schools of thought philosophers have developed that one can use to arrive at ethical solutions. These five are the utilitarian approach, the virtue approach, the rights approach, the fairness/justice approach, and the common good approach. Each school of thought can help a woman when faced with this ethical decision regarding abortion.
To analyze an issue using the utilitarian approach, first identify the various courses of action. Second, ask who will be affected by each action and what good or harms could come from it. Third, choose the action that will produce the greatest benefits and the least harm and one that provides the greatest good for the greatest number.
The Virtue Approach is when one uses “attitudes or character traits that enable them to be and to act in ways that develop our highest potential. They enable us to pursue the ideals we have adopted. Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues” (Velasquez et als, 2015). When one incorporates the virtue approach to solving a dilemma, they will ask the question, “what decision will help me develop my character, serve my purpose and be of service those around me”.
The Rights Approach holds that each person has the right to determine for themselves what is best for them as an individual. They also have a right to have these rights respected. In deciding whether an action is moral or immoral using the rights approach, then, we must ask, “Does the action respect the moral rights of everyone? Actions are wrong to the extent that they violate the rights of individuals; the more serious the violation, the more wrongful the action” (Velasquez et als, 201).
The Fairness/justice approach is very simple. The moral question in this approach is, how fair is the action? Does it treat everyone in the same way, or does it show favoritism and discrimination? “Favoritism gives benefits to some people without a justifiable reason for singling them out; discrimination imposes burdens on people who are no different from those on whom burdens are not imposed” (Velasquez et als, 2015). There is no question that favoritism and discrimination are unjust and wrong, but this may not really apply in this particular situation.
The Common Good approach we focus on ensuring that the social policies, social systems, institutions, and environments on which we depend are beneficial to all. Examples of goods common to all include affordable health care, effective public safety, peace among nations, a just legal system, and an unpolluted environment (Velasquez et als, 2015). Appeals to the common good urge us to view ourselves as members of the same community, reflecting on broad questions concerning the kind of society we want to become and how we are to achieve that society. While respecting and valuing the freedom of individuals to pursue their own goals, the common-good approach challenges us also to recognize and further those goals we share (Velasquez et als, 2015). This could apply in the abortion scenario to provide women with more resources and help when they decide to give birth to a child rather than abort. If pro-life advocates are adamant that this is wrong, then it is important to have a plan in place for those individuals who terminate due to lack of resources. The common good approach needs to apply to those who have opted to not terminate and make sure as a community we help give them what they need to become successful parents.
Now that we know the three ethical schools of thought, as well as the five approaches to coming to an ethical solution, we can have a better perspective of each side of this debate. If a someone believes abortions are morally wrong, does he or she get to dictate that ALL women should not have one and say it should be illegal? There are many issues that one believes is immoral due to religious and social upbringing, but ultimately are not illegal. Each side of the coin has consequences in this situation. Each person must weigh the outcomes and decide what is best for them. Moral pluralism, a form of relativism, regarding this morality issue states, “there is no single objective or universal standard” (MacKinnon et al, 2018). This does not make the decision any easier, especially when one must choose between two competing duties or values.
My position on abortion is that it should not be illegal, but nonetheless, should not be used as a method of birth control either and only be performed under extreme circumstances. I believe I am on the conservative end on this issue. What brings me to this opinion is the position that a termination of a pregnancy is ok, but if a pregnant woman is killed along with her unborn child, there are essentially two homicides. This does not make sense to me. How can we say in one scenario it is not murder, and the other scenario it is? This is such a hard topic because I understand that if a woman is faced with a pregnancy that will have devastating consequences either personally, financially, or emotionally. Potentially, an abortion can allow her to be on a healthier, more rewarding path. Having abortions stay legal can also prevent women from taking matters in their own hands and performing them without being under a doctor’s care. This can be very dangerous for the mother, causing complications or even death.
I have had friends and family who have been faced with the emotional and challenging decision of terminating a pregnancy for a variety of reasons. As much as I supported them emotionally and did not judge them, I never wanted to be in their position. Unfortunately, just a few years later, I, too, found myself as a young, unmarried woman who did not have the support of the baby’s father. I knew if I decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, I would go through it entirely alone and I would not have the emotional or financial support from him. I always wanted children someday, certainly not under those circumstances, but I wanted to do the right thing despite it being the hardest thing I would ever do. I believed my strength, fortitude and always putting my child’s needs first, would be all the tools I needed to be a good parent and provider to my child. I would face whatever consequences came with being a single mother because it meant doing the right thing.
I believe I acted on Virtue Ethics when I made this decision 21 years ago, when I was 24-years old. I was scared, but to me, this was about character and rising above my challenges. Being a single mother was the hardest job in the world. Honestly, I do not know how my life would have turned out had I made a different decision. I felt that it was my duty to do the right thing despite the challenging circumstances and I must face head on what I needed to do. This child was not unwanted by any means and having an abortion would mean that I was terminating that dream of being a mother. This unborn child, to me, was member of our family and I knew he would be loved immeasurably. Further, I did not want to disappoint my parents who loved children and lost one of their own just a few years earlier very suddenly. I am very loyal to my family. I knew bringing him into this world would bring a lot of joy to a family still in a lot of pain and grieving from the loss of my sister.
I am very fortunate that I had a lot of emotional support from my family. I certainly cannot judge a woman for terminating a pregnancy if she has no support whatsoever. Having and raising a child is one of the hardest jobs one can do, and requires so much time, money and commitment to make sure their needs are met. My circumstances allowed me to make the decision to become a single mother, even though that was the last thing I wanted for myself. Being a mom to Christopher has been one of the biggest and greatest learning experiences. He is currently disabled after contracting the flu virus and it traveled into his brain when he was almost three years old. He cannot talk, dress or feed himself and has a seizure disorder. I have been his advocate, caretaker and the only parent he has known for the last 21 years. Luckily, we are surrounded by loving and supportive people, who I would have never met had he not been born or even disabled. Sometimes life is meant to give you the lessons you were meant to learn. I would never know how strong, brave and resilient I can be had I not decided to bring him into this world. Christopher is my greatest teacher and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.